Two former students endorse Jerry Stevens for first selectman

To the Editor,

As former students of Mr. Jerry Stevens, we would like to say some words about him.

Most middle school students looked forward to woodshop class, us included. The ability to work with our hands and make tangible things to admire for years on end captivated us. To be allowed to use power tools, including jigsaws and bandsaws, was a great privilege and something we could not have fathomed one or two years before taking the class. Seventh grade is an awkward time for many students, but those of us who grew up in Monroe were fortunate enough to have that time made less awkward thanks to having Mr. Jerry Stevens as a teacher.

To start, Mr. Stevens (we may be almost 30, but there’s no way we can call him anything but ‘Mr. Stevens’ even 13 years after having him as a teacher) knew how to make everyone laugh – and we mean everyone. The two of us have always been quite serious, and we were rather soft-spoken for most of our elementary and middle school years. Cracking a smile was enough to surprise our classmates, but laughing out loud at something? That was nearly unthinkable – it’s like we said, middle school was an awkward time.

And yet, Mr. Stevens found ways to bring humor to the classroom every day. We remember a great many of his jokes – from cajoling about how we wouldn’t see his “ugly face” anymore, to answering phone calls by calling himself “Mr. Funny of the Funny Farm,” to playfully calling all of us “trouble” and “nudge” in a way that we could only be all smiles when walking into his classroom. We still have and display everything that we built in Mr. Stevens’s classroom – our two CO2 wooden cars, a maglev racer, a corner shelf, and a small wooden train station.

That last one is especially a testament to Mr. Stevens’s good instincts as a teacher – when eighth grade commencement practices kept on interrupting classes and nearly forced that project to be abandoned, Mr. Stevens still let us come to his classroom during after hours to finish putting the little station together and completing its paint job. Even now, we take great pride in looking at what we were able to build as teenagers, and still manage to impress some family friends when they see our work.

In the years since then, we got to know Mr. Stevens as more than just a good teacher and kind man – he was a trusted ally and even a mentor to us from his position in the Board of Education.

In 2021, owing to the changing post-pandemic world, major cuts to the music and arts programs in Monroe schools were being proposed by the town government. Although we were unfortunately used to the music programs experiencing these threats, we understood that this new round of cuts could have done irreparable damage to Monroe’s reputation, and significantly harmed arts programs in general.

As graduates of the Greater Connecticut Youth Orchestras, we were acquainted with the music programs of Monroe’s neighbors, including those of Fairfield, Trumbull, and Newtown, and the thought that Monroe might not be able to compete in any way with these towns in the future was appalling to us. How could parents with children who succeed more on the school’s stage or in the art studio be convinced to move to Monroe as opposed to one of those towns, if these cuts took place?

When staff from Masuk’s arts and music programs expressed these concerns to the parents, we learned of them and decided to take action. We collected statements from several graduates from the arts and music programs and spoke with Mr. Stevens about all of it. Mr. Stevens brought the statements from us and the other graduates to the board, and worked to ensure that these draconian cuts would not occur. To this, we are eternally grateful.

Mr. Stevens knows what it means for a town to raise successful students – be it through academic achievement, high scores from sports arenas, and through standing ovations in the auditorium. Investing in youth is investing in the town’s future. Good and robust programs will keep students busy and intellectually curious, thus ensuring that the town’s children are being kept occupied by productively using their skills for society’s betterment, not detriment.

Mr. Stevens is not only a strong leader, but also a gentle human. He knows how to work with everyone and to set people on better paths. He spoke at great detail on how he would like to repurpose the now-abandoned Chalk Hill for means of continuing to serve as a center of education. He believes in greater transparency for the town we’ve called home for almost 27 years.

As a bonus, Mr. Stevens loves dogs. He’s met our dog, Nemo, and was gentle with Nemo, treating our little pooch like a prince. It’s a true testament to his character.

We want all of this in a leader. A kind person. A good person. A smart person. A person who knows how to get results, not just talk about them in hypotheticals.

As former students, we are proud to endorse Mr. Jerry Stevens to become the Town of Monroe’s next First Selectman. We will feel so honored to vote for our teacher to attain that office. To those of you who also had Mr. Stevens as a teacher, and to all of you parents whose children had him as a teacher, we know that you will feel that same honor.

To those of you who haven’t yet gotten the pleasure of meeting Mr. Stevens and getting to know him, we hope you will consider voting for him as well, and as he increases the town government’s transparency, you will not be disappointed and will soon know Mr. Stevens as well as we do.

Thank you, all. Mr. Stevens, we wish you the very best. Go get ‘em!

Anand V. Veeraraghav and Avinash V. Veeraraghav

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