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June 28, 2006

Alice On Hold

The back of Alice Peck. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

Lead paint "discovery" delays Y's move into the former elementary school

By Sharon Bass

Neither the YMCA nor the Hamden Board of Ed says it knew anything about lead paint in Alice Peck when the two signed a three-year lease in April. The Y plans to move its preschool operation into the Hillfield Road school while it builds a new facility near its Sherman Avenue headquarters. The lease was to start July 1, but has been pushed back to at least July 31 while the paint is removed.

"I don't think that [lead paint] came up in discussions," said Mark Albanese, school facilities director. "I hate to say it, but it's a little off our radar because we don't deal with it. A lot of our buildings may have lead paint. But we don't have to remove it. Nobody was trying to deceive anyone."

State standards for lead paint and asbestos are more stringent for private preschools than for public schools. Albanese said as long as the paint is contained -- not chipping or falling off -- it's not a problem.

Hamden/North Haven Y executive director Sean Doherty said he learned about the lead paint two weeks ago and thus stalled moving into Alice Peck. He said he hired a "vendor" (whom he would not identify) who found lead paint on classroom windowsills, over tack boards, on the entrance canopy and the support posts. Doherty said he hopes to hire another "vendor" this week to begin the remediation.

"It's a small little job to take care of. However, we can't do it ourselves. It has to be done professionally," he said. He said the Y would initially foot the bill, but wouldn't comment on whether the BOE will be asked to pitch in.

"I'd rather talk about how excited the parents and teachers are" about moving into Alice, Doherty said.

The Y is leasing eight classrooms plus an office, and will have shared use of the gym and playground for $8,750 a month, payable to the BOE, according to the April contract.

"This project started back in early 2005," he said. Since then, Doherty said, the state Department of Public Health has looked at the space twice to determine its suitability for preschoolers. A state license is required.

"They've applied for a preschool license and that's currently pending," said Lynn Townshend, spokeswoman for the DPH.

Asked why it's pending, she said, "Not sure. I'm not sure I can even talk about it." But, she said, "One of the outstanding items is local health approval."

That means the Quinnipiack Valley Health District. It must inspect the space and give it a clean bill of health before the state can issue a license. Alexis Rinaldi, a registered sanitarian with QVHD, said she's heard nothing so far about the Y moving into Alice Peck. She said the inspection has yet to be scheduled, and didn't know how long the wait would be.

Still, Doherty said he's confident the preschool will open at Alice Peck by July 31. Meanwhile, the Y has extended its current preschool lease by one month, he said

Asbestos, Too

While Doherty said there is no asbestos in the space he's renting at Alice Peck, Albanese said there is. The floor tiles contain asbestos and are covered with carpeting, he said. According to the state, that is acceptable for preschool use.

Built in 1954, Alice Peck was renovated in 1991, but the lead paint wasn't removed, said Albanese. A few years ago, it was closed as an elementary school. Currently, Alice houses the BOE's preschool program and the district math department.

June 26, 2006

Top of the BOE

A comparison of Hamden's, West Haven's and Milford's school administrations

By Sharon Bass

This evening, Councilman John Flanagan will re-propose his motion for a $2 million reduction in the '06-'07 school budget. (He'll actually suggest $1.9 million, since he can't reintroduce the measure with the same price tag.) The Board of Education and its advocates warn drastic measures would have to be taken with such a deep cut -- possibly even shutting down a school.

But Flanagan has many supporters in his claim that Hamden's school system is top heavy and that's where cuts should come from first -- not from children, books or closing schools. They say the system could get by with fewer administrators and directors. That wouldn't provide a panacea to the budgetary problems, they acknowledge, but it could be a step in the "right direction."

Listening to these top-heavy claims, the HDN decided to compare Hamden's administrative staff with those of West Haven and Milford -- nearby communities with similar school populations. Turned out, West Haven and Milford have fewer central office administrators yet more schools. Furthermore, the Hamden BOE got the biggest budget increase of the three for '06-'07. In fact, West Haven got a decrease.

West Haven

According to Jolene Barnes, personnel director for the West Haven School Department:

2006-2007 Budget: $75,121,726 (includes the schools' self-insured health-care fund, which was $9.1 million this fiscal year)
Difference from last year: - $459,971
2005-2006 Budget: $75,581,697
Student Body: 6,890
Number of Schools: one high school, two middle schools, eight elementary
Central Office Administrators, 17: one superintendent, salary $150,000; one assistant super; one director of pupil services (only includes special education) and two assistant directors; one director of grants; one language arts coordinator; one math coordinator; one finance director; one personnel director; one director of building and grounds; one supervisor of custodians; one preschool consultant; one ice rink manager; one stadium manager; one food service director and one assistant
School Administrators, 17: high school has one principal, three assistant principals and one provost; each middle school has one principal and one assistant; each elementary school has one principal


According to Pam Griffin of the Milford School Department:

2006-2007 Budget: $74,482,438 (does not include the self-insured health-care fund). Difference from last year: + $2,864,709
2005-2006 Budget: $71,617,729
Student Body: 7,700
Number of Schools: two high schools, three middle schools, eight elementary schools
Central Office Administrators, 9: one superintendent; one assistant superintendent; one deputy assistant superintendent; two directors; one director of human resources; two supervisors
School Administrators, 21: 14 principals; four assistant principals; three deans of students


According to Assistant Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez (plus information gleaned from the school Web site):

2006-2007 Budget: $70.7 million (this is the first time the Hamden school budget does not include the health-care fund, projected to be $16.8 million this coming fiscal year; the town has taken over the account, but only subtracted $14.2 million from the BOE budget)
Difference: + $3.6 million
2005-2006 Budget: $81.3 (included self-insurance dollars)
Student Body: Roughly 7,000
Number of Schools: one high school, one middle school, eight elementary
Central Office Administrators, 21: one superintendent, '05-'06 salary $152,559 (new salary reportedly not yet determined); two assistant supers; one facilities director; one director of instructional technology; one mathematics director; one director of instruction and assessment; one social studies director; one director of athletics and health; one science director; one director of fine arts; one special education director; one coordinator of early childhood special education; one coordinator of elementary special education; one coordinator of secondary special education; one coordinator of alternative special education; one finance director; one director of world languages; one director of the Hamden Transition Academy; one business transportation supervisor; one student data specialist
School Administrators, 17: high school has one principal, five assistant principals; middle school has one principal, two assistant principals; each elementary school has one principal

Hamden BOE Chair Michael D'Agostino argued that the school budget only increased by $2,551,090, or 3.74 percent. He wrote in an e-mail:

"The proposed request from the BOE was 6.64% increase. Of that, 1.32% was for medical cost increases. The Council removed that line item from our account. That left us with a proposed 5.32% increase from 05-06. The Council reduced that amount further, such that the final allocation amounted to an overall 3.74% increase. Of that, 1,067,651 is salary increases -- the bulk of which is contractual (teachers, principals, directors, clerical -- all are part of unions with contracts that call for salary increases)."

Flanagan pooh-poohed D'Agostino's use of percentages.

"Mr. D'Agostino is not going to frame any story with percentages. And that's the end of the story. We're going to talk about dollars," he said. "I've really had it with Mr. D'Agostino. He ran for office on doing an honest job over there, and he's now playing the figures games that the previous board chair played. The taxpayers need someone to stand up for them. The Board of Education has their own lobbyist on the Council."

Also chair of the Council's new Insurance Cost Review Committee, Flanagan said the schools' self-insured medical tab actually comes to $16.8 million (as explained by town record of agent Lou Panzo, at the February insurance meeting). The $2.6-million difference (the town only deducted $14.2 million) accounts for estimated employee co-pays and premiums. The amount not used, the 2nd District councilman said, becomes a surplus at the end of the fiscal year, which the BOE is to turn over to the town. This year there was a half-million dollar surplus, which was reportedly spent on books.

"We're going to discuss real dollars for real taxpayers in the town of Hamden who need a break," said Flanagan.

'It's a Hard Process to Say Goodbye'

Tacinelli's plaque. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

West Woods principal Ciro Tacinelli said goodbye last Friday. It was the last day of school but his final one. After 40 years, he's retiring.

"I have mixed emotions. I will miss the people, it's a hard process to say goodbye. I have eight grandchildren and I am looking forward to spending time with my family," said the Orange resident.

"I have mixed feelings. He loved what he has been doing, he is totally committed and [West Woods] is like a second family to him," said his wife, Giovanna Tacinelli. "But, I'm glad to have him home."

Tacinelli began his career in 1966 as a math teacher at Michael J. Whalen Junior High, where he became chair of the math department. He then taught math at the middle school for a year. In 1984 Tacinelli was named director of math for the district, a post he held until 1999, when he took over West Woods.

Last Friday, the principal stood by the sixth-grade flag team as the red, white and blue was raised one last time in his presence. "He's really nice, friendly and honest," said student Roi Shukrun.

A plaque earlier placed in the school courtyard reads, "Ciro Tacinelli Principal Teacher Mentor Friend West Woods School 1999-2006."

June 24, 2006

Free At Last

Chris "Guts of Hamden High" Clark is outta there.

Words and pictures by Sharon Bass

Rain threatened but never materialized. Cops and school security made a strong presence on the football field. And 522 kids marked their first big academic milestone yesterday as the Hamden High class of '06 graduated.

Honor student Marie Rousel flawlessly sang "The Star Spangled Banner" to her peers. Her impressive execution of the song's notorious high notes brought a thunder of applause from the hundreds of family members and friends, who filled the bleachers.

Marie Rousel belts out "The Star Spangled Banner."

Class president Marah Paley, also an honor student, delivered a rather energetic speech.

"Let's do it!" she cried. "We were ordinary when [entering high school]. Now we are extraordinary. Unique we are, yet we have much in common. We have togetherness. We have each other.

"Let's do it!" she implored her classmates again. "We're graduating high school. Can you believe it? Pinch each other. It's real! We're free. Free to make our own choices. Let's do it!"

Valedictorian William O'Connor, salutatorian Christina Rucinski and outgoing high school principal Vin Iezzi also addressed the crowd. Then one by one, students received their diplomas and a handshake from Mayor Craig Henrici, who was flanked by Superintendent Alida Begina.

Lt. John Cappiello and Deputy Chief Tom Wydra.

HHS principal Vin Iezzi.

'06 grad Renee Piscitelli (center) is flanked by friends Michelle Ramos (left) and Kelly Kovner, both incoming seniors.

The end.


Alice's Sidewalks

By Betsy Driebeek

With the recent debate in Council Chambers about who should do sidewalk repair -- Public Works or a contractor -- the sight of wet cement at Alice Peck School just poured by an outside firm two days ago begged for an explanation.

There are actually two sidewalks at Alice Peck. One hugs the building and the other runs parallel to the street. The Board of Education is responsible for the sidewalk closest to the school; Public Works takes care of the other.

Thursday's work, performed by Piscitelli & 2 Sons of New Haven, was on BOE turf. According to Mark Albanese, director of school facilities, the section of the sidewalk that was repaired had developed a frost heave over the winter. He said a child was recently running on on it, tripped on the raised surface and skinned his knee and elbow. Albanese said he sent his assistant Frank Caraglio to the site, who recommended immediate repair.

Because the BOE does not have the capacity to do this kind of work, Albanese said he put the job out to the state bid list. G&L Capasso Restoration of New Haven won the bid, but subcontracted Alice's sidewalk repair to the smaller Piscitelli company.

"It was a little job and Capasso said that we would save money by having a smaller company do it. It is their right to do so," Albanese said.

Asked for comment Thursday, Councilman Curt Leng, who also chairs the School Building Committee, said he had no clue that a child fell or a contractor was called in. "I'm going to ask the BOE to keep even small items like this on a monthly list so that elected officials know what's happening in a more timely fashion," he said.

Last month, the Legislative Council approved hiring a contractor for town sidewalks rather than having Public Works handle the task. Town Engineer Al Savarese said the job went out to bid and was awarded to Blue Ribbon Services of East Haven. "They've done work for us before," he said. "All that's left to do is issue the purchase order."

June 23, 2006

Mystery Repair?

Piscitelli's truck yesterday at Alice Peck.

Story and photos by Betsy Driebeek

Apparently, no one in the school department or Town Hall can explain why a contractor was fixing a small section of sidewalk at Alice Peck School Thursday.

Joe Piscitelli said his company, G. Piscitelli & 2 Sons of New Haven, was called in for an emergency repair by G & L Capasso Restoration, also of New Haven.

"They told me that a child had fallen and gotten hurt at that section and asked if we could get to it quickly because they could not," said Piscitelli. "Probably with all the rain we had the concrete caved in. I heard one mother say, 'Oh, thank God they're fixing it.'"

Councilman Curt Leng, also chair of the School Building Committee, said he knew nothing about a child falling, the work being done or who G. Piscitelli is. He said he checked with Chief Administrative Officer Scott Jackson, who told him he too had no knowledge of the repair or the fall.

The finished job.

The school administration directed questions to Mark Albanese, director of school facilities. He did not return a phone message yesterday.

Leng said he would make further inquiries today.

June 21, 2006

Best of Tech

Marcus Harun (left), Wesley Iskra and Dipanjan Saha. Photo/Sharon Bass

3 middle school students fly to a three-nation competition

By Sharon Bass

Marcus Harun wants to be a TV news anchor.

Wesley Iskra wants to be an aerospace engineer.

Dipanjan Saha wants to be a doctor or business exec.

But first, the Hamden Middle School eighth-grade honor students and good buds have to fly to Texas for an international technology competition. They also have to get a little older.

At 8:15 this morning, the trio was to board a plane for Dallas to spend five days competing against 4,000 others from the United States, Canada and Germany, in six events at the Technology Student Association's tournament. Marcus, Wesley and Dipanjan are representing Hamden because they did a bang-up job at the April 8 TSA state competition at Windham Middle School. They aced three categories.

"I'm really excited that we get to represent Hamden," said Marcus.

"This is really big for me because when I lived in Louisiana my best friend's sister got first place in a math tournament and is now getting perfect scores at MIT," said Dipanjan. "I want to get into Harvard and she told me that Ivy League schools like [students who come in] first place at nationals."

"I was really just amazed I was going to represent our school," Wesley said. "And if I win it tells me I'm the best of the best and that makes me feel really accomplished."

According to its Web site the TSA, a nonprofit organization, "hosts more than sixty competitions that incorporate communications, construction, manufacturing, transportation, leadership and related technologies."

Schools nationwide, like Hamden Middle and High schools, have TSA clubs. Marcus is president of the one at his school. There, children explore all forms of technology to better understand its usefulness and applications. Tech ed teacher and TSA adviser Dean DelGuidice has been the boys' guiding force.

"He like started everything," said Marcus. "He taught us how to enter the TSA."

The threesome will repeat in Dallas what they did at the state finals, and then some. As a team they won two events, and Marcus also came in No. 1 in an individual event. He gave a speech on how he broke down the boundaries between him and the world of TV news. In other words, how he got his 14-year-old foot in the door.

"We had to find stories that were interesting and report on them," said Marcus. He created a weather video about a snowstorm "in a Channel 8 News-style," he said. It is scheduled to air on Fox 61 this Friday at 5:55 p.m.

"I broke down the boundary between myself and News Channel 8," he said. Since he finished the video, Marcus said he's gotten e-mails from the station encouraging him to do an internship. When he gets older.

At the state competition in April, the team captured two first-places. One was a "tech bowl," where they were given written questions about engineering, math, transportation and the history of TSA. They advanced to the oral segment, where they used a buzzer.

"It was kind of like 'Jeopardy.' You'd have 10 seconds each team," said Dipanjan.

"They asked us what would make a plane fly better. They asked us some history about cars," said Wesley.

"Who invented the first car?" Dipanjan piped in. They will do it again over the next five days.

The trip's not free, of course. The bulk of the funding, $2,931, came from the Board of Education. The boys also got a $250 TSA grant and raised $160 from area businesses.

"We want to thank the board for that huge contribution," said a grateful Marcus.

June 19, 2006

The Smallest Grads

First step up the academic ladder. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

Thirty-eight preschoolers in the tiniest white caps and gowns paraded through the doors of the Keefe Center gym last Friday. They were students of a Hamden Youth Services program, and it was their commencement exercise. Twenty-one will head off to kindergarten this fall.

Providing the opening remarks, Mayor Craig Henrici said it was his first time speaking before a preschool. He based his brief comments on the concept that everything you know in life you learn in kindergarten. He told the children to be fair, share toys, wash hands before eating, use only one paper towel to dry hands -- and take a nap.

"Can't tell you how many town employees still do that," he joked.

After songs, diplomas were handed out and a potluck luncheon was served on the playground.

Congratulations to the 38 grads!

June 15, 2006

Alleged Rape at Hamden High

By Sharon Bass

A Hamden High student claimed she was sexually attacked in a school bathroom Thursday by another student, according to police Lt. Tim Wydra. He said an assistant principal reported the alleged crime to police at 3:50 p.m.

"They went into the bathroom together. They were known to each other," said Wydra. No one's been arrested and the case is under investigation, he said.

Two 17-year-olds, a boy and girl, went into a lavatory, the lieutenant said. He could not say if it was a boys' or girls' bathroom or its location. Some time later, a claim of rape was made. The female student was taken to a hospital for evaluation, he said. Physical evidence was seized and will be analyzed, and police are conducting interviews.

Asked if there have been other recent alleged or actual sexual assaults at Hamden High, Wydra said no. He said he checked with the detective bureau and "there's no knowledge of another recent rape at the school. We're investigating this as an isolated incident."

Graduating senior Chris Clark said he knew nothing about the rape, even though he was in school yesterday.

"I never heard anything like that happening. I don't see how a boy and girl can get into the same bathroom. There are monitors right outside every bathroom; they watch everyone who goes in," he said. "You have to sign in on a notebook paper your name, your teacher, time in and out. It's pretty crazy."

Therefore, Clark, who's going to Trinity College in Hartford this fall, said the alleged attack must have occurred after school hours when just one bathroom on the first floor is kept unlocked. (Clark is the HDN "Guts of Hamden High" blogger.)

Wydra said sexual assault investigations take time. "Every case is so unique depending on witnesses, interviews, physical evidence. It varies. Sometimes they take a while. But that doesn't mean we won't make an arrest tomorrow," he said.


Ridge Hill Goes International

Eshu (left) and Motoko entertain the kids.

Words and pictures by Betsy Driebeek

Throughout the year, Ridge Hill students have asked principal Karen Butler when the school would celebrate their cultural diversity.

One thing led to another, and yesterday the school held its first International Day, representing the 20 countries of the student population. Parents were invited.

Children brought in food from the native countries: Trinidad, the Netherlands, Germany, Puerto Rico, Chile, United States, Ireland, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Vietnam, Thailand, Italy and Mexico.

"The food thing is awesome. There is so much good stuff out there," said art teacher Melissa Gonzales.

Crafts included Japanese origami finger puppets, African kente cloth weaving, Mexican paper flowers and God's eyes, Guatamalan worry eyes, Russian nesting dolls, Chinese calendars, Indian henna painting and Japanese fans.

The Hamden High international band, Bandoleros Hamdenistas, played tunes with a Latin beat.

Some of the kids who made the day.

May 26, 2006

Grateful Grownup Grads

Luis Rodriguez and Maria Aguaiza are two of this year's 55 Adult Ed grads. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

The United States has been referred to as a land of opportunity and last night, little Hamden proved that it is a town of opportunity.

Husband and wife Luis Rodriguez and Maria Aguaiza, originally from Ecuador, received their high school diplomas at Hamden Adult Education's 37th graduation.

Rodriguez, 46, and Aguaiza, 35, moved to New York City from Ecuador 13 years ago leaving the poor economy behind. After one year, they moved to New Haven and then Hamden. They live on Lexington Street.

The couple has three children: Janet, a Gateway student; Amy, a first-grader at Church Street School; and 3-year-old Steve. Rodriguez works in construction and Aguaiza used to be a waiter.

Why now the desire for a high school diploma?

Aguaiza, who graduated high school in Ecuador, wants to go to hair styling school. She needs an American diploma in order to do so.

Rodriguez is ready to shift careers and wants to attend Eli Whitney Technical School to become a chef. The diploma is required there as well.

That's where Hamden Adult Education came in. At no charge to students, the town helps them achieve a diploma, a GED (General Educational Development) or an external diploma.

The couple chose the external. According to the National External Diploma Program Web site, EDP recognizes that many adults have acquired high-school level skills through life experience and must demonstrate them "in simulations that parallel job and life situations."

To get her EDP, Aguaiza spent five months responding to employment want ads, writing the history of her life, applying for a bank loan and using self-checkouts at the grocery store. In all, the couple had to competently demonstrate 65 life skills to earn their degrees.

In addition, Aguaiza and Rodriguez have been taking ESOL (English for speakers of a second language) classes through Adult Ed. Aguaiza takes the course at the same school as her first-grader, where baby-sitting is provided for her 3-year-old.

The couple is also in the process of becoming U.S. citizens.

Dressed in green graduation robes and mortarboards, the two proudly sat together in the front row of the Hamden High School stage Thursday evening. Of the 55 graduates at the ceremony, 28 earned adult high school degrees, seven got their GEDs and 20 -- including the Ecuador couple -- received EDP diplomas.

Councilman Jim Pascarella, past president of the Hamden Education Foundation, congratulated the graduates on behalf of Mayor Craig Henrici, who did not attend.

Assistant School Superintendent Portia Bonner took the graduates on a mental road trip, likening it to their journey through adult education and their final destination on stage.

"We need to know where we are going, how long it will take to get there, what is the fastest way, what do we need when we get there, what will be the budget for the trip," she said. "There will be minor delays along the way: flat tires, keys locked in cars, food stops, and there may be detours.

"You made it to your destination. Keep in mind, this was only one road trip to prepare you for the next one."

May 24, 2006

Hamden High's New Boss

Gary Highsmith on the steps of 60 Putnam Ave. Photo/Sharon Bass

By Sharon Bass

He was the only candidate considered to replace Hamden High principal Vin Iezzi, who retired last year and stayed on as a consultant. Last night, the Board of Education unanimously approved the superintendent's choice.

"I am extremely humble that you would consider me," said Gary Highsmith, 41, principal of New Haven's Beecher Elementary School. "I will work as hard and as smart as it takes."

He said last January "somebody in Hamden" approached him about the job. After doing some research about the town's public school system and talking with Superintendent Alida Begina, Highsmith said it looked like a good move. He will be paid roughly $115,000 a year.

"My vision is very much in line with the superintendents' that all children will achieve irrespective of race, ethnicity and gender," the New Haven native said. "I don't think it's been everybody's vision.

"Dr. Begina is very passionate about eliminating the achievement gap between black students and white students." That, said Highsmith, was the selling point. He said he is also glad to move from a city of 30 schools to one with 13. Since Hamden has just one middle and one high school, the new principal said it will be easier to track students' achievements.

Though his father dropped out of high school and his mother ended her academic career after 12th grade, Highsmith said the importance of education was drummed into him since he was a little kid. He recalled spending "hours and hours" in the library "reading book after book of different genres. My family expected me to. I picked up reading at a very early age. Being smart is very important."

Drawing from his own childhood experience, the father of two young girls said, "I think for the black community to achieve, parents need to spend more time with their kids and not rely solely on the school system to produce kids with a lifelong love for reading."

Highsmith made a promise to students, teachers and parents: "I will tell you that I will be accessible. I'm not going to run away from things."

May 15, 2006

'What a Credit to the School and Town'

Hamden student "lawyers" win state championship

By Edward C. "Ned" Burt Jr.

Hamden High's Mock Trial Team, coached by Chris Thomas, put on the performance of a lifetime last Friday in besting Ridgefield High at the state championship.

The students made their presentation and arguments in the ornate Connecticut Supreme Court Building in front of a panel of three justices, one being William Sullivan who just retired as chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

"I couldn't be happier or prouder," said Thomas, a Hamden High history teacher who coached the team for the first time. He inherited a powerhouse one, too, from longtime team mentor Gary Schark. Schark retired last year but came to watch "his young lawyers and witnesses" throughout the seven-week contest.

"It's just a great group of smart, hardworking kids who rose to the occasion time and again. What a credit to the school and town," said Thomas. He said he was particularly happy for the seniors, who will graduate as state champs: Dave Ceraso, Andy McClintock, Alison Hurd, Ginger Cline and Sal DeLucia.

The Hamden team, comprised of 13 students with varying roles, had a prosecution and a defense side. They battled several teams over the last several weeks making it to the state finals for the first time since 1998. The team put on a trial about a high school security guard accused of attempted murder, among other charges.

"We were all very impressed with the ability of you young students to perform under such pressure," Chief Justice Sullivan said in praising both teams after the competition. "Your ability to think on your feet so quickly and to set forth your arguments so clearly is a tribute to you all. Great job!"

In addition, Rachel Burt was the first recipient of the Robert Boland Award, given to the Most Valuable Player in the competition.

Superior Court Judge Jon Alander provided invaluable counseling to team members, who met at his house for weeks to prepare for the competition.

May 8, 2006

Shepherd Glen Goes Around The World

Ashley Kim, 13, a middle school student, plays the Gayageum, an instrument native to South Korea.

Words and pictures by Betsy Driebeek

Colorful dress, international foods, native crafting, Japanese dance and Andean music infused Shepherd Glen School Saturday morning at the seventh "International Day."

Previous to the event, each classroom chose a country, studied it and decorated its room accordingly -- and provided ready-to-make native craft projects for Saturday's visitors, who were given passports with 18 flags inside. As they traveled from room to room and created the craft, their passports would get stamped. The children visited Australia, China, Columbia, Egypt, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Switzerland and Thailand.

In addition, families from India, Kenya, Palestine, Russia, Pakistan and South Korea set up tables in the school's centrally placed media center, where they shared items and information about their cultures.

The cafeteria had a smorgasbord of international foods -- Korean pork, Italian eggplant, Japanese sushi, Israeli kugel, Colombian rice pudding, Polish kielbasa, Arabian coffee and tea and more.

Lots of people, young and old, wore native clothing. Principal Mary Levine said when International Day was first conceived just two or three people would wear clothes representative of their country.

"[The event] is a wonderful representation of who we are," she said.

May 6, 2006

Arranged and Delivered

Second-grader Jamia Jones and her creation.

Words and pictures by Betsy Driebeek

The Helen Street School playground turned into a florist's workshop yesterday as children and their parents -- members of the Helen Street Connections Committee -- arranged 16 floral baskets for the "Spring Week of Giving."

The children had written essays about people in their community whom they wanted to cheer up with flowers.

Putting the petals and leaves together. Zareya Lewis, a fourth-grader, and her mom, Patricia.

Helen Homa, a sixth-grader, with arrangement and essay about "Carole," a woman who takes in foster children and abandoned pets.

Off to cheer up some folks in the neighborhood.

Once the children finished their floral arrangements, they placed them in shopping carts donated by Stop & Shop and wheeled through the neighborhood. Both the flowers and accompanying essays were presented to the neighbors.

Delivered! Frances Mulligan gives flowers to her neighbor Mrs. Mahon, who has been sick.

May 5, 2006

Spirit Lifters

Waiting to be arranged and delivered. Photo/Betsy Driebeek

By Betsy Driebeek

Around 5:30 p.m., some Helen Street School neighbors will receive floral arrangements from some thoughtful students. The names of the recipients have been kept secret -- until some time today when they will be announced over the school intercom.

Over the past two weeks, students have been asked to "nominate your neighbor for our week of giving." They had to think of someone whose spirit could be lifted by the gift of a floral arrangement and write an essay -- 100 words or less -- explaining why. Students and their families donated the flowers, which the children will arrange just hours before delivering to their neighbors late this afternoon.

The event is called "Spring Week of Giving" and is sponsored by the Helen Street Connections Committee. The committee of parents, staff and principal Lynette Kelleher formed two years ago to help connect the students to the community through various events.

May 3, 2006

Sharp Pencils

Grand winner Dunbar Hill's Sarah Ann Esposito with mom (left) and principal Janet Brown-Clayton.

Words and pictures by Betsy Driebeek

Nine Hamden elementary students were cited for their creative anti-drug slogans yesterday. Family members and school principals gathered in Thornton Wilder Hall to honor the children's achievements at the 14th annual pencil slogan awards.

Two months ago they were asked to make a statement regarding their feelings and understanding about the implications of substance use. A winning slogan from each grade was chosen. In addition, the student with the overall best slogan in each school received a certificate of merit, a $100 savings bond from Hudson United Bank and pencils for their entire school imprinted with the school's name and winning slogan.

Grand winner Dunbar Hill's Sarah Ann Esposito was given the sixth annual John M. MacNiven Memorial Award. Her slogan -- "Use your head! Use your heart! Don't start!" -- will appear on bookmarks distributed to all Hamden students.

Susan Rubino, coordinator of the town's Youth Services Bureau, Jeanne Cooper, director of physical education/athletics, Portia Bonner, assistant superintendent, Mayor Craig Henrici and Jonathon Gersz of Hudson United Bank were at hand. The ceremony was part of Hamden's Substance Free Week.

The Winners

Bear Path School
Third-grader Jansice Baesler-Ridge, "Reach for your goals! Not drugs!"

Church Street School
First-grader Kayla Johnson, "Make Good Choices!"

Dunbar Hill School
Fourth-grader Sarah Ann Esposito, "Use your head! Use your heart! Don't start!"

Helen Street School
Fourth-grader Ashley Gingras, "Be a star! Be who you are! No drugs!"

Ridge Hill School
Third-grader Heleinna Cruz, "Have a clean life! Don't do drugs!"

Shepherd Glen School
Sixth-grader Ismael Jimenez, "Be proud! Don't join the drug crowd!"

Spring Glen School
Fifth-grader Max Moran, "Stay on the team of self esteem!"

West Woods School
Third-grader Briana Williams, "Don't turn to drugs! Turn to knowledge!"

Wintergreen Magnet School
Fifth-grader Freesia DeNaples, "Look in the mirror! Be proud of what you see!"


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