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Back to School Bash attracts hundreds of New Britain families

Andrea Foligno, principal at Smalley Elementary in New Britain, gets students pumped up by asking them, “Are you ready for school?” during the Back to School Bash at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Andrea Foligno, principal at Smalley Elementary in New Britain, gets students pumped up by asking them, “Are you ready for school?” during the Back to School Bash at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain.

Ziaire Bradley is a New Britain student who is excited to become a third grader when school starts Wednesday.

“I want to go back to school because I want to meet new friends and new teachers,” he said.

He was with his parents, Amber and Gregory Brown, at the Consolidated School District of New Britain’s Back to School Bash at Walnut Hill Park on Thursday. The bash served as a celebration and a kickoff of the new semester by giving parents and students a chance to meet new teachers, get free school uniforms and learn about their schools.

New Britain Back to School Bash
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Sumayya Iqbal, 5, breaks a board held by tae kwon do instructor Master Hyung Yang. Kids went from booth to booth at the New Britain Back to School Bash, getting stickers for their “passports,” which they could then redeem for a prize.

Over 40 community partners joined the event to pass out resources to families, including backpacks and school supplies.

“I’m excited,” Amber Brown said. “This is wonderful. I don’t think we’ve ever been to an event like this, and I’m just overjoyed because I get to learn about a lot of the other businesses, and all of the programs that my son can actually join.”

Seeing all the people gathered for a back-to-school event was also exciting for Gregory Brown. He said it was nice to see the community come together.

“I’m just looking to be more positive,” he said, referring to potential concerns about learning gaps and the need for more student mental health support. “I just want the kids to have a good time and not worry too much.”

School staff had signs made up to remind kids that it’s important to be in school and to stay engaged.

Smalley Elementary School Principal Andrea Foligno held up one of those signs, decorated with glitter and bright colors.

New Britain Back to School Bash
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Mallorie Aucoin laughs after getting a sticker for her kids from Daedriana Jordan, a school-based therapist with Klingberg Family Centers. Families stopped at different booths run by organizations from the New Britain community at the Back to School Bash.

“We’re so excited to have our kids show their faces, that makes a huge difference in terms of how they feel in school,” Foligno said. “We haven’t had any concerns about masks so far. It’s been draining, and I think everyone is just looking forward to going back to normal.”

Public health officials suggest that students with symptoms wear a mask at school, but there is currently no statewide pandemic mask mandate in place.

Connecticut education officials just released test data, which showed that overall student achievement is still below pre-pandemic levels. Foligno said the school district is fully prepared to close the learning gap.

“We are focused on looking at the achievement gaps, looking at our populations and making sure that we strive to make more than a year’s gain to close that achievement gap,” Foligno said. “We’re ready to go.”

New Britain Back to School Bash
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Andrea Foligno (right), principal at Smalley Elementary in New Britain, and Assistant Principal Arleen Torres Ruiz take part in the Back to School Bash at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain. Foligno said both students and educators are looking forward to “going back to normal.”

Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.