The Alumni Journey

  • Carroll Connection
Carroll Connection, 2019-2020

This article was originally featured in the 2019-2020 edition of Carroll Connection. In this edition we asked our community members to share their journey before, during, and after Carroll School.

Alumni Contributors

  • Nicolas Antonellis '13: 6 years at Carroll (Gr 3-8), Sophomore at Bates College, Neuroscience & Psychology major
  • John DeFina '87: 2 years at Carroll (Gr. 7-8), Middle School Math & Special Education Teacher, Boston Public Schools


Before Carroll

Nick: Before I was tested for dyslexia, my teachers thought I needed glasses because they noticed that I was squinting and holding books close to my face. I got new glasses but I still couldn’t read. I came home from school crying. I thought I was dumb and that I was going to fail in life because I couldn’t read.

John: It was a grind. It was a confidence “kick in the butt” every single day. I was fortunate that I had a terrifically supportive family. But at school, I knew that I was behind and I just didn’t know how to catch up.



Getting to Carroll

Nick: I came to visit when I was in 2nd grade. I liked the school but I didn’t really know why I was there. When we found out that I got in, my mom cried because she was so happy. I remember feeling upset because I didn’t want to leave my school and my friends. In hindsight, I am eternally grateful because, if I had stayed in public school for 3rd grade, I would’ve been in a hole.

John: My mother told me about Carroll and I was not excited about going there because it felt to me that I was being singled out again. All my friends were going off to middle school and I had to be the different one. I remember thinking, “I must have to go to this school because I’m either stupid or I just couldn’t hack it like everyone else.”


First days at Carroll

Nick: Being little, I didn’t really know what was going on. I liked it and I had a sense of comfort but it took some time to make friends. For the first few months, I kept to myself. But eventually I was making friends left and right.


John: Gerry Wile came to me on day one. He got right in my face and said to me, “In Math what are you not good at?” And I looked at him and I said, “fractions.” And for two years, I had a fraction worksheet every single day in addition to whatever we were doing in math. I walked out of Carroll and I could break down fractions. The students at my new school couldn’t and that was a confidence booster.


During Carroll

Nick: The change was astronomical. I went in as a boy who didn’t like school and didn’t think I was going to amount to anything. I left with lifelong friends and lofty aspirations for myself. I wouldn’t have dreamt of being a neuroscience major had I not gone to Carroll.

It started with building my confidence in the classroom. Just doing that gives you the tools to go forward and succeed after you leave Carroll.

Another key element is being surrounded by a group of peers who also struggle in a similar way you do. You no longer feel left behind. You start not noticing your learning difference and start feeling like a normal kid.

John: Carroll School, for the first time in my academic life, gave me a confidence I didn’t know I had. Before Carroll, I didn’t have the confidence as a learner. I shied away from being wrong. I shied away from answering questions. I shied away from things that I was uncomfortable with. At Carroll, I didn’t. I wasn’t afraid to be wrong. I was willing to try different things to solve questions at school, in all subjects. I remember learning different strategies to help catch up and how to take my learning disability and use it to my advantage.


Leaving Carroll

Nick: I was very melancholy about graduation. I was excited to move forward and go to high school. But I was sad because I was leaving a home and good friends. In my first few months of high school, I was feeling homesick. It wasn’t until I came back during Homecoming in November that I felt better.

John: There was a lot of uncertainty. I remember leaving graduation with a smile on my face. I felt like, for the first time, school was not going to be a daily headache. But it didn’t all click right away. It was about halfway through high school when the academics all started to make sense. Once I got honor roll for the first time, I finally felt like a regular student, no longer “John Defina, the student with learning disabilities.”


After Carroll

Nick: Being a dyslexic in college is the greatest thing in the world because you can let your mind run wild with all these ideas. Your professors appreciate you going to them with a new idea or a different perspective on a topic. Mr. Brown said this all the time “Dyslexia is not a disability. It’s a gift.”  I 100% agree with that.

John: In college, being dyslexic taught me not only how to figure out how to struggle but it also gave me the ability to think outside the box. And that applies today in my life. I can teach in so many different ways because I’ve had to learn things in so many different ways. From Carroll, I learned that it’s okay to take a couple extra seconds to process. I learned different strategies so that I can say to a student who is struggling, “If this way doesn’t work for you, let’s try it a different way. If the writing doesn’t work, let’s take a picture. If the picture doesn’t work, let’s try it verbally.” 


Thank you Carroll!

Nick: Thank you for allowing me to go to Carroll. Thank you to my friends. Thank you to my teachers who put this all together for me. Finally, thank you to Mr. Brown, Mr. Wilkins and the supporters for keeping the doors open. Keep doing what you’re doing. Giving kids confidence in the classroom and allowing them to explore their ideas is such an important thing in the world today.

John: Not just a thank you for me, but thank you for helping my best friend’s son - Connor Mulready. Connor is this amazing person and sometimes he didn’t see it. Carroll helped him get to where he is today - a smart, ambitious and amazing young man succeeding in high school.


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  • Carroll Connection 2019-2020

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