Greenwich schools honor student community service

Rene Jameson, a student at Western Middle School, was presented a Community Service Award by Board of Education Chairman Barbara O’Neill and State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151), at right. —John Ferris Robben

Rene Jameson, a student at Western Middle School, was presented a Community Service Award by Board of Education Chairman Barbara O’Neill and State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151), at right. —John Ferris Robben

It was an opportunity for the Greenwich Public Schools to highlight achievement not just in the classroom or on the athletic field but through community service.

And the district made the most of it as it turned the spotlight on students giving back at the annual Greenwich Public Schools Community Service Award ceremony. Many students across the grade levels were honored, and John Clarke, a Greenwich High School student active in helping mentally challenged individuals fully participate in sports, was chosen as the Fleishman Service Award winner at the March 25 event at Old Greenwich School.

Former district Superintendent Ernest Fleishman began the awards to fill what he believed was a void, and they’re still going strong today. The Fleishman Award began in 1989, Mr. Fleishman’s last year as superintendent. Mr. Fleishman spoke highly of John as he presented him with the award, saying his commitment began at a young age.

“John has an older brother with Down syndrome and he made up his mind at age 5 or 6 that he was going to make a difference, especially with the lives of kids with disabilities,” Mr. Fleishman said. “What really shines in John are his personal qualities. He’s passionate about his service, determined in his approach.”

Speaking to the Post after the ceremony, John said the award meant a lot to him. He said he found out he was going to win the award about three weeks ago when he was called in to Cantor housemaster Jason Goldstein’s office and told that his guidance counsellor Leslie Sporre had nominated him and he had won.

John said the award reflects the many opportunities students have to volunteer in Greenwich.

“I like to think that what I do reflects the community,” he said. “I am very happy to live in a town that has so many diverse opportunities.”

Mr. Fleishman, an Old Greenwich resident, started the awards because he wanted students to share similar accolades that students involved in high school sports do. He said their athletic achievements are honored — something he said he believes in — but he wondered why students who volunteered and served others couldn’t have their own reward.

“When I see signs that say, ‘Greenwich — home of sports champions,’ I say to myself, When are we going to honor and put up on a pedestal another set of champions who really serve their community?”

Mr. Fleishman said John is one of those champions and he has thrown himself into working for others through his work on the Abilis youth board of directors and as a volunteer with the Challenger Baseball Team, head coach of the Special Olympics Unified Sports program at Greenwich High, the largest program in the state, and president of the school’s Hand-In-Hand club. He was also co-founder and president of the Come Together Club, was the former two-year head coach at Greenwich YMCA’s program for teens with special needs, and is active in the school’s anti-bullying and tolerance initiatives.

Board of Education Chairman Barbara O’Neill praised the students for embodying what’s best about the town’s students.

“The world is truly better through who you are and what you have done. You represent the best of the Greenwich schools.”

Five Greenwich High School seniors, representing each of the school’s five houses, Raquel Ireifej (Bella House), Sabrina Manero (Cantor House), Chandler LaSorsa (Clark House), John Dyment (Folsom House), and Benjamin Albano (Sheldon House) were recognized for their service.

Raquel is co-founder and co-president of the Roots and Shoots Club, a Jane Goodall Institue program that seeks to provide a better world for people, animals and the environment. Sabrina is active in marine biology and co-president of the school’s Marine Biology Club and has volunteered more than 250 hours at Norwalk’s Maritime Aquarium. Chandler is active in cancer awareness and prevention activities and is president of the school’s Cancer Awareness Club. John is co-president of the school’s HEROES Club, which encourages students to remember veterans by organizing schoolwide events and fund-raisers. Benjamin is active in providing safe rides home for students and is also a passionate car racer, winning the 2013 Skip Barber MAZDASPEED Summer Auto Racing Series. He was one of 18 semifinalists nationally in the 2013 Mazda Club Racer Shootout.

Eighth grade students Genevieve DeWinter (Central Middle School), James Chang (Eastern Middle School), and Rene Jameson (Western Middle School) were honored for their work with Neighbor to Neighbor, the Boys & Girls Club, and anti-racism and safe school initiatives, respectively.

Seventeen students from the district’s 11 elementary schools were also recognized for their work. They were Quinn Patterson (Cos Cob School), Vanna DelVecchio (Glenville School), Gracen Barter (Hamilton Avenue School), Charlie Decker (The International School at Dundee), Yahaira Velecela Arroyo and Ralph Bologna (Julian Curtiss School), Ila van Schaik (New Lebanon School), Samuel Chard and Jonathan Doyle (North Mianus School), Caitlin O’Brien and Lillian Saleeby (North Street School), Caroline Deschamps and Sacha Norton (Old Greenwich School), Elizabeth Garten and Clay Robinson (Parkway School), and Elizabeth Cook and Madeline Cook (Riverside School).

Current Superintendent of Schools William McKersie praised Mr. Fleishman for his foresight in creating the awards. He said the school community strives to be known as a caring one that looks out for all school members and that community service is a vital element of that.

“Community service, which we’re celebrating today — that’s a very tangible embodiment of caring,” Dr. McKersie said. “We’ve been at this work, community-service work in Greenwich, for a long, long time. That’s what we celebrate tonight.”

State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st), who handed out the awards with Ms. O’Neill, also praised the winners for their work for others and for the community. He said he sees great examples of community service in Hartford, and praised those efforts, but said he was impressed with the stories he heard at the event.

“I also see great examples of community service up there,” he said. “I will be very, very honest with you — the examples I saw today trumps that.”

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