Senior Showcase: Westies to pursue teaching goals near and far
Senior Showcase: Westies to pursue teaching goals near and far
Posted on 07/08/2016
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The Senior Showcase is a series that highlights West Haven High School graduating seniors.

WEST HAVEN, July 5, 2016 —Their paths might be starting off worlds—or, rather, countries—apart, but new West Haven High School grads Stefania Vendrella and Krista Doherty are both gearing up for adventures that they hope will lead to fulfilling careers as teachers.

Doherty will be spending a “gap year” before college in Spain, France and Italy to fully experience new languages and cultures with aspirations of becoming a teacher for students learning English. Meanwhile, Vendrella will be attending Fairfield University and volunteering in Bridgeport schools to become an elementary school teacher.

Both WHHS Class of 2016 grads have already worked with young students and say that involvement cemented their plans to go into education.

For Vendrella—known for having a perpetual pep in her step and smile on her face around the halls of WHHS—her goal of leading her own classroom started with Carrigan Intermediate School teacher Donna Pitts.

“She was my fifth-grade teacher, and I was so shy then. She transformed me into a person who is confident in herself, and I want to be able to do that for students,” said Vendrella, who ranked eighth in the senior class.

And what better way to start preparing for a teaching career than to volunteer with youngsters in your own town? So Vendrella joined the WHHS Washington School Mentor Program three years ago when it started and kept with it through senior year, visiting Washington Elementary School a few times a month to help students with anything they were working on in class.

As member of the WHHS Peer Advocate community service club, she also tutored kindergartners at Edith E. Mackrille Elementary School, which she attended as a kid, and provided childcare to children at meetings of the local Autism Support Group.

Seeing students make progress was one of the highlights, she said, and it inspired her to join a Fairfield University service leadership group, which will volunteer weekly in Bridgeport elementary schools.

“Coming out of high school, I was involved in so much community service and I enjoy it so much that I want to continue it when I start college. It’s also part of the reason I want to be a teacher, and I want to do things that can open doors to future opportunities,” Vendrella explained.

While at WHHS, she also played volleyball and tennis all four years and led both teams as captain as a senior, served as corresponding secretary of the National Honor Society, helped coordinate Class of 2016 events as a member of the Class Council, and worked on the school yearbook. She was also the assistant director of the Little Miss Westie Pageant since her sophomore year and is working for the second summer in a row in a local food truck.

In the classroom, Vendrella took AP (college-level) Chemistry, AP Government and Politics, AP Human Geography and AP Psychology. Since she needed to choose a core subject as her college major, she’ll major in English and later apply to be an education major.

She hopes her time at Fairfield U will lead to club or intramural sports, a semester in Italy, and maybe even a mission trip abroad to work with kids in need.

“I think it’s a chance to reinvent yourself. I’ll meet all new people and have new challenges,” Vendrella said. “Even though I can’t believe I’m already done with high school, I am ready and I feel I did all I wanted to do. It’s a new beginning. People here would joke that I’m always smiling and so positive, but I just think you just need to make the best of things because your time in school flies by.”

Doherty has also known for some time she’d like to become a teacher, but her gap year—a post-high school trend gaining in popularity that gives new grads time for traveling, special projects, internships or other academic pursuits before college—came as a bit of a surprise. She had been accepted to college, but after her mom’s casual mention of an international language program, Doherty did some research and decided to go for it.

She knows it’s an unconventional, daring and unexpected plan, and one she might not have considered a few years ago. Doherty says she was on the shyer side when she started high school. But encouragement from the WHHS School Counseling staff during her work study in the department, as well as giving tours of WHHS to new students, helped her gain confidence and convinced her to look for new challenges that would help her grow as a person.

“My biggest goal for this coming year is to better understand everyone around me, and on the educational side, to communicate at least a little bit with people who speak a different language,” Doherty said. “I want to get out of my comfort zone and follow through on the things I’m interested in doing.”

She will leave in September to spend three months each in Rome, Paris and Barcelona and will live with a different host family in each country. Having taken three years of French courses at WHHS and even some in middle school, as well as Spanish in her senior year, the budding globetrotter will at least be departing America with some foreign language basics. Her days abroad will center around language classes, as well as planned tours, but she’ll also have time to explore on her own and be with her family members when they visit.

Doherty has long been interested in languages, especially the variety spoken by classmates.

“I’ve just been around a lot of people who have spoken different languages both in and outside of school. It’s always interesting how they can switch halfway through a sentence to English, and it’s so cool to learn the different ways people say things and the traditions they have in their cultures,” she added.

Dance is another passion for Doherty, specifically aerial silk, a type of performance involving gymnastics and dance movement while hanging from fabric. She’s taken classes in it for the past several years, and realized she wanted to be an educator when she began teaching it about two years ago. She’s also taught classes in tumbling and is working for the second summer in a row as a lifeguard in West Haven.

After completing her year abroad, Doherty plans to attend college to major in education and continue studying languages, but isn’t yet sure where. While she wants to get her ESL (English as a second language) teacher certification, she would also love to teach English in different countries.

“I’m just excited. I was definitely nervous about deciding on a gap year, but this way I’m going to be completely immersed in these new languages because it’s going to be all around me,” Doherty said. “As it gets closer, I’m realizing I want to continue my education and what I’m really passionate about.”