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Despite Its Tragic Ending, 2012 Was A Year Of Giving And Change In Newtown's Schools- Year In Review

The world may now know Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown for the events of 12/14, but 2012 was a year of true giving from start to finish. The local community knows there is more to the town, and so much more to the schools and its students, than one day in its history could ever show the world.

It was a year when Newtown's students achieved academic successes, completed projects of support, and so much more. By the end of 2012, despite shattered hearts at the loss of 20 school children and six educators, including a school principal, Newtown's students were continuing to act with others in mind.

The year began with some of Hawley Elementary School fourth grade students completing community service projects. As part of the fourth grade curriculum across the school district, community service projects are completed throughout the school year, and for some Hawley fourth graders, they were due at the start of January. Hawley fourth grade teachers Lea Attanasio, Stephanie Dunshee, Melissa Thorpe, and Michael Wight explained the projects begin with a role-playing exercise on monarchy. Then students discuss the democratic government established in the United States and the rights of citizens. Students are then given the choice to decide what is important to them.

According to Ms Thorpe, the students come up with a list of things that could use support in the community. The resulting projects, Ms Thorpe said, "range from picking up litter around a certain area†or some students do something more complex. It is supposed to be something very doable without money being involved."

In Ms Dunshee's class, one girl collected letters, artwork, and cards to send to a nursing home for patients with Alzheimer's disease. Another student, she said, wrote letters to local first responders to say thank you for what they do for the community.

A few days later, an assembly at Middle Gate Elementary School on Monday, January 9, introduced students to the 2012 Valentines For Troops effort, when lead teacher Susan Ruddock explained the Middle Gate students would be writing to members of the United States Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. During the introduction assembly for the 2012 Respect, Responsibility, and Diversity (RRD) Club, advisor Brian Kowalsky also shared information about the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the president after whom the vessel was named. Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson also spoke during the assembly as the guest speaker for the event.

"They are out there risking their lives every day, so we can come here to school and learn," said Mr Kowalsky to the students.

Each year, volunteers with the Valentines For Troops effort work to find and list addresses of deployed personnel to send letters and care packages to, and later work to help proofread and pack the letters written by students and care packages for shipment overseas, to places like Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, and to ships at sea. While the effort is predominantly directed at students, Valentines For Troops Project Chair Donna Monteleone Randle, a former US Army captain, Signal Corps, says adult volunteers are also welcome to write letters or help expand the effort.

When Dr Robinson spoke to the students, she shared information about her father, who served as a pilot on an aircraft carrier during his military career.

Halfway through the month, Newtown High School students were allowed inside the school's newly constructed greenhouse, and were helping to make the space a new academic home.

NHS instructor George Bachman doled out chores for the students to accomplish during their class, like sanding and painting cabinets and organizing the shed outside the new building.

"This is a much nicer facility than the other one," said Mr Bachman between helping students. "That other one worked fine for us, but this is head and shoulders above that one."

Students in the NHS Greenery program, Mr Bachman said, plant seeds, design hanging baskets, and are responsible for the culture and care of the plans, selling plants, and more.

"This is their greenhouse and I want them to have some input as to how it is set up," said Mr Bachman.

The previous greenhouse was rendered unusable after being moved during the Newtown High School expansion and renovation project.

"We're just looking forward to getting back into the grove," said Mr Bachman.

More than a week later, members of the NHS Animal Concerns Club met after school on Monday, January 30, and presented The Animal Center with $50, raised through club efforts.

Monica Roberto and Leyla Nichols of The Animal Center were at the meeting to accept the donation. After receiving the donation, Ms Roberto asked the club members how they wished for the $50 to be spent. "Whatever you guys need the most," responded Animal Concerns member Charlie Pryor.

Odyssey Of The Mind

Near the end of January, the year's Odyssey of the Mind Spontaneous Scrimmage brought 26 teams to Reed Intermediate School. Odyssey of The Mind is an international problem-solving, creative thinking, and performing arts program that is offered as an after school activity. Teams of up to seven students work on solving a long-term problem throughout the school year and practice spontaneous exercises, similar to exercises in Odyssey of The Mind competitions. The 26 teams at Reed actively participated in many problem-solving tasks during the event.

By the start of February, Hawleyville Postmaster Mark Favele was busy visiting several schools in the district to collect letters and goods to send to military personnel through the Valentines For Troops effort. Project Chairperson Donna Monteleone Randle visited multiple locations herself, as the individual efforts within the project were under way.

On Friday, February 3, Ms Randle was at Sandy Hook School as students stamped multiple boxes of written letters and goods to be loaded into a postal truck by Mr Favale before being sent to their designated locations. Earlier in the morning, Mr Favale also stopped by Middle Gate Elementary School. Many student groups across the district took part in the Valentines For Troops effort in 2012, according to Ms Randle.

Visitors From China

A delegation from Newtown's sister school in Liaocheng, in the Shandong Province of China, visited the town from February 3 to February 12. Students and one teacher also stayed after the delegation had left for home, to continue experiencing Newtown's culture. Delegates included administrators, teachers, and students from Liaocheng Middle School #3 and Dongchang Lower Middle School. The delegates visited Newtown High School, Newtown Middle School, and Reed Intermediate School during their stay in Newtown.

During the visit, the Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) program and host families had delegation members attending many different events. The first weekend the delegates were in the area included attendance at a Saturday, February 4, Chinese New Year Celebration at Newtown High School and hosted by the Western Connecticut Chinese Association, NICE, HuaXia Chinese School, Danbury Chinese Alliance Church, and the Western Connecticut State University Student & Scholar Association.

Also in early February, students in Newtown Middle School Technology Education teacher Don Ramsey's class released hot air balloons into the sky outside their school. The lesson, Mr Ramsey said, incorporated the use of math, science, and the study of weather.

By mid-February a "Souper" Bowl food drive was in progress at Middle Gate Elementary School. The school community gathered and delivered collected food from the drive to donate to the Food Pantry at Social Services at Town Hall South when complete. As an extra challenge, each classroom in the school attempted to collect 100 food items to also mark the 100th day of school.

In March the 23 members of Newtown Middle School's Jazz Band and its advisor Mark Mahoney ventured to New Hampshire to perform as part of the Clark Terry University of New Hampshire Jazz Festival. Overwhelmingly, Jazz Band members reflected positively on their involvement in the festival after their return.

"It was pretty sweet," said eighth grader Danny Toby, "because we got to be together and jam. And we bonded as a band."

Other students also said the trip brought the group closer together.

"It was like we all became a family," said fellow eighth grader Amanda Walsh.

Community Conversation

March also marked the first student-driven Community Conversation, underwritten by the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund. The Community Conversations were first brought to Newtown in 2009, when roughly 100 community members gathered together over several meetings to discuss the topic of bullying. A year later another group of roughly 100 community members discussed the topic of underage drinking, and last year's Community Conversation centered around character development.

In 2012, the group of students worked to run the Community Conversation to focus on high school students.

One Newtown Middle School student heard excellent news in March. Rachel Crosby placed second at the state level of the Future Problem Solvers Scenario writing competition.

According to its website, the Future Problem Solving Program International encourages students to develop a vision for the future while preparing them for leadership roles through curriculum and competitions each year. According to the Future Problem Solving Program, for the scenario writing competition students are challenged to write a futurist short story.

Rachel's more than 800-word essay titled "A Day's Work In WWIII" followed the story of one fighter after China's bombing the United States.

"I feel China is kind of taking over the United States," said Rachel, about why she chose China to fight the United States. "We get everything from there."

Later in March, NMS students participated in their school's version of The Hunger Games, to celebrate the movie release. March 23 marked the heavily anticipated nationwide opening of The Hunger Games, a Lionsgate movie directed by Gary Ross and based on a young adult novel by the same title written by Sandy Hook resident Suzanne Collins. It also marked a day Newtown Middle School students in clusters 7 Orange and 7 Purple had been waiting for. The Hunger Games is the first book in Ms Collins' trilogy that follows main character Katniss Everdeen as she is thrown onto a path of discovering the true political structure of her country after volunteering to replace her younger sister in the Hunger Games, which pits one boy and one girl, known as "tributes," from each of the country's 12 districts against each other in a game played to the death.

The middle school's version of The Hunger Games offered excitement for students in the school's library, cafeteria, and outside the school as a number of activities, trials, and drawings for prizes were underway.

By April a bouncing bunny was calling the Fairfield Hills campus home. On April 6, Bunny Watch 2012 was underway. This was the second year the Bunny Watch was conducted as a fundraiser for local Odyssey of the Mind teams to attend the national level of the competition. For a $5 donation eventgoers of all ages filed in line for a hayride pulled by an antique tractor as families spotted and tallied bunnies of many shapes and sizes hidden along the 1.5-mile ride, a wagon-side greeting with the Easter Bunny, a bounce house, bunny face painting and ears, lawn games, Pig Says (the team's version of Simon Says, with a pink pig leading the fun), and more.

Living Biographies

On Thursday, April 12, Middle Gate Elementary School fourth grade students brought famous Connecticut residents, past and present, to life in the school's annual Living Biographies project.

In each of the fourth grade classrooms at the school, students were dressed as their chosen Connecticut residents, and when touched gently on the shoulder by visiting students, parents, and community members, the students shared their studied resident's biography.

From Katharine Hepburn and Ethan Allen to Ella T. Grasso and Charles Goodyear, the students portrayed a wide range of Connecticut residents. This year marked the first time author Suzanne Collins was among the notable state residents portrayed by the students.

Reed Intermediate School students were also sharing stories that week. Easton author Elise Broach visited the school as a reward for the students reading at least eight of the 2012 Nutmeg Award nominated books. Along with meeting Ms Broach, Reed students were treated to lunch. The Nutmeg Book Award is jointly sponsored by the Connecticut Library Association and the Connecticut Association of School Librarians. A list of 20 books, ten intermediate level and ten teen level, written by Connecticut authors is accumulated each year and readers vote for their favorite.

While the Reed students celebrated reading, a 29-member delegation of NHS students, faculty, staff, and others were traveling to China as part of the Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) program, The delegation included Director of Economic and Community Development Elizabeth Stocker and First Selectman Pat Llodra. The group visited Newtown's sister schools in Liaocheng, in the Shandong Province of China, and other stops along the way, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Jinshang Park, and more. While in Liaocheng group members stayed with host families.

Later in the month, the NHS Block Box Musical production of You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown opened for performances on Thursday, April 26. You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown is a musical based on the Peanuts comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz. The student director for the musical was Alexandra Aug, NHS student Lexi Black was the assistant director, and stage manager for the production was Sean Watkins.

The 2012 Valentines For Troops effort came to an official close near the end of April, when a finale event was held at NHS to recognize those who helped the program.

"It doesn't matter what day it is," said Valentines For Troops Chairperson Donna Monteleone Randle. "They love to hear from you."

A few days later on April 30, NHS was a sticky place to be for NHS science teacher Eric Ekman, who volunteered to be taped to the wall outside the school's cafeteria to help the school's Peer Leadership Club raise money to donate to the National Organization For Rare Diseases, based out of Danbury.

Starting with the first lunch wave of the day, students, faculty, and staff had the option of purchasing a piece of duct tape or more to help "stick" Mr Ekman to the wall.

By noon, Mr Ekman said he was starting to feel a "little bit tight," but that he could still, "wiggle a bit."

Art On The Walls

Along with May's flowers, art was in bloom across the district by the start of the month. Hawley Elementary School was the first elementary school to hold its annual art show. Artwork created by students throughout the year went on view at Hawley, Head O' Meadow, and Sandy Hook Schools in May.

Months of effort and study came to a conclusion on Monday, May 7, when fourth grade students at Sandy Hook School walked under a flag and simulated walking three miles for water.

"We want to know how it feels to walk all that way just to get water," said fourth grader Will Swift as the entire fourth grade lined up to start the expected one-hour walk.

The walk was the culmination of the fourth grade studying the water crisis, as fourth grade teacher and team leader Carrie Usher explained. After segueing from learning about the water cycle as part of the science curriculum, Ms Usher said the students then learned about the water crisis. The fourth grade then joined in a partnership with the Kiplelgutik School in Kenya through the H2O For Life nonprofit organization, which provides opportunities for youths to partner with schools in developing countries where water, sanitation, and hygiene education are in need, according to the organization. According to H2O For Life's website, www.H2Oforlifeschools.org, nearly one billion people live without access to clean water, and more than two billion live without access to sanitation facilities.

On May 17, Newtown Middle School eighth grade student Reed Bryant was standing near two models he created, one of the Twin Towers and one of the new World Trade Center complex. That day the NMS technology education classroom was filled with people attending a dedication ceremony "for the victims and for our country." Reed's model of the new World Trade Center complex and a piece of steel retired New York Police Department Sergeant Leonard Campanale, now a custodian at NMS, found while working with relief efforts following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were dedicated to the middle school during the ceremony.

After reading Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, fifth grade students at Reed Intermediate School had the chance to meet two dogs the same breed as the dog who played Winn-Dixie in the movie adaptation of the book on Thursday, May 31.

In the book, Winn-Dixie is described as a mutt, but when the movie was shot, multiple dogs were needed, explained Reed teacher Eric Myhill. A French breed of dog, Berger Picard (pronounced bare ZHAY pee CARR), was found to help the dogs look consistently like each other when filming the movie. Two members of the Berger Piccard Club of America visited the school for a "Meet the Breed" event.

Everything seemed to shine blue and gold on Friday, June 1, when Newtown High School's Best Buddies club hosted its first prom. Club advisor and special education teacher Jill Gonski said the event was a huge success. Best Buddies matches students with intellectual disabilities with high school students from general education to create oneon-one friendships, according to the club's website.

"Over 60 students and teachers attended the event," said Ms Gonski. "The students with special needs and general education students had a blast. There was dancing, singing, food, and fun. We will definitely hold the event again!"

Rising before the Board of Education on Tuesday, June 5, Ajit Singh and Erin Begg stood tall when they were announced as 2012's valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

About a week later the district announced some assistant principal positions in the district were changing. Newtown High School Assistant Principal Scott Clayton announced he would be leaving the district at the end of the school year to be principal of a school in Stamford, Newtown Middle School Assistant Principal Kathy Boettner replaced him at NHS, Sandy Hook School Assistant Principal Anthony Salvatore replaced Ms Boettner at the middle school, and a lead teacher was chosen for Sandy Hook School in place of Mr Salvatore.

Between two events, the student journalists who worked on Sandy Hook School's Footprint Post and Reed Intermediate School's Patriot Press graduated, and during both of those events, advisor Lillian Bittman was thanked for her time with each paper. Ms Bittman stepped down from both papers at the end of the 2011-12 academic year to pursue her own writing. Ms Bittman began the Patriot Press when Reed Intermediate School opened for students, and she was the parent advisor for the Footprint Post for nearly half of the newspaper's span.

Graduations

Newtown Middle School eighth grade students walked into Western Connecticut State University's O'Neill Center on Monday, June 18, as family and friends stood, snapping photos and clapping for the soon-to-be middle school graduates.

"Good evening family and friends of our eighth grade Class of 2012," said NMS Principal Diane Sherlock after the students were seated before her. "It is so much my honor to welcome you to the Newtown Middle School Moving Up Ceremony."

Two days later on June 20, it was time for the members of the NHS graduating class of 2012 to put on caps and gowns.

Commencement speakers at Western Connecticut State University's O'Neill Center said it again and again: the Newtown High School Class of 2012 was a class with a wide range of abilities and accomplishments. The event included shared memories through speeches, advice for the graduates to use in the future, and a poem by commencement address speaker Lee Keylock.

As Senior Class Vice President Mary Hamula said, every one of the 402 students sitting inside the O'Neill Center should be proud of what they have achieved during their time at NHS.

"The Class of 2012 is very involved in the school, the greater community, and beyond," said Mary. "Forty-seven members of the graduating class were members of the National Honor Society, and the Class of 2012 all together logged more than 30,000 hours of community service."

After the many reflections of high school life were shared on June 20, Chinese exchange teacher Ding Hong found himself reflecting on June 21. For three years Mr Ding worked with NHS students, helped expand the district's NICE program, and become a member of the Newtown community. Facing the end of his three years in Newtown as an exchange teacher, Mr Ding said was looking forward to seeing his parents, but also said he would miss everyone he got to know in Newtown.

The last day of the 2011-12 academic year was reportedly both happy and sad. Students were as jubilant as always to be facing a promising sun-filled summer, but the streamers and writing on the yellow school buses that pulled up to greet them were offering final good-byes from Newtown's owner-operators. Newtown's roughly 80-year owner-operator system came to a close when the district contracted with All-Star Transportation for bus services for most of Newtown's school routes.

Promises from students, teachers, and administrators on the last day of school were given with smiles.

"See you next year!" one student said, extending her arm and waving enthusiastically toward Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who had come outside of her school to wave goodbye to students.

"Best Community" For Music

Newtown's Director of Music Michelle Hiscavitch had some exciting news to share in July. An official statement from Governor Dannel P. Malloy congratulated the district as being named a Best Community for Music Education by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation. The announcement marked the district's fourth time overall earning the distinction, and its third year in a row of being named a Best Community for Music Education.

July also brought someone new to the district: Julie Haggard, the district's new pupil personnel services director, sat in her new office in the Newtown Municipal Center by the end of the month.

"It's exciting," said Ms Haggard. "There are so many wonderful things happening here for students - resources, staff, and parental involvement - which is really exciting to see."

Former pupil personnel services director Michael Regan tendered his resignation in early April to work at Cooperative Educational Services (CES), a Trumbull-based school support agency that is under executive leadership of Newtown's former schools superintendent Evan Pitkoff.

Others were welcomed to the school district in August, when the year's new staff orientation was held.

From Monday, August 13, to Thursday, August 16, workshops and more were offered to new staff and those hired after last year's orientation was conducted.

By mid-August Reed Principal Sharon Epple announced her resignation. Following Dr Epple's resignation, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said Jay Smith, who was the interim principal at Newtown High School before current NHS Principal Charles Dumais came to the district in January 2008, will act as interim principal at Reed for the 2012-13 academic year.

While the summer was coming to a close, members of the Newtown Junior Women's Club were making sure backpacks were at the ready for the first day of the 2012-13 school year. The club's Back-To-School Backpack Program helps students living in lowincome families facing difficulties to finance the return to school each year. This year 91 backpacks were donated to local families. The Newtown Junior Women's Club works closely with Social Services to complete the program and donations are sought from residents at local locations.

School Begins Again

Across the district sporadic downpours of rain the morning of Tuesday, August 28, did nothing to dim the sunny dispositions of students and educators at the start of the 2012-13 school year; everyone was eager to get back to school, though some reported problems with first-day bus runs, frustrated some concerned parents.

"Welcome back," Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said to a group of fifth and sixth graders who had just stepped off their bus to make their way into the back entrance at Reed.

From the first moment students stepped off their buses at Sandy Hook School for the 2012-13 school year, the school's CARES model was in action, said school Principal Dawn Hochsprung and lead teacher Natalie Hammond the second week of school. As part of the school's Responsive Classroom program, the CARES acronym reminds students of the importance of Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-control.

From the way teachers greet students to classroom practices, Ms Hochsprung and Ms Hammond explained, students are reminded about the CARES model, and that helps to create a positive community environment.

A visit to Reed Intermediate School by members of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company and members of the Newtown Hook & Ladder Company marked the 11th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.

Two clusters gathered together to recognize the visitors and ask questions about what they do as local firefighters.

"We are so honored to have you here today as our heroes," said Reed Intermediate School fifth grade teacher Karen King, "and to help us remember the heroes of 9/11."

The event is a yearly one at Reed, and reminds students about both the historic day and that September is Fire Safety Month.

On a Sunday later in September Hawley Elementary School was hosting a car wash. The event collected $1,547 in donations toward creating a Reading Lounge at Hawley Elementary School that will be for all students, staff, and faculty members at the school.

School Songs

Singer/songwriter Brian Chevalier was working with both Head O' Meadow and Middle Gate Elementary School students in early October. At Head O' Meadow, Mr Chevalier worked with students to create a school song that highlighted character attributes the district has determined are important for a safe school environment. At Middle Gate, Mr Chevalier worked with students to create a school song about the school district's CARES - Cooperative, Assertive, Responsible, Empathetic, and Self-Control - model.

While the Head O' Meadow and Middle Gate School communities were singing along together, the NHS Marching Band & Guard members were gearing up for the annual Joseph P. Grasso Festival, held on Saturday, October 6.

This year's event marked the 16th Annual Joseph P. Grasso Festival, Newtown's annual "home show" of the US Scholastic Band Association Marching Band and Guard competition. Along with the NHS Marching Band & Guard, bands and marching guards from Trumbull, Monroe, Norwalk, Shelton, Bethel, and Milford participated. The Grasso Festival is an annual fundraiser for the NHS Marching Band & Guard.

This year's My Favorite Scarecrow Contest was on display Saturday, October 20, to Sunday October 28, and Newtown Middle School art teacher Arlene Spoonfeather said this year's participating eighth grade group was the largest yet.

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 a certain amount on its scarecrow, and this year that limit has been raised to $30 from $25. The creations are then put on display on Newtown Middle School's front lawn, 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.

For the fourth year, Newtown Parent Connection and the Newtown High School PTSA sponsored a Freshmen Forum on Underage Drinking, on Thursday, October 18. The evening event was conducted for members of the Class of 2016 and their parents.

"We hope this night will help you make positive decisions," said freshmen class advisor Liz Ward, who opened the night with fellow advisor Joanna Diaz.

Speakers during the event included Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, First Selectman Pat Llodra, Newtown Police Department Officer William Chapman, Danbury Hospital Emergency Room physician and Newtown resident William Begg, attorney Michael Lynch, a woman who has had a personal experience with drinking, a father who lost his daughter to an alcohol-related accident, and Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais.

Lessons From Wolves

Before three wolves were led into Reed Intermediate School's gymnasium on Wednesday, October 24, Mission: Wolf Co-Founder and Executive Director Kent Weber made sure the students were prepared.

Many people, he said, do not have correct information regarding wolves.

"I can tell you, wolves don't attack people and wolves don't act like dogs," said Mr Weber, adding that wolves do not make good pets.

When visiting Newtown roughly 11 years ago, Mr Weber said one student was so impacted by the presentation that he went on to work for Mission: Wolf, and that student, Alan Korth, also helped to bring the presentation to Reed in October. Reed teacher Karen King, who was Mr Korth's teacher 11 years ago, helped raise money with the school's Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and Mr Korth helped to support Mission: Wolf's visit. According to Mission: Wolf's website, www.missionwolf.com, the Coloradobased nonprofit organization provides hands-on experiential education.

Other past students of Ms King were also busy in October. Former classmates Samantha Kent and Benjamin Miles teamed up to discover what was buried in a time capsule, packed with letters and more from their 2002 fourth grade class, and to do so, they traveled to Ireland.

In 2002, The Bee reported, "A time capsule has been buried at a school in Ireland with which the local students have had a correspondence. In ten years, February 20, 2012, to be exact, any student in the class can travel to Ireland and dig up the capsule that contains letters each student wrote about himself or herself. The letters included current information about their family, friends, likes and dislikes, as well as where they see themselves in the future."

After some trials, the capsule was uncovered, and Samantha is planning to share the letters with her fellow 2002 classmates when home in Newtown.

A Championship Band

The Newtown High School Marching Band & Guard earned the title of State Champions and the Color Guard took the title of New England's Best Guard on Saturday, November 3, during the USBands Championships held at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport.

"It was terrific. They did a fantastic job," NHS Band Director Kurt Eckhardt said.

The combined NHS Marching Band & Guard won the title of Connecticut State Champions in the Class V Open, and the Color Guard earned the Class V Open division's caption honors as New England's Best Guard.

The following Saturday, in a field of 52 of the best marching bands in the country, the Newtown High School Marching Band & Guard received the highest score of any Connecticut high school band competing at any level, and the Color Guard was named "Best Guard" in the nation for Class VI Open, at the USBands National Championships, held at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey.

Following the postponement of collecting ballots due to the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the winners of the 2012 Newtown Middle School My Favorite Scarecrow Contest were named when school resumed from a storm-related weeklong delay. Created by Emily Neave, Julia Sughrue, and Ali Manfredi, "iPhone" came in first place; "Woodland King" created by Dawson Stout and Matt Krasnickas came in second; and "Tardis" created by Trevor Legeret, Katharine Humber, and Devon Covert came in third place.

Newtown High School cast and crew members of the production of Harvey were busy preparing after school on Friday, November 9, during one of the many rehearsals held for the play. Student co-directors were Sean Watkins and Josh Goldman. Harvey ran from November 15 to November 18.

With Veterans Day falling on a Sunday this year, some of Newtown's schools held events on Friday, November 9, and other schools held events on Monday, November 12, to mark the day.

Honoring Veterans

Many events were held throughout the district to highlight Veterans Day. A flag-raising ceremony and breakfast was held at Head O' Meadow, veterans and servicemen visited Middle Gate Elementary School for two assemblies and to visit classrooms, at Sandy Hook Elementary School students invited veterans and servicemen to visit the school for a breakfast, and Newtown High School held a luncheon and an assembly.

Midway through November, brothers and Newtown High School students Karan and Kunal Marwah visited Reed sixth grade teachers Julie Shull and Induk Song's cluster to share information about India.

"Our parents were both born in India," said Karan, a senior at NHS, "and we actually lived there for three years."

While attending the Newtown Arts Festival in September, Ms Shull said she met the students, and thought it would be wonderful to have high school students present to her students at Reed.

The sixth grade students were also just about to start studying India as part of the social studies curriculum. Visiting on Tuesday also coincided with DiWali, the festival of lights, a Hindu holiday that is also celebrated across India. As part of celebrating Diwali with the students, Karan and Kunal brought in some traditional festive sweets to share.

Nearly a month after she received notice of earning a patent for a devise she designed while in eighth grade, NHS senior Zoe Eggleston was recognized at a November 29 ceremony at the Connecticut Science Center for her accomplishment.

Since opening in 2009, The Connecticut Science Center has partnered with the Connecticut Invention Convention (CIC) to showcase student inventors, now including Zoe, who was issued a US Patent for her invention. Her "Ice Safety Device" was unveiled as part of the permanent CIC exhibit in the Science Center's fifth floor Invention Dimension Gallery.

Zoe was an eighth grade winner at CIC finals in 2009, when she envisioned a device to lessen the chance of breaking through thin ice on ponds by remotely measuring ice thickness.

Junior/Senior Projects

By the start of December students in the NHS Junior/Senior Project course were finalizing their presentations for her projects, which will be officially presented at the start of January.

Each semester the high school offers students the opportunity to undertake a selfdirected project of their choosing, which is presented before a panel of volunteer judges. Overseen by Peg Ragaini, Angela Pennucci, and Kristen Hardy, each student works with a mentor to investigate his or her project. This semester, nine students have undertaken a range of projects during the course.

For the Junior/Senior Project course, Suzie Gissen taught French to first grade students, Tyler Coleman created a Dutch oven invention, which he created in the website marketing plan course last year, Claire Alexander created a website called Scoliostrong.org, Nick Snyder designed and built a long board, Emma Pacchiana started a film club at the high school, Talia Fappiano promoted animal welfare through photography, Carly Sullivan promoted skin cancer awareness, Dan Bittman created an original film score for a personal film called Recollection, and Laura Hunter created a collection of memories from students attending NHS called, Flashbulb: A Collection of Flash Fiction.

Before school began on Tuesday, December 4, Sandy Hook School faculty, staff, and administrators gathered in the school's library for an hour of sharing knowledge about apps, an event the school named Appy Hour. One by one, teachers plugged in iPads to share different apps that support or enhance the kindergarten through fourth grade curriculum.

The event was the first of its kind at the school, and, according to Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, was inspired by a meeting with colleagues over the summer.

Newtown's eighth grade cheer team, the Newtown Nighthawks D15 squad won first place at the American Youth Cheer National Championships, held in Orlando, Fla., on Saturday, December 8. Coach Julie Luby said the eighth grade squad had never been to nationals before, but had participated in regional competitions. Ms Luby also said each of the 28 girls on the team made it to the national competition thanks to the families pulling together and the help of local businesses.

"Truly it was a once in a lifetime experience," said Ms Luby.

Two days later, Head O' Meadow's fourth grade chorus concert, held on December 10, was the first Winter Concert in the district. The Winter Concert schedule is set to run through February.

Tragedy And A New School

Then, on December 14, the Sandy Hook School community was shaken to its core when a man forced entry into the school and murdered six adults, including Ms Hochsprung, and 20 children. Following that day, as community support sprouted around town, Newtown's students across the district began to offer help as well.

As the Newtown High School blog dumais.us/newtown/blog announced, NHS students in Italian Classes created rings of colored paper with messages of hope, love, strength, faith, courage, and remembrance. The rings were formed into a long chain that will be set to Sandy Hook School to decorate the school's new home, Monroe's Chalk Hill Middle School.

As the year came to a close preparation work at Chalk Hill School was underway. A date for when the Sandy Hook School community would be moved into the space was still uncertain, but former Sandy Hook School Principal Donna Pagé returned from retirement to help.

A high school coat drive, a middle school toy collection to donate to those affected by Superstorm Sandy, and support efforts in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook were continuing in the district as 2012 came to a close.

More stories like this: Year In Review, Newtown Schools
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