West Vine Street School in Stonington named state’s elementary school of the year
Stonington ― West Vine Street School has been named the 2023 Elementary School of the year by the Connecticut Association of Schools.
“We were very, very excited—happy for this recognition for our students, staff and families. It’s all about how hard we’ve worked together,” said Principal Kathryn Irvine on Tuesday.
Irvine, who has worked in the school system for 37 years and is in her third year as principal, was notified of the award late last week.
She said the students and staff were overjoyed by the news, with every classroom cheering when she made the announcement over the school’s public address system.
Each year, staff, administrators or district office employees of CAS member schools, can nominate a school for the distinction. CAS declined to specify how many schools were nominated for the award, though it said there are over 1,000 member schools from elementary through high school in the state, and West Vine was one of two elementary school finalists evaluated on nine separate criteria.
To be eligible for the award, schools must demonstrate excellence in providing a safe and healthy environment, involving families and the community in student learning and development, student services that exceed what is typically found in schools as well as excellence in the design, delivery, and continual improvement of curriculum and teaching methods, among other criteria.
A sensory garden, where children grow and harvest plants and vegetables, assemblies like basketball clinics to motivate students, partnerships with local non-profits such as Mystic Aquarium and New England Science & Sailing Foundation, and social events for families are just a few of the offerings for West Vine students.
This year, students are learning how to play chess thanks to a Stonington Education Fund grant written by one of the teachers.
“We have chessboards in classrooms; the kids are playing at recess, and we’re going to have a chess tournament,” Irvine said.
The school also boasts a grant-funded, before and after school care program and has received a three-year state grant to hire a mental health care worker next year.
She said West Vine’s strong school community was one of the strengths CAS highlighted and she explained that the personal connections staff make with students is essential to student development and learning.
She explained the work begins first thing in the morning when staff members greet students coming off buses or getting out of cars by asking about clubs and sports or noticing a haircut or a lost tooth.
“It really sets that foundation for acceptance and belonging, which everybody needs to feel safe in order to learn,” she said.
Irvine said the nomination process culminated in a May 2 site visit in which CAS representatives met with student leaders, families and staff, toured the school and observed classrooms.
She credited the entire staff, from the secretaries in the main office to paraprofessionals to teachers, as well as the families and students for the achievement, and said that she was most proud of the way the school has been able to work with families to support student development and learning since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is such a sense of West Vine pride. I believe that is what brought us to this recognition is that shared piece of ownership and feeling that West Vine is a reflection of all of the collective efficacy on the part of everyone,” she added.
Irvine said that there will be a celebration at the school, but details have not been finalized.
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