New Britain named All-America City
June 19, 2016
By Robert Storace, New Britain Herald
DENVER — The second time was the charm.
After failing to make the final cut at the All-America City Awards four years ago, New Britain was triumphant late Sunday, becoming one of 10 communities to earn the official designation from the National Civic League. Representatives of 20 cities came to Denver this week.
“It’s great to be recognized nationally for the work we are doing in New Britain,” said Robin Sparks, executive director of the Coalition for New Britain’s Youth and one of the organizers of the trip. “We’ve known the success we’ve had has been the best-kept secret. This award gets the word out about our great community.”
School district Attendance Director Joe Vaverchak said, “This just shows the collaborative work the school district, city and outside agencies have done during the past four years when we were first awarded the pacesetter award. Our goal from that day was to be back in Denver to be one of the top 10 winners and we achieved that. This win is so exciting not only for us, but for the city of New Britain as a whole.”
The victory comes one day after the 11-member New Britain delegation made its pitch to 11 judges at the Downtown Sheraton. The city’s representatives appeared to connect with the judges as they gave statistics on a number of issues, primarily related to chronic school absenteeism.
The city was also recognized for its work in addressing asthma and obesity; its YWCAs “House of Teens” program; and its Summer Enrichment Experience initiative, in which students in the lower 20 percentiles based on their literacy scores take part in a summer program that offers traditional learning during the day while community providers offer karate, yoga and arts and crafts in the afternoon. The program is conducted at three elementary schools.
During their presentations Saturday, Vaverchak and Merrill Gay, a Board of Education member and executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance, gave data on chronic absenteeism. That term refers to students who miss 10 percent of school during a given period.
Those statistics showed that in May 2011, 30 percent of kindergarten students and 24 percent of first-graders were chronically absent. Those numbers have dropped dramatically. Today, Vaverchak said, 15 percent of kindergarten students and 9 percent of first-graders are chronically absent.
The turnaround was due, in part, to hiring two intervention specialists in 2011 for the city’s 10 elementary schools. They were part of weekly attendance team meetings and worked collaboratively with school staff. In addition, officials said, the intervention specialists worked with parents by phone and personal visits to their homes.
Delegation members said comments from the judges Saturday might have been an indication that the city was going to be recognized Sunday night. One judge called the Summer Enrichment Experience program “very impressive,” while another said the city provided “a lot of great data with child obesity.”
This story orginally appeared in the New Britain Herald.