Courtney presents National Blue Ribbon School plaque to Mahan School in Norwich

Norwich – School officials here couldn’t afford to travel to Washington, D.C., in October to attend the luncheon to receive the National Blue Ribbon School plaque designating the Thomas Mahan School as a top school for improving education for immigrant and minority children.

So U.S. Rep Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, came to Mahan School to present the plaque and congratulate students and teachers in person Monday. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., will visit the school Tuesday to deliver his congratulations as well.

Mahan was one of four Connecticut schools to receive national Blue Ribbon awards from the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 28. For Mahan, the designation recognized the school’s efforts to close the so-called achievement gap between minority and special education students and their classmates on standardized tests and other measures of student success.

Principal Donna Funk said the school put extra effort to help English language learners and special education students in younger grades – kindergarten through third grade – reach grade or goal levels in reading, writing and math. Funk said the school offers after-school tutoring for groups of four students to help them reach grade level.

“We get a lot of kids who come to kindergarten with zero skills,” Funk said.

Mahan also has a dwindling special education population, because those students have reached goal levels and are in regular classes.

Courtney on Monday stood quietly as students in kindergarten and first grade continued with lessons as the congressman, reporters and school administrators entered the classroom. The lesson in one first-grade class focused on use of pronouns I, they and you.

“He and I shop at the mall,” student Ramirah Warner read aloud.

Later, students in third, fourth and fifth grades crowded into a classroom to see Courtney present the plaque to Funk and Superintendent Abby Dolliver. They waited patiently until they got their chance to pepper the congressman with questions: Who was your favorite president to work with? What was your favorite class in school? Who was your favorite teacher? What do you do in Congress?

Courtney, first elected in 2006, effectively skirted the “favorite president” question, telling the students he has worked with three presidents, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. He worked with Obama for the longest time, eight years, he said, so he knew that president best.

Teachers and Dolliver were pleased when Courtney said reading and writing were his favorite topics, as those are areas city schools also are focused on.

The Blue Ribbon plaque will hang in a glass display case near the school’s main entrance. The case is a place of honor, Funk said. In the left corner is a folded American flag in a triangular case. The flag was flown in Afghanistan in October by Air Force Capts. Erik and Kristin Nelson, a married couple who have spent tours of duty in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. They visited the school prior to their deployment while the school has sent packages to troops deployed overseas.

c.bessette@theday.com

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