BETHEL — The new Learning Commons, a quiet, soothing section set aside in the Telstar Middle/High School library, is but one of the changes that have happened since the beginning of the school year, thanks to a survey of student needs and wants about how to improve the school climate, as well as a series of meetings that took place during the past summer.

“The surveys provided some ideas,” Principal Dan Hart said.

Although the state’s grading of schools last spring was one of the reasons for the student-friendly atmosphere now growing in the high school, Hart said school personnel have been thinking about how to boost student participation and brighten up the school atmosphere for some time.

“We decided we’ve got to do things differently,” he said.

The Learning Commons now offers classes and improved ways to research along with individual cubicles or carrels for quiet study. Teachers offer academic support, and a new student technology group assists both student and staff, said Librarian Kelley Fraser.

“When students are free, they are on duty in the library,” she said. “They also go into the school to help out.” 

The library walls are painted a much softer, quieter color, and Americorps representative Meryl Kelly helps students and performs other duties in the library.

Dean of Students Charlie Raymond is now focusing on student attendance by making calls, welcoming students to school and assisting to foster better communication and support with students and their families.

“It is more personalized to show that it’s important that a student comes to school,” Hart said.

Hart said homerooms meet with advisers each morning so they can get to know each other better. A daily 25-minute activity period is set, since lunch period time has been reduced. In the activity period, clubs and classes can meet to plan activities, such as the Interact Club, Future Business Leaders of America and the National Honor Society.

Teachers can also use the time to help students or administer make-up tests.

Hart said new activities are being planned in November, such as the creation of an art club or debate club.

Also in November, a group of residents who have been meeting with Hart for several months will provide student mentoring during the homeroom period. Mentors include Al Cressey, Rosemary Laban, Michael Broderick, Rich Churchill, and William Andrews, who are retired from a variety of careers such as teaching, engineering and college leadership.

Throughout the school, other changes have taken place that are meant to reduce stress and make the day calmer, such as the elimination of bells between classes. Instead, the teacher dismisses the students at the end of the period.

The day starts with the first class, followed by a breakfast break. Hart said the number of participants in the breakfast program has tripled since the beginning of the year.

“Teachers feel that with a slower pace, they can anticipate students’ needs,” he said.

Some of the English classes are now more flexible and offer a writing lab, called Write On, where students can work individually or with groups.

The high school population has remained fairly steady, at 250, from a high of 300 five years ago, said Hart.

“It’s still a challenge,” Hart said. “But we’re trying to address the whole student.” 

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