When the town’s elementary school children step off the bus on the first day of school, Monday, August 31, the first thing they will notice is a brightly-colored canopy jutting out from the school entrance, channeling them through the doors and into the building. The new canopies — one with bright red trusses at the North entrance, the other with blue trusses at the South School — are the most conspicuous sign of the transformation that has been taking place at the school over the past two summers. They will offer shelter from the elements to anybody who enters or exits the building, and at the same time “give the school a face,” according to School Supt. Dr. Guy Stella – and a cheerful face at that.
Another very visible improvement at the school is the recent paving that has taken place at the South School, including the access road to the traffic circle and the lower parking lot. First Selectman Ellen Scalettar was impressed with the transformation she was seeing during a visit to the school the week before it opened for teachers.
“This looks amazing,” she said, remembering the patched potholes and crumpled side-walk that made up the road- and walkways. She thanked the local representatives in Hartford, namely Sens. Joe Crisco and Gayle Slossberg and state Rep. Themis Klarides for supporting the STEAP grant (Small Town Economic Assistance Program) that allowed the paving project to be done.
Most other renovations at the school, such as the updated heating and ventilation system, the roof replacement, the wifi cables and energy-efficient lighting may be improving the students’ learning environment, but in ways that are not necessarily visible.
For the first time in the town’s history, the children will return to uniformly air-conditioned classrooms. In the past, individual units would be running full-blast in certain classrooms, never enough to create a comfortable environment. “Now it’s better temperature control throughout the school,” Dr. Stella said. “And it provides energy savings at the same time.”
The superintendent expects work on the building upgrade to continue until December, although mostly during after-school hours. Last week, many ceilings were still open and all entrances blocked off. As in past years, he predicted the custodial staff to be working “around the clock” to get everything cleaned and cleared and ready for the children when they walk in on the first day of school.
New teachers: Along with Dr. Stella and Principal Gina Prisco, students will be greeted by some new faces when they return to school. There is Assistant Principal Analisa Sherman, who once was a student at Beecher Road School and an Amity graduate; and Special Services Director Clare Kennedy.
New teachers include kindergarten teacher Lori Calabrese and first grade teacher Morgan McClain, both of whom have worked at the school as interns before; World Language teacher Emily Jacobér; technology specialist Danielle Ulacco; and a part-time art teacher Ashley Wagner. Wagner also has worked at the school before, as a teaching assistant. These hires were made to replace retirees, and do not represent new positions.
Program focus: Differentiated instruction is the new buzzword in education these days, and efforts are well underway at Beecher Road School to adapt teaching methods in that direction. The goal is to “follow the pathway of each child from kindergarten to sixth grade,” Dr. Stella said. It adopts the workshop model, which many teachers and students at Beecher are already familiar with; and encourages student choice and small group instruction as much as possible. “It’s a movement toward personal learning,” Dr. Stella said. One area of focus will be work on a new math curriculum, which is to include differentiated instruction principles.
In addition to the new math curriculum, the school is working on a new three-year technology plan, to encourage innovation, creativity and acceleration of learning, he said.
World Language: In an effort to broaden students’ exposure to different cultures and languages, the school last year has introduced some after-school Chinese lessons as part of the Extended Day Program. The program was open to heritage and non-heritage learners, Dr. Stella said. They would learn about the language and culture through song, role-play and cooking, and he is hoping to grow the program in the future, maybe by adding other languages as well. “Children continue to astound me in what they can do,” Dr. Stella said.
Pictured above: Canopies over the entrances lend Beecher Road School a new look.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent