MERIDEN — With just a few weeks of high school left, Maloney High School senior Griffin Papallo now has his eyes set toward the future.
This fall, the 18-year-old ventures to Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he’ll study occupational therapy.
Four years ago, when Papallo entered Maloney as a freshman he was unsure about his future path. But he knew one thing: “I just knew I always wanted to help people,” Papallo said.
Taking science classes and a class on medical careers help Papallo identify occupational therapy as a career choice.
Papallo said he is leaning towards pediatric occupational therapy as a focus. He said through his work at summer camps with younger students, he’s learned he is “very good at working with kids.”
On Thursday morning, leaders at Maloney High School celebrated Papallo and his peers during a pep rally-like event in the school’s auditorium dubbed “Senior Signing Day.” Platt High School will host a similar event for its students on Friday morning.
State education data show that roughly 64% of Meriden’s graduating high school seniors go on to two-year or four-year postsecondary programs.
During Thursday’s Senior Signing Day, many of those students who plan to attend such programs in the fall arrived wearing T-shirts and sweatshirts bearing the logos of their soon-to-be-schools: places like the University of Connecticut, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University, Middlesex Community College and many others. They followed a thunderous cadence from the Maloney High School Marching Band drumline as they made their way into the auditorium.
Of the Maloney seniors who walked across stage Thursday morning, 210 are bound for two-year or four-year schools, 28 are heading into the workforce, three into the military, and one student will enter the Community Classroom Collaborative — which helps students with special needs transition into the workforce.
Abbey McClure, 18, will follow the path blazed by her older siblings: she will attend Quinnipiac University this fall. Both of her older sisters majored in nursing. But McClure said she will pursue occupation therapy — much like Papallo.
McClure said she was able to obtain her license as a certified nursing assistant while at Maloney. While she initially considered nursing as a possible career, she realized that the profession “wasn’t for me.”
Then she found out about occupational therapy.
“And I realized that I just love working with other people and I think that would be a good career for me,” McClure said.
McClure spoke with the Record-Journal while she and her peers were gathered outside behind their school, during an event that had a neighborhood block party and cookout vibe, complete with hand held foods like hotdogs and hamburgers and activities including an inflatable bounce house.
The four-year high school graduation rates at both Maloney and Platt have continuously improved, state data show. During the five-year span between the 2016-2017 school year to the 2020-2021 school year, Maloney’s four-year rate increased from 86.2% to 95.2%. Platt’s rate similarly improved: from 82.6% in 2016-2017, to 90.5% four years later.
Peter Civitello, the Meriden Public Schools’ supervisor of data integration and post secondary planning, indicated the school district’s numbers for this year’s graduation rate are not finalized. However, both Platt and Maloney did reach benchmarks for college-going seniors: having 100% of them submit at least one application.
“That happened at both schools,” Civitello said. Also, all students completed planning meetings with school staff during which they decided on their post-high school goals, whether that was furthering their education, entering the workforce, or enlisting in the military.
Civitello said while the district doesn’t yet know its four-year high school graduation rates, he anticipates the overall number will be in the range of 94% to 95%.
Ensuring students graduate on time is an effort that begins as soon as they enter Maloney and Platt. Freshman year, the schools’ counseling departments monitor students’ progress through on-track rates. Counselors continue to work with students during the following two years, with post-secondary planning meetings beginning their junior years.
By the time students reach their senior years, counselors engage in what Civitello called “weekly senior list meetings.”
“We are meeting with every single senior to make sure that they have their senior plan in place: that they’ve completed their FAFSA, they’ve completed their college essays, they’ve received their recommendations, and reached out for potential internships,” Civitello said.
Those meetings have helped staff ensure they have a solid understanding of their students’ plans for after high school.
On Thursday, led by event emcee Jens Kiss, students’ celebrated those plans. Kiss read off students’ names, as well as the colleges they plan to attend and their intended majors. They walked across the Maloney High School stage as their fellow seniors, and juniors who looked on as well, cheered them on.
Maloney assistant principal James Donewald and Superintendent Mark D. Benigni were among those who cheered students on.
“Congratulations. You guys are very close to the finish line,” Donewald said.
Both he and Benigni urged students to give themselves a round of applause.
Benigni noted that students are off to different pursuits beyond high school. He offered some advice.
“Seniors, as you begin your next journey in life, choose a job or career that makes you excited to get up each and every day,” Benigni said. “Always do your best — even when no one is watching.”
Calvin Henderson, 17, is Maloney’s senior class secretary. Henderson will head to the University of Hartford this fall, majoring in communications.
“I like the school because it’s small,” Henderson said. “I’m going to get a lot of help from my professors.”
Henderson described his time at Maloney as having “been great.”
“I spend every single second in the music department, getting involved — being a part of a really strong community, making a lot of friends. And I feel like I’ve just had a ton of support from all the adults and staff in the building… I’ve gotten so many opportunities just coming here that I wouldn’t have gotten if I had gone to any other school,” Henderson said.