Cranston reading teacher wins statewide competition

By Jen Cowart
Posted 5/9/18

It all started with just one positive comment regarding a typical English assignment during Jeanne-Marie Marcotte’s junior year at Cranston High School West last year.

What might have seemed …

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Cranston reading teacher wins statewide competition

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It all started with just one positive comment regarding a typical English assignment during Jeanne-Marie Marcotte’s junior year at Cranston High School West last year.

What might have seemed like a simple compliment, a “You know, that essay was really good,” about an essay on The Great Gatsby by English teacher Kristen Capaldi proved to be life-changing for Marcotte.

It was that life-changing compliment that prompted Marcotte to enter this year’s ‘My Favorite Teacher’ contest sponsored by Barnes and Noble. The contest originated in the Warwick, RI store, and spread to become a nationwide contest that is designed to spotlight the many teachers who go above and beyond each and every day, changing the lives of their students in the process.

On April 24, Capaldi, now a middle school reading teacher at both Hope Highlands and Western Hills middle schools, was honored at the Warwick Barnes and Noble store, surrounded by her family, friends, colleagues, former students, a representative from the mayor’s office, and even by the teacher who inspired her to become a teacher, Muriel Sweeney. Additionally, Marcotte was on hand to read her essay, surrounded by her family and friends as well. It was the first time Capaldi heard what Marcotte had to say about that Great Gatsby assignment from junior year.

“It all started a few days after we’d handed in a major writing assignment: an essay on The Great Gatsby,’” Marcotte wrote. “I remember coming into class that day and being greeted by a completely unexpected compliment on my work. Never had my writing received such positive attention. JM [Marcotte] said, ‘You know, that essay was really good.’ I was shocked, but her words stuck with me and I began to look at my writing in a different way.”

Previously, Marcotte had only looked at writing as something she had to do because she was assigned to do it. However, after Capaldi’s positive reinforcement, Marcotte began to consider writing for fun.

“Mrs. Capaldi continuingly offered reassurance on my writing and built up my confidence,” Marcotte wrote. “I felt capable. Writing came easier, but I still couldn’t step beyond the walls of academia.”

It wasn’t until Marcotte found Capaldi’s blog that she began to feel the magic of writing.

“The letters and words and sentences strung like a necklace,” she said. “She had long since completed school and yet she was still writing! I saw bits of myself scattered in each piece and with each read, I came alive. I was inspired! I decided right then and there that this is me. This is who I want to be, I want to be like you.”

Marcotte was inspired to being writing on her own blog and has found it to be a channel for a sandstorm of thoughts and a place where she can experiment with all kinds of writing, from poetry to plays to fiction.

“Mrs. Capaldi helped me recognize my value as a person and as a writer,” said Marcotte. “What more can I say, but thank you. I know you will always be a supporting presence as I continue to write and learn more about who I am. I hope that someday my words might inspire others the way you’ve inspired me. Thank you for being my champion-for being my hero. A million, million thanks.”

Capaldi responded to Marcotte’s words, thanking her for being the type of student who inspires her as a teacher.

“It’s not always the best day when you go to work and students are not always listening,” she said. “I would be teaching last year and looking at a lot of students whose heads were down, they were looking at their phones, and then I would see Jeanne-Marie, and I would say okay I am glad I came to work today because someone is listening.”

Not only was Marcotte listening, but also Capaldi could tell that she was also absorbing what she was being taught.

“That meant a lot to me,” she said. “Thank you for being that inquisitive, hard-working person who sat in my class every day.”

She thanked her own family, Marcotte’s mother, her colleagues and Sweeney.

“It’s funny that Jeanne-Marie wrote about her Gatsby essay because I have a very similar story about writing about an essay on Gatsby, Death of a Salesman, and The Glass Menagerie, and you pulled me aside and told me that it was a wonderful essay and quite frankly, you changed my life. You changed my life, so there is a parallel, and I didn’t know that she was going to write that.”

Capaldi thanked Barnes and Noble as well, including Community Business Development Manager Katie Rendine, and emcee for the evening, Channel 10’s Lindsay Iadeluca.

Capaldi is now entered into the regional competition where five winners will be chosen. Each regional winner will receive a Barnes and Noble gift card and a Samsung NOOK. From the pool of regional winners, Barnes and Noble will choose one national winner who will receive $5,000 and the title of “Barnes and Noble National Teacher of the Year.” The student who wrote the winning national essay will receive a $500 Barnes and Noble gift card and a Samsung NOOK.

Marcotte will begin her freshman year at the University of Rhode Island in the fall.

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