Meriden schools to expand Success Academy with satellite locations

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MERIDEN — Educators have two main goals at Success Academy. The first is ensuring that their small cohort of students graduates from high school. The second is to make sure those students don’t leave the program without a post-graduation plan. 

That plan could be entering the workforce directly, or enrolling in a trade school or community college program. 

“We want the kids to graduate. We want them to have a plan when they leave,” said Gary Maratea, the program’s lead teacher. Maratea formerly taught at Platt High School and chaired the school’s math department before joining Success Academy for the current school year. 

In developing post graduation plans with Success Academy students, educators ask students how they are going to reach their goals. Maratea used a career in auto mechanics as an example. “How are you going to become a mechanic? What’s the actual plan in place? How are you going to take that next step?” Maratea said. 

So educators work with students to determine their objectives. Then they devise a checklist for meeting them. 

Success Academy first opened in the fall of 2015 as an alternative high school program for students who were at-risk of not finishing high school on-time because they hadn’t earned enough credits to graduate. The program relaunched during the past school year, after it had gone on hiatus during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now the program, based at 191 Pratt St., will expand this fall with satellite locations at both Platt and Maloney high schools. That expansion will be funded through the district’s share of American Rescue Plan Act monies. While the existing Success Academy program operates during the school day, the satellite sites will include after school programs at both high schools. 

The current program is customized to meet students’ needs. For example, students could enroll in academic classes for the first half of their days, while going to work during the second half. 

“That depends on how much time they’re dedicating to academics,” Civitello said. “We’re able to provide a half a day where they’re working on academics and in the second half we set them up with a job opportunity. That all depends on where they stand with graduation requirements.” 

The first semester at Success Academy was just days away from concluding when the Record-Journal visited. 

The alternative high school program targets students who have not thrived in traditional public health school settings, like Maloney or Platt, by providing them with a chance to recover credits from classes students may have previously been unsuccessful in. That chance is delivered in smaller class settings with more direct instruction with teachers, tutors and counselors.

The program moved to 191 Pratt St., a building that formerly housed the Meriden Public Schools’ College & Career Readiness Center.

“We’re excited about what we do here. We feel we put students in a good position to succeed,” Maratea said. 

Peter Civitello, the school district’s supervisor of Data Integration and Post Secondary Planning, supervises the program. 

After halting during the pandemic, the program relaunched with the goal to provide students who need a small setting, strong social and emotional supports and small group academic supports. 

The program serves around 40 students during a given year. 

The program’s expansion reflects officials’ recognition that significant numbers of students were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and need additional supports to ensure they graduate on time. 

“I think the flexibility to offer more credits through the year than the high schools helps get the kids caught up and back on track,” Maratea said. “That’s why the kids choose us. They’re falling behind and we help them get back up and get them into the real world.”

When the program was established, officials’ efforts were directed toward students who were considered “over age” and “under credit.”

That is still a focus, Civitello said. The program is structured to allow students to earn up to 11 or 12 credits in a year. The program also offers students a personalized learning experience program, or PLE, and employment opportunities. 

“Most students you will find out they start to like this atmosphere, this environment. It’s a smaller setting. There’s not that opportunity to really get lost like in the bigger Platt and Maloney atmosphere that there is here,” Civitello said. “We have a good staff to student ratio. I think parents and students when they come here, find out this is a comfortable setting to succeed and will take them all the way to graduation.”

While some students and families, once caught up, do opt to return to the comprehensive high schools, many choose to stay with the Success Academy program, Citivello said. 

Before students enroll in the program, they must apply and sit down for interviews with Maratea and his staff. 

“I ask them why they want to come here,” Maratea said. And during those interviews he makes clear that students whose past struggles were based on the fact that they did not attend classes and did not complete their class assignments, will need to change those behaviors. 

“If they choose to come here and don’t come to school and don’t do any work, the results aren’t going to change,” Maratea said. “We tour the building. I ask, ‘Do they like the smaller setting?’ Simple questions.

Students also tour the building’s two floors. Its classrooms are smaller, and it has a multi-purpose space, which is used for art, as a cafeteria space and for other assemblies.  

During the Record-Journal’s visit to the program, art teacher Amy Viger supervised as students worked on small components for what would ultimately become a larger puzzle, with each student contributing to it. 

“All of the puzzle pieces are going to fit with each other — so it makes one big puzzle for the school,” Viger said. 

The program presently has three full-time staff who work full schedules. Other teachers from Platt and Maloney also teach there part-time as well. 

Marissa Cardona, previously a family school liaison for the Meriden Public Schools, now serves as Success Academy’s college and career coordinator. 

Cardona explained that in her new role she connects with students one-on-one. They work on putting together resumes, and building up their soft skills. She helps connect students with workforce opportunities. Cardona’s role involves connecting with potential employers, helping students do job shadows, along with coordinating other opportunities. 

“We have a goal: to make sure every student is connected with an opportunity, regardless of what it is,” Cardona said. “It might be manufacturing or a two-year college.”

Faith Christian-Ferri is a senior in the program. The 17-year-old had struggled with verbal communication in a larger high school setting. She started Success Academy last August and has already made significant strides.

Christian-Ferri has launched fully into a few creative pursuits: crocheting is one of them. Journalism and writing are other endeavors. In addition to writing essays and pieces that are autobiographical in nature, Christian-Ferri said she also enjoys writing about important topics, like poverty and anxiety. 

Success Academy has given her the space to explore those endeavors. 

“Here because of the size, you get more of a personal experience with teachers,” Christian-Ferri said. “There are lovely people here. They’ve introduced me to a lot of opportunities.”

For example, Christian-Ferri has crocheted items that have been donated to the Meriden Senior Center. Soon she will be working with Gallery 53 and continuing to make crafts. 

At the same time, she is also focused on continuing to develop her writing skills. 

“My ultimate goal is to write a book one day,” Christian-Ferri said. 

According to Civitello, the biggest key that enables students like Christian-Ferri to thrive is the relationships with educators they develop in the Success Academy building. 

“When they’re dealing with classrooms of eight to 12 students it really gives them the ability to have that relationship and the one-on-one small group focus they need,” Civitello said. 

Not every student succeeds in a traditional high school classroom, with 25 students. In that type of setting, some students tend to hide and not develop the relationships they need with their instructors to succeed. 

“It’s those relationships. They thrive on that. That’s what’s helping these students really succeed,” Civitello said. 

School counselor Chris Marinaro is among those adults who helps guide students on that successful path. 

Marinaro said in addition to helping individual students achieve their goals of graduating from high school and obtaining fruitful employment there is another goal for each of them: “Working toward being their best selves,” Marinaro said. 



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