By NEIL ZOLOT
NORTH READING — The School Committee completed its tour of the town’s elementary schools with a meeting in the E. Ethel Little School cafetorium Monday, May 22. “Welcome back,” Principal Christine Molle told the members in reference to them not meeting in the school since 2019 due to Covid.
Molle also told the committee members about the school’s newly instituted “What I Need” (WIN) periods, which give students some unstructured time to catch up on work by meeting with teachers for extra help or completing individual and group projects. “It’s a little hard to schedule,” she admitted. “It’s still a work in progress.”
The principal also said staff meetings have been transformed into professional development and learning forums. “We learn from each other and brainstorm on how to do things better,” Molle explained. “We discuss success and things that didn’t go well.”
Most of the meeting, however, was devoted to showcasing the educational and extracurricular activities happening at the Little School. Third-graders Ophelia Coughlin, Emma Doherty, Francesca Giordano, Cameron Howse, Kavin Joshi and Christopher McCaul explained methods of learning geometry using manipulatives and computer programs as taught by their teachers, Meghan Kleinpeter, Phil Lynch and Kelly Pessotti, along with digital specialist Helen Kelley.
There was also a performance by the Drama Club featuring the school’s upcoming musical “Clowns,” under the direction of music teacher Christopher Tatro, which will be staged at the NRHS Performance Arts Center on Friday, June 16 and Saturday, June 17. “It was on hiatus due to the pandemic and we’re elated to have the Drama Club back,” Molle said.
National poetry contest winners recognized
The School Committee recognized three elementary students whose poetry won local, New England regional, and national-level awards in this year’s Garden Club themed competition, which is designed for students in grades K-9 to develop and creatively express environmental awareness.
The North Reading Garden Club, the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts and the National Garden Clubs, Inc. sponsored the contest with the theme: “Seeds, Trees, and Bees…Oh My – Celebrating the Diversity of Nature.”
Batchelder School student Tatum Breen was the first-place national winner among third-graders for her poem entitled “My Wide-Awake Dreamworld,” while her sister Harper placed second nationally at the fifth-grade level for her poem entitled “A New-bees First Spring Flight” and Little School student Madelyn Brown was recognized for placing second nationally in the fourth-grade level for her poem entitled “How My Garden Grows.”
“We are so proud,” said local Garden Club Youth Chairman Charlene Malek, herself a retired elementary teacher.
National Garden Clubs Inc. divides the country into eight regions, with state, regional and national levels. Malek reported 27 North Reading students in grades 3-5 submitted work. “The poem could be written in any form,” she explained.
Winners at each grade level were selected by the state committee. First-place poems were forwarded to the New England Regional Chairman. First-place regional winning poems were then submitted to National Garden Clubs and the poems of the national winners will be printed in a booklet of winning poems created by National Garden Clubs, Inc.
After all the festivities, Molle thanked the school community at large for their efforts, including after-school enrichment programs and help on field trips. “We have a fabulous faculty and staff, but the parents and families bring it all together,” she said. “I appreciate what they do. It’s overwhelmingly wonderful.”
Public comment controversy
The meeting was not without some controversy, however. “Immigrants or migrants are infiltrating the border and being bused around the country,” Jeffrey Yull said to the School Committee during public comments at the outset of the proceedings. “The Boston area is no exception. In New York they’re allowing immigrants to stay in gyms in public schools. Have you been doing any contingency planning?”
“Immigrants are welcome,” Little School parent Francine Coughlin countered in a subsequent comment. “This is not a place to be afraid to come.”
Coughlin also said negative comments about immigrants were inappropriate given the presence of immigrant families at the meeting and she finds characterizing migration as an onslaught xenophobic. “That is not the environment the school is promoting,” she said.
Committee Chair Scott Buckley told Yull, “This has never been discussed at any public meeting.”
Retirees to be honored
The School Committee met at the Hood School March 13 and the Batchelder School May 8. The committee will return to the Middle/High School Digital Learning Lab for its next meeting on Monday, June 12 at 5 p.m., prior to Town Meeting being held in the gymnasium at 7 p.m. The agenda will include honoring the service of retiring faculty and staff members district-wide.