NEL/CPS celebrates 10th graduating class

Jen Cowart
Posted 6/18/14

The clouds and rain outdoors could not put a damper on the spirits inside of the Hope Highlands Elementary School auditorium last Friday night as the New England Laborers/Cranston Public Schools …

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NEL/CPS celebrates 10th graduating class

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The clouds and rain outdoors could not put a damper on the spirits inside of the Hope Highlands Elementary School auditorium last Friday night as the New England Laborers/Cranston Public Schools Construction and Career Academy (NEL/CPS) graduated its 10th class since the opening of the school a decade ago.

In honor of the milestone event, several keynote speakers and distinguished guests were present to help celebrate with the staff, students and families of NEL/CPS.

They included Michael Traficante, chairman, Board of Directors NEL/CPS; Joseph M. Sabitoni, vice chairman, Board of Directors, NEL/CPS; Mayor Allan W. Fung; Christopher Sabitoni on behalf of Armand Sabitoni, general secretary-treasurer and New England regional manager of Laborers International Union of North America; Deborah A. Gist, Rhode Island commissioner of education; Dr. Judith A. Lundsten, superintendent of Cranston Public Schools; the Honorable Andrea Ianazzi, Cranston School Committee chairwoman; and Dennis Curran, executive director of NEL/CPS.

A DVD slideshow following the students through the years entertained guests as they waited for the event to begin. Lundsten circulated through the crowd of parents, families and friends, greeting them warmly and congratulating them on the accomplishments of their children. Gist spoke with several members of the faculty and staff of NEL/CPS.

As Traficante opened the ceremony, he thanked the guests for coming.

“I offer my heartiest and most sincere congratulations to you, the families, parents and graduates. Thank you for your participation at this once-in-a-lifetime moment,” Traficante said. “I sincerely thank you for entrusting us these past four years with the educational welfare your child.”

He offered the graduates a piece of advice before turning over the microphone to emcee Joseph (Jay) Sabitoni.

“Always remember that your natural God-given abilities and talents, which you have nurtured over the past four years, will always get you where you want to go, but it will be your character that will get you there,” he said.

As Jay Sabitoni took to the microphone, he spoke of the decade of excellence which has taken place since the school opened its doors.

“We have changed the lives of hundreds of students, who until 10 years ago never had another high school option, one that featured small classrooms, a nurturing atmosphere and learning environment,” he said.

Fung congratulated the school on 10 excellent years, and thanked the faculty and teachers for all that they do every day for the students. He thanked the parents and families for their support as well.

In his words to the students, Fung reminded them that everyone present had failed at something some time in their lives, and that at times, they too may fail. He reminded them to take advantage of the support system that exists around them when they are struggling through life’s challenges.

“Even if you don’t succeed, those people behind you, next to you and up on this stage are here for you. We want to see you succeed,” he said. “So get over the fact that you will fail sometimes and keep trying. Sometimes you have to try a different course, maybe numerous times before you get it right. All I can tell you is that you have been given the necessary tools to succeed. You are flexible, technology savvy, and most importantly, prepared to chase your dreams.”

Jay Sabitoni introduced the next speaker of the evening, co-founder Armand Sabitoni, whose son Christopher would be reading his speech on his behalf.

“None of us would be here tonight if it weren’t for the next visionary individual I am about to introduce. It’s hard to believe that more than a decade has passed since the original task force was convened to explore the possibility of creating a construction charter school. This initiative was the brainchild of Armand E. Sabitoni. He and the late Catherine Ciarlo, superintendent of Cranston Public Schools, co-founded this school. They realized the opportunity for an innovative charter academy that would allow students a very unique, hands-on and rewarding academic experience. The Construction Career Academy remains the first ever and only charter school in the United States formed through a unique union and public school partnership,” Jay Sabitoni said.

As Christopher Sabitoni spoke, he acknowledged the fact that the evening was the first of many milestones that the graduates would experience throughout their lives. He spoke of the challenges that the students have conquered in their years at the school.

“You have accomplished many things individually and as a class this year,” he said. “This year, the New England Laborers/Cranston Public Schools Construction and Career Academy earned the largest one-year gain in NECAP reading scores for secondary schools in the state, a gain of 15 percentage points. Our charter school also had the largest gain in NECAP reading scores for all schools over a five-year span, a gain of 31 percentage points.”

Christopher Sabitoni spoke to the audience about the students’ commitment to securing gainful employment throughout their high school years and beyond.

“Our innovative World of Work program continues to be a huge success in preparing our students with the essential job readiness skills that are critical in attaining and retaining a job, whether it be part-time employment during high school or college, or a full-time career upon graduation,” he said. “I am proud to announce that all 10 seniors who graduated and completed the New England Laborers apprenticeship program last year are all Local 271 union members today, working on union construction projects throughout the state.”

Gist also applauded the students for their achievements and noted that this was the first of many milestones to come.

“This is the moment to celebrate. I hope that there will be other graduation days to celebrate in your future, but this one is hugely important and it’s one that all of us remember,” Gist said.

She asked the students to think back to the earliest days of their elementary school years.

“I’d like you to reflect back to the first days of kindergarten. You were so little, so scared and wondering what kindergarten would be like, but you did it and you did it well. Then there was middle school. It was scary, it was going to be bigger than your elementary school, but you did it and you did it well. Then came high school. Think back to that moment in time, walking through those doors,” she said. “You’re now going to walk out those doors tonight as a high school graduate. You’re walking out to a very different opportunity and world of things that are coming your way. You think to yourself, ‘Will I make it?’ We’ve all had those moments time and time again. Remember to stick with it as you walk through those doors and turn those tassels. Remember when you look back on this day that you persevered and overcame obstacles in the past, and you absolutely can do it again.”

Lundsten shared a favorite children’s story with the graduates and their families, “Yay You, Moving Up and Moving On” by Sandra Boynton. As she paged through the book, the superintendent noted that the story was written by the author on the occasion of her son’s high school graduation in 2002.

As she reached the portion of the story that asked the graduates their next step in life, Lundsten said, “I will tell you that you have many options. I want to remind you that the world is yours. Live life to the fullest and dream big, as you are moving up and moving on. Remember there are no mistakes, only lessons. Each of you need to write your own story. You will be the hero in your story. Think about the next four years. Be daring, be bold, and most importantly, be true to yourself.”

As Ianazzi spoke, she walked the students through a history of the world, from when the students entered kindergarten through their graduation day. She spoke of the changes that have taken place in technology and history as the students made their way through their elementary and secondary years. She encouraged them to remember Maya Angelou’s quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” as they made their way in the world after graduation.

Before diplomas were presented, valedictorian Merissa Tunstall addressed her fellow classmates. She spoke to them about the unique educational experiences that have been gained at NEL/CPS and explained to them the importance of applying all the lessons they have learned as they move forward.

“School can be a daunting task for most students. There are tests, assignments and NECAPs, and your willingness and devotion has paid off,” she said. “However, more important than the curriculum is how we take that information and apply it.”

She related their experiences to the educational theme focused on during the school year, based upon the novel “The Great Perhaps.”

“We spent a great deal of time talking about the human condition. We had great discussions and it got very philosophical. I believe that happiness and peace with oneself are all that anyone needs in the end,” Tunstall said. “We’re only human. Mistakes will happen. Brush it off and learn from the consequences of our actions. Remember that it’s not all about grades, but rather the lessons we’ve learned.”

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