Trustee Mary Connolly: Dedicated to Helping Students, Patients Succeed
After teaching students in special education programs for nearly three decades, Mary Connolly’s background allows for a unique perspective on Wheeler’s work in the classroom and in our centers and programs.
“As a special education teacher, you’re constantly trying to find ways to open doors so that your students can access the same opportunities and succeed,” she says. “They need a seat at the same table as everyone else, to have the same curriculum and the same quality environment. Similarly, at Wheeler, we’re always trying to find ways for our students or patients to get the full experience they deserve. Health care is a right.”
In addition to more than 25 years working in the Terryville school system, Connolly also served for a decade on the Board of Education in Bristol. Until the pandemic, she was active in tutoring students and focusing on increasing literacy, finding ways to work with children to bring their reading close to grade level. From her perspective in those broad areas, she sees how COVID had a dramatic effect on mental health.
“There are going to be kids who can thrive on technology and remote learning, but for most others, what we’re seeing in the health centers is at least partly because of the isolation we’ve all felt,” she says. “Some kids have their best hours of their day in school, socializing with each other. To have that taken away and then, depending on their family, maybe add more layers of complexity and more stressors…it’s a lot for everyone. We have to help close that year-and-a-half gap for so many.”
Connolly was recruited to the board by longtime Trustee Bill Torres and was sold on Wheeler’s whole-person philosophy of care.
“At the time, I was still teaching, and I didn’t think I should take on additional responsibility, but after I retired, I realized that I still wanted to serve. I’d heard of Wheeler, of course, as some of my students were referred for services and you do so much in special education, but I didn’t know the whole picture. The more I learned, the more I saw what an unbelievable organization it is.”
“We can’t treat health care as separate little pieces. It has to be all connected. Thinking back to my teaching experiences, I wish I had more of that realization to bring for my students. I may have had them in my class for six hours a day, but you don’t know what happens at home when they get on the bus. Similarly, our work in Wheeler’s health centers and programs helps to address the pieces of the whole person. There are so many parallels.”
Looking ahead, Connolly still teaches in her own ways, both yoga and mindfulness and also volunteering for literacy programs again. She says Wheeler’s future is based on continuing to provide that similar holistic whole-person view.
“We’re taking obstacles out of the way for the people we serve. Providing healthy food. Education. Transportation. In many programs, coming right to your house. I see all of that as the future, as well as more partnerships and alliances to better deliver services. We can all go farther together. I have met so many Wheeler staff and what I see makes me know that serving on the board helps me serve these wonderful people who are, in turn, serving our communities.”