Surprise Squad honors beloved East Longmeadow math teacher

The Hyundai Dealers Surprise Squad took a trip to East Longmeadow High School. Students, staff, family, come together to surprise their math teacher, Jan Clini.
Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 4:30 PM EDT
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EAST LONGMEADOW, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The Hyundai Dealers Surprise Squad is back and, this time, they took a trip to East Longmeadow High School. Students, staff, family, and friends all coming together to surprise their beloved math teacher, Jan Clini. It was an emotional surprise for everyone in the room as she is wrapping up her more than three decades in education and has made a mark for many as more than just a teacher.

Thirty-five years ago, Clini graduated college and entered the workforce with her master’s degree in business. She started working at a local insurance company, but that didn’t last very long. By lunchtime, on her first day, she quit.

However, Clini knew she couldn’t go home without a job, so she applied to dozens of schools and it was at that moment she began the next three decades working as a math teacher, but it became more than just a job for her, which is why her colleagues at East Longmeadow High School nominated her for the Hyundai Dealers Surprise Squad.

The surprises continued as the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers gave back to Clini as she prepares to enter retirement in June.

“We got a little spending money for you to enjoy retirement. On behalf of the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers, a $500 check for yourself,” said Brian House, general manager of Balise Hyundai.

“…And on behalf of the Western Mass. Hyundai Dealers, congratulations on all that you do all those years, all the extra time and effort you put in. This is a $500 donation to the school,” said Gary Rome, president of Gary Rome Hyundai.

However, even with all her extra time and effort dedicated to her students, Clini isn’t quite ready to go.

“I still feel like I have more to give, but my husband’s been retired for 12 years, so it’s time for him to have company,” Clini said.

It was clear the students aren’t ready to see her leave.

“This was the hardest kept secret…I had a concussion my sophomore year and I was having a little bit of trouble with math and she was recommended to me, so I started going to her for extra help,” said Avery, a student at East Longmeadow High School.

“She’s not just a teacher, she’s a friend. She’s the most generous person. One of the most generous people I’ve ever met in my life,” added Sophie, a student at East Longmeadow High School.

“She’s been here 20 years. She works with kids on every level from the kids at the top to the ones who struggle the most and she’s always been there to support,” explained East Longmeadow High School Principal Frank Page.

“She is the colleague and coworker and friend that you want to have and she’s the teacher that you want your kids to have. She has really high expectations. but an even bigger heart,” added East Longmeadow High School math teacher Gina Crane.

Clini’s nomination for the Hyundai Dealers Surprise Squad came from one teacher in the school’s math department.

“When she started here, I was like ‘I think I know her,’” said East Longmeadow High School math teacher Julie Stark.

Stark was a student in Clini’s classroom at Cathedral High School more than 20 years ago and now, she hopes to bring Clini’s lessons from inside and outside the classroom to her own students.

“There’s nobody more deserving than this, even though she’s going to hurt me later…Not only is she a math teacher here, she’s like a life coach too,” Stark added.

Her commitment to her students even inspiring her own daughter to chose the same profession.

[Reporter: do you think you’ll make it as many years as she did?]

“Hopefully, hopefully…When I was a kid, I used to go into school with her and sit in the back of her classroom at Cathedral and get to interact with the high school kids and hear how much they loved her,” said Clini’s daughter, Nina.

Another proud member of the family is her husband, Michael. Although he admires her passion and dedication to teaching, he’s excited to spend some time with his wife.

“We’re going to go travel and we’re going to go see the world…to Chicopee, let’s go. I don’t care where,” said Clini’s husband, Michael.

However, to Clini, it’s always been more than just a job.

[Reporter: what’s kept you here all these years?]

“See all those faces…They are who they are, like what you see right here is what we see every day and how can you not love it and there’s always more of them,” Clini said.

It was clear to everyone in the room she meant that.

“This was probably one of the most emotional Surprise Squads. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The kids were so emotional and she was so emotional, which may have something to do with the fact she’s retiring next year,” said Carla Cosenzi, president of Country Hyundai.