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Year In Review: A Year Of Learning, Giving, And Celebrating In Newtown Public Schools

Published: December 31, 2017

Eliza Hallabeck

2017 was a year filled with celebrations, giving, and learning in Newtown Public Schools.

From learning through STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) activities at night events hosted by the elementary schools, to celebrating kindness, 2017 was filled with moments of wonder and happiness in classrooms and outdoors.

Many also supported the schools in 2017, including parents, members of the local PTAs, and the Newtown Education Foundation (NEF).

As the year began, the 2016-17 school year was fully underway and students, who had just returned from winter break, were ready to learn.

Reed Intermediate School students spent January 10 learning about career options from visiting parents and community members. The school’s counseling department organized the event.

The following day at Newtown Middle School, students in the school’s final round of the National Geographic Bee competed after school, with friends and family cheering them on in the auditorium. Michael Sereday was named the winner after multiple rounds.

Almost a month later on February 2, Reed students also participated in the National Geographic Bee. Filippo Formica was named Reed’s champion.

It was a big school year for Newtown High School art students. On January 12 Art Portfolio students opened a 12-day exhibition at C. H. Booth Library. Three pieces of art created by NHS students were on display at the 2017 Scholastic Art Awards Exhibit, which opened January 15 at the Silpe Gallery at the Hartford Art School. “Feathers Will Stand,” a ceramic piece by senior Alexandra Ferris; a self-portrait, “Curiosity,” by senior Haley Streck; and “Teapot of Nature,” a ceramic piece by freshman Katerina Rosen, were selected for the exhibit. Later in the year, a ceramic piece “Blue Piercing” created by senior Chloe Kasak was included in the 20th Annual National K12 Ceramic Exhibition, which opened in March in Portland, Ore.

2017 was the year the school’s talent show returned to NMS. Social students teacher Will Ryan ran the event, which had students gather in the school’s auditorium for two assemblies that featured talented displays by students.

At the NHS midyear graduation ceremony on February 1, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jean Evans Davila told the 15 graduating students to “Be kind to others and to yourself as you go through life. It’s a learning process, and you are only just beginning.” The ceremony was held in the NHS cafetorium, with parents and family members clapping and snapping photos.

Kindness was then shipped from Newtown through the Valentines For Troops program, in which local students send care packages and personalized notes and cards to servicemen and women overseas. Sandy Hook Elementary School, Head O’ Meadow Elementary School, Reed, NHS, and St Rose of Lima School all participated in the effort.

On February 15 Middle Gate Elementary School fourth graders celebrated diversity. Through lessons and activities on the school’s Diversity Day, students learned to understand different perspectives and how others may experience the world.

During the week of February 27 to March 3, NMS students took part in a number of activities designed to celebrate the school’s community. NMS social studies teacher Shari Oliver and Assistant Principal James Ross coordinated the week. Each day of Community Week had different opportunities for the students to take part in activities. The week was a joint effort with the school’s Student Council and School Climate Committee.

From March 3 to 5, the NMS stage transformed into a land for fairy tale characters when the school production of the musical Into The Woods Jr was performed for audiences.

For an hour on both March 17 and 24, Reed students, faculty, and staff experienced a different schedule than usual when the school held TAG (Team Across Grades) Days. The activities scheduled for the day were called “TAGtivities.” Students participated in beading and jewelry making in one classroom, played games like kickball in the school’s gymnasium, and some groups ventured outdoors.

Faculty, staff, and students were outside Sandy Hook School the morning of March 20 to learn what the school’s One School One Read book would be. The 2017-18 school year marked both the 15th year of the program and the 15th book chosen for the entire school community to read. Eventually the rumble of a motorcycle could be heard. Mary Ann Jacob, who at the time was a library staff member, and dressed as a mouse, drove by as students clapped and cheered for the final One School One Read clue. The One School One Read book was then revealed to be The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary.

NHS’s spring musical Evita was staged March 23 to 26 at Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel. With the high school’s auditorium renovation project underway, the year’s musical had been rehearsed in the NHS cafetorium, and the entire production was treated like a touring company show.

Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 308 held an awards ceremony on March 29 to honor its Voice of Democracy and Teacher of the Year Awards winners in the NHS cafetorium. The Teacher of the Year award winners were Larry Saladin, Petrice DiVanno, and Linda Baron. Each won the Teacher of the Year Award for Post 308 and also went on to win first place in the award program at the VFW Fairfield County district level. Ms Baron earned an extra surprise when she learned her nomination for Teacher of the Year earned first place at the state level and has moved to the national level of the competition. NHS tenth grader Robert DiSibio was the Voice of Democracy winner.

Spring 2017 School Year

NMS hosted its annual Student Showcase on April 25. Student works of art were on display and many demonstrations were offered to highlight student creativity and gifts. Musical performances by the school’s Chamber Orchestra, Jazz Improv Club, and Jazz Band were held in the school’s auditorium.

The next day, April 26, members of the Newtown Senior Center returned to Head O’ Meadow to hear their life stories — as written by second graders. It was the second meeting for the seniors and second grade students in Sara Washicko’s class. The seniors first visited the school on March 29, when the second graders interviewed them,with help from fourth graders in Abbey Clements’s class. The interviews were used to write the stories.

NHS orchestra students were treated to a visit from Carter Brey, the principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, on May 1, thanks to the CMAK (Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski) Sandy Hook Memorial Foundation. The CMAK Sandy Hook Memorial Foundation had been working with local students in preparation for its Chasing the Music event taking place at the Waterbury Palace Theater on June 4.

Reed’s musical production of Bye Bye Birdie was staged for audiences May 5 and 6.

The NHS Unified Theater program staged its original play Finding The Power Within, May 20 and 21, in the school’s cafetorium. Performances were free and open to the public, and donations helped fund the program.

Kindness was spreading in Newtown’s schools the week of May 22, when school staff, Ben’s Bells staff, and volunteers installed three new murals sharing the message to “Be Kind” in two Newtown schools. By May 26, Hawley Elementary School had a mural installed and Middle Gate Elementary School had two murals installed.

Reed sixth graders in Dawn Ford and Julie Shull’s cluster spent time in May studying ways to help rid The Victory Garden of groundhogs. On May 30 the cluster held a Garden Party to share their efforts with parents. The students’ efforts included sprinkling Epsom salt, and posting pinwheels and decoys in the shape of dogs in the garden.

With the school year coming to a close, the elementary schools hosted field days throughout the end of May and early June. The events were all filled with school pride.

Members of the NHS Class of 2017 — all 417 of them — received their diplomas in an extended ceremony on steamy June 13, at Western Connecticut State University’s O’Neill Center. Urging her classmates to “chase that change,” class Valedictorian Simran Chand joined the featured speakers promoting countless opportunities that lie ahead for the hundreds of seniors who, as keynote speaker Brian Tenney noted, “will walk up one ramp as high school students, and down the other as high school graduates.”

The next day, NMS eighth grade students made the official transition from middle school to high school during two moving up ceremonies in the NHS gymnasium during the afternoon and evening of June 14.

The school year came to a close with sunny attitudes under sunny skies on June 15.

For many students, the summer was filled with fun days at camp, such as Parks and Recreation’s Day Camps at Treadwell Memorial Park and Dickinson Memorial Park, and at Newtown Continuing Education’s SMART (Summer Music and Art) Camp.

2017-18 School Year Gets Underway

Students returned to school for the 2017-18 school year on August 28. Principal Barbara Gasparine greeted students at HOM, saying a quick “happy first day” as one group of students bounded by and into the school building.

For Reed Intermediate School students, the new school year also meant a newly rearranged library, thanks to student and parent volunteers that helped Reed library/media specialist Pia Ledina sort books by category rather than using the Dewey Decimal Classification System.

In a preview of the season to come, the NHS Marching Band & Guard earned first place in its division in the first season’s first performance at Bethel High School on September 9. Later in the month, the group hosted the 21st Annual Joseph P. Grasso Marching Band Festival on September 30 at NHS. Other area bands and guards performed throughout the evening before the NHS group performed its show, called Dystopia, based on author George Orwell’s novel 1984. On October 28 the band went on to win its first US Bands New England States Championship at the Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain, making the Marching Nighthawks the reigning New England Champions as well as the Connecticut State Champions in the group’s division.

On October 13, Sandy Hook School Principal Dr Kathy Gombos found herself sporting a pink pig nose and ears. She had jokingly told members of her school’s PTA that she would kiss a pig if the school community raised more than $10,000 for the PTA. It did. A celebratory event was hosted by the PTA to commemorate the event. After a full-school walk-a-thon outside, Dr Gombos made good on her promise.

Over October 21 and 22 people visited the front lawn of NMS to view entries and vote in this year’s Eighth Grade Scarecrow Contest. This year the top winning groups chose to donate the money raised through the fundraiser to the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation, The Ana Grace Project, the Newtown Animal Control Shelter, and REACH Newtown.

NHS students filled the bleachers in the school’s gymnasium at the end of the school day on November 3 for the annual pep rally ahead of the football team’s homecoming game that night.

Sandy Hook School students learned the importance of voting on November 6, when each student cast a vote for the name of the school’s new mascot. While the eagle was not new as the school’s mascot, the eagle mascot costume was new. It was donated to the school by Post University. The school chose to name the eagle mascot Sandy.

Newtown schools honored veterans in a number of ways on Friday, November 10, ahead of the November 11 Veterans Day, and on Monday, November 13, with breakfasts, ceremonies, classroom visits, and patriotic songs.

National Champions

The NHS Marching Band & Guard earned the National Championship trophy for its division, for the first time in its history, at the USBands Open Class National Championships at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., November 11.

NHS’s fall drama production of Getting Away With Murder was staged at Reed Intermediate School, November 16 to November 19.

For the second school year in a row, NMS hosted its talent show on November 22. Students sang, performed on the piano, or displayed other talents — including ventriloquism and tap dancing.

Hawley kicked off the month of December with a Kindness Assembly to begin its Kindness Month. With all of the school’s students before him, Principal Christopher Moretti explained that every December the school focuses on kindness. Later in the month, kind acts completed by third graders led to gifts of pajamas and books being donated to the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury for distribution to children this holiday season. The third grade students were challenged by their teachers to complete at least ten acts of kindness. For each act of kindness, parents were then asked to donate between 50 cents and $2. The money raised, along with further assistance from Hawley staff, purchased the gifts, which were bought by Hawley teachers.

Reed Intermediate School students and teachers participated on December 6 in what has become an annual effort to support the community through activities and crafts. Students in different clusters throughout the Day of Service worked on a range of projects. Students spent the day finishing many projects that will help the local community.

As the year was coming to a close, holiday songs were being sung in school concerts and assemblies and students in multiple schools shopped at school-based “gift shops” to buy gifts for family members, with a portion of the sales supporting local charities.

The year of giving, learning, and celebrating came to a close for Newtown schools on December 22, the final day before the 2017 winter break.

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