A Letter From CHSAA President, Dr. Curtis Odom ‘90
Greetings Fellow Alumni And Friends,
Welcome to the start of a new school year and my favorite season! As your President, I am writing today to give you a quarterly update of the good work the Association has done since my last letter. I am excited to report that we finished the third quarter strong with many successful events, and three new additions to the Association Board of Directors. Donna, our Executive Director, has been hard at work keeping us all informed, with the help of Leila, our Communications Specialist. I am asking for your time and latitude in advance of reading this lengthy letter because there is much to report this quarter.
On September 16th, we had our Board of Directors retreat. We spent time that day discussing our expectations for the Association, and sharing candid thoughts on how we can better engage our younger and ethnically diverse Classical alumni. As you may know, the student body of the school is now 76% ethnically diverse, 68% of the students are members of families who live at or below the poverty level, and 54% are female. Classical High School, now more than ever, truly represents the city of Providence as an ethnically diverse community. In addition, in spite of challenging demographics, 2017 Classical High School graduates received more than $18 million dollars in academic and athletic scholarships to the top colleges and universities in the nation. Just this past week, Principal Scott Barr informed me that Classical was named a “Blue Ribbon School” by the United States Department of Education. This is a HUGE honor for our alma mater, and an honor that I hope fills you with pride, knowing that our students, teachers, and parents are indeed “Keeping Classical Strong”!
I am pleased to share that, as an outcome of our retreat discussion, the board approved a new slate of events for this academic year that is targeted at being more inclusive to current students, faculty, parents, and our fellow alumni. This is a big step forward for the Association because our events to date, while well attended, were not of interest to the entire alumni community. You will see “Save The Dates” coming your way soon, via both social media and traditional mailings, for events through the end of 2018. I hope that you are also excited by our increased use of social media to better connect all of us as alumni. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts!
We think you will find that our new list of events appeals to many, with something happening each month. It is our hope that by having more events, we will have a chance to see more of our Classical alumni, students, parents, and faculty in attendance. Our next event is the Homecoming Tailgate on October 21 at Classical. This will be an annual event, and we hope to see many of you there. Come by, reconnect with old friends, meet some new friends, and enjoy an all-you-can-eat lunch from the iconic Haven Brothers food truck.
To continue our work of putting our students first, we will be creating a formal alumni mentoring program for students (especially our rising seniors) to help them “Focus and Finish” their Classical education. Another key goal will be to share with them how to take their Classical education with them as they depart for college or career. We are also restarting the alumni speaker series at the school, now rebranded as the “To Your Success” Speaker Series. Our goal is to build a slate of interested alumni who are willing to spend up to 30 minutes talking with students. This could be in person or, for alumni who are not local, via Skype or as a virtual session. My goal is for our students to hear alumni “after I left Classical” stories, and have some time for Q&A with alumni. I am sure you will agree that this effort will go a long way to better connect us all. I want our students to know that they are supported, and to see and meet alumni who came from their same neighborhood, to fuel their aspirations as they continue to strive.
As President, I am meeting this month with fellow Classical alumnus, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. Mayor Elorza recently announced a $400 million pledge to invest in Providence Public Schools over the next 10 years. I plan to meet with the Mayor, build better rapport between his office and our Association, and discuss a cohesive plan for what the building at 770 Westminster Street needs after not having ANY capital improvements made since it was built more than 50 years ago. Our school needs his help since it is in desperate need of repair, renovation, and remodeling. You can read his announcement at the following link:
That’s all to share for now. I will write again in January to share news of what is sure to be a very successful close out of 2017, to announce our new slate of Board Members, and to share the exciting details of our upcoming first ever Alumni Association Annual Report. Thank you for your ongoing support as we show our “Loyalty In Action” through our continued work of Keeping Classical Strong!
Classified: Senior Year – A Blessing and a Curse
At the beginning of the year, all seniors meet in the auditorium for an assembly we’re told very little about. At Classical, these gatherings are commonplace events, usually held to go over the code of conduct once again. Yet, somehow this one feels different. When the bustling of the crowd dies down, nearly every seat filled by a class of 296 students, you begin to hear the chants of the audience: “Seeeniors! Seeeniors!” Most join in, encouraged by even the vice principals to relish in our accomplishments and voice our spirit. Those who don’t can be seen displaying immense smiles, clutching the hands of their closest friends in nervous celebration. At this point in time, with various obligations, grades, and assignments running through our heads, we are all united in one emotion: relief. We’ve made it. My friend rests her head on my shoulder and whispers to me, “I can’t believe it.” And neither can I. The fact is, being nearly done with our high school experience is something that always seemed just out of reach. Now, sitting in this auditorium, the realization that this is our last year as kids under Classical’s wing comes, in the words of author John Green, slowly, then all at once.
The cheering soon comes to an end and Mr. Torro of the guidance department steps forward to begin addressing the topic that awakens the crowd’s subdued anxiety. Inevitably, this assembly was not held to heighten our spirits, but to begin the college process itself, the looming cloud over our senior festivities. We are told that our applications should be started, our test scores gathered, and our college tours scheduled. Flyers are handed out with due dates repeated tenfold and panicky glances are exchanged across the aisles. Suddenly, we are given the responsibility of choosing, and getting into, an institution that will be our home and our future for years to come. For many students, this is a time of excitement, their time and efforts all crafted into the single application they’ve dreamt of since middle school. Most, on the other hand, look back on things they should’ve done. This could be better. That could be stronger. Is my class rank really that low? A million thoughts pass through our minds as we lean back in our seats and absorb the presentation, the sense of joy and accomplishment from just a moment ago now dissipated.
In a single assembly, the irony of senior year is captured. We, as children teetering on the edge of adulthood, are faced with the decision of where we want to go, what we want to do, who we’d like to be. The end of our high school era marks the almost immediate start to a new, more intimidating time of independence and self-discovery, a transition that is difficult to grasp when your parents still cook you dinner each night. Now, we are expected to write a paper, only a page and a half long, describing who we are to our college admissions officers, showing them why we are different and worthy of their acceptance. But how do we, as students, illustrate who we truly are when until now our main source of exploration has been determining what will make us desirable candidates for these schools?
With the finality of high school comes a certain sense of self-doubt. The college process is, quite literally, a process, from your nervous first day as a freshman to the day you cross the stage of the VMA in your cap and gown and hear your mother’s distinct cheers from the audience. Seniors come to look back on not only the grades they should’ve salvaged and extracurricular they should’ve joined, but the opportunities they passed up on the way to their next chapter, the hours they spent studying instead of going to the winterball and cute girl in their chemistry class that they never spoke to. These are the experiences that, captured in an essay, show more of you to a college than a single test score ever could. Ironically, these opportunities for self-exploration are often passed up for a better grade on one’s transcript.
For all of its flaws, the college process combined with the excitement of senior year is a time of growth for us students. It is a time to take advantage of our freedom and pursue the things we never had a chance to, while savoring the school traditions engraved in us until the day they cease to exist. It’s bittersweet that the Classical halls we have become so accustomed to will soon be replaced by those of college dormitories, but the prospect of new opportunities around the corner is the thing that keeps us running during these months of never-ending work. After all, the thought of being completely responsible for your own success is a terrifying one, but beautiful all the same.
Written by Sonia Richter ‘18
Get to Know the Team!
What’s your role and how long have you been in it?
Donna: I am the Executive Director. I’ve been in the role for nearly 18 months.
Leila: I’m the Marketing Communications Specialist. I joined the team in May 2017 so it’s been 6 months!
Where were you before you joined CHSAA?
Donna: Living in sunny southern California.
Leila:Well, I got my Masters of Public Policy from Brown University in 2015 and was, as many graduates were, not met with open arms by the local job market. So, I worked in retail while I continued to network, avoid getting smothered by student loan debt, job search, and attempt to avoid having another existential crisis.
What are the pros and cons of your position?
Donna: Pros: serving the greater good through the CHSAA mission; working with amazing and diverse people; cultivating community; having an impact on social change. Cons: lots to do with not enough time and resources; working evenings and weekends; Lots of meetings; my day never goes as planned.
Leila: I love being able to reconnect with the school, especially current students. It’s also always great to hear from alumni about their time at Classical and the positive impact it’s had on their lives. On the not-so-great side, there is more to do than there are people to do it and people often underestimate all the behind the scenes work that’s happening. One question I’ve gotten more than once is, “Is it a full time job?” Yes, it is. Some weeks it’s a full time job and a part time job all in one.
What did you learn about each other from working together?
Donna: Leila is extremely literal and I am visual/conceptual so I had to adjust my communication style to ensure she understands what I am asking her to do. She is also a very contemplative person who always seeks to find the answer. I love how she “figures stuff out”. She is the MacGyver of CHSAA. Leila is also very patient with my ”tech karma”. We share a sarcastic sense of humor.
Leila: I have learned a few things about Donna. She views people as a whole, which is refreshing. She’s emotionally intelligent. Her main motto is, “You have to meet people where they’re at” and that can be a tough thing to do. I often remind myself of that quote in both my personal and professional life. Donna has definitely set the bar pretty high for any and all future bosses for me.
What have you learned from being in your position in the organization that you didn’t expect to learn when you started?
Donna: Classical is a tight knit community unlike any other I have experienced. Supporting public education with private funds is essential.
Leila: I have learned a lot about relationship management.
Describe your workspace.
Donna: My home office has lots of natural light. I have a Ganesha on my desk to help remove obstacles and open doorways, a Buddha on the credenza to help me be mindful in every way and a small crystal ball that reminds me I cannot predict the future so stay in the present moment. There is always lots of paper and files on my desk that reflect what I am working on any particular day. My cell phone is always nearby. There are pictures of Kauai above my desk when I need to seek refuge. I have a bookshelf with my Yogic texts within reach when I need inspiration or contemplation.
Leila: My desk is a mess! I’m actively working on being neater – it’s a struggle and a process. But, that aside, my desk is great. I have the same chair I sat on during my senior year of high school, undergrad, and grad school. I have a lot of pens; I love stationery so, whenever someone I know travels and offers to bring me something, it’s usually a pen. There are a lot of papers I need to sort through, my magnets, which are relaxing to fiddle with, my palo santo sticks, and The Help, which I haven’t quite had the chance to finish.
What are your favorite memories from your role?
Donna: 1) The first time I delivered Stop & Shop gift cards to the school. I realized the impact the organization had on the lives of Classical students. 2) Any time I get to interact with the students is a joy. 3) Meeting alumni who reach out to CHSAA.
Leila: Anytime I get to visit the school and speak with students and staff is great.
What would you like people to know about the Alumni Association?
Donna: CHSAA is committed to its mission. We are working hard to be inclusive and reflective of our entire community. We rely solely on donations to fund the operation as well as support the needs of the school so every penny counts and is received with deep gratitude.
Leila: One of our main goals is to connect with alumni and foster long-term relationships. We’re working hard to cultivate and strengthen those relationships.
Your involvement is so important to us. If you’re an alum who’s hesitant about reaching out to us, please know that we’re cool people and we’d love to hang out with you. We’re on social media so get to know us!
What are your personal goals?
Donna: Life is the sum of our experiences. I seek to learn and grow from every experience I have be it good, bad, easy, difficult, happy, sad, long or short.
Leila: Happiness and health. Neither of those are possible to have all the time and what defines being ‘happy’ and ‘healthy’ has changed throughout my life. However, my goal will always be to make the changes in my life, whenever necessary, to bring me back to whatever qualifies as ‘healthy’ and ‘happy.’
What are your professional goals?
Donna: To remain in nonprofit, mission based work that has an impact on society and the greater good.
Leila: I’m always looking to learn new skills and meet new people. In my current role, my main objective is to engage as many alumni as possible and continue to develop a strong connection with both the school and alumni.
How can people reach you?
Donna: I have an open door policy. I meet with and/or speak to everyone who reaches out. Call, text or email. Whatever is easiest for you works for me. You can reach me at 401-383-6471 ext. 1 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leila: The best ways to reach me would be through our social media accounts, by calling, or by emailing. I respond to all direct messages on Instagram and Facebook messenger personally. If you’re looking to call, the number is 401-383-6471 and my extension is 2. My email is email@example.com.
Alumnus of the Month: Maureen DiCristofaro ‘74
Name: Maureen DiCristofaro
Class Year: 1974
Post High School Education
B.A. – University of Rhode Island 1978
Juris Doctor – Suffolk University Law School 1981
I practiced law in Massachusetts from 1981-1987 in a local family law practice. In addition I assisted low income people obtain legal services in the area of family law. Thereafter I returned to my hometown Rhode Island and opened a law office with my husband. I continue to represent both private RI and MA clients navigate the Court system, along with continuing to assist low-income persons. Frequently, I am appointed to represent children in the Court and I consider this a tremendous responsibility and highlight of my career.
What do you remember most about your time at Classical and how has your time there shaped you?
I remember the support and camaraderie of those who were striving to achieve a great education and be civic-minded. I attended Classical when students were learning to stand up for their rights and I truly believe we were in the forefront of the age of diversity. I joined a committee which met and worked on specific activities to assist students in learning more about their multi-cultural classmates.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments or struggles to date?
I learned to multi-task at Classical. I studied, worked on committees, attended after school programs and worked part-time. I never considered myself to be the top of the class, yet, learning how to master many tasks made it so much easier for me to handle the obligations and life at college and law school.
Classical gave me the confidence to apply to and attend law school, taught me how to study and pass the bar exam. I believe this would not have been possible without having attended Classical.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Passionate, caring and loyal.
What do you do for fun?
I love to cook and travel.
You’re running late for a meeting, what’s the most likely reason why?
What was the last song you listened to?
What motivates you?
I am motivated to continue to be a source of assistance to my clients, family and friends.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to attend Classical. As a result I enjoy having participated with the growth of the Alumni Association this past 10 years and tried to get more graduates involved. The Association is selflessly working to keep the standards high at Classical; I am proud to be a Classical High School graduate.