“Cheer” squads welcome students back
New Haven Independent. Markeshia Ricks & Lucy Gellman. August 28, 2017.

The little boy in the dark blue polo and khaki pants looked stoic and also a little perplexed as a line of adults cheered and smiled to welcome him to his first day of school Monday morning. at Lincoln-Bassett Community School.

The boy gave one a tentative palm-slap to Kyisha Velazquez one of the adult volunteers welcoming brigade. Not quite a high-five, but five nonetheless. And then he locked eyes with Sen. Gary Winfield, who also was asking him for a high-five.

The little boy opened his arms for a hug from Winfield instead. And that’s what he got. So started the first day of a new school year of Lincoln-Bassett, a pre-k_8 school in Newhallville that has won statewide recognition for a turnaround effort.

Thousands of New Haven Schools students headed back to school Monday. Winfield and a cheer squad of more than 20 people were there to greet the new and returning students with cheerful greetings of “Good morning,” “Have a great day at school!” and “I love that backpack.” Similar welcoming scenes took place at other schools around town, including at the Hill’s John C. Daniels School, which has a new principal. (Scroll down in the story to read about that event.)

Schools Chief of Operations Will Clark said there won’t be an official enrollment count until Oct. 1, but the school system is expecting enrollment to rise slightly from last year to about 22,000 students this year.

State Rep. Robyn Porter had her own special words of encouragement Monday at Lincoln-Bassett, reminding students to “turn up for education.”

Little girls with freshly braided hair adorned with colorful beads and barrettes bounded down the sidewalk with big smiles, while the boys many with newly cut hair and superhero backpacks kept it cool as they slapped the hands of the cheering adults.

Some of the children and their parents who entered the school’s campus from a side opposite the cheer squad walked all the way down to where the cheering adults to make sure that they got a dose of the energetic feeling before heading into the school.

Winfield said he and a group of adults from the neighborhood have been making their way to the city’s K-8s and high schools twice a month to greet students throughout the school year for at least three years now.

“The first time we did it, we had no plans to keep going,” he said. “We just wanted to do something nice at least once and we started at Lincoln-Bassett. It always starts here.”

Winfield recalled a moment at a morning greeting the first year his group launched the practice. The boy had had a bad experience in pre-K and was apprehensive that his new school would be more of the same. Winfield and crew didn’t know that as they ushered him through their line with cheers and good wishes for the school year.

“When he went through the line, he knew that this is where he belonged,” Winfield recalled. “Once I heard that, I knew we had to keep going, and I have story after story [like that.] We have young people who are about to graduate from high school who have said they’ve never had anyone really say anything to them in the morning to get them up and going.”

Winfield said it his and the other adults’ responsibility to be out there cheering students on whether the cheer crew is 20-plus or just two.

“It’s free,” Winfield said of the cheer squad. “It doesn’t take a lot. We can’t talk about community and not do something like this. It doesn’t matter how many are out here, I’m going to make sure you think there are 40 people out here.”

Parents like Alison and Melvin Mason appreciate the effort. Their 7-year-old daughter Laura enthusiastically went down the line and greeted the adults with high fives and a bright smile.

“It’s uplifting to see that they have a support system,” Alison Mason said. “The expectations for them are very high. They’re going to achieve and they’re going to do well. They have all these supportive adults around them on their learning journey and that is really cool.”

Melvin agreed. “I think it lifts their spirits and gives them the idea that someone cares beyond their mother and father,” he said. “That someone is looking for them to achieve, and hoping that they will excel in the classroom. I think it’s fantastic and I think it sends a good message.”

Lincoln-Bassett Community School Vice Principal Jenny Clarino said having a welcome committee of concerned adults from the community sets the school year off on the right foot.

“To have parents and staff and students see that welcoming community ignites a fire, a passion that is going to continue this whole year for student achievement,” she said. “Students feel the love, the staff feels the love. It means so much to us.”

Clarino said that part of the school’s mission is to revitalize the surrounding community.

“We want happens here to impact everywhere,” she said. “We’re just starting to see the amazing achievements. [Smart Balance Assessment] scores this is the second year in a row of double digit gains. And that is just one area. It’s a blessing to be here to watch this and be part of it.”

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