Unsung hero

Ann Quinn, teacher's assistant, Park View

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This is the third article in an ongoing series which seeks to showcase some of our schools’ unsung heroes. In my 10 years as an education reporter and as a former educator, and in my almost 19 years as a parent, I have seen many amazing educators honored with well-deserved pomp and circumstance. They each will be the first to tell you that they share their honors with their colleagues, that they could not do what they do each day without the support of so many. It is my goal during this school year to shed some much-needed light on those employees working behind the scenes in Cranston schools who may not receive the spotlight, but for whom it is also well-deserved.

When Park View Middle School (PVMS) librarian Stephanie Mills first reached out to me to recommend Ann Quinn as an Unsung Hero, she wrote, “I’d love if you considered Ann Quinn as an unsung hero at Park View. She’s been a teacher assistant in the system for years and is in her mid-70s. I always tell her that when she retires, Park View will fall apart. She’s an extremely hard worker and has been doing little things like heading up the Sunshine committee and chaperoning every dance for 20 years. She’s a true friend. Everyone who has a baby on staff gets an ‘Ann blanket’ she crochets!”

Park View’s Dean of students, Ryan Kavanagh, agreed and believes it’s the heart and soul that Quinn puts into the days she spends at PVMS that make her so special.

"Quinny is one of those people that makes Park View the special place that it is,” he said. “You can always count on Mrs. Quinn to handle all the little things that go into making every event we have a success. Quinny is the heart and soul of this school and community and I don't know what we would do without her here."

I met Ann, now 71 years old, in the school library for our interview, and she told me how she came to spend the last 34 years as a teacher assistant in the Cranston Public Schools.

“I started in the school department because my husband told me that he used to come home to an empty house as a child, and he didn’t want that for his kids,” she said. “My son was in the first grade and I started as a three-hour teacher assistant and then I moved into a six-hour special education teacher assistant. I had the same summers and school vacations off as my kids.”

Quinn moved to Park View Middle School about 22 years ago after the schools first transitioned their middle school model to a junior high school model. She started in an inclusion classroom there and never left. Now she is a teacher assistant in the self-contained classroom.

“I love working with the children,” she said. “I always wanted to be a teacher but there was no money for me to go to college and I went right to work after high school. My brother and I were raised by a single mother and she had to work. This was the next closest thing for me to being a teacher.”

For Quinn, working at Park View is more than a job, thanks to the connection she shares with the staff.

“I like working here because I already knew a lot of people here,” she said. “My children went here and a lot of the faculty were people I already knew. I was an officer with the parent group, so it was an easy adjustment for me to come here.”

Quinn has three grown children, Tracy, Richard, and Robert, with her husband Charlie and they have three grandchildren. All of her children attended Chester Barrows Elementary School, Park View Middle School, and Cranston High School East.

“So, I have great things to say about the Cranston Public School system,” she said. “All of my children are doing very well and they all were from the Cranston Public Schools.”

Had she had the opportunity to go to school for teaching, Ann thinks that math would have been her focus. The opportunities to work in special education didn’t exist in the same way they do today.

“I would’ve liked being a math teacher or an elementary teacher,” she said. “There was not a special education program like there is now. We used to have the un-graded room and it’s not the way it was now. As a child growing up, I went to Asa Mesa school and we never even got to see those kids. The change has been good.”

Quinn is known for the time she puts in at Park View over and above her regular day, but when asked about it, she shrugs it off a little bit and says that for her, it’s easy to put in the extra time.

“I have no other children at home anymore, so it’s easy for me to volunteer,” she said. “I live down the street. Others still have younger children at home. I’m able to volunteer for field trips, for the parent group, multicultural night, department nights and school dances.”

Although Quinn seems to have a lot of extra time on her hands for volunteering, she shared with me that she also works a second job.

“I work two jobs. I leave here and I go to work at a law office on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and in the summertime I work three days a week,” she said. “It’s just a part-time job, and I’ve worked there for 25 years. I just wanted something to do during the summer and this part-time job ended up continuing.”

Additionally, Quinn used to help out at her friend Jim Stapleton’s funeral home for years before he married and his wife took on the work she did there. However, the couples remain close and have been friends for six decades.

Although it seems as if Ann Quinn wouldn’t have any more time or energy left in her day for anything else, that’s just not the case. Almost everyone in the building can attest to the fact that she puts any time on her hands to good use, making afghans for friends, family, and colleagues.

As we spoke, she began to tick off just how many she’d made for the staff and their families.

“I started about 18 years ago and anyone in the building who has a child receives a baby afghan,” she said. “I was going to make one for Diane Capirchio for her 30th birthday but that’s when she told me that she was going to have a baby so I made one for her daughter and her twins and for her husband and herself, so they have five and then each of her children wanted a bigger one for their big beds so I made more. I’ve made them to put up for the silent auction when we have had a dinner in honor of Deb Lancia and I’ve made one for Ron Voccio for his wedding and one for each of his three children, one for Carl Bishop and his six grandchildren. His daughter had triplets. Mr. Crudale has one for each of his three babies and Ryan Kavanagh has one for his baby. Over the 18 years, I’d guess I’ve made hundreds.”

Stephanie Mills arrived at Park View after she’d already had her baby, and still received a blanket for her son Emmett for his twin bed.

“I didn’t even work here when I had a baby, and I still got one when I got here,” she said.

She credits Quinn with helping to support all that goes on inside of Park View Middle School.

“She helps out with the faculty breakfast, the book fair, Sunshine, showers, and she’s the copy machine repairwoman. Twice a week last year she shelved books to help me out, and this year she still does it once a week,” Mills said. “With all she does, I don’t know how she has the time to be a teacher assistant.”

Mills worries that the school won’t be able to run without Ann Quinn on the staff, but according to Quinn, she shouldn’t worry just yet.

“I’ll definitely stay at least a couple of more years as long as I can do it. At 71 I can still go up and down the stairs so as long as I can do that, I’m going to continue,” she said. “What else would I do with my time?”

If you have an Unsung Hero you’d like me to feature from a Cranston school, please email me with the details at jenniferlcowart@gmail.com.

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