MERIDEN — The city school district was recently featured in an education innovation online magazine funded by the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia, an online magazine, selected Meriden Public Schools for its “Schools that Work” series, highlighting student and staff achievements through a series of videos and interviews. Programs at Maloney High School, Hanover School and John Barry School are among those showcased.
“We’re very proud,” said Erin Benham, president of the local teachers union and a member of the state Board of Education. “Edutopia is held in high esteem on a national level. It goes to the newest most innovative processes through an online magazine.”
The district is no stranger to national attention after launching one of the nation’s first extended-day programs which adds 100 minutes of learning time daily for elementary school students.
School Superintendent Mark Benigni, Benham and other school officials have spoken extensively throughout the country about extended-day and other district programs.
“We have gotten so much national recognition,” Benham said. “It began initially with the AFT (American Federation of Teachers), then Nellie Mae, and the Rise Network for three years.”
Benigni and other district employees are interviewed in the Edutopia series about the creation and successful partnership between the teachers union and the district which led to extended day in three elementary schools.
“I am very proud of the students, staff and families of the Meriden Public Schools,” Benigni said in an email. “To be profiled by Edutopia is a great honor and another validation of our student centered learning approaches. The district will continue to personalize learning and infuse technology where it makes sense for our students and staff.”
He noted that while budget constraints are a concern, programs like extended day schools “that have demonstrated success must continue.”
The Edutopia series includes a segment on the district’s ability to lower special education costs despite increased enrollment by keeping students in district.
A video depicting the sensory room for students with special needs or on the autism spectrum at Hanover School was released first during autism awareness week.
“That brought tears to my eyes,” Benham said. “I remember when we created that. Last I heard that (video) had over 10,000 hits.”
Hanover School special education teacher Cheryl Cunningham and other staff members discussed the value of the room and its impact on learning.
“They need different sensory breaks throughout the day so they can self regulate their feelings and emotions,” Cunningham said in the video. “It’s probably my most important piece of the day.”
Another segment highlights the “Tech Buddies” program at John Barry School which pairs older students with younger students to teach technology skills through peer teaching.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in student engagement,” John Barry Principal Daniel Crispino said in the video. “Having that relationship has done wonders, not only for the instruction, but for the climate and culture at John Barry. Technology transformed our school.”
High school literature and science classroom teachers and students are also featured in separate videos about the benefits of integrated and hands-on learning programs.
“It’s nice to see your work is noted,” Benham said. “That’s how we’re going to tap innovation throughout all schools across the state is to recognize best practices, and Meriden is best practices.”
In 2016, Meriden Public Schools outperformed the state growth rate on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium by 3 percent in math and 1 percent in English and language arts.
Across the district, suspensions are down 86 percent and expulsions are down 95 percent since 2011.
The district was recognized as a “District of Distinction” in 2016 by District Administration Magazine and received the Magna Award in 2015 from the National School Board Association.
Edutopia, through the George Lucas Educational Foundation, documents and disseminates information about classrooms where innovations are taking place.
Sarita Khurana, who produced the video series for Edutopia, said several factors contributed to Meriden Public Schools’ inclusion in the “Schools That Work” series.
“As a result of the work they have done, the experience of students has improved dramatically,” Khurana said. “Furthermore, Meriden Public Schools and its superintendent, Dr. Mark Benigni, have amassed an impressive array of recognitions in recent years.”
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