Winter 2017

  • There was a team meeting at Robert J. O’Brien to finalize interest in piloting Parent Teacher Home Visits at O’Brien that included Principal Lesley Morgan-Thompson, Assistant Principal, Parent Coordinator Margie Williams and others interested. With a very positive response from the group, Michele Femc-Bagwell and Jocelyn Ault then met with Superintendent Nate Quesnel, District Family Engagement Director Veronica Marion, Principal Lesley Morgan-Thompson, and Human Resources Director Christopher Wethje to finalize the MOU and put plans in place to start training additional home visit teachers.
  • Monique Butler continues her Commit to Stay Fit program. This month she brought in registered dietitians, Lindsey Kent and Sarabeth Campenelli from ShopRite to share nutrition, shopping and cost savings ideas. Students worked with their parents and used the weekly circular to help their families plan a dinner for 4 for $10. They worked through, with the help of Lindsey and Sarabeth issues like portion sizes and making sure all food groups were included. The night included a little science, math and a lot of fun.




On March 22, Representative Jeff Currey came to O’Brien and sat with a group of 15, which included staff, a parent and district staff, to hear about the success they are experiencing in developing a strong family and community engagement climate and culture in the school. They talked about the incremental steps that have provided their move from being event oriented to now looking to link events to learning, truly building relationships and connecting families to resources in and out of the school, using the Family Resource Center that CommPACT built as a hub for parents. Various staff members shared what they have learned, changes initiated, and how the technical expertise and ongoing support of CommPACT has informed and shaped these changes. Representative Currey is a former East Hartford Board of Education member and today is on the Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee of the State Appropriations Committee.

Principal Dr. Lesley Morgan-Thompson let her staff lead the discussions with Rep. Currey. Margie Williams, Parent Liaison, talked about having the CommPACT Family Resource Room as a key to being able to offer many programs for parents, to have them in the school volunteering for things like the food pantry, fundraising, and she shared the success of her Parent Café where she brings in speakers to share information on important topics. Kara Levenduski, Literacy Coach, shared about the technical expertise that CommPACT has provided and its impact on developing family partnerships including the Visioning done as a group with many points of input (parents, community, staff and students) and subsequent Vision Statement that has helped guide family and community engagement efforts. She also shared the current work that the School Governance Council is leading in developing family-school/grade level compacts. Stephen Higgins, Physical Education Teacher, talked about the impact that having the team from O’Brien go to a national Family and Community Engagement Conference has played in fast forwarding their work this year. Several components have made this impactful, one is the information they heard creating a deeper understanding of the value of meaningful family engagement and partnership. Another is hearing about implementation of best practices in other schools. Additionally team building occurred around ideas which they wanted to bring back to their work at O’Brien. Second Grade Teacher, Caroline Battle, has been leading a “Beyond the Bake Sale” book club to help all staff start to understand that recognizing the talents and interests of parents is part of creating meaningful partnerships with families that will improve student outcomes. Parent, Kim Mengden, had the opportunity to talk to Representative Currey about her frustrations in trying to figure out and track the educational budget proposal and issues and he listened as well as shared some insights on what creates the difficulties as well as help in finding answers.

Presentations don’t always have immediate results but on March 30, 2016 a parent identified over $30 a month savings before they left! Margie Williams, O’Brien’s dedicated Parent Liaison, hosted another of her highly successful Parent Café sessions in the Family Resource Center. This month’s Parent Café featured information from Energize CT about deregulation of the electric providers and how families can save money without a decrease in service. Arthur Marcelynas of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) demystified information and built knowledge for participants in everything from how to read an electric bill to where to look for comparative rate information and how to evaluate plans on a website designed specifically for consumers to compare providers and know upfront or back end charges, called a Rate Board. Over the years consumers have paid more than they have to for electricity and it can be overwhelming to understand the deregulation, contract issues and payments as well as all the terms used. Arthur broke the issues down and also provided tips on how to look at energy consumption and investigate if there might be more usage than expected. He shared helpful facts such as the Standard Service rates set by Eversource and UI which change on January 1st and July 1st and are fixed for six months. Standard Service rates are announced about seven weeks before the rates are effective: May 10th and November 10th, respectively. He cautioned consumers to protect their account and identity information and never give it to a solicitor; to only share this when you know the legitimacy of the party you are talking to and have been the one to make contact with them.

Arthur also provided his direct contact information as well as that of the PURA Consumer Affairs staff so that at any time, families and staff can reach out to knowledgeable and helpful people to work through questions or issues (800. 382.4586). Attendees were asked to bring their current bill with them and immediately after the presentation he helped parent, Jasmin Baez, look at her bill. They looked at the website and he showed her how to compare providers and rates to what she is currently getting, including evaluating the impact of termination fees. Jasmin said, “It was simple and it was clear that I am paying too much! I looked at the options and I am going to be able to save $30 a month. I have already changed my provider online. I am so glad I came today. I also see that my usage is too much, it spiked and I don’t know why. I am going to get help understanding why. That means I will save even more money.”

Kara Levenduski, Literacy Coach, continues to lead next steps in writing family-school compacts using the School Governance Council as the organization to champion meaningful activities to support this work. The PTO gave input this past month and reviewed the progress made to date. There will be ongoing surveys of parents done to guide the process as well.

Monique Butler and her planning team including CommPACT are reaching out to the community to support the expanded (six week) “Commit to Get Fit” this year, starting April 21. Each night has a theme and will include information to help make healthier decisions as well as an exercise segment (physical or mental).

Parent Cafe

CommPACT continues to listen to needs for the onsite Parent Center and is working with the school Parent Liaison, to help promote her strong social service outreach programs for parents. She has started a highly successful “Parent Café” where she brings in experts to share information with parents. Given her social services background she has connections to vital community resources.

Kara Levenduski, Literacy Coach, is leading next steps in writing family-school compacts using the School Governance Council as the organization to champion meaningful activities to support this work.

Caroline Battle, (Grade 2 teacher), is encouraging members of the staff (teaming with those who attended the National Family Conference/June 2015) to join a book group to read and discuss Beyond the Bake Sale. This integrates well with the district’s goal of implementing the Dual Capacity Framework.

Monique Butler (Grade 5 Math teacher), was a featured speaker at the state-wide Friday CAFÉ Mindfulness program on January 29. She spoke to the group of professionals in family engagement about wellness programs she has been fostering at O’Brien including her Commit to Stay Fit with families. She focused on the over-arching theme that being fit is a holistic view and that mindfulness in all that we do and think is critical to overall health. She shared not only her practices but also how that has translated to her own parenting. She also shared how she uses tools to help her students focus, understanding that their physical readiness to learn is an important ingredient in their academic achievement.

Under Monique Butler's leadership,  the vision for “Commit to Get Fit” was expanded this year. In January Monique started the staff off with a “Get Healthy Program” where they talk about nutrition and ways to incorporate more movement in their lives and classrooms- we see them walking after school together so there is a wonderful team building element in this too. Based on parent and participant feedback, last year’s parent-student-staff-community three week “Commit to Stay Fit” program is being expanded to six weeks. This will start in April and go through May. Instead of three topics per week, there will be two topics each week for a longer period of time. The team has expanded and CommPACT has connected them with Goodwin College, a community partner, in East Hartford. Lauren Gibson-Carter, LCSW and Curriculum Director of Family Studies at Goodwin College, is not only providing programming for one of the sessions in April, but is looking at all the partnerships that can be fostered between their school, O’Brien, and families. Included in this will be more information for families and students regarding career pathways. Goodwin has a large non-traditional student base that can encourage parents to pursue further education as well.


• The Family and Engagement Collaborative has been promoting their newly developed vision statement, starting with the back-to-school picnic in August. This statement was developed through a collaborative of family, staff, and community members reflecting their aspirations and will be a fundamental tool in directing the purpose and priorities of activities to benefit students and support family and community engagement.
The Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy welcomes families and community members as partners in creating a collaborative, positive school environment. We will use a variety of resources to build strong partnerships between home and school which will support our community’s academic, social and emotional success.
• Principal, Dr. Lesley Morgan-Thompson, created a unifying umbrella of groups that all have an important role in promoting family and community engagement: School Governance Council, PTA, a team of teachers who work on parent engagement events, and a cadre comprised of parents, community, and staff members focused on bringing best practices to O’Brien and fostering greater family engagement.
• Parent Liaison, Margarita Williams, has started a highly successful monthly Parent Café. Parents meet and talk about concerns they have regarding both in and out of school issues. These conversations help parents find support and also bond with each other. It also helps direct programming for the Parent Resource Center (formed in partnership with CommPACT). This month Attorney Rafael Rodriquez came in to speak about legal support available through the Greater Hartford Legal Aid Society. He also spoke to parents about their important role in working with the school and staff to support their students both academically as well as socially. He fielded questions and helped parents start to understand their role as their child’s advocate in many situations including Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings.

Commit to Stay Fit

At Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford, fifth grade teacher, Monique Butler believes in making healthy choices and wanted to bring these concepts to O’Brien students and families. She created a team with Molly Waszkelewicz, Margie Williams and Jocelyn Ault. This is a true collaborative event partnering with parents, staff, and community members, and CommPACT to launch a three week program called “Commit to Stay Fit – Children and Families 2K15 Event.” Each week will focus on how to eat healthy foods and make good choices, a fun exercise and during dinner there is a unique presentation. This kicked off on April 15th with:


  • Parents had a presentation by SNAP (commonly known as the Food Stamp program) on how to maximize their nutrition decisions with the money they have.
  • Children had a presentation by the school's food service partner, Sodexo. There were fun facts and a little competition about what is a good snack food.


  • Student teacher, Patrice Hayes introduced Zumba to parents and kids together. The kids had great moves and helped Patrice lead some of the session.

During dinner (sponsored by Subway of East Hartford and Mr. Pizza of Hartford), Nik Guillette., yoga expert and co-owner of Luna Cosmia, talked to everyone about "laughter is the best medicine" and all the benefits of laughter including offering the equivalent health benefits of a workout. This was clearly a workout everyone wanted to get involved with! He encouraged everyone to seek laughter as part of their wellness program

At the end of the evening, one of the students whose mom volunteered, looked up and said, "This is the best night E-V-E-R."

  • The Family Resource Center created in January and has been very well received by teachers, other staff and the families. This is a room that is designed to be welcoming and will function as a gathering place for families to feel they belong in the school, for parent training programs and for community members to provide support. Whole Foods sent enough boxes of food to fill the three new storage cabinets. Over 50 people attended the ribbon cutting ceremony and day-long event celebrating the creation of this facility.
  • A “Visioning” night was hosted. This activity is part of the CommPACT process that engages parents, teachers, parents and administrators in a conversation dedicated to envisioning what family and community engagement will look like at the school five years from now. There was a clear overlap between the stakeholder groups on the goals and ideas.
  • A Family and Community Collaborative team has formed consisting of parents, community and staff members. They are pulling together the feedback gathered during the Visioning process formulate a school wide vision statement for family and community engagement and to create an action plan for increasing family and community involvement, fostering collective impact from these different stakeholder entities.  When completed, the Vision Statement will provide overarching guidance for formulating action steps.
  • A unique inventory tool called ASPIRE is being used to gather information from parents, staff and community members about resources and skills that parents and community members can bring to enrich the school, students and families.  This is a tool that has been cited by the National Network of Partnership Schools as a “best practice.” ASPIRE training took place with staff during a Professional Development day. Parents have started to participate in the ASPIRE Survey. They see the potential for bringing more assets to the school through this as well as using parents and their skills in innovative ways. These first parents will be leaders in engaging other families. Over 200 assets, skills and professional relationships have been identified and because of the web basis for this tool, this information is able to be accessed by teachers 24/7.

Family Resource Center Plans

Exciting Changes at Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy in East Hartford!

An amazing team of people have been involved in transforming a room at Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy into a welcoming environment for families and community engagement. This room will be used to help foster partnerships with the school and as a place for families to feel they belong at the school. It is a versatile space for training programs, meetings, and for supporting community organizations to provide programming based on the needs of the school and families.

Last fall the design process started that involved a professional space designer, CommPACT and staff from O’Brien and the District. Over the holidays the room was re-carpeted and subdivided to accommodate the copier/work space needs of staff as well as a Family Resource Center dedicated to meeting space, computers, storage for a food pantry and supplies, a play area for younger children, sofa seating and of course, a coffee machine!

Robert J. O’Brien STEM Academy

Phone: (860) 622-5760
Address: 56 Farm Drive
East Hartford, CT 06108