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2010 Was A Busy And Active Year In Newtown's Schools



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2010 Was A Busy And Active Year In Newtown’s Schools

By Eliza Hallabeck

Students were busy in 2010 in each of the schools, from collecting for local charities to writing letters to troops oversees for the local Valentine’s Day Project.

In January, Head O’ Meadow Elementary School made the news with the growing results of its Tree of Fitness program. Head O’ Meadow physical education teacher Steven “Coach” Dreger, the Tree of Fitness creator, went on to being recognized later in the year for the program, along with Reed teacher Michelle Failla for her Ball Sit To Get Fit program, but in January, students were still just placing marks on the Tree of Fitness, which marks students physical progress from efforts made at home with parental supervision.

Sandy Hook Elementary School and Middle Gate Elementary School also marked the 2009-2010 school year’s 100th Day of school in January. At both schools the 100th day of school is celebrated by counting activities. At Sandy Hook it meant math/science specialist Kris Feda oversaw the school’s 100th Day Food Drive, and marked how many collected food items the different grades had collected. At Middle Gate, students spent the 100th day counting and writing all things to do with the number 100.

Artwork seemed to sprout in the school district this year, with both Head O’ Meadow and Sandy Hook Schools completing new mosaic murals for their respective schools under the guidance of the Art Spot of Danbury. In January, Head O’ Meadow’s recreated version of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” was pieced together with everyone in the school, including then-principal William Bircher, adding a piece to the starry puzzle. Sandy Hook School’s mural of Pablo Picasso’s “Three Musicians” was created later in the year.

Students also prepared for Valentine’s Day at Reed Intermediate School in January, when the St Valentine’s Day Project was kicked off with a celebration at the school. A long list of visitors to Reed waited inside the school’s cafetorium on January 4, as students made their way in for a schoolwide assembly for the program.

Project Chair Donna Monteleone Randle said, after the event, the response from the students was incredible.

“They were just so pumped,” said Ms Randle, explaining how students reacted to entering the cafetorium. Ms Randle said some of the sixth grade students now at Reed Intermediate were at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2006, when the project began.

At Newtown Middle School, January meant students in the school’s 2010 musical were preparing to perform The Music Man under the guidance of then-eighth grade English teacher Jennifer Sinal, who went on to become the assistant principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School later in the school year.

January also marked the start of students preparing for the Connecticut Mastery Tests, and at Newtown Middle School, physical education teacher Matthew Memoli was gearing up the students early in the morning with a new program. It was the second year for the program, and both years, Mr Memoli said he noticed a remarkable difference in the students’ performances.

A Visit By The Bishop

February was welcomed in Newtown with a visit to St Rose of Lima School by Bishop William E. Lori. The bishop’s visit was a highlight of Catholic Schools Week.

“We are very proud of this school,” said Bishop Lori at the time as he sat down for lunch with students, “and all of our schools. Certainly, the Blue Ribbon signifies academic achievement, and our schools are places of faith and values.”

At Reed Intermediate School, physical education teachers MaryFaith Zanghi, Mark Gerace, and Aaron Blank began a new yoga program to help students prepare for the Connecticut Mastery Tests. Students, parents, and more were welcomed in the morning for the course.

Art took a “Closer Look” throughout the Newtown School District in March when the first cross-district art show was prepared and on display in each of the schools. Students were asked to “Take a Closer Look” for a collaborative art project that was in the schools after Sandy Hook School art teacher Leslie Gunn visited Santa Fe, N.M., last summer. The 2009 trip was paid for by a grant, and brought Mrs Gunn to Santa Fe to learn more about the artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

“Coming back to Newtown with information, photos and many exciting ideas,” the write-up for the exhibits explained at the time, “Mrs Gunn held a professional development workshop for her fellow art teachers in which we were all inspired to bring some of those ideas into our classroom.”

Each grade level’s works of art were presented in the exhibits.

Another form of art was being prepared at Newtown High School to unite the community to raise funds for Haiti in March. Hope, unity, and encouragement were some of the words Newtown High School English teacher Amanda Friedman told one student to keep in mind while preparing March 19 for the then-upcoming Voices for Haiti Benefit Concert. The concert, which featured nine musical performances and one dance performance, was presented April 1.

April was also the first time an Underage Drinking Forum was held to impress upon Newtown High School freshmen the dangers of alcohol. The event was sponsored by the school’s PTSA, and was inspired by a similar program in Trumbull.

A group of Newtown High School students set their sights on helping to fund building a school in rural Cambodia in April through the American Assistance for Cambodia program, which is a nonprofit organization that works to improve opportunities for youth in rural Cambodia. The group of high schoolers ranged from freshmen to seniors, and met after school at the home of brother and sister Dan and Jane Sclafani. The group called themselves Two Schools One Song, and eventually met and surpassed their own expectations to reach the $13,000 needed to fund a school in Cambodia.

A Tornado Chase

April also took Newtown Middle School technology education teacher Don Ramsey on a tornado chase. The Thursday before spring break, April 15, Mr Ramsey said he made a spontaneous decision to fly to Oklahoma City and roam around with the “mission of trying to find a tornado.”

“I was very lucky to be led to the right place in a small town called Canadian, Texas,” said Mr Ramsey at the time. “Indeed, I was able to photograph, what the locals all verified, was the beginning of a funnel formation on Thursday evening, April 22.”

During his trip Mr Ramsey met with people and learned many things about the areas he was visiting. He also brought objects and photos of his visits back to share with his students in Newtown after April break.

May brought Birds of Prey, a Jonathan Wood’s Raptor Project presentation, to the cafetorium of Head O’ Meadow school. A white owl found a perched he liked on the ceiling while the other birds in the presentation showed off their feathers for students in the audience.

Art work decorated the halls of Newtown Middle School the first week of May as the Celebration of The Arts highlighted student work. The school’s Jazz Band, Chamber Orchestra, Chamber Group, and student recitals entertained audiences while parents and students walked the hallways of the school, pointing out art work and other projects, during the nighttime event. Baked goods were also sold in the cafeteria this year by the school’s Interact Club members.

Reed Intermediate School students also took to the stage in May to perform High School Musical 2.

Acting off stage, Middle Gate fourth grades students also took on roles when they stepped into historical Connecticut characters to portray a living timeline of history. From representing the American Revenue Act of 1764, popularly known as the Sugar Act, to taking on local historical personas such as Charles Ives, a composer born in Danbury, Middle Gate School students were acting in a historical timeline on May 28.

Fourth grade students have completed a similar project in the past at the school, but this was the first year the grade four teachers — Linda Baron, Heidi Beauty, Tisha McCoy, John Sullivan, and Ellen Therrien — decided to have students demonstrate their projects in a timeline fashion. Students waited for visitors, either fellow Middle Gate students or parents, to enter their respective classroom and ask about their project. Some students studied historical personas, others lifestyles, such as what being a farmer would have been like, and others shared information about historical happenings, including the Salem Witch Trials.

The individual classrooms in the grade four wing represented different periods in history. As visitors started from the first and moved along the classroom corridor, they moved from the 1600s to modern history.

June was welcomed at Reed Intermediate School when accelerated readers who met their reading goals for the school year were offered the reward to dunk their teachers, and principal, into a tank of water, thanks to a school parent who donated the use of the dunk tank. As a special visitor, former Reed teacher Al Washicko, who retired from his position at the school in January, also climbed into the dunk tank on June 10.

By the end of June the members of the 2010 graduating class were ready to “Go,” as Newtown High School English teacher Lee Keylock said in his speech for the ceremony.


With the close of the 2009-2010 academic year, Head O’ Meadow Principal William Bircher, Sandy Hook School Principal Donna Pagé, and Middle Gate Principal Judith Liestman left their positions for either retirement or relocation, leaving the positions open for Barbara Gasparine at Head O’ Meadow, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung at Sandy Hook School, and Christopher Geissler at Middle Gate to prepare for their first school year in the district as principals.

Summer programs took students out of the hot sun at Head O’ Meadow and Reed Intermediate School through July and August. And by the end of August students were ready with book bags in hand to board the bus for the start of the 2010-2011 academic year.

While the revamped entrance for the Newtown High School and the rest of the work on the expansion were not ready in time for students on the first day of school, as expected, school went on as normal. While sports teams were displaced to practice at other venues in town or at other local high schools, other students at the high school continued to take classes as normal.

In September the Newtown High School Marching Nighthawks were also preparing for their own season of Saturday night competitions, and had a larger percentage of freshmen participants than normal.

By October, students at Hawley and Sandy Hook Schools were ready to read, for the school’s One School One Read programs. At both elementary schools the events are sponsored by the school PTAs.

Hawley Elementary School Principal Jo-Anne Peters acknowledged the excitement she felt from the students before her on October 4 as the school gathered to hear what this year’s One School One Read book will be at Hawley. The program gives each student the chance to read the same book over the course of one month at the school. Activities are completed in the classrooms, packets are sent home to parents, and special events are held in the school as part of the program. Students watched as the skit unveiled this year’s One School One Read book as Life According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney. Humphrey, a hamster, narrates the novel and describes life as a classroom pet.

At Sandy Hook School during two assemblies on October 1, students learned the 2010 One School One Read book was The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies.

October 6, marked the school district’s first Early Release Wednesday, for faculty to meet and discuss topics in professional development groups. The Board of Education voted unanimously at a June 15 meeting to release students early on the first Wednesday of each month, starting on October 6, for teachers and administrators to hold professional learning community meetings.


While the front lawn at Newtown Middle School was attracting attention for the 2010 Scarecrow Contest on October 24, NMS parents and students from Cluster 8 Purple were busy overseeing a tag sale and bake sale. Co-organizer Robbin Allen said this week that the tag sale was “pretty good.” The 2010 Scarecrow Contest entries went on display at the school’s front lawn on October 23, and voting was open through the weekend. The tag sale was held to raise funds to help students in the cluster with payments for a scheduled field trip to Washington, D.C., near the end of the school year. Ms Allen said the sale will help support the school’s annual cookie dough sale that also helps families of NMS students offset the $600 field trip.

Roughly 40 scarecrows adorned the front lawn of the Queen Street school from October 23 until October 30. Each year eighth grade student groups are challenged to create a larger-than-life scarecrow designed to frighten away a demon of their choice, that can withstand inclement weather. Each student group is limited to spending $25 on its scarecrow. The creations are then voted on by the public, for $1 per vote, and the top three winning scarecrow groups receive the proceeds to donate to a charity of their choice. The contest raised a total of $1,056, with half the total credited to the winning entry and the balance split between the second and third place finishers. This year a giant fish with scales formed out of CDs took first place with 101 votes; a larger-than-life version of the Toy Story franchise’s cowboy character Woody took second place with 81 votes, and the Where The Wild Things Are character Carol took third place with 69 votes.

By November Democratic Registrar of Voters LeReine Frampton was itching to inspire Newtown voters, and held a mock vote at Newtown high School on November 2 to both teach students how to vote and to inspire the students’ parents to vote in the then upcoming election.

More murals were posted at Head O’ Meadow school in November when students composed three 9-foot-by-12-foot pieces to hang in the school under the guidance of art teacher Donna Perugini.

Students across the district worked hard to collect and bring in food items to donate to local charities for both Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season. Some schools also adopted families to donate certain wish list items to for the Thanksgiving season.

By December students were still working to give back to the community as Newtown High School students volunteered to wrap presents at Edmond Town Hall, and Newtown Middle School Student Council members first raised funds, bought items, then wrapped gifts for an adopted local family.

Throughout December fourth grade students at Hawley Elementary School also worked hard to complete their community service projects, like Bobby Elston, who collected “Presents For Puppies” to go to the Newtown Dog Pound.

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