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Sachem Campus earning praise from its students as NFA trustees tour new school

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published February 20. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - Three years ago, Andrea Chabotte would have cheered if a blizzard gave her a few days off from school.

But now, the senior at the new Norwich Free Academy Sachem Campus transitional program looks forward to coming to school every day. She made the NFA winter cheerleading squad and is a founding member of the Sachem Campus' PEER Committee - that's Promoting Encouraging, Enthusiastic Responsibility.

"I like coming to school," Chabotte said as the NFA Board of Trustees gathered to tour the new school for the first time since its Jan. 25 opening. "I don't know why, but I like coming to school. Three years ago, I hated school."

Achievements of several students at the new school were featured at the start of Tuesday's board meeting prior to the tour. Sachem Campus Principal Kathleen Cote highlighted their academic achievements - Chabotte has been accepted at Lincoln Technical Institute in East Windsor - their community involvement and ways in which they have already participated in NFA activities.

Senior Dean Browning, one of the Sachem Campus' top artists, displayed two sculptures in the NFA Senior Art Show in January and two other pieces in the Mystic Art Show. Browning plans to attend Three Rivers Community College after graduating.

The Sachem Campus replaced the former Thames River Academy alternative high school in Norwich and will be open to other NFA partner schools in the region. The school now has 64 students, seven full-time certified teachers and several support staff, including a school counselor and psychologist.

"I feel like we're finally getting the building we deserve," junior Michelle Hung said of the new building. For the first half of the school year, the transitional program was housed in the city-owned Bishop School, the former home of Thames River Academy.

The Sachem Campus also houses the new special education program for post-high school students ages 18 to 21 in life skills and vocational programs. Trustees visited the "apartment" on the lower level that features a kitchen, laundry machines, an ironing board, stove, counter, refrigerator and microwave oven. Lisa Wheeler, director of student services, told board members that the students are learning daily living activities and next school year will have a household budget to buy their own food to cook rather than eat in the school cafeteria.

Trustees met the two snakes that are residents of the school science room, visited the computer lab and the community room, where teachers and students often meet to discuss issues of the day or even just how they are feeling about things. Cote said one early discussion was about the ban on wearing hats in school. Students said they understood the ban on baseball caps but wanted to wear winter hats.

The group discussed the etiquette and together decided that the old custom of taking off a hat when entering a building still stood as a sign of respect. Board members nodded in agreement.

Cote told the board that while some students could transition to the main Campus permanently, she expects most Sachem Campus students to want to stay in the program.

The students who participated in Tuesday's tour echoed that sentiment.

"It's awesome," junior Derek Mitchell said. "I was so thrilled to actually come here."

"It's a beautiful place for beautiful people," Chabotte said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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