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NHS Chief Advocate

Nonnewaug High School's Chief News Source

NHS Chief Advocate

Beyond the Textbook: Classroom Decor Teaches Us, Too (PHOTOS)

Nonnewaug+staff+members+each+have+their+own+stories+about+why+their+rooms+are+decorated+in+unique+ways.
Gianna Lodice
Nonnewaug staff members each have their own stories about why their rooms are decorated in unique ways.

WOODBURY — Nonnewaug High School is anything but a dull place to go to school. Within every classroom, hallway, and alcove, inviting pops of color brighten the spaces in which teachers and students spend so much of their time.

Each classroom reflects the teacher who inhabits it – whether it’s with posters, photo galleries, college pennants, or stuffed animals on the shelves – often holding a meaning or lesson that goes beyond physical appearance. 

The staff of Nonnewaug aims to make the learning experience of students a fruitful one: one that goes beyond what their curriculum teaches. Their classrooms are often a reflection of that, displaying the unique qualities they bring to the table that students often reminisce about for years to come.

The Chief Advocate visited many classrooms around Nonnewaug to learn the stories behind staff members’ decor.

Science teacher Toby Denman shows off his orange hot mitt and appliance while posing near one of his bulletin boards, as well as his classroom’s resident stuffed animals. (Gianna Lodice)

Nonnewaug biology teacher Toby Denman describes the many items on his walls as “historical artifacts of my time and the time of others at Nonnewaug High School.” Denman’s quick-witted sense of humor and understanding personality, which have made him a fan favorite for generations of Nonnewaug students, surface throughout his classroom in multiple ways.

Whether it’s his big stuffed animal snake, his many pictures from soccer games over the years, or his “emotional support dinosaur” (pictured inside the basketball hoop), Denman’s room has something for everyone. “The dinosaur is affectionately known as the emotional support dinosaur,” he said of the little stuffed animal, which often makes appearances during his classes. “There’s a story, and anyone who’s interested can know when they graduate.”


English teacher Conor Gereg poses next to his bulletin board, featuring a Hungarian flag with some photos of his time teaching in Budapest. (Gianna Lodice)

Nonnewaug English teacher Conor Gereg has multiple decorated areas in his classroom, but perhaps the most unique is in the back corner of the room: his bulletin board dedicated to his time spent “teaching overseas, and the experience of working with students from across the world, specifically students from Budapest, Hungary,” he said.

As a teacher of multiple English courses, Gereg often finds ways to incorporate his time teaching across the pond into his lessons, providing students with an alternate perspective that not many teachers can say they are able to give from first-hand experience. For Gereg, the bulletin board not only serves as a window into his experience in Budapest, but also as “a reminder of how big the world is, and [how] we are just a small part of a bigger whole.”


History teacher Kyle Brennan admires his banner wall, featuring his Quinnipiac University NCAA hockey championship banner and his Nonnewaug baseball state championship banner. (Gianna Lodice)

Kyle Brennan is heavily involved in the Nonnewaug community – not only is he a history and journalism teacher, but he is also the NHS assistant baseball coach, athletic site supervisor, and the founder of Nonnewaug’s cornhole club. Both in the classroom and on the playing fields, Brennan makes it his mission to help students rise to success. His banner wall represents a manifestation of this mission in his own life.

“In the span of two months, my [alma mater] won the national championship – Quinnipiac hockey – followed by [Nonnewaug] winning the state championship in baseball,” he reflected. And while he says that the banners tend most to “catch people’s attention the first time they walk in,” they serve as an omnipresent reminder of greatness. “I look back at that state championship banner,” he said, “and think, ‘Man, that was great.’”


History teacher Michael Sturges poses by his in-class record collection, which rotates each week, along with his turntable and speaker.

Nonnewaug history teacher Michael Sturges’ classroom contains something that most people wouldn’t usually think of as being in a classroom: a retro, customized stereo system, complete with a set of five records which rotate out at the beginning of each school week. On any given day, the melodies of his eclectic music collection can be heard coming from his classroom as students and teachers walk by.

There are multiple purposes behind his setup: not only does it teach his students something about himself, but Sturges also utilizes his expansive knowledge of music as a teaching tool in all of his history courses. Perhaps the most simple reason, though, is how Sturges describes it. “It makes me feel like there’s a little bit of home here,” he said. “I find it comforting.” 


English teacher Ben Guerette poses with his lookalike bobblehead, a gift from his wife. (Gianna Lodice)

While English teacher Ben Guerette’s classroom is on the less colorful side of the spectrum, there are poignantly-placed mementos in his teaching space that encapsulate his cherished humorous personality. One of these items is a bobblehead – of himself.

“I’ve got a lot of, ‘Is that supposed to be you?’” Guerette said of students asking him about his look-alike. “To me it’s uncanny how much it looks like me, but I guess it would be weird if I had a bobblehead of just a random guy that wasn’t me.”


Wellness teacher Dave Green sits at his desk, surrounded by memorable pictures and keepsakes from his many years as a teacher and wrestling coach. (Gianna Lodice)

Wellness teacher and wrestling coach Dave Green has been a staple of the Nonnewaug community for nearly 30 years, as both a teacher and a wrestling coach. As someone who likes to use his own life experiences as teaching tools, his classroom memorabilia is purposeful, and has “a little bit of everything, from [subject-related items] to personal to former student stuff.” While his active schedule can cause his surroundings to “become white noise after a while,” he says that student questions often reinvigorate the memories that they hold.

“I think that sometimes,” he said, “if a student comes in and asks, ‘Who did that? What is that?’ Then I can tell them about a student or a thing that happened and things like that, kind of cool big connections.”


Nonnewaug librarian Deb Flaherty, left, and assistant Stephanie Deering show off their seasonal bulletin board, which greets students and faculty as they enter the library. (Gianna Lodice)

Since library media specialist Deb Flaherty, left, joined the Nonnewaug community in the fall of 2022, the Nonnewaug LMC has become noticeably more colorful and popular with students than it was in years past. Flaherty and her assistants, Stephanie Deering and Dawn Maletzke, place a lot of emphasis on making the space as “vibrant and moving” as possible, both for students and staff.

Creating this sense of “warmth” has perhaps been the most important goal atop Flaherty’s priority list since coming to Nonnewaug, where she already coached boys outdoor track and field. “When people come in they don’t want to feel cold,” she explained, “and doing things with displays makes it friendly.”


Nonnewaug dean of students and athletic director Declan Curtin poses by his athletics collage and his painting of Dunguaire Castle in Ireland, which is near where his family is from. (Gianna Lodice)

The infectious school spirit of Declan Curtin, Nonnewaug’s athletic director and dean of students, can be felt throughout the school building and on the athletic fields at all times of the year. His passion for sport is paralleled by just one other thing: a great pride in his family and his history. The painting of Ireland’s Dunguaire Castle on his wall is evidence of this, as it is a constant reminder of Curtin’s family history.

“That’s my roots,” he emphasized. “I always want to make sure that I know where I came from, because my family growing up didn’t have much back in the day. I grew up in rural Ireland, with not a lot of money, but the family’s done really well and worked really hard, and that’s kind of something I’m very proud of.” This, coupled with the “phenomenal” shots of generations of student-athletes on the walls, make Curtin’s office extremely reflective of the person he is. As he puts it, “It is literally everything that I represent.”


College and Career Resource Center counselor Kathy Green hangs a college pennant in her office, adding to the numerous college paraphernalia she has on display. (Gianna Lodice)

Junior and especially senior students at Nonnewaug spend copious amounts of time in counselor Kathy Green’s office, the College and Career Resource Center. Green, a post-high school planning resource that not many schools can say they have, has created a niche for herself unlike any other individual in the school building.

As she says, her office space is reflective of the many opportunities available to students, as well as a constant reminder of “where students have gone and where they may choose to go. They make me think about all the kids I’ve worked with and the present ones.” On a more silly note, she jokes that the most overwhelming thing that her decor reminds her of is of “all the other [flags] I’m supposed to put up.”


English teacher Marisa Holtman sits at her desk situated in her favorite corner of her room, complete with her director’s chair. (Gianna Lodice)

As the space where she spends “most of my day, every day,” English teacher Marisa Holtman aims to make her room “feel warm and welcoming” – and that she does. Many students enjoy her classes not just for her bubbly personality and her engaging teaching style, but also for the inviting mood of her classroom, complete with strung-up lights.

“I guess it just represents my interests and things that I love and things that make me feel happy,” she said of her space. “It just feels comfortable and cozy.”


Agricultural production teacher Katie Gorman sits atop her dresser-turned-chicken coop, used by her classes to house newborn chicks in the springtime. (Gianna Lodice)

The classroom of Katie Gorman, Nonnewaug’s agricultural production teacher, serves multiple purposes besides being the home base for her hands-on classes. “This is the space where we have faculty breakfast, [FFA alumni] meetings, and advisory meetings,” she explained. “For many individuals, their first interaction with the [agriscience] program is in this room, so how they feel and how welcome they feel, as well as warmth, dictates how they are going to feel about the program.”

Her room is a versatile space, perhaps best evidenced by the homemade chicken coop dresser that is transformed each year into a comfortable first home for chicks born in the spring. And as Gorman adds, the busy schedule of an involved ag teacher means that there are “weeks where I spend more time here than I do at my own house, and feeling like this space is mine helps [me] push through the day.”


Math teacher Laurenn Bertoglio poses next to one of her two bulletin boards displaying newspaper clippings of all things Nonnewaug, which start fresh at the beginning of each school year. (Gianna Lodice)

For math teacher Laurenn Bertoglio, Nonnewaug is a place that she feels especially lucky to be able to come to each day for work. Her collection of newspaper clippings, meticulously compiled starting at the beginning of each school year, is evidence enough of her dedication to the school community.

“I love this school and the kids that are in it, and it just makes it a place I want to be at everyday and like to come to,” Bertoglio says. She adds that she hopes her bulletin boards serve as a reminder to students that “this is a good place to be, and that they are cared about, and that it’s just a fun place to learn” as they do for her.


Yearbook advisor and digital art teacher Genna Riggi sits at her workspace in her classroom, surrounded by sentimental pictures and artwork. (Gianna Lodice)

Genna Riggi is constantly undertaking new projects as both a digital arts teacher and Nonnewaug’s yearbook advisor, the fruits of which can be seen all around the school. She describes her workspace corner as being filled with ample memorabilia from various “chapters of my life,” ranging from photos of her extensive world travels to old student art. These experiences, Riggi says, have shaped her “not only as an educator but also as an individual” and help to keep her present in whatever it is she might be doing.

“When I see inspiration around me I feel like I’m able to deliver inspiring messages to my students,” she said. “[My decor] keeps me focused on what really matters – I think when times become mundane, [and] days become repetitive, I feel that these walls remind me what life is all about.”


History teacher Scott Parkhouse poses next to his “Wall of Fame” bulletin board, which showcases visual student work. To the right is a movie poster for the science fiction film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” (Gianna Lodice)

Nonnewaug history teacher Scott Parkhouse teaches a variety of courses, including one called History Through Film. The class places a lot of emphasis on using visuals as a teaching tool, which has made it a definite student favorite over the years. He describes his multiple movie posters – including the films Rocky and the science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers – as being “eye-catching” features of the room that “leave some curiosity” in both students and visiting adults.

Parkhouse also values his Wall of Fame bulletin board as a display of student talent. “It’s a place where I put up student work where the student has gone above and beyond the assignment, and it’s just a standout assignment,” he said. “It gives the students something to work toward because everybody wants to be up on the Wall of Fame; [it gives] them a little competition and a chance for them to display their good work.”

About the Contributors
Gianna Lodice '24
Gianna Lodice '24, Junior Editor
Gianna Lodice is a senior at Nonnewaug and a first-year reporter for the NHS Chief Advocate, now serving as a junior editor. A three-season athlete, Gianna is captain of the soccer, indoor track, and outdoor track teams, a testament to her passion for sports. She is also serving as the president of Nonnewaug’s National Honor Society for this year, and she is a member of the agriscience program. After high school, Gianna aspires to run track at her dream college (wherever that is) and potentially major in history on her route to law school. She is excited to write about things that interest her and have new experiences.
Layla Coppola '24
Layla Coppola '24, Reporter
Layla Coppola is a senior at Nonnewaug High School and is a sports reporter for the NHS Chief Advocate. She is an athlete and captain of the varsity girls soccer team. She is a first-year journalism student and enjoys writing about all kinds of news relating to sports. She will be committing to a college for soccer in the fall of this year. She is considering a career in finance once she graduates from the class of 2024.
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