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Ben Bronz Academy Celebrates Graduation and Awards Ceremony at New West Hartford Home

Alex Belanger (left) and Alyssa Esposito graduated Wednesday from Ben Bronz Academy. Courtesy photo

Two students graduated and many others were celebrated for their accomplishments at the school which relocated to Wampanoag Drive for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Ben Bronz student Thomas Goeschel is recognized for his achievements. Courtesy photo

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Ben Bronz Academy bid farewell to two graduates and congratulated its students on a year of accomplishments at a tearful awards ceremony and graduation on Wednesday, June 19, in the Northwest Catholic High School auditorium in West Hartford.

This is the first graduation and awards ceremony since the school moved to its new location on 11 Wampanoag Dr. in West Hartford in 2018. Ben Bronz Academy has enjoyed a partnership with Northwest Catholic High School, located right next door.

“The awards ceremony and graduation is my favorite night at Ben Bronz Academy,” said Education Director Christina Lamphere.”It is a night of celebration as our students, faculty, and parents hear about their students’ achievements and successes. These things were not always believed to be possible, especially as most students make a year’s growth in all academic areas and others make two to four year’s growth in specific areas of reading, writing, and math. These areas have been a struggle for so long for many of our students that the acknowledgement of their successes, hard work and trials begins that positive mindset of ‘I can do this! I am smart! I can be successful!.’ Families also become tearful because there is a sense of relief that their child can make progress with the right level of instruction and program.”

Most of the students at Ben Bronz Academy come to the school because they have struggled academically in the past due to a learning difference, such as dyslexia, ADHD, auditory processing disorder, or autism spectrum disorders.  Throughout the school year at this special education, private day school program, students often exclaim, “I can do that!”

The increase in confidence and the academic growth at Ben Bronz Academy is due largely to the fact that instruction is based on what each student needs to be successful. Not only do students learn about academics, but they also work to develop a toolbox of skills to help with planning, problem-solving, communication, and self-advocacy. Students who come to Ben Bronz Academy struggling with reading often finish their first year making more than one year’s worth of growth.

The end-of-year awards ceremony is a chance for students to be rewarded for their efforts throughout the school year. Students who have made significant achievement in all academic areas are given awards.  

In addition, one student from each grade level group (i.e. Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School) is awarded the “Most Improved Student” award and given a trophy.

As these awards are handed out, students walk across the stage with beaming smiles and, sometimes, even tears. For many students at Ben Bronz Academy, this is the first time in their academic careers that they have experienced true, measurable, academic success. There isn’t a dry eye in the house as family members, parents and faculty watch students receive praise for mindful work, making connections in their learning, heightened understanding of concepts, increased reading fluency scores and comprehension, and improvements in writing, math, and decoding.

It is important for parents and students to see that all of the small steps that have been taken lead to something greater.

“These ceremonies are particularly emotional for our community,” said Ben Bronz Academy Mediator Michelle Turek. “Alumni come back to reconnect with teachers and friends. Current students graduate or move on to other programs.  Students bring large groups of family and friends to share in their special day.

“For many of our students, this may be the first time they are recognized for what they can do. Teachers present the awards with a personalized speech for the recipient.  Each graduate gets an opportunity to tell the story of his/her educational journey. They thank those who stood up for them and who helped them reach their goals,” Turek added.

Ben Bronz Academy graduates Alex Belanger (second from left) and Alyssa Esposito with founders Aileen and Ian Spence. Courtesy photo

The culminating celebration also served as an emotional tribute to two students who will be graduating high school this year – Alex Belanger and Alyssa Esposito.

Belanger, from Salem, CT, has been a student at Ben Bronz Academy since elementary school. According to Turek, he is highly respected by students in all grades and by the faculty. He is extremely goal-oriented and focused. He loves the outdoors and all physical activity, especially extreme sports. He is into parkour, martial arts, and paintball. Next year he will be exploring career planning and working to figure out his next steps.

“Overflowing with energy; that’s how I could describe him, Mediator Mathieu Jean said of Belanger. “He is bright and furtive, asking more questions than I had mouths to answer. Without question, Alex has been among my most inquisitive students. The need to know has always been a most remarkable quality.

“In the last two years, Alex has been my advisee; a most fortunate arrangement for both of us. As it turned out, Alex and I share many common interests and a lot of laughs. We’ve enjoyed hours of conversation surrounding the outdoors, nature, martial arts, travel, and so much more.  It’s been a real pleasure watching him progress academically, gain confidence, and navigate life. I could always count on Alex to do what was needed and rise to any occasion.  I will miss our conversations and I’m confident he will carve out an extraordinary life,” said Jean.

Esposito, from Meriden, CT, has spent her high school years at Ben Bronz Academy. According to Jean, she is an enormously tenacious student who has overcome considerable academic and personal adversity. Turek describes her as a passionate person who loves animals and art. She has been riding horses for almost her entire life and plans to work in veterinary sciences. She has started working towards her goal this year, taking a class at Middlesex Community College.

“Always engaging, Alyssa is a great conversationalist, quick to participate in debate or voice a strong opinion,” Jean said. “Apart from her equestrian skills, Alyssa has proven herself an adept artist, working across a variety of media with equal skill. On more than one occasion, I’ve relied on Alyssa to take notes and share her materials with the class. Her work quality was always a cut above.

“This year, Alyssa has held a job, taken a college course, and applied for scholarships while maintaining an ‘A’ average. Alyssa will make a great veterinary technician or perhaps even veterinarian if she chooses to pursue the path. Alyssa always kept me on my toes and honest; often reminding me to follow through with my all to frequent clever suggestions,” added Jean.

Throughout the years, Ben Bronz Academy has seen hundreds of students reach their academic potential while at the Academy. This year, many of the students will be moving on to other placements in their regular education public school or other private schools. These students now have the necessary tools to be successful in their academic career.

Lamphere said that the mission of Ben Bronz Academy “is to work with students so that they develop not only their academic skills, but their active learning skills and self-advocacy skills so that they can return to a more typical school environment.”

She said that the majority of the students have the goal of returning to their home public school, and Ben Bronz helps them get there through focused and intensive direct instruction in the area needed by that student.

“When they are ready to leave us, these students have closed the academic gap that they once faced and they are able to communicate their needs to the people in their new environment so that they can showcase their strengths and work toward their next set of dreams. This year, we have 11 students who are heading on to the next part of their educational journey. A lot of planning went into each of these transitions so that the students are ready and can remain the active learners that we know them to be,” Lamphere said.

Ben Bronz Foundation, Inc. is the parent organization of Ben Bronz Academy and The Learning Incentive. For more information about Ben Bronz programs, visit the website www.benbronzacademy.org or contact Executive Director Kim Holley at 860-236-5807 or [email protected].

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