DANBURY, CT – “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” is a statement often misattributed to Irish poet William Butler Yeats, but more likely said by Greek philosopher Plutarch. Regardless of the quote’s origin, the aforementioned “educational fire lighting” by members of a local family is impossible to overlook — because nine family members spanning three generations have ignited the intellectual curiosity of students in classrooms from Fairfield County, Connecticut, to Westchester County, New York.
Not only has this family produced a stunning number of professional educators — all of them received one or more of their degrees from Western Connecticut State University in its various incarnations between 1956 and 2013.
As the spring semester drew to a close in May, WCSU’s School of Professional Studies held a Convocation ceremony during which all three generations of this family were recognized for their accomplishments as teachers or administrators when they received the 2022 Darla Shaw Award. Shaw has been a faculty member in the WCSU Department of Education & Educational Psychology in numerous roles since 1996, and the award is named in her honor.
“Instead of giving the award to one person, I wanted to give the award to a Danbury family,” Shaw said. “This family has nine members — spanning three generations and seven decades — who have received one or two degrees from WCSU and made an impact as area teachers. The Krafick family is so knowledgeable, compassionate, charismatic, dynamic and interesting,” Shaw continued. “WCSU and the Danbury area are so lucky to have this family with its strong Irish roots as part of the community. I have never been prouder to give an award to anyone.”
With the help of Kori Krafick, a language arts specialist at Morris Street, Pembroke, Hayestown and South Street schools in Danbury and a member of the family’s third generation, we’ve been able to piece together the family’s WCSU roots and recollections as told to her by her relatives.
Harry Scalzo, Kori’s maternal grandfather, attended Danbury State Teacher’s College from 1954 to 1956 and received an Associate Degree in Science. He was called to serve the country and enlisted as an officer. When he returned, he received a B.S. in Elementary Education at Southern Connecticut State University, and later, a Master’s in Reading and Language Arts at UConn. Harry was an elementary school teacher in Stamford and later was a remedial reading specialist in Katonah, New York, for 35 years.
Bobby Scalzo, Harry’s brother and Kori’s great-uncle, attended Danbury State Teacher’s College from 1960 to 1964, and earned an Education degree. He started his career at Mill Ridge Primary School and ultimately retired from Rogers Park Middle School, both in Danbury.
Patricia Bowen, Kori’s paternal grandmother, attended Danbury State Teacher’s College from 1954 to 1958. She graduated with K-8 degree, and did her student teaching at Roberts Avenue School, first grade; and South Street School, fifth grade. She taught fifth grade in Darien for a year before having her children and raising a family. When her kids were older, she was a permanent substitute in Brookfield and then taught seventh grade at Sacred Heart in Danbury. Patricia retired recently from the City of Danbury Welfare Department, and is still involved with the WestConn Society.
“Everything I learned at Danbury State Teacher’s College I’ve used in every aspect of my life; personal, professional and civic,” Patricia said. “I also had a lot of fun in those four years, and I continued having fun in my life, as well. I remember my first day and first class in 1954. When the professor entered the classroom to teach, I stood up. I looked around. Nobody else was standing. The professor looked at me, said nothing, and took his seat. Red in the face, I slunk in my chair, confused. My classmates must have been confused too. Some asked me after class why I stood. I told them in the 12 years of my previous Catholic schooling, we always stood. It took me several days remaining seated to be comfortable like my classmates and forget my embarrassing moment.”
John “Jack” Krafick, Kori’s paternal grandfather, attended Danbury State Teacher’s College from 1954 to 1958. He taught eighth grade English at Mill Ridge Primary School and then taught fifth grade at Pound Ridge Elementary School in Bedford, New York.
The next generation begins with David Krafick, son of Patricia Bowen and Jack Krafick, who attended Western Connecticut State University from 1983 to 1993. He said he had a hard time deciding on his major, but ultimately majored in Elementary Education. After graduation, David taught fifth grade at Park Avenue Elementary School in Danbury for nine years. He then became a sixth grade social studies teacher at Rogers Park Middle School for two days before being asked to serve as acting assistant principal at Rogers Park, which he did for 1.5 years. David then moved into the role of acting principal at Hayestown Elementary School, where he had attended elementary school as a child, for the remainder of the year. David subsequently became the principal of Park Avenue Elementary School and is currently serving his 15th year there as principal.
“I loved WestConn,” David said. “I was a full-time student for 10 years. I kept changing my major and I swore I never would be an educator because of how many there were in my family. Over the many years, whenever I’d register for classes, I’d hear others talking about the classes they needed to take. I was able to tell them which class to take and which professor to take it with because I’d been through so many. They’d ask me “How long have you been here?!” My part-time work with children as a camp counselor and visits to schools solidified my decision to become an educator.”
Kathleen Krafick-Benzing, Kori’s aunt on her father’s side, went to WCSU from 1980 to 1983 where she received a B.S. in Education. She is certified pre-K to eighth grade and has a minor in math. She also received her master’s degree from WCSU in Early Childhood Development from 1992 to 1994. Kathleen spent all of her years teaching at St. Joseph’s School in Brookfield. She taught third grade for three years, first grade for five years, and 6th/7th/8th grade math for 19 years. She now is a substitute teacher in the Danbury Public School System.
“My takeaway from WestConn was and still is to always to be prepared,” Kathleen said. “Always have an extra bag of tricks ready so that you are one step or two steps ahead of your students. You may have the perfect lesson planned and yet you walk into the room that day and everything gets turned upside down. Always have a Plan B ready just in case. Flexibility is also key to your success!”
Bob Benzing, Kathleen’s husband and Kori’s uncle, graduated from Western Connecticut State College in 1975, and taught math for seven years at Immaculate High School where he also coached football and baseball. He has taught physics at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose, New York, for the last 40 years. He retired this spring with 47 years in the field of education.
One of Bob’s strongest recollections was of his time as a student-athlete. “I was a football player at WestConn. We went to Maine to play at Maine Maritime Academy, and they put us up in a merchant ship docked near the campus. We slept in cots that folded down from the walls.”
Ellen Krafick, another of Kori’s aunts on her father’s side, obtained a B.S. in Education in 1987 and a master’s degree in 1995, both from WCSU. She taught seventh grade language arts and social studies from 1987-89, and third grade from 1989-97. After taking time off to raise her son, Ellen then became a middle school reading specialist in 2006 and is still currently in that role.
“I didn’t originally go to school to be a teacher,” Ellen said. “I was in the banking field and avoided being a teacher because of how many educators there were in my family. Spending time with my nieces and nephews made me realize that I should be a teacher. A funny memory that I have while at WCSU was when one of my professors questioned my social life with my husband because of the time I spent creating really amazing educational games. None of my classmates wanted to present after me, though!”
Kori Krafick, David’s daughter, is the only member of the third generation of the Krafick family to continue the tradition of training to become an educator at WCSU. As a famous poet or philosopher might observe, she is the last in the family to carry the torch to light that educational fire — unless someone from the upcoming fourth generation catches the spark.
Kori went to WCSU from 2009-2013, and was a member of the National English Honors Society, the Education Honors Society, and earned the Marie C. Wasser Award. After graduation, Kori worked as a long-term sub in Danbury before getting a full-time job as a third-grade teacher at King Street Primary in Danbury. While teaching, she completed a Master’s in Literacy at Manhattanville College. She is in her fourth year as a language arts specialist at Morris Street, Hayestown, Pembroke and South Street schools in Danbury. In this role, she supports classroom teachers in teaching their language arts curriculum through coaching and professional development. She’s also currently pursuing a master’s in Educational Leadership at Manhattanville College that will enable her to be a building-based or district administrator — or facilitate following in her father’s footsteps as a principal at an elementary school.
“All in all, we have three generations of WCSU alumni in the family — all educators,” Kori said. “I was incredibly lucky to have Dr. Shaw as a professor during my time at WestConn. She made our classes fun and useful; she works hard to keep herself current and up to date on educational practices and trends. Dr. Shaw has made it a point to keep herself active in education and in the lives of her former students; she has often come into the schools that I work at to story-tell for students in the Danbury Public Schools. Our students are always in awe of her, just as we were in awe of her as our professor. It was a true honor for our family to receive this award from Dr. Shaw.”