Parents, teachers honor Meriden student ‘Achievers of the Year’

MERIDEN — About 250 family members gathered at Lincoln Middle School to celebrate the “Achievers of the Year,” 47 students handpicked from the district’s Bilingual Education or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs. 

The ceremony this past Thursday not only celebrated the students, but also highlighted the work of parents and family members that helped the students in their academic success. 

“As we celebrate the outstanding achievements of your child, take great pride in accomplishments. Every one here today is a key to their success,” said Assistant Superintendent Barbara Haeffner.

Every teacher picked two students that achieved significant growth throughout the year. After each student’s individual achievements were highlighted, they received a certificate and small gold medal on a tricolor ribbon. Parents and family members were generous with their applause and stood to take photos of their achiever. 

“I was kind of nervous, but then I was proud of myself,” said Mahmuda Sayba, a fifth grader and achiever of the year.

Sayba has been learning with Stephanie Ottochian at the ESOL program at Casimir Pulaski since first grade. Sayba’s first language is Bengali, and Ottochian has noticed a lot of growth in her ability to speak English. Ottochian added she will miss Sayba as she graduates from the ESOL program and goes on to middle school. 

“I am so proud of her,” said Ottochian. “She hates to miss a day of school and truly loves learning. She is smart, a hard worker, kind, and a pleasure to have in class.”

During the ceremony, Sayba was cheered on by her parents and three siblings, two of which are also graduates of Meriden’s ESOL program. Her father, Malea Dhaly Lait, said he is originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and has been living in Meriden for about 20 years. He expressed support for the schools and pride for his family. 

“I’m very proud because [my family] is here. I was alone, myself, but now I have family with me,” he said. “My children are behind me now.”

After the ceremony, the district hosted a small reception with sweet treats that had the energy of a birthday party.

Third grader Ivana Bravo at Roger Sherman enjoyed cupcakes with both her parents and two siblings. Around her, young parents wrangled their squirming toddlers as godparents and cousins chatted with teachers and each other. 

Evelyn Robles-Rivas, Supervisor of Language and Community Partnerships, also highlighted her staff and thanked all the teachers that made the work possible, to a standing ovation from families and students.

She said Bilingual and ESOL teachers not only teach language, but also have to abide by the rigor of the academic curriculum.

“They do double work every day and we should be very proud of the work that they do, because without them, our students wouldn’t succeed,” she said. 

 lguzman@record-journal.comTwitter: @lguzm_n 

Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at To learn more about RFA, visit


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