Mill Hill Elementary School and Mill Hill PTA recognized nationally as a School of Excellence

National PTA® has recognized Mill Hill Elementary School and the Mill Hill PTA as a National PTA School of Excellence for their achievement in building effective family-school partnerships. Research shows that when families and schools work together, student achievement increases, schools improve and communities grow stronger. Being recognized as a National PTA School of Excellence demonstrates Mill Hill and Mill Hill PTA’s leadership and commitment to partnering to support student success and continuous school improvement.

“The partnership between Mill Hill staff and the Mill Hill PTA is a true example of what can be accomplished when schools and families work together,” said Otha Thornton, president of National PTA. “Mill Hill Elementary School and the Mill Hill PTA have put strong practices into place that involve families in the life of the school, and we are pleased to recognize them as a National PTA School of Excellence.”

National PTA launched its National PTA School of Excellence program to help strengthen family-school partnerships across the country and make measurable progress in the areas of education, health and safety, and arts and cultural exploration. At a National PTA School of Excellence, families feel welcomed and empowered to support student success, and PTA is a key partner for continuous school improvement. To be recognized as a National PTA School of Excellence, PTAs evaluate their current family engagement strategies and submit a goal for school improvement that families, teachers and administrators have set together. They improve upon their family engagement strategies throughout the year, while focusing on their goal. The National PTA School of Excellence designation is awarded with demonstrated improvement in the family-school partnership and significant progress toward their goal.

The following are a few examples of some of the programs that Mill Hill Elementary and the Mill Hill PTA collaborated on over the past year to strengthen family engagement with the school:

Mill Hill Read Aloud Program – Inspired by the vision of Mill Hill Kindergarten teacher, Dan Smith, and the best-selling book “The Read-Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease, Mill Hill launched the Mill Hill Read Aloud Program to engage parents on the importance of reading out loud to children of all ages. During a series of special Read Aloud Nights, parents and their children were invited to school after hours and by grade level to “snuggle up” and hear some “read aloud” titles and to catch a glimpse of what makes a good read aloud as modeled by Mill Hill Teachers. Children were then able to sign out great Read Aloud titles from our school library – cherished because of their rich content, their life lessons, and their well-crafted storytelling. This program was further supported with informative materials circulated to all Mill Hill families.

Mill Hill “One School, One Book” – To further promote the benefit of reading out loud and to create a shared experience across all students and staff at our school, Mill Hill also launched its own “One School, One Book” program. For this program, every child in the school received a copy of the same book (to keep!) – Betty G. Birney’s funny and insightful “The World According to Humphrey”. All families were asked to read the book at home over a three-week period and everyone at Mill Hill – students, parents, teachers and administrators – participated in the program – to create a true shared community experience.

The launch of this program was preceded by an exciting series of teaser signs and messaging, as well as a high-energy all-school assembly to get kids engaged in the program even ahead of its launch. Trivia questions relating to the book were announced daily over our school loud speaker with correct entries placed into a weekly drawing for a chance to have Mill Hill’s own Principal Kevin Chase read to a child’s class. We rounded out the program with a Friday evening school-wide ice cream social where families could gather to share a delicious treat and listen to the final chapter of the book which was read by a guest reader from our community.

Very recently, the teacher organizers of Mill Hill’s “One Book, One School” program, Joan Huff and Ann Oliver, applied for and were awarded a grant from the Fairfield Foundation for Education which supports and enhances our town’s public education system by providing professional educators with funding for programs that enrich the curriculum and stimulate creative learning opportunities. The money received from this grant will fund the purchase of books and other materials for this year’s “One School, One Book” event.

Math Night – In our own twist on the national “Take Your Family to School” program, Mill Hill families were invited to school one evening to participate in a series of fun Math games and activities together that could also be played at home to encourage better math skills. During the evening, parents and kids also had the opportunity to see a demonstration of and try out the new IXL.com program that had just been implemented at the school in order to better enrich Mill Hill students’ Math learning both in and out of the classroom.

Homework Club – This past year, Mill Hill launched the Homework Club – a weekly after-school activity for students in Grades 3 – 5 which takes place in our school Library and run by Principal Kevin Chase and parent volunteers. The Homework Club was launched to provide kids with access to a comfortable and inviting environment to do homework or work on projects, seek help if needed, or find a quiet space to read or practice IXL and / or other educational programs on the computers.

Mill Hill Mentors – This past year Mill Hill also piloted a new “family to family” mentoring program whereby retuning Mill Hill families were partnered with new Mill Hill families to make them feel more welcome, answer any questions they might have and generally to help them better navigate through school year.

In addition to the programs outlined above, Mill Hill Elementary and the Mill Hill PTA also implemented other initiatives to increase family engagement supporting student success in Literacy and Math, as well as to strengthen the community spirit of the school including: a Principal Coffee around Mill Hill’s Reading program, a school-wide Book-Swap, a Father-Daughter Dance, a virtual and physical Suggestion Box and various community fundraisers including Hoops for Hope, Mill Hill’s annual faculty basketball game for charity.

From Kevin Chase, Principal of Mill Hill Elementary,

“I am honored and extremely proud of Mill Hill Elementary School and the Mill Hill PTA on being named a National PTA School of Excellence. We at Mill Hill strive to be champions of education, champions of children. We believe that we can reach higher levels of achievement through a constant cycle of reflection that lends itself to close examination and analysis of past and current practice to lead to continuous improvement. Each child is an individual in their own right and thus growth is commensurate to their individual needs and abilities.

Our staff and students are very fortunate to have such a supportive and dedicated PTA. This affords us the opportunity to collaborate in teams throughout our entire organization and function in such ways to serve all of the needs of our children. We believe that inherent in the power of collaboration is that collectively we are smarter than any individual in the collective. It is with this philosophy that we have and will continue to improve the learning environment for our students’ academic achievement and personal growth. We not only challenge our students, but cherish them as well. This message is clear and evident to students in the many ways that our school and parent communities come together so frequently and so seamlessly for their whole development. In short, we strive to nurture the growth of the whole child. We will always work to follow our motto; ‘Mill Hill is a Home for the Mind and Heart.’ Keep your heart in mind.

“When we explored the National PTA School of Excellence program for Mill Hill, we viewed it as an important extension of our existing wonderful PTA initiatives, and as a way to leverage our talented and enthusiastic staff and parent community to bring to life additional family-centric programs which would positively impact our kids,” says Kelly Jacobson, Chair of Mill Hill’s School of Excellence Committee. “We are excited by what our committee and school community at large has achieved this past year to strengthen our family-school partnership and we look forward to building on these programs in the future and identifying additional opportunities to support our kids and our community.”

The 2014-2015 Mill Hill School of Excellence Committee was comprised of Principal Kevin Chase, First-Grade Teacher Ann Oliver, Fifth-Grade Teacher Joan Huff, Chairperson Kelly Jacobson, PTA President Wendi Malone, PTA President-Elect Kristin Nierman, Mill Hill parents Annie Braley, Elizabeth Courtney, Kim Fahey, Stephanie Gervasi, Wendy Lavallee, Gennifer Lippman, Kathy Murdock, Alisa Ryan and Monica Zwynenburg, and former Mill Hill parent, Tricia Donovan.

To celebrate their achievements, National PTA presented Mill Hill Elementary School and the Mill Hill PTA with a National PTA School of Excellence banner. For more information about the National PTA School of Excellence program, visit PTA.org/excellence.

About National PTA

National PTA® comprises millions of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of parent involvement in schools. PTA is a registered 501(c) (3) nonprofit association that prides itself on being a powerful voice for all children, a relevant resource for families and communities, and a strong advocate for public education. Membership in PTA is open to anyone who wants to be involved and make a difference for the education, health, and welfare of children and youth.

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