NEWINGTON - College essay, team championship, math homework, or drama at home - Mrs. Franco can help.
The Student Assistance Center (SAC) at Newington High School fills up around lunchtime, as people filter in to see SAC tutor Eileen Francolino. Fondly known as “Mrs. Franco” or even just “Franco” - she is students’ go-to source for academic assistance and advice about personal problems.
“She’s always there for us whenever we need anything,” Cassidy Gilchrest says.
Senior Alex DePaola is thrilled when he sees her sitting in the bleachers at one of the home team’s hockey games.
“She says she want to try and make it to every game this season,” says DePaola, who has achieved Honor Roll every quarter since he’s been studying with her.
He and other students credit her tough love with their self-improvements.
“She’s very honest with you; she wants you to do good,” Lukas Klin points out. “That makes you work harder.”
He also appreciates their intellectually stimulating conversations.
“The one thing I love about Miss Franco is that we always disagree and butt heads about stuff, but we always find a way to come back from it,” Klin says.
If a student is doing something they’re not supposed to she won’t stand for it. On the other hand, she celebrates their birthdays and college acceptance letters.
“Kids want to share good news with her because they know she’ll be proud,” school counselor Laura Charamut says.
Her office is right across the hall from where Francolino has been the SAC tutor over 20 years now, so she can attest to how much she’s loved by alumni, current students and staff members alike.
“She’s irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind,” Charamut adds. “You can’t put into words how much she’s done for this school and these kids.”
Sara Caceres was positive she’d fail math before her first visit to the SAC.
“If it wasn’t for her, I honestly don’t think I’d have passed,” Caceres says.
Francolino comes to all her volleyball games and stays updated on class curriculum and teacher expectations, to provide the best tutoring assistance possible.
“Mrs. Franco has a binder on every class we offer here,” Principal Terra Tigno says. “She reads books students are reading and prepares for upcoming quizzes. If she gets wind of certain kids who are struggling, she’ll make sure she seeks them out. She works way above and beyond the regular school day.”
It’s been about a month since Francolino sat down with students to tell them some personal news of her own: She has esophageal cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments every other week in preparation for surgery.
“I wanted them to hear it from me and know I was going to be okay,” she explains. “We’re like a family. We don’t have secrets; I tell them like it is.”
Students banded together to make a card for her, encouraging “You got this Franco!”
“I’m trying to get here as often as I can,” she adds. “I think it’s good for me to stay positive and it’s good for them to see that. They keep me going. We rely on each other.”
Support leads to success, she tells students in the SAC, who are encouraged to help each other, too.
“I don’t speak Italian but I know a student here who’s fluent,” Francolino says. “We draw on each other’s strengths and get things done.”
Her medical insurance comes through her husband’s employer, but her current position with Newington Public Schools offers no paid sick time. Family friend Carolyn Ganley decided to launch a GoFundMe page to help. Both her sons loved Francolino, who was hesitant about the fundraiser at first.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine the town would come together the way it has,” she says. “It’s been so humbling.”
Over $13,000 came in just 19 hours after the launch. As of this week, 551 donors had contributed, totaling $32,413.
Francolino also happens to be a longtime volunteer for the town’s Parks and Recreation Board. She helps out at many events and received the 2018 Connecticut Recreation and Parks Association Public Service Award. She is currently chairing Newington’s 150th Anniversary Steering Committee.
Visit the GoFundMe page at gf.me/v/c/7rb/show-your-love-for-mrs-franco
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.