It's not every day that elected officials, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Joe Courtney, visit East Lyme Middle School. Then again, it's not every day that a school is named Connecticut's Middle School of the Year!
This morning, East Lyme Middle School held a special assembly during which the Connecticut Association of Schools presented the school with a banner to hang to let everyone know about this well-deserved award. (You can see the entire event on video at the school's web site.)
There were speeches galore from educators and politicians but students got in on the act too, with musical performances by the East Lyme Middle School Chamber Orchestra, the Ceremonial Choir, the Ceremonial Winds, and Hannah Vanasse and Xiaochen Xu, who danced as they performed a rap they had written for the occasion.
At a time when many schools are cutting back on the arts, East Lyme Middle School offers no fewer than four music programs and an orchestra and the students' visual art, which is displayed all over the school, routinely wins awards. The school is no slouch when it comes to the sciences either. Next week, an experiment designed by 6th graders will be flown into space to be conducted aboard the International Space Station!
"I’ve never, ever been in a more effective middle school," said Earle Bidwell, assistant executive director for Middle Level Programs and Services at the Connecticut Association of Schools. "You are absolutely remarkable!"
Indeed, there's a lot to like about East Lyme Middle School. From its beautifully designed buildings and well-equipped classrooms to its innovative approach to education, this school's dedicated teachers and engaged parents work collectively to encourage children to explore their world, excel academically, and become well-rounded and caring members of their community.
“I’m not surprised our school won this award," said 6th grader Kayleen Keefe who gave the student speech today. "As you can see, we definitely deserved it!”
What Sets East Lyme Middle School Apart
The transition from kindergarten to middle school is often tough on kids, who must suddenly go from having one teacher in one classroom to having different teachers for each subject and moving from room to room each period.
East Lyme Middle School doesn't do that. Instead, students are grouped together in learning communities the school calls "Kivas," a Native American word meaning meeting place. Essentially, it's a school within a school, each containing about 360 students from fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.
Each Kiva has its own administrator, counselor, secretary, and teachers who work in different areas of the same room, with each area being dedicated to a different subject. Because teachers work with the same group of students the entire time they are at the school, they get to know each student individually. The school also ensures that every student has a dedicated teacher and advisor and there's a homework hotline to provide assistance whenever students need it.
State Representative Ed Jutila, who graduated from the East Lyme school system, said he was "overwhelmed by the level of sophistication and innovation here. East Lyme Middle School is a cutting-edge school ... with motivated faculty ... great emphasis placed on the importance of parents ... all coming together with the single vision of lifelong learning, mutual respect and equal opportunities for all."
Sen. Blumenthal, who presented the school with a certificate of recognition from the U.S. Senate, said he was impressed by how involved the parents were in the school—and very impressed by how patient and well-behaved the students were after being asked to sit through such a long assembly!
State Senator Andrea Stillman and Jutila jointly presented the school with a certificate recognizing the school's achievement from the Connecticut Legislature. Stillman was inspired to quote Einstein, who famously said, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."
"This school certainly provides the finest conditions," said Stillman.
"I want to thank our teachers, who are the heroes of this building," said Principal Judy A. Deleeuw. "Thank you, Connecticut Association of Schools for naming us Connecticut Middle School of the Year."
Last but certainly not least, Deleeuw turned to all the students to leave everyone with one final thought. "Thank you for making me so proud," Deleeuw said. "You’re great kids!"