'Force for good': Fitch senior plans career in special education

Groton — When fellow Robert E. Fitch High School students describe senior Jazzlyn Henderson, they're quick to mention her bright smile and positive attitude.

As sophomore Zay Quito, a fellow member of the Renaissance Crew, puts it: if you want to smile, just talk to Henderson.

"She just has a really bubbly personality that everybody needs in their life," Quito said.

Members of the Renaissance Crew, a club that focuses on positive school culture, talk about how Henderson lightens up their day and has served as an "older sister." 

Henderson, 18, said she's grown into the positive person she is today over her four years at Fitch High School, as well as from her family experiences.

When Henderson was younger, her parents were incarcerated, so she went to live with her aunt, Henderson said. She said her aunt has some mental health issues, and seeing that as a child helped Henderson grow into a more understanding person. Then, last year, Henderson's grandfather, who she was very close to, died suddenly, which took a toll on her family and her aunt and she had to be her aunt's backbone. She said her aunt has since come around, and her family is growing.

Henderson said that rather than let her situation define her, she was motivated to become the person she is.

The people she met and the activities she participated in during high school further helped her grow and discover her path.

In her first two years of high school, Henderson said she was the typical high school student who wasn't too enthusiastic about going to school, but she became involved last spring with the school's Renaissance Crew.

The club, which works to make the school a better place by putting up birthday walls and inspirational quotes and installing a rock garden outside the school, became a source of inspiration and made her even happier, she said. Assistant Principal Erin McGuire and teacher Casey Halliwell, an advisor to the yearbook and Renaissance clubs, are always positive and taught her to be so, too, Henderson said.

While working at a summer camp last year, Henderson said she met twins with Down syndrome who are amazing, and she knew right then and there she wanted to be a special education teacher.

"It changed my whole world and how I see things," Henderson said. "I love including them in everything."

Henderson said that when she started to work with children who have disabilities, she became more understanding and patient and wanted to spread positivity more.

"They inspired me to be this better version of myself," she said.

Henderson, who also is involved in sports and yearbook, baby-sits and works at Pizza Palace, will attend Southern Connecticut State University to major in special education and her dream job is to be a special education teacher at Fitch.

Henderson said her aunt and parents constantly tell her that they're so proud of her. She said everyone makes mistakes, and she doesn't fault her parents for being in jail when they were younger. She uses her parents as her motivation, and her parents, who live in the region, use her as their motivation, as they are so happy with the path she is taking and what she wants to do with her future.

"I’m doing things that brighten my life, and I just feel like I'm helping them by being this positive person and doing great things," she said.

She said she also feels being positive helps her aunt, who has remarked that Henderson has become more happy and positive since joining Renaissance Crew. Henderson said her relationship with her aunt has made her a better listener and more understanding.

Halliwell said Henderson is relatable and is very open about how she's changed and matured, especially with younger students.

"I think that students really gravitate towards that because they are looking for fellow role models," she said.

Halliwell said that Henderson, who had immediately emerged last year as a leader for the Renaissance Crew, always is willing to go out and encourage students and staff to be positive.

"She's really recognized as a force for good in our school," Halliwell said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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