Students and staff members released pink balloons in loving memory of one of their own, the late Lisa Stoneham. The 62-year-old retired teacher died Jan. 5 after her courageous 20-year battle with metastatic breast cancer.
“She was the type of person where you could walk up to her and tell her anything about your life. She was a very trusting person and she was there for every student. She had a personal connection with every single student, which helped out greatly in the classroom and with just friendships in general,” said junior Ellery McKee, of Willard.
Stoneham taught English at South Central Middle School and was the stage director for many productions.
Both McKee and senior Cristiano Murphy credit Stoneham with getting them involved in theater. Murphy said Stoneham ultimately taught him that not only was he a talented football player, but he could sing too.
Stoneham pushed Murphy to audition for theater productions in eighth grade.
“It really wasn’t for me; it didn’t work out and so my freshman year, I wasn’t going to go out for it. I was kinda discouraged and then she told me that it was worth it. I went out for it and then I loved it,” Murphy said.
“She taught me that not only did I have a talent for sports, but a talent for singing. It was another way I could bless someone’s life — like she blessed mine.”
McKee had a similar experience with Stoneham pushing her to audition for productions.
“She was the one who kinda had faith in me and saw potential (in me) from being in the classroom with her. She just kept pushing (me) throughout my whole theater career,” the teenager said.
Staff members recalled Stoneham shared her knowledge of theater and how she pushed the students to excel.
Wendy Oney, who teaches technology to fifth- through eighth-grade students, had been friends with Stoneham since they were “new, young teachers in the district.” Oney said her close friend “was a loving presence in our lives.”
“Lisa was the type of teacher that any junior high school is lucky to have. She was a sounding board for the kids when they needed someone to talk to about their triumphs and their troubles,” she added. “I am a better teacher and person for having known her.”
McKee was asked what life lessons she learned from Stoneham. Being in a class with “several troublemakers,” the teenager recalled how Stoneham taught her to handle diversity in a positive way and communicate with others to resolve problems.
“I always learned from her, instead of just fighting about it, she would just sit us down and she would talk to us about (the situation). She taught me how to deal with life issues,” McKee said.
During eighth grade, Murphy said he often didn’t turn in his assignments, “wouldn’t do anything with it” and thought he didn’t need school.
“Ms. Stoneham — being the loving person she was, being the stubborn person she was — forced me to start reading. I had to read and write an extra book report for her. … That taught me that even though I was so set in my ways, (that) I had more talents than I did,” said the son of Gene and Iris Mason, of North Fairfield.
While Murphy admitted he wasn’t “the best at school,” was one of the “troublemakers” whom McKee mentioned and English wasn’t his best subject, he said Stoneham taught him it was a skill he could develop.
“We dream we want to make a difference in the world and Ms. Stoneham really was one of those people who made a difference in the world. You know, every single student (who) came in touch with her — and every person (who) came in touch with her — she made their lives better, whether we wanted (it) to or not,” Murphy added.
“She had such a big heart. Even if you tried to fight her in every single way that you could, at the end of the day, she still loved you. She still tried to help you in every way that she could. If you didn’t have any food or clothes, she’d try everything she could to help you out.”
“And never held a grudge,” McKee added.
“You’d never know she had cancer … because she was so strong. She was willing to help us out; she’d forget all the pain she had and focus on her students, which meant a lot to me,” Murphy said.