Great Brook named Middle School of the Year

  • Great Brook School students celebrate after learning their school has been named New Hampshire's Middle School of the Year
  • Great Brook School students celebrate after learning their school has been named New Hampshire's Middle School of the Year
  • Great Brook School students celebrate after learning their school has been named New Hampshire's Middle School of the Year
  • Great Brook School students celebrate after learning their school has been named New Hampshire's Middle School of the Year
  • Great Brook School students celebrate after learning their school has been named New Hampshire's Middle School of the Year
  • Great Brook School students celebrate after learning their school has been named New Hampshire's Middle School of the Year
  • Great Brook School students celebrate after learning their school has been named New Hampshire's Middle School of the Year

ANTRIM — Students are Great Brook School got a quite surprise Thursday, when they learned at an awards assembly that their school has been chosen as New Hampshire’s Middle School of the Year.

The announcement that the school had won the Middle School of Excellence honor, commonly know as the EDie award, drew students and teachers to their feet, cheering and screaming in celebration. And the news prompted Principal Jim Elder to take a victory lap around the school’s gym, high-fiving the Great Brook kids and ringing the handbell awarded as the school’s prize.

“This is a momentous occasion — there’s a word of the week,” Elder told the students. “It’s a huge deal. In my 25 years in education, this is a crowning achievement. Congratulations!”

Barbara Gondek of Derry, a former middle school teacher who chaired the committee that visited the school in March, told the students they have a tremendously supportive learning environment at Great Brook.

“The faculty and staff here love you to death,” she told the excited kids filling the bleachers. “We were awed by all that you’re doing.”

Gondek cited the school’s use of a buddy system, where each incoming fifth-grader is partnered with an older student who can help the newcomer adjust and give advice. She also noted the enthusiasm and professionalism of the students who create the Bobcat news broadcasts that open each school day.

On Friday, Gondek said the committee was especially impressed by the school’s advisory program, where students stay with the same teacher as an advisor through their entire four years at the school.

“They might not have that teacher for their academics, but they can make a connection,” Gondek said. “This adult can be a link to parents on all kinds of issues. That’s so important. With all the stress on Common Core standards, we sometimes forget that we’re dealing with the whole child.”

The award is not just for teachers and staff, according to ConVal School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan. It’s also a reflection off the quality of Great Brook students, many of whom spoke with the EDie selection committee members during the school visit.

“You see how well these students represent themselves and their school,” Minnihan said after Thursday’s ceremony. “The students have done a great job taking care of each other.”

School Board Chair Butch Estey said the award is wonderful for the Great Brook community.

“I’m just so proud,” Estey said. “The teachers and kids have worked so hard to earn this award. Jim has done a fantastic job.”

A little over a year ago, a petition warrant article asked ConVal School District to consider closing Great Brook and sending all the district’s middle schoolers to the South Meadow School in Peterborough. Students parents and residents of Antrim, Bennington, Francestown and Hancock — the four towns that send children to Great Brook — were vocal in their opposition to the idea of closing the school. The article was soundly defeated, with just 37 percent of voters in support.

“The community, including voters in Peterborough and the southern towns, really came together to put the word out that they didn’t want Great Brook closed,” said Crista Salamy of Antrim, a member of the ConVal School Board, on Friday. “Everything’s been coming together here in the last few years. Jim really started changing the atmosphere. The staff was being heard. You could see the kids’ personalities changing. When you walk through the door now, the energy is just phenomenal. I love it.”

After the ceremony, Elder said the award is for everyone in the Great Brook Community.

“We really have a great group of teachers who really work hard and a bunch of great families,” he said. “We try to get to know each of the kids and make them comfortable here.”

Gonchar said her review committee, during their visit, had noticed the rows of handprints that line the corridors of the school.

“We thought they were probably for academic or athletic achievements,” she said. “Then we learned that students get the handprints based on the number of hours of community service they do. That blew us away.”

This is the second time Great Brook School has won the EDie as Middle School of the Year, with the first honor coming in 1999. South Meadow School is also a two-time EDie award winner, in 2005 and 2012.

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