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Botelle School Starts New Year With Pride and Enthusiasm

Prioritizes citizenship as a foundation for academic excellence

 

By Amy Vorenberg

Sixth graders at Botelle School were quick to share their insights into their school community:

—It’s a place to feel welcome.
—When you walk through the door, you’ll learn new things.
—It’s a place where you know you’re safe; a place to be hardworking.
—We have fun while we’re learning, we know everyone, and it’s almost like a family. 

“This is intentional work,” stated Principal Lauren Valentino, currently in her second year leading Botelle School. “We are a small school with a big heart.”

A big heart and a clear mission to improve student achievement guide Valentino and her staff. With shrinking numbers of school-age children across the state, Botelle now serves slightly fewer than 100 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Valentino focuses on creating a school culture where every child is known, valued and able to achieve to his or her potential. She speaks with pride in her school community, appreciative of her talented teachers, and shares their commitment to providing continuity for children as they develop to their full capacity, both socially and academically.

Gudrid Johnson examines a newly hatched monarch.

Educators at Botelle embrace teaching the “whole child.” Through their work, they value not only the academic successes of students but also their engagement as good citizens in the school. Last year, Valentino worked with students to begin a Student Council. Student leaders worked in cross-grade partnerships to spread kindness across the school. The values of Botelle include kindness, self-discipline, respect, perseverance and responsibility. The students and their teachers know that together, they will “SOAR”—Show self-discipline, Offer kindness, Always being Respectful and Responsible. The community has prioritized taking care of one another as a foundation key to academic success.

With one section per grade, the school is piloting a new way of grouping children to better meet the needs of elementary learners. This year, the school has two classes that combine kindergartners and first graders in a mixed-age grouping. Research informs this practice: there are academic and social benefits for older and younger students in classrooms of mixed ages. An additional benefit comes in the second year when a teacher already knows half of her students extremely well; teachers are able to focus on providing for the academic and social needs, challenging each child at the appropriate level.

This year, the faculty have done work on restorative practices, as an alternative to punitive discipline. Valentino explains that “teaching children the skills they need” is far better than punishing them for not having those skills. In recent years, students have benefitted from learning methods to talk together, to solve conflicts and to problem solve. Botelle’s practices are informed by Responsive Classroom and Open Circle curriculum which provide students with strategies and structures for social success. A classroom that works socially, where children feel safe, is a classroom where children are more likely to succeed academically and love learning.

Beyond creating a caring community of learners, Valentino and her staff have set their sights on improved academic performance through a deeper understanding of data and practice. This summer, teachers and Valentino clarified what they wanted students to accomplish, used data to inform their understanding of student progress, collaborated regionally on developing strategies for improvement and thus set a course for work this year. Valentino acknowledges there is progress to be made and is grateful that the school values a culture of thinking, learning, collaboration and care.

Botelle is also looking to “vertically” align its curriculum in new ways. This means understanding what each grade level will cover of a subject area. Teachers collaborate to see how their year of teaching fits into the entire program, across all grades. Botelle is also connected with other elementary schools in the region, benefitting from regional collaborations to support Botelle learners. Eventually, Botelle graduates will join other students from Colebrook, Barkhamsted and New Hartford at Northwest Regional 7 High School in Winsted. “It’s important our students are prepared and ready for what comes next,” Valentino states. It’s clear that excellence in programming at Botelle is what Valentino and the Norfolk Board of Education are focused on delivering.

Valentino shared her gratitude for the work that many in the community perform to strengthen Botelle’s community. Her appreciation for the commitment of the Norfolk school board, as well as the Parent Teacher Organization, were heartfelt. Likewise, Superintendent Dr. Iacobelli is eager to help Valentino in her efforts to lift Botelle to new heights. Valentino is genuinely joyful in her work, and the pride she feels in Botelle is contagious. As one walks through the school, it is easy to sense the strong commitment to community and learning. As the sign out front states, “Welcome to a place where great minds grow!”

Photographs by Beatrice Tirrell. Top: A mixed-age group of Beatrice Tirrell’s first graders and kindergartners prepares to release monarch butterflies they have raised from caterpillars.

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