Teachers and administrators from throughout West Hartford gathered Monday morning at for the district's annual convocation ceremony.
"To this day, convocation is my favorite day of the year – even more than the last day of school," said Executive Director of Human Service Rick Ledwith, who served as the emcee for the program.
Each year a different school hosts the event, and this year the honor fell to . Aiken's string ensemble provided a prelude to the convocation, and the chorus performed selections from the Broadway musical, "Big River – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
Board of Education Chair Bruce Putterman introduced the elected officials in attendance and spoke of the spirit of energy, optimism, and excitement surrounding the start of a new school year.
"We who have staggered in the spring have galloped to this first day of school," said Putterman.
Student speaker Layan Alnajjar, who graduated from Aiken in 2012 and will begin 6th grade at this week, delighted the audience with a humorous reflection of her years at Aiken. She spoke of the school's "friendly and welcoming environment that made me eager and ready to learn."
Joyce St. Germaine, the , introduced her successor, . St. Germaine, most recently art teacher, announced her retirement this spring after 37 years of teaching in West Hartford.
"Last spring it suddenly occurred to me that it was time. I felt valued, honored, and very, very blessed," said St. Germaine, who joked that she considered attending the assembly in her pajamas to make the other teachers jealous. "But you are the ones to be envied; you get to work with children again," she said.
She praised the selection of Bober, a teacher who "not only thinks outside the box, but leaps over its borders."
Bober said that being honored as Teacher of the Year "was like winning the Academy Award." And the French teacher gave a resounding "Merci" to all those who have supported her throughout her life and career.
"I tip my beret to our elementary school colleagues who welcome [the world language teachers] into their classrooms every day," she said, as her Norfeldt colleagues donned berets and applause broke out in the auditorium.
Bober urged the other teachers to continue to take a "united we stand approach" to their work, and entertained the audience with a video presentation of "Language a la Carte," a humorous tribute to her teammates, West Hartford's world language teachers who travel from classroom to classroom with their teaching materials on a cart.
Quoting the word's of former NBA star and coach Phil Jackson, Bober said, "The strength of the team is each individual, the strength of each individual is the team."
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List continued the message of teamwork and collaboration, urging all teachers to work together to create a welcome learning environment for all students. She cited a quote from Abraham Verghese's novel "Cutting for Stone": "The definition of home is 'not where you are from but where you are wanted.' That's what I wish for, that all students intrinsically feel that they are wanted in our schools," List said.
The ultimate message about teamwork came from keynote inspirational speaker Jen Rizzotti.
, former star point guard on UConn's first national championship women's basketball team and former professional basketball player who is now the head coach of the University of Hartford's women's basketball team, told the teachers, "Honestly, if you need inspiration I don't think you need to look further than to one of your own," referring to the others, including student Layan Alnajjar, who had already spoken.
Rizzotti, who not surprisingly admits to being "very competitive,"credits UConn coach Geno Auriemma for properly channelling that competitive spirit.
The 1995 UConn women's basketball team was, Rizzotti said, "a perfect example of what teamwork meant."
"We were this big collection of misfits, but we had the ability to give of ourselves and put that together to create an amazing team back in 1995," she said. "It really is about how you work together that matters – the end goal."
Even though she is not a teacher, Rizzotti said she is still educating and she also sees her role as inspiring and preparing students, and having an impact on kids' lives.
As the parent of two young children, Rizzotti also said, "I want to thank you for what you do, as parents we recognize the importance of what you do."
"You guys are molding, sometimes as individuals, but most importantly as a group. I hope you'll carry that through as long as you can."