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Backtoschool Learners parade back to class

August 31, 2018

GREENWICH — Jayla Chambless, 6, was a ball of energy before Hamilton Avenue School ushered in the new academic year with its second-ever Parade of Learners.

Her mother, Shakera Foust, woke up with her daughter at 6 a.m. Thursday and fed her a breakfast of waffles, sausage and fruit.

The first-grader denied eating the fruit, but said she was excited to see friends and wave at parents as she paraded into her classroom.

Her favorite part of school? “Recess!” she exclaimed, before running away again.

“Anything is possible on the first day of school,” Principal John Grasso said. “There is so much promise in the first day. We want to keep that going.”

Greenwich students in the district’s 16 schools returned to class Thursday morning, joining sixth- and ninth graders who started Wednesday. Across the district, several administrators also had first days of sorts, as they began the year in new positions, including Interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo and Interim Headmaster of Greenwich High School Richard Piotrzkowski.

“All schools opened on time with teachers refreshed and ready to make connections with every student, students excited and ready to learn, parents smiling and ready to support,” Mayo said in a statement. “Everyone was in great spirits, and engaged in teaching and learning immediately following inspirational welcome back celebrations at every school.”

Piotrzkowski declared the first day at Greenwich High School a success.

“The energy of the students along with the engagement of the students in the classroom and the opportunity block makes us very optimistic for the new school year,” he said by email. “I witnessed many instances of acts of kindness between students and staff helping the incoming Class of 2022.”

Most schools released students on schedule, but two schools let them out early because of hot weather: North Mianus School and International School at Dundee.

ISD’s air conditioning broke Thursday morning, while North Mianus School still does not have air conditioning after delivery delays postponed the installment of new units.

Officials expect the school to have air conditioning by mid-October.

In addition to changes to buildings, the district is continuing to change school curricula as it implements its strategic plan, which aims to make learning personalized to each student.

At Hamilton Avenue, for example, the school will give students more choice in how they structure their day and the specials they choose, including physical education, art and music.

“If they have more say in their education, they’re going to participate,” Grasso said.

During the morning Parade of Learners, Emily Wakeling, mother of first-grader Nelson Lee, 6, clapped as teachers shepherded students past parents who waved, cheered and took videos.

When Nelson walked by, she high-fived him. For the mother of two, back-to-school excitement is mingled with other feelings.

“It’s always a little emotional,” she said.

A New York City transplant, she said she loved the diversity of Hamilton Avenue.

For Grasso, the parade and the following resource fair strove to bring Chickahominy residents together.

“It’s important for us to keep the sense of community,” he said.

Grasso started the parade 20 years ago at Riverside School, taking it to Parkway School before he moved to Hamilton Avenue.

In the school’s cafeteria, parents had their own back-to-school welcome: the resource fair with representatives from nonprofits and service agencies including Family Centers, the town’s adult education program and Neighbor-to-Neighbor.

The fair aims to address difficulty some have had in obtaining information about local services, Grasso said.

Braulio Santiago, the district’s adult and continuing education coordinator, said English classes are offered at Greenwich High School at night with satellite morning programs at St. Roch Church, which is across from Hamilton Avenue, and First Congregational Church.

“All parents have to do is cross the street to participate,” he said.

While work, transportation and kids can make attendance a problem, he said adults are motivated to learn English quickly. About 200 people currently participate.

“There’s a need for them to have a better life,” he said.

Nancy Coughlin, the executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor, said the school fair helps workers connect with people who are skittish about seeking out services, particularly undocumented immigrants.

Neighbor to Neighbor “fills the gap” for many, including non-citizens who can’t qualify for federal food subsidy programs, she said. Families who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches are eligible for the group’s services, she said.

The nonprofit also helps alleviate some burdens schools carry.

“Schools are dealing with everything,” Coughlin said, from bullying to social media. “They’ve got a lot on their plates.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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