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Proud to Be an East Hartford Teacher

First-grade teacher Stefanie Donahue works with students on an activity based on a Clifford book they've just read together.

East Hartford first-grade teacher Stefanie Donahue works with students on a literacy activity based on a Clifford book yesterday at Silver Lane School’s Family Literacy Night.

Dozens of educators wore bright yellow stickers that read, “Proud to be an East Hartford teacher,” as they welcomed 300 plus students and parents to Silver Lane School last night. The East Hartford Education Association (EHEA) members were at the elementary school for a Family Literacy Night they had organized for the entire school community.

Teachers were delighted by the outstanding turnout for the event, which promoted literacy through a celebration of the popular children’s book character Clifford’s 50th birthday.

The night included Clifford themed literacy activities for students, a presentation from a literacy expert for the parents, and a pasta dinner and birthday cake for everyone. The EHEA and its local Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee, with support from CEA, the school district, and Scholastic, put the event together for the Silver Lane community. Teachers volunteered their time for a night the kids wouldn’t forget.

East Hartford Education Association Executive Board members serve a pasta dinner to Silver Lane families. From left are, Lia O'Connell, , and Marcia Ferreira.

East Hartford teachers served a pasta dinner to Silver Lane families. From left are Thomas O’Connell kindergarten teacher Lia O’Connell, EHEA Vice President Paul Apostalon Jr., and EHEA Newsletter Editor Marcia Ferreira.

Teachers’ pride and enthusiasm for their profession and commitment to their students was evident to everyone who attended the event. “Parents kept thanking us the entire evening,” EHEA President Karen O’Connell said. “I think it really shows great community involvement.”

O’Connell said that Silver Lane teachers have made engaging the community a priority. The school has a community health center, pre-K classes located in the building, and parents can easily stop by because it’s a neighborhood school.

East Hartford Schools Human Resources Director Chris Wethje wrote in an email to teachers, “The turnout was incredible and demonstrated just how hard you have all worked to establish a connection with the families of your community.”

Wethje added, “Our students are so lucky to have such dedicated, hardworking, and committed teachers.”

Literacy Coach Jean Ross reads "Clifford the Firehouse Dog" to Silver Lane students.

Literacy Coach Jean Ross reads “Clifford the Firehouse Dog” to Silver Lane students.

Second-grade teacher and administrator intern Jena Ledoux said that a literacy night was an obvious choice for Silver Lane. “Literacy is a key component of Silver Lane’s school improvement plan,” she said. And all of the Clifford themed activities for the children last night involved literacy.

Teachers read Clifford books to groups of students who then completed activities related to the stories — emphasizing to the students the real world connections they can find in books.

While their children were happily reading and working on projects, parents learned about the benefits that can come from reading to their children for even a few minutes every day.

Parent Shasha Thompson said she sees firsthand how reading at home has helped her kindergarten daughter, Nariyah Linsday. “She’s reading at a higher level. Reading to her at night really helps,” said Thompson.

East Hartford Education Association President Karen O'Connell poses with Clifford (principal Catherine Ciccomascolo in costume).

East Hartford Education Association President Karen O’Connell poses with Clifford (Silver Lane principal Catherine Ciccomascolo in costume).

O’Connell, who has many years of experience with young East Hartford students as a kindergarten teacher and now as a literacy coach, says she has seen an improvement in children’s literacy preparedness. “Because of education and outreach efforts more of the district’s disadvantaged families now have books in their homes,” she said.

All of the students who attended the event received another book to add to their collection courtesy of the EHEA. The EHEA also raffled off some additional individual books and kits of five books for parents that include strategies for making the most of read aloud opportunities. The school will also soon be receiving a huge kit of 50 e-books for its media center courtesy of the EHEA.

O’Connell said that the teachers received great support from the superintendent as well as the Board of Education chair, who both attended the event. O’Connell said, “the school system covered some of the operation costs so we could focus our money on books for the kids.”

That collaboration with and support from district leadership is no accident. “I’ve worked very hard to establish a relationship of mutual respect and it’s been reciprocated,” O’Connell said.

She added, “It’s all of us together working on behalf of the students.”

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