The John B. Stanton Elementary School sits back from New London Turnpike just a short walk from Norwich's busy commercial strip along Route 82. Little vegetation manages to fight its way through this retail corridor, almost every inch of which is seemingly covered by pavement and asphalt.
Along the streets branching off the strip are found public housing and modest homes, many chopped into apartments. Some live there because they want to, but many because they have to; it's what they can afford. From these homes come about 300 Stanton students, while another 100 are bused across town from Greeneville, an urban neighborhood also choked by much poverty that saw its school close two years ago.
For most students in its classrooms, kindergarten through fifth grade, English is their second language, and the first languages are many, with Chinese, Spanish and Haitain Creole dominant. The district has the state's ninth-lowest standardized test scores.
The community will soon learn how an intense, focused and innovative educational effort can meet the challenges these students face. Earlier this summer state education officials designated Stanton one of four "Network schools" in Connecticut, part of the state's education revitalization package approved during the last legislative session.
To help execute a reform plan, Norwich will receive $1.5 million annually for Stanton. Planned is a longer school day, more extensive English language programs, and greater outreach to parents to better involve them in the school and push through fears and cultural barriers that can discourage that involvement.
There are many new teachers, a greater investment in professional development for those teachers and a mentoring program, with a new teacher evaluation plan to measure proficiency and success.
On Wednesday, Norwich learned that Stanton was also named as one of 10 schools in the state, and the only one in southeastern Connecticut, to receive state funding for a Family Resource Center. The centers are intended to address a variety of issues that can detract from the ability of students to learn. Families can receive help in enrolling in nutritional programs, getting health insurance and accessing mental health services, for example.
This is an experiment well worth undertaking. Like the vegetation that manages to push through the pavement on nearby West Main Street, these kids can also succeed against all odds, with some intense watering and fertilizing perhaps turning Stanton into a garden of success.