To the editor:
Attending a recent Parent-Teacher Organization meeting at West Parish School, I was impressed with the level of parental involvement and the quality of educational experiences offered to students here.
About 40 parents and teachers attended the meeting led by PTO president Lisa Groleau and Principal Jean Perry, which featured a visit from Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
I was reminded again of what a great school community this is.
West Parish is bustling with interactive enrichment programs offered through the PTO and library volunteers.
A reading contest with prizes is in progress, for example, organized by Sherri Lewis. Kids fill out a slip for each book they read and stuff slips in a special collection box. Sherri daily posts results and it's fun to see the kids study the rosters to see where they stand in the competition.
A book swap is also underway, organized by Tricia Reed using donated books. Kids can take a book for each one they bring in or can buy books for a quarter each. Teachers also have vouchers they can hand out to students, good for one free book.
All 411 students get to choose one to keep. They pore over the bin selections sorted by genre and reading level. Older students thoughtfully choose books for their K-1 reading buddies or younger siblings at home.
These kids are engaged readers. They seem to love their school library, which the volunteers keep open for them every day — up to 20 hours a week. The volunteers also display seasonal titles and have special exhibits and readings for Authors of the Week and Classics of the Month, based on authors' birthdays.
Upcoming events include authoring workshops for student authors, scheduled for March. Student and class books will be barcoded and cataloged as part of the regular library collection. Poetry Month (April) will feature poetry readings by teachers and students in the library, and students doing morning announcements will read short poems over the PA.
Also this spring, classes can see an interactive slide show on the History of the Book, which traces changes in books and printing in historical context from the earliest writing to the present day. Optional related projects include paper making, writing on clay or wax tablets, writing scrolls, marbling paper, laying out pages, printing, binding, and designing covers.
There's more. Kindergarteners recently participated in the Stone Soup classroom theater production, based on the folktale about community sharing, performed by Lara Lepionka and Emily Cox. And soon students will be sprouting vegetable and flower seedlings on their classroom windowsills for transplanting to the school garden.
Students will learn about soil and worms and plant life cycles, and will spread compost, weed, and mulch. As in the past, volunteer families will water and tend the garden over the summer, and in the fall students will enjoy the fruits: a harvest festival, vegetable appreciation tastings, sunflower fun, and a visit to Beacon Street Farm.
I'm grateful to have had a chance to contribute to the enrichment program, and bit by bit, it all pays off.
I see a lot of excitement at West Parish among the kids about being in school and about doing challenging work, reading, and relating what we learn to where we live. I also see a dedicated and talented teaching staff.
I'm glad my grandchildren attend and that the community has been so supportive of our efforts to not just think the best, but to do the best we can — for them.
MARY ELLEN LEPIONKA
Hammond Street, Gloucester
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