Author Archives: Woody

Celebrating Community at Multicultural Night

Students at Mayberry School in East Hartford comprise many ethnicities, hail from many countries, and speak many languages. In fact, one-third of the students are English-learners who speak 15 other languages.

This rich diversity was celebrated last week at the school’s annual Multicultural Night.

“The purpose of the event is to invite families into our school to celebrate the community and its diversity,” said Ivy Horan, first-grade teacher and co-leader of the school’s Equity Team, which hosted the event.

The Alma Exley Scholarship Program honored Ms. Horan in 2019, when she was a student in the Neag School of Education at UConn.

ivy Horan, first-grade teacher

Celebrating Diverse Cultures

Families were invited to wear clothing from their cultures, and they brought food representing their families. After dinner, students performed in a talent show, which included instrumental music, songs in Spanish, and the reading of a poem in Spanish.

Then everyone was treated to a performance by the Drill Team, composed of 25 fourth- and fifth- graders. “The Drill Team practices all year, while also meeting to discuss the importance of community, diversity, and equity,” said Ms. Horan, who helps lead the group.

Mayberry Drill Team performs at Multicultural Night.

‘Community’ Mural

Another highlight was an interactive mural, in which students spelled out the word “community,” which was the focus of the Drill Team.

Prior to the event, school staff members had created visual displays depicting the diversity of their own families and the community. Then, during the event, students and their families were invited to create similar displays. Also, the Family Resource Center hosted a table to share information about their services.The evening ended with a dance party.

Strengthening Bonds Within the School Community

“Multicultural Night is intended to help our students and their families to feel more connected to our school community,” Ms. Horan said. “Everyone has so much fun at the event, and since it’s towards the end of the school year, it is a great way to wrap up the year together.

“Our Equity Team’s main goal is to help ensure that equity is part of everything we do, and this event is a great showcase of that.”

Well over 200 people attended the event, including students, their families, school staff, and volunteers from the University of Saint Joseph, Mayberry’s educational partner.

Ivy Horan with Kennedy Martin, her first-grade teammate and co-leader of the Equity Team

Building Confidence

“I want to thank our Drill Team teachers for believing in me and helping me perform today,” a fourth-grader said. “I never thought I could do something like this, but they told me I could.”

A fifth-grader said, “I can’t wait to do the Drill Team again next year. This was the best experience. Thank you for helping me. Tonight was so much fun. I wish every single day at school could be just like today!”

Mayberry students anticipate the arrival of the Drill Team.

Dr. Sims: A Recognized Leader in Educator Diversity

Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, whom we honored in 2006, has been named a 2024 PDK Distinguished Educator for her work in recruiting, training, and retaining teachers of color.

Dr. Sims is Managing Director of Academic Programming at the Connecticut Teacher Residency Program, a key state initiative to develop a more diverse educator workforce.

PDK International says its Distinguished Educators are leaders who have made significant contributions to the teaching profession in line with the organization’s core values. Established in 1906, PDK supports educators by strengthening their commitment to the profession throughout their careers.

Honor Reserved for Most Prestigious Members

“The Distinguished Educators program is an honorific designation reserved to highlight our most prestigious members,” said Albert Chen, PDK International’s Chief Operating Officer. “We recognize Violet Jiménez Sims for her achievements and contributions to our profession and her commitment to our core values of research, service, and leadership.”

Before assuming her present position, Dr. Sims was a high school teacher and served on the faculty of UConn’s Neag School of Education. Active in the community, she served four years on the New Britain Board of Education and is Vice President of the New Britain branch of the NAACP. In 2022, the New Britain YWCA named her a Women in Leadership Sesquicentennial Honoree.

Learning and Networking in D.C.

PDK International will host Dr. Sims and seven other Fellows and education change agents at a professional learning and networking event in Washington, D.C., this summer. During the year ahead, the Fellows will be able to interact with like-minded colleagues and engage in community-driven professional development. 

Said Dr. Sims, “In every capacity, whether teacher, administrator, professor, teacher educator, or elected board of education member, I have always centered how the work impacts students.”

Congratulations to this remarkable Alma Exley Scholar, who exemplifies in her professional and community leadership what our program is all about.

  • Woody Exley

Educators Reunite at Latino Benefit Gala

Orlando Valentin Jr. with Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims

Violet Jiménez Sims and Orlando Valentin Jr. took different career paths after being honored by the Alma Exley Scholarship Program in 2008 and 2016, respectively.

Their divergent paths crossed recently at the annual gala of the Connecticut Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (CALAS) in Southington, Connecticut. The organization awarded five scholarships and honored seven educational leaders.

Dr. Sims began her career as a high school teacher and administrator before earning her doctorate and joining the faculty of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. Now she is Managing Director of Academic Programs for the Connecticut Teacher Residency Program, one of the state’s initiatives to promote educator diversity. 

Mr. Valentin began as a fourth-grade teacher before moving into leadership as Assistant Principal at Hanover Elementary School in Meriden. He is also an equity leader for schools in the Meriden region, and he champions efforts to recruit and retain educators of color in the Meriden schools.

“It was a pleasure to celebrate with Orlando,” said Dr. Sims, “and it’s gratifying to be part of an organization that supports and encourages promising Latino students and recognizes the accomplishments of Latino educational leaders across the state.”

Said Mr. Valentin, “I was delighted to catch up with Violet and learn about her work in promoting educator diversity through the Teacher Residency Program. And I was pleased to support the great work that CALAS is doing to recognize excellence among Latino students and professionals.”

Mr. Valentin and Dr. Sims are both married to educators. Tatiana Valentin is a third-grade bilingual teacher in Meriden. D’Andre Sims is a recruitment specialist with the New Britain Schools. Together, Violet and D’Andre own Sims Squared LLC, an educational consulting enterprise.

Scholarships and Awards

CALAS honored the following with scholarships:

  • Nicole Montalvo, a student at Waterbury Arts Magnet High School.
  • Ivanny Penn Mateo, a student at Platt High School in Meriden.
  • Lavinnia Nazareth a student at Central Connecticut State University.
  • Adalbyse Gonzalez a student at University of Saint Joseph.
  • Rocio Tinoco, a bilingual educator at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London, who is pursuing a degree in educational leadership at UConn.

Seven awards were presented for professional excellence.

  • Exceptional Teacher Award: Carmen Pagán, a bilingual teacher at Moriarty Elementary School in Norwich.
  • Policy Advocate Award: Fran Rabinowitz, executive director, Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS).
  • Outstanding Educational Leader Award: Sandra Cruz-Serrano, Deputy Executive Director of Capital Region Education Center (CREC).
  • Community Advocate Award: Maritza Acosta, Office Director of the Meriden office of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
  • Equity Champion Award: Dr. Jason Irizarry, dean, Neag School of Education, UConn.
  • Exceptional Principal Award: Esmeralda Figueroa, principal, Parkville Elementary School, Hartford.
  • Outstanding Parent Advocate Award: Marlene Ho-Yen, manager of the extended learning program, Danbury Public Schools.

Latino Superintendents

Four Latino superintendents attended: Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Hartford Public Schools; Dr. Alberto Vázquez-Matos, Middletown Public Schools; Dr. Madeline Negrón, New Haven Public Schools; and Andrew Gonzalez, Lebanon Public Schools

Two African-American superintendents attended: Dr. Verna Ruffin, Waterbury Public Schools, and Iris White, Acting Superintendent of Bristol Public Schools.  

A Dynamic, Growing Organization

Fifteen Latino educators in New Haven launched CALAS in 2015 to advance and support Latino educators and students. CALAS soon became one of 17 state affiliates of a national organization, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS).

CALAS now has more than 200 members across 38 districts, regional education service centers (RESCS), and institutions of higher education. The organization now includes superintendents, district and school administrators, teachers, aspiring teachers, retired educators, and higher education personnel.

CALAS’s mission is to foster quality and equitable public education for Latino students in Connecticut while inspiring, cultivating, developing, and supporting Latino educational leaders and talent. The organization is committed to expanding the Latino educator pipeline to Connecticut’s schools. To date, 20 high school and college students have received scholarships, resulting in graduates of bilingual education, world language-Spanish, and school social work.