The first day of school for elementary students is a day of mixed emotions: joy at seeing old friends, excitement to start a new year, perhaps even a little trepidation or some sadness that the summer is waning.
In Middletown’s North End, Macdonough School’s cafeteria and gymnasium were overwhelmed with the din of many voices — students saying goodbye to parents, meeting their teacher for the first time, hugging, high-fiving, then catching up with friends; and teachers asserting a modicum of order.
Principal Jon Romeo set the stage for the 2011-12 academic year at this neighborhood “walking school” by welcoming parents to enjoy coffee, muffins and fruit and then to join in the first day celebration assembly.
Romeo began by saying when Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited the school last spring, he told Romeo that “superintendents around our state and around the country are trying to build schools like Macdonough. They talk about what a treasure it is to have a school in the middle of a neighborhood with a Family Resource Center to welcome families from birth to age 3, with a neighborhood preschool, with a Community Health Center right here in the building, with support from before- and after-school programs from the YMCA.”
In a touching speech, Romeo told parents gathered how proud he was of the teachers at his school, who, he said, "love their students as if they were their own." He related a story of how, when students were in danger of not being able to attend after-school programs for lack of transportation, a group of teachers approached him to say, "get us the training and get us our bus licenses and we'll drive the children."
That is exactly the type of dedication so common among Macdonough's staff. He further explained that when the funding for summer school was eliminated from the city budget, many teachers and staff said "they were willing to give up their summer" to continue summer learning at Macdonough. That's exactly what they did, Romeo said.
He then told parents how far students at Macdonough have progressed in the six years since No Child Left Behind required students in grades three through eight to take the Connecticut Mastery Test.
“Six years ago, we had 20 [students] who scored at level five [the highest possible] in math or writing. This year, it was over 70. We think that’s success and we’re really proud of our kids.”
Romeo read the story, “A Fine, Fine School” by Sharon Creech to the audience, complete with pages of the hilarious book projected onto a large screen. It told the tale of a portly principal (here, Romeo inserted his own name) who was so proud of his students’s learning, he progressively announced school would be in session on weekend, holidays and during the summer.
The assembly concluded with a rousing rendition of the school song, “Knowledge is Power,” in which students, teachers and parents all sang and clapped along.