People say Westport is a tough town to move to.
Desiderio Berdini disagrees.
The Italian teenager did the seemingly impossible. He entered Staples in March as an exchange student. In less than 3 months, his outsized smile and outgoing personality earned him a host of friends.
Desiderio loves his adopted school with an enthusiasm as infectious as it is genuine. He says:
“The idea of going to another country fascinated me. I wanted to be an ambassador for my country. I have been able to do that at Staples.
“Here I found people wanting to know about my country’s culture and experience. I found people smiling at me and always available. The feeling I have walking down the hall is hard to describe. Everyone is happy and wants to learn. Being here just makes me smile.”
Desiderio is naturally outgoing. But the Rotary exchange student’s first school, elsewhere in Connecticut, was not a good fit. Sandra Urist, Westport Rotary exchange official, helped him transfer here.
In his first hour, he won over students and teachers. They responded to his personality (one motto is “the world always looks better from behind a smile”; his other is “carpe diem”), and embraced him.
Desiderio leaped into his classes: AP Calculus, Current Issues, Art History, even US History. He helps Enia Noonan with her Italian classes. “I learn from everything I do,” he says. “And I made friends everywhere.”
Desiderio’s father works in Italy’s education system, so Desiderio has visited many schools. “Nowhere else do you see what I see at Staples,” he says. “People here have ambitions and goals. They want to achieve. And teachers give motivation. They have a rapport that makes students want to do better.”
He is in Westport until late June; then he travels with other Rotary exchange students to California. He returns to Italy for a final year of high school.
“I would like to stay here,” he says. “Maybe I’ll go to college here, or maybe in Italy. I don’t know yet.”
Desiderio is interested in international business. “I like traveling and meeting new people,” he says — smiling, of course.
Recently, he sent principal John Dodig — whom he calls “a great leader” — a note.
“I wish I could have stayed more, because a school like Staples is almost impossible to find,” he wrote. “I have never seen before the passions and the ambitions that students have here. They will become the leaders of the future.
“Staples is like your second home. You will always be able to find your place and do what you like. I love Staples. I am thankful for being here, because now I can say that I have been at Staples High School.”
How interesting that this student (here for much less than 1 school year) captured what is BEST about SHS. An interest in making connections, gaining knowledge and perspective, a warm environment, a place where the adults care about the kids! It’s wonderful and we have so many to thank for it being the kind of HS it is! Dan, thank you for sharing this.
It is a pleasure to know that Derio has transitioned so well to Staples. I thank the teachers who have made themselves so available to Derio and appreciate the Staples students who have helped make the transition possible by inviting our exchange students to be part of their activities.
What a wonderful story. It would be nice for this to make it to the local paper for more to see. Staples HS at its best!
Mr Dodig and I worked together many years ago. He was the AP at Daniel Hand HS in Madison. I knew from the very beginning of his administrative career that he had the goods to instill enthusiasm in his students. It does not surprise me that Derio feels the way he does. All the best to everyone at Staples and to my wonderful friend, John Dodig
I had the privilege of working for Mr. Dodig for many years when he was an assistant principal and later principal. He made me a believer in and an advocate for public education. Derio’s comments tell me that, my friend John retains his enthusiasm for and remains a strong leader in public education. Derio’s words are a fitting tribute to my good friend, John Dodig!
Congradulations to Derio for making Staples a part of his life just as Staples welcomed him.
John Dodig has always been an outstanding educator who cares about students and respects teachers, parents, and students. John is a special person and Staples is fortunate to have him.