The 2019-2020 school year began on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, for West Hartford Public Schools.
By Ronni Newton
The first day of school is an exciting occasion for everyone – a chance to reconnect with old friends and former teachers and meet new friends and teachers – and for Webster Hill Principal Melissa Behrens Wednesday morning was particularly special.
“It definitely feels like coming home. It’s incredible to come back to my old elementary school,” said Behrens, who attended Webster Hill as a student and was named the school’s principal in August after Jeff Wallowitz was tapped for a Central Office position connected to the district’s new coding initiative.
The hallways have been quiet, Behrens said, and she couldn’t wait for the students to fill them with their voices and expectations of the new school year ahead. She said she planned to visit every classroom to meet the children, many of whom she already met over the summer at “playground meetings” she held.
Behrens welcomed students and their families to the traditional flagpole ceremony that kicks off the new year at Webster Hill, and told them how excited she was to be returning to the school. “I feel the same excitement as I look ahead to all the learning, all the growing, and the incredible memories we will create together,” she said.
“I hope you are all ready with me for an amazing year,” said Behrens.
Cub Scouts from Pack 141 raising the American and Connecticut flags, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Students from the fifth-grade choir sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and then something extra special happened.
Curriculum Specialist Sabrina Motyka took the microphone, and announced that to celebrate Behrens’ “coming home” as new principal, the school wanted to give her a warm welcome “by releasing a few butterflies, which as you know is a preview of our Webster Hill tradition.”
Audible “wows” could be heard from the crowd of children and adults as parent volunteer Attie Lordan released several Monarchs from a special enclosure in front of the school, where they have been nurtured by families throughout the summer. The butterflies headed skyward, and many headed straight for the courtyard, where another butterfly enclosure is located.
Webster Hill has a reputation as the “butterfly school,” with a butterfly as part of its logo in honor of the school’s long-standing tradition of raising and releasing Monarch butterflies from its central courtyard. A release of what is expected to be 200 Monarchs, that will fly to Mexico, is planned for Sept. 13.
“As we prepare to head inside to our classrooms on this very first day, my wish for you is to practice the magic of kindness in all that you do, be proud that you have worked your hardest each day, and know that we are all working together as your Webster Hill family to ensure that you have a fantastic school year,” Behrens said.
The students and their teachers, followed by Behrens, then filed into the school.
“We are so excited to see such a caring community. We’re just overwhelmed by the caring and welcoming,” said Brooke Goff, whose first-grade son, Greyson, is new to Webster Hill this year.
Angie Ioannou, who is also Greyson Goff’s mom, echoed Brooke Goff’s comments. She said it was amazing that Greyson’s teacher, Mr. Follett, called them over the summer just to check in.
“He’s very excited to see the friends he made in Kindergarten,” parent Jonathan Weiner said of his son, Matthew, who is in Ms. Chapdelaine’s first-grade class this year.
“He loves to read, loves to write,” Alyssa Weiner, Matthew’s mom, said.
The Weiners said you could feel the excitement that Matthew’s teacher, and Behrens, have for the school.
Like the one at Webster Hill, special ceremonies on the first day are the norm at West Hartford’s 11 elementary schools, but at the three middle schools and two high schools students proceed directly to class.
Superintendent Tom Moore said the first day of school was “smooth throughout the district from everyone I’ve spoken to so far as I make the rounds.” He traditionally visits all schools on the first day.
“It’s great to see happy kids and parents wearing sunglasses to hide their tears – or try to hide their tears – as they wave to their children,” Moore said.
Several buses were running a bit behind schedule, which is common on the first day, but otherwise there were no major transportation issues.
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