BRISTOL – After a school year fraught in challenges, Bristol Public Schools faculty are walking into a new academic season with high hopes after hiking through the mountainous trials of 2021 and 2022.
Faculty and administration met at Muzzy Field Wednesday morning as part of the district’s annual Convocation, an event where new staff are introduced, goals shared, academic accomplishments reflected on and educators rally together in support of the coming year.
Bristol Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Catherine Carbone encouraged those present to remember where they had been, why they became teachers and where they were going as it was important to celebrate public education, despite negative trends in news. She felt BPS was an example of a district proving doubters wrong.
“It all matters. Being seen, being valued, being part of a school community and classroom community matters and that’s what you do every day. You make magic in that classroom,” Carbone said of the importance of teachers developing relationships with their students. “I have no doubt that Bristol Public Schools have the best teachers in the country and we will continue to prove that with the way in which we welcome our students back Monday.”
She lauded the various accomplishments of the district over the last year in the face of pandemic-related challenges. Among those included Greene-Hills School and Hubbell Elementary School being named respectively as Schools of the Year for 2022 by the Connecticut Association of Schools; a state championship title win by Bristol Central High School Boys Basketball; numerous students obtaining the Seal of Biliteracy; Bristol Public Schools being recognized as a Best Communities for Music Education for the seventh year in a row; the soon to open Bristol Arts and Innovation Magnet School and more.
“Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern, this year, you have already surpassed the percent of students, the high school graduation rate that the state set for us, for 2025,” said Carbone.
Bristol Public Schools Teacher of the Year Carolyn Kielma thanked her colleagues for their support and the opportunities given to her to develop her craft.
“I’ve always felt valued in this district and it hasn’t been more clear than today,” she said.
Kielma said when she started working as a teacher, she felt she focused too much on the teaching of “protein” in her curriculum in what she “fed” her students.
“That wasn’t teaching. It wasn’t a meal. It’s what my students needed but it wasn’t enough,” she said. “If I served a meal of just meat with no seasonings, no sides, no sauces, no tasty beverages, no one would ever come to my table. If they were forced to eat, no one would be able to digest that protein, right? And they would never want to come back.”
Kielma stated it was important to “feed our students a full and balanced diet that includes social and emotional learning, equity, inclusion and rigor.”
She called such things the sauces and vegetables of learning.
“I fully understand SEL, social emotional learning,” she continued. “I think it’s really important in that acronym that the ‘S’ and the ‘E’ are first. Without meeting the social and emotional needs of our students, that learning just can’t occur.”
Kielma also noted that for as important as it was for students to feel like they belonged in a classroom, rigor and learning expectations were important or teachers were failing students.
She praised district and fellow teacher accomplishments and encouraged them to reach out to one another if they needed something.
“To me, the dessert is what happens after the classes are over, the memories and connections we make that last long after the students leave our classrooms,” said the teacher. “I ask you to please take care of each other. Our job is amazing and fun but it is also hard and exhausting.”