Instructional Assistant of the Year Kathleen Caisse makes a connection with Griswold High School students

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Jun. 17, 2013
GHS instructional assistant Kathleen Caisse (center, in pink) poses with some of her students (l-r): McKayla Loranger, Ericka Schaedler and Italia Krick.
GHS instructional assistant Kathleen Caisse (center, in pink) poses with some of her students (l-r): McKayla Loranger, Ericka Schaedler and Italia Krick.

Beneath her quiet and unassuming exterior, Kathleen Caisse is a show-stopper. When she was introduced as the district’s Instructional Assistant of the Year at last month’s Griswold High School RISE assembly, the entire student body rose to its feet and gave her a long, boisterous standing ovation that lasted a full 60 seconds and left her speechless.

She still tears up a little talking about that day. “It really took me by surprise. They were clapping and yelling my name. I was in amazement,” she said.

As her voice faltered describing the event, a high school girl piped up, “Oh, Mrs. Caisse, you’re so cute!”

Caisse has worked in the Griswold schools since 1996, when she and her family moved to town from New Hampshire. “I was homesick,” she admitted. Since her sons were in school, she offered her services as a volunteer at what was then Griswold Intermediate School. Though she’d previously been a dental assistant, it was clear that she was at home in the classroom, and she began substituting on a regular basis. Cheryl Veilleux, who was principal of the intermediate school at the time, approached Caisse with the offer of a long-term position as what was then termed a teacher’s aide. Caisse signed on and has never left.

While she has worked at all three schools in the district, Caisse feels most at home in the high school, where she’s worked for seven years. “I love walking in the door,” she said. “High school I love the most because I can really watch [the students] grow in their last few years. I try to give them kindness, and I hope that that guidance and nurturing [I’ve] given them will follow them into that great big world out there.”

Her work is directed primarily at the school’s special education students: helping them organize their day and their assignments as they navigate their classes mainstreamed alongside other students. She may be working with one to five special ed. students at a time in a classroom. But over the years, she has earned the trust and respect of the rest of the student body, so much so that she often finds students confiding in her.

Caisse said she tells her students, “When you walk out the door, your choices are your own, so make good ones.” She keeps little trinkets – like stones with inspirational words on them – available to hand out to her students. “As quickly as I buy them, they disappear,” she said. While she never knows how her words will affect her students, “you need a positive connection with them,” she said. “Sometimes I think, ‘That wasn’t a big deal,’ but to them it’s over the top.”

She said that she feels blessed to have her students’ confidence, and is always thrilled to bump into her former students around town. Sometimes, they’ll even show her that they’re still carrying the stone she game them back in high school.

Caisse said she hesitated to fill out the qualifying forms for state-wide Instructional Assistant of the Year honors, but her colleagues urged her on. “I told them, ‘There’s so many gifted people!’ and they said, ‘You’re re one of them.’ So I will do it for the kids and for my peers. I learned from my peers,” she said. “As a team, we all work together.”

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