The Connecticut Writing Project prides itself on allowing various educators from across the state to work together and improve their teaching skills. Past participants of the Connecticut Writing Project’s Summer Institute include Steve Straight, Kelly Cecchini, and Lauren Shafer. These educators allowed the Connecticut Writing Project’s methodology to influence their teaching careers, and the CWP would like to honor them as they enter retirement.
Steve Straight, a poet and past professor of English for forty years, has recently retired. Straight taught at University of Hartford and Quinebaug Valley Community College, but spent most of his career teaching all levels of composition and literature at Manchester Community College, as well as serving as the Director of MCC’s poetry program. Straight has published three poetry books, The Almanac, The Water Carrier, and Some Assembly Required. When asked whether or not it was difficult to focus on publishing while he was teaching, Straight replied, “I shouldn’t be teaching something I’m not doing.” It is clear that sharpening his writing skills was important to Straight during his teaching career. Straight is someone who prides himself on the fact that he has had a career he genuinely enjoyed. He made a vow to himself early on that he would, “never have a job I didn’t love.” The success Straight has had during his forty-year long career is proof of this vow. Straight has had many notable accomplishments including working as the Director of the Connecticut Poetry Circuit for years, as well as spending time teaching poetry abroad in Galway. As far as involvement with the Connecticut Writing Project, Straight made great contributions; he actually chose the first CWP intern, Denise Galarza, after working with her over the summer at the Center for Academic Programs in 1989. Now known as Denise Garlaza Sepulveda, the first Connecticut Writing Project intern is now a Director of the Foundational Course Initiative at the University of Michigan.
Kelly Cecchini, both a teacher and a professor of English for close to thirty years, has recently retired as well. As an instructor of English at Quinebaug Valley Community College and Manchester Community College, as well as teaching at Manchester High School for twenty-one years, Cecchini taught a variety of English courses involving levels of composition and public speaking. Over the years, Cecchini has worked to increase college readiness in incoming freshmen by adjusting the twelfth grade curriculum. Teachers across grade levels tend not to communicate often, and with a foot in both worlds, Cecchini strived to prepare high school students for the requirements that would be expected of them at the college level. In fact, she made great strides for Manchester High School. She began by realigning Manchester High School’s curriculum to imitate Manchester Community College’s highest level of Developmental English. She then received approval to teach a community-college level course at the high school in order to better prepare her graduating seniors for college level learning. Many high schools also began adopting this course, known as English 101, following Cecchini’s success. Kelly Cecchini is a professor whose dedication to teaching is evident. As a fellow friend of the Connecticut Writing Project, Cecchini has worked on multiple projects with Jason Courtmanche, including multiple trips to Washington, D.C to advocate for funding for the National Writing Project. While technically retired, Cecchini has been teaching two English classes online at Quinebaug Valley Community College and was recently hired to work as a University Supervisor to oversee student teachers at Central Connecticut State University.
Lauren Shafer is a recently retired English teacher from Granby Memorial High School. After a long term career in publishing, Shafer made the switch to teaching and retired last year after nearly twenty years. This past spring, Shafer actually delivered the graduation speech as the chosen faculty member at GMHS. Her speech, “The Importance of Mask Breaks,” also earned her first place in the Non-fiction category of the CWP’s 2021 Teacher-Consultant Writing Contest. Similar to Straight and Cecchini, Shafer felt as though her time spent with the Connecticut Writing Project was somewhat “transformative” for her teaching career. Shafer explained that participating in the Connecticut Writing Project’s Summer Institute allowed her to put herself in her students’ shoes. While it is something she continues to work on herself, she feels that being able to write confidently is more important than anything. Book publishing, her previous field, was about precision and accuracy. Shafer explains that as a teacher, she had to learn to let go of rigidity and encourage students to write creatively. Shafer says, “you cannot produce a good piece of writing unless you care about what you’re saying.” More than anything, she wanted students to express themselves in their writing, as there is oftentimes little room for that within the current curriculum.
These are the kinds of teachers the Connecticut Writing Project has been proud to craft. Educators such as Steve Straight, Kelly Cecchini, and Lauren Shafer have touched so many lives through their teaching and the CWP wishes them a safe and healthy retirement.
Written by Julia Marcella