At Norwich Free Academy, together with their families and faculty, students build a four-year experience that is uniquely theirs – and turn their passions into a lifetime of opportunities.

ONE YOU: Student Spotlight features NFA students that you should know. These students demonstrate the diversity and the breadth and depth of the talent of our communities.



The daughter of Willanda and Ronald Benoit of Norwich, Guada Mary was born in Providence, RI, and spent her elementary school and middle school years in Plainfield, CT. She went to Shepherd Hill Elementary in Central Village and Plainfield Memorial and Plainfield Central schools before coming to NFA in grade 9. She is the younger of two children. At NFA, Benoit is active and busy:  she is a musician, an actor, a Project Outreach coordinator, a volunteer, a leader and a creative force. Her class schedule reveals a serious, focused student – AP English 11, AB Biology, UConn US History, Honors French 2-3, Honors Precalculus and Chamber Choir. She belongs the musicians club and wants to join the math and debate teams. “I wish I had time for sports because there are cool sports at NFA,” she comments.

Part Pilipino and part French, Guada Mary enthusiastically embraces her diversity. “My parents raised me with high expectations,” she says. “I think I was raised slightly different from most people. My parents always want me to do well. They have made lots of sacrifices for me. Right now, my dad is working real hard for our family because my mom is out of work temporarily because of a recent injury.”

Benoit’s accomplishments are extensive. A three-year participant in the Lillian S. Young Spelling Bee, she is this year’s 11th-grade winner. Each year she has competed in the History Day Competition. She has won third place in the state and competed in regionals, and she has won first place in regionals and the state. That win brought her to national competition and a conference in June at the University of Maryland where she spent four days with “other history junkies.” Each of her History Day presentations has included a performance component complete with skit, props, costumes, and acting like her presentation about Emilio Aguinaldo, the First President of the Philippines and first president of a constitutional republic in Asia. She “portrayed [herself] as him and told his life story in performance.”

Benoit thinks high school can be difficult because being a teen can be hard, especially if there are personal differences, bullying or problems at home. All can be “a factor of high school life,” but “Bullying at NFA gets resolved much more quickly,” she says. “Teachers and faculty, all the adults on campus, and most of the students, don’t want to see disagreement. They want people to get along; otherwise, the drama can damage the way you focus in school and hurt your achievement.”

There is no doubt that for this 11th-grader, it’s all about attitude. Monday, she will perform live at the unveiling of Norwich Public School’s new public service announcement promoting positive school attendance and engagement. It is the result of a summer project with Jam and Learn in cooperation with Norwich Youth and Family Services. Benoit wrote both the music and the lyrics for the project. Her words are powerful:  The jingle says that students who “Attend today, Achieve tomorrow.” The lyrics continue, “Finish strong and take a lead; Tred the path to success with love, respect and kindness.”

When asked which experience in her life has shaped her, she cites her role as Junior New England Patriots Cheerleader. When she was 11 or 12, she saw an opportunity online and said “I want to do this” to her dad, an avid Patriots fan. Three years of clinics, training and performances have followed that statement, including co-appearances with Pat’s Cheerleaders like the one at the opening of the skating rink at Pat’s Place at Gillette Stadium. “I have made great friends and learned flexibility,” Benoit says with a smile.

Why do you think you are a worthy candidate to spotlight?
I can be a role model for my peers. I want to inspire others with my passions and interests. I want to be my own person, not be molded into someone I’m not.

How do you want to use this opportunity to reach other students?  What do you want them to know from you?
I’m just a typical student, trying to make my way. I want to tell others that high school can be terrific. Don’t stress out, relax, manage your time. There are a lot of people to support you here and to help you get through, even when it seems tough. It is not as tough as you think.

I guess, I can really sum it up by saying: Think positive thoughts. 

Who has had the greatest influence upon you?
My mom. I just wrote a birthday message to her on social media. I appreciate life so much more with her in it. She does everything for me…my mom does it all. She is a constant in my life. I couldn’t do it without her. And, she taught me to look at life in a different way – positively. Mom taught me not to be negative, but to always look at the positive.”

Why did you choose to come to NFA
My family moved to Norwich so that I could attend NFA. It was a family decision; it was a smart decision, and I did not consider any other options.

I feel welcome here. All my teachers and friends accept me for who I am and for what I like to do. There are so many types of people here. And, there are endless opportunities. You can be yourself here; you can mold your character and personality in the directions you want.

It was a new beginning for me to come here. I think lots of students feel that way. Coming from a small town, I was able to find more people that share the same interests as me. I got to grow, and I have friends that help me, want me to succeed, and appreciate what I do.

I know more about myself that I didn’t know and wouldn’t have discovered if I didn’t come here.

My teachers know who I am as a person…they know my strengths and weaknesses. They help me be a better student. If I am struggling, my teachers want me to succeed, and they help me.

For everything I do, there is something here for me – music classes, art classes, clubs. It’s all here.



305 Broadway, Norwich CT 06360 | Phone: (860) 887.2505

Since 1856, Norwich Free Academy has adhered to the philosophy of its founder to "return to our hamlets and our homes its priceless freight of youthful minds, enriched by learning, developed by a liberal culture, refined by study of all that is beautiful in nature and art, and prepared for the highest usefulness and the purest happiness"

Founder, John P. Gulliver,
NFA Dedication Ceremony (1856)

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