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A 'super' summer enrichment program in Griswold

Enriching summer classes are afoot at Griswold Elementary, Middle and High Schools – something that hasn't happened in town for at least the last 10 years. It's all part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal grant money school officials applied for and received because of the pandemic.

On June 29, Superintendent Sean P. McKenna said he is "thrilled" about the summer learning programs (that vary from one to five weeks), which began June 21 and end no later than July 22, because they were generated by teachers.

"These were proposals that people put forward. I think we did a nice job of designing programs that were to help students that needed help with unfinished learning, but also enrichment programs for music, art, sewing classes," as well as advanced math.

McKenna, who has been at his current full-time post for six years, is teaching a creative class called "Our Brave New World," which involves short writing assignments and building an "ezine" (online magazine), he said. "It's a short five-week mini-course that is based on the New York Times' bestselling novel 'Legend' by Marie Lu and the Shakespearean play, 'The Tempest.'"

After writing the curriculum for this class, which he said is based on the Common Core State Standards, it was approved by the Griswold Board of Education. McKenna said he hopes that students in his class "learn to look at their own perspectives, but also look at current events, and literature, and the views of others to expand how they think."

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Noah Greczkowski, who plans to be a history teacher in the future, said he is taking McKenna's class this summer.

"I actually really enjoy it," he said. "It's different from like a regular literature class, because you're allowed to speak your opinions and stuff. And then also we're not reading something as simple as like 'Romeo and Juliet.' We are covering 'The Tempest,' but we're covering it in a different light and comparing it to modern events, rather than interpreting what it means."

Laughing, 14-year-old Ava Mehrens, who will be a high school freshman in the fall, said she was a little nervous at first, since the superintendent is teaching her class.

"I really like the concept of analyzing literature and having discussions on it in a college seminar-style class."

She added, "He does a very good job guiding us, especially with all of the work he's done in the past and his experience alone. It's very enlightening and enriching."

Mehrens, who is considering a career as a writer, researcher or engineer, said she enjoys the interaction and that "it's nice to be back in that school environment," which she and other students missed out on during the pandemic. "And just to have something which will engage my mind in some way instead of being at home and not necessarily doing things I could with a guide or teacher."

McKenna said he wanted to support the summer learning effort and "not have that like 5,000- to 10,000-foot view to the classroom."

The superintendent has undergraduate and master's degrees in English. He previously taught at Waterford and Fitch high schools, as well as the University of Connecticut, University of New Haven and Three Rivers Community College. Next year, he will be teaching at Sacred Heart University. The Mystic resident began his school administration career about 13 years ago and has been working sporadically as an adjunct faculty member since then.

Formerly of New London, McKenna, 51, is married and has three children.

"I think in order to understand how to help students and help teachers, you sort of have to have your hand in it," he said, adding that he loves teaching and working with students.

Referring to McKenna as a "gem," Griswold Board of Education Chairperson Mary Beth Malin said in an email that the school system was "extremely fortunate to have found" him when they were searching for a superintendent. She added that he always has the Griswold Public Schools' students' "education and safety first" in his mind. "The word 'dedication' is a word that describes Sean McKenna perfectly. He puts in countless hours working before and after school" and on the weekend.

"During the pandemic he was working more than sleeping and taking time to himself," Malin said. "The school reopening plan last year that he and the Team of Administrators complied (with) was by far the best in the State of Connecticut."

McKenna "is engaging. He's so full energy," said Glenn Labossiere, who has been director of teaching, learning and innovation since November 2020. Over the last 26 years, Labossiere has worked as a Griswold high school teacher, athletic director and middle school principal.

"Sean has some of the high school students I had as students here, so I was talking to them and they're loving the class, because (of) the way he presents things. He's a teacher at heart, and I think that's why he's such a good superintendent. He has never forgotten the classroom" where he started.

About 400 students are involved in Griswold's Public Schools' learning and enrichment programs that conclude next week, Labossiere said. "Feedback has been great. I think the kids are enjoying it. It's nice the students can select some of the things they're interested in."

He added, "It's nice to have all of them in the cafeteria in the morning getting breakfast, and coming back for lunch."

The summer music program will also "afford middle school and high school musicians the opportunity to work with the GPS Music Department on structured sessions for band, orchestra, and choir," according to the school's website. "Students will refine their skills and get excited about opportunities to come. A recital video will be made at the end and posted for parents. Fun and learning will be the name of the game!"

The "Grades 4-5 Music: Instrument 'Petting Zoo'" class offers students an opportunity to try different instruments for the first time, Labossiere said.

Additionally, a certification babysitting class was taught the by the middle school health teacher.

Cooperative Team Games & Activities (Grades 4-8) is taught by a physical education teacher.

Another class, Teen Voice, the Pandemic, & the Future (Grades 7-12), focuses on "social-emotional learning," said Labossiere, adding that "many students are struggling" for the first time with not having the contact they get from being at school every day.

McKenna said he continually learns from staff, parents and students.

"There's that cliché, 'Out of the mouths of babes.' You can learn a lot from students; you can learn how they think. And if you get closer to their perspectives, understanding how they think and how they've received this information and navigated this, it helps the educators to provide the education to the students, because they too, have been sort of disrupted (because of the pandemic). And you know a lot of them have done great things. And I think we need to celebrate that and that is part of this course ("Our Brave New World").

"There's a hope here that that things, despite what's happened, we can move forward with resilience, hope and new ideas."

When this year's summer learning program is over, McKenna said they will complete an "after action review" to look at "what went well, what we need to improve, and then we'll have a plan for next summer," because he knows there will be more federal money available because of the pandemic.

 

Enriching summer classes are afoot at Griswold Elementary, Middle and High Schools – something that hasn't happened in town for at least the last 10 years. It's all part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal grant money school officials applied for and received because of the pandemic.

 

 

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