NAUGATUCK — City Hill Middle School Principal Eileen Mezzo came across a student crying outside of a guidance counselor’s office last week.
When Mezzo asked what was upsetting him, the student explained that he recently learned an elective technology education course taught by teacher Alison Stephens was filled, and he would not be able to enroll.
“Ms. Stephens offered to take that student in, and he said, ‘You know that really made my day. Not only do I love that class, but I just love Ms. Stephens, she is the best teacher,’” Mezzo said. “She’s innovative, she’s warm and kind. She is a gem.”
Stephens, 38, is passionate about teaching and hopes to be in a classroom for decades. That goal, however, is in jeopardy. Stephens, a native of Wales, is trying to become an American citizen and is facing monetary setbacks in the process.
She has lived in the United States for seven years and has taught in public schools for five — one in Weston, one in New Britain and this is her third year in Naugatuck. Her temporary work visa is set to expire, and now Stephens is applying for a green card, or permanent residence, through her employer, the Naugatuck Board of Education.
The school system has agreed to sponsor her application, but school administrators told Stephens the cost to her would be between $10,000 and $15,000, mostly to cover attorney’s fees.
Superintendent of Schools Sharon Locke said Stephens is a tremendous asset to the school system, and that Naugatuck wants to retain her.
Stephens moved to the United States in December 2008 to get a master’s degree at Central Connecticut State University. She had previously worked for the British government for 12 years as an office worker and in information technology, among other roles.
“I wasn’t satisfied in that job and wanted to do more,” she said.
She had friends in Connecticut who told her that she could use her experience in technology to teach technology education, as there was a shortage of qualified tech-ed teachers in the state. Stephens decided to give it a shot.
Stephens, who is single and child free, said she loves her students and the community. It is evident by the amount of work she puts into her job, colleagues say.
At City Hill, she teaches a class that is a sort of segue into computer aided drafting that helps students think three dimensionally about what they are building on a computer screen, which Stephens said helps them to use both sides of their brain. Additionally, she recently worked with the school system’s information technology office to bring in Mac computers that have software that is used by architects, engineers and other professionals.
“They will be using tools used by professionals all over the world,” she said. “They are learning possible career and college choices — massive 21st Century skills.”
She also worked with programs such as the Naugatuck Education Foundation and the Petit Family Foundation to secure grant money — including one of $25,000 — to enhance educational opportunities for students.
With some of that money, she started the school’s first robotics-based program called SeaPerch. It is part of a national educational program sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. SeaPerch is described as an innovated underwater robotics program that equips teachers and students with the resources they need to build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle, ROV. The students built the ROV as part of an afterschool club that Stephens ran with the children.
She and Mezzo are also working to create a television station with students that will be live streamed at school in the morning.
Stephens is determined to do everything necessary to attain American citizenship, including starting a GoFundMe page — Keep Calm & Get Alison a Green Card — to raise money.
“If I were not able to teach, I would be devastated,” she said. “You have no idea how hard I have worked to get where I am. It’s hard enough to leave your family, but this is something I wanted to do for myself. This is an awesome school district, and I hope to be teaching here for a long time.”