North Mianus School (NMS) is a Blue Ribbon, public, K-5 elementary school in Riverside, Greenwich, CT. As of 2020, there are just over 500 students attending and 40 classroom teachers teaching. Statistically speaking, according to Niche Rankings, the school is in the top 1% for public elementary schools both within Connecticut and nationally. By the standard of state-regulated tests, the reading proficiency level is 89% and for math it’s 86%, both of which are among the top 5%, as of 2018. Niche gives it an A+ in academics.
In the past few years, quite a number of NMS teachers have received Greenwich Public School district Distinguished Teachers Awards, including Dace Ashcraft in 2020, Crystal Kitselman in 2019, Lisa Giometti (3rd grade) in 2018, and Julia Cofone (5th grade) and Sarah Harris (kindergarten) in 2016. Mrs. Kitselman, a 3rd-grade teacher, was also nominated as the 2020 Greenwich Schools representative for the CT Teacher of the Year Award and made it to the semifinals. Superintendent Ralph Mayo recognized, among other qualities, Mrs. Kitselman’s strong ability to engage each and every one of her students in the learning experience through various projects and activities. Mayo notes the way that she “has embraced the true spirit of making learning personal.” Her students can agree with what an extraordinary teacher she is and what a memorable mark she made on their elementary school careers.
Ms. Ashcraft, the most recent Distinguished Teachers Award recipient at NMS, is the advanced learning program (ALP) language arts (LA), teacher. The ALP is designated for outstanding students with abilities beyond those of their peers. The ALP classes at NMS include language arts, taught by Ms. Ashcraft, and math and science, taught by Mr. Saalborn. Typically there are only 5-12 students in each ALP class, which are designed to challenge these students to their fullest potential. Ms. Ashcraft is one of NMS’s favorite teachers. She has been teaching in the Greenwich public school system since 2002, working at North Street, the International School at Dundee, and New Lebanon, before settling at NMS. She has taught every single ALP subject but finds her truest passion in language arts. She describes her job as “play[ing] with really smart creative kids studying words.” She shares that she “love[s] the way a kid’s face lights up when they get a difficult concept or when they suddenly LOVE what they are doing,” and appreciates the fact that “the students at our school [NMS] really care about their own learning and take responsibility for it.”
The Distinguished Teachers Award Committee recognizes that “students in Ms. Ashcraft's class feel that they are working in a safe environment where it is just fine to make mistakes. Ms. Ashcraft looks out for all students when they enter her classroom; she is determined to uncover all students’ innate potential.”
Kaitlyn, a graduate of the class of 2020, had Ms. Ashcraft as her LA ALP teacher for three years. She notes that “Ms. Ashcraft brings teaching to a whole new level with tons of different perspectives and is very different from other teachers. She was always so supportive of us and our writing and honestly, you could just tell she’s so passionate about what she does. People describe her as a crazy, enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable teacher. I asked her a few questions about my writing in the summer after I graduated and she responded as soon as she could, giving me a very full, thorough response. She told us that every day she receives emails from her former students, some thirty years later, asking questions and that we can email her whenever we want.”
Other former and current students agree that all the teachers at NMS share Ms. Ashcraft’s supportive attitude and willingness to help. Another former student shares, “Overall you can just tell that the teachers at NMS genuinely love their job so much. They’re constantly super supportive and every day is a huge joy for them and us! Their hardworking and caring attitudes were [incredibly] inspirational to me! Even during their breaks or during the summer they’re [always] open to emails and question-asking. Even now that I’ve graduated, I’m still in contact with many of them!” The bonds students are able to build with their peers and teachers at NMS are truly special. The impacts these adults, who are not only teachers but also role models, have on the young kids is amazing.
North Mianus School became a Blue Ribbon School in 2019.The Blue Ribbon Award is given by the U.S. Department of Education to schools that demonstrate the utmost academic excellence. Only 362 out of nearly 131,000 total schools in the U.S. received this award that year, which makes NMS’s feat incredibly impressive. However, the students aren’t surprised. They believe from their years of experience there that NMS truly is an Exemplary High Performing School like its Blue Ribbon Award title suggests. One student who recently graduated confidently states, “if any school deserves such an honorable award, it’s NMS. The way the community there made me feel and helped me learn is completely incomparable.”
He’s not the only one who feels this way. Several students have mentioned when interviewed what a welcoming environment is created at NMS. Stephanie, an alumna, says, “The entire NMS community was just very welcoming and comforting. I was a particularly shy kid back in elementary school. Everybody at North Mianus made me feel really comfortable with who I was, and I think that helped me come out of my shell.” Kaitlyn, mentioned earlier, shares that the community at NMS is very close. She notes that everyone is [extremely] friendly and has fun together, bonding in many ways such as telling jokes at lunch or singing on the bus to a field trip. Kaitlyn says, “All the students are open-minded and outgoing. I definitely believe that everyone is able to feel like they have a place here. NMS was really like a home to us!”
In addition to the warm and loving environment created by the students and faculty at NMS, there are a few unique programs and events that set it apart from other elementary schools. A definite student favorite is the annual spring Pow Wow, a giant carnival right on the school’s back field. Kids of all ages from all over town are able to enjoy a huge variety of games, from Ring Toss to Whack-a-Mole to arcade basketball, and rides, from Hang Glider to Zero Gravity to RipCord. Of course, the concession stands are also a huge hit. NMS is the only school around that has such a large-scale event like this involving so many people in the community, so the Pow Wow definitely gives the past and current students and faculty a lot of pride. And not only are the kids able to have a great time riding roller coasters and winning prizes, but the event also serves as the school’s largest fundraiser of the year. Most of the profit goes into making improvements in NMS’s classrooms, facilities, resources, and more.
Other events include Field Day, the Talent Show, the Halloween Monster Mash, Colonial Day, Run Across America, and Champs, a fundraising event for landmine dogs. Of course, there are many other special opportunities but these are a few student favorites. Most of the events listed above are also accompanied by donation opportunities and fundraisers. Students at NMS say that the service opportunities are also incredibly exciting. They can range from donations to car washes to food and clothing drives to planting gardens around the area and even beyond that. A great academic event is the Nutmeg Book Bowl, where teams of students read as many assigned books as possible before participating in a game show that tests their knowledge on the various books. The field trip that most kids anticipate the most is the 5th grade trip to Philadelphia, where the students “visit the monuments and historical sites [they] usually wouldn’t visit” if they had gone on their own (Stephanie).
One of everyone’s favorite academic programs is the debate course 5th graders take. Students are able to get great introductory exposure to various debating and public speaking styles while fine-tuning their critical thinking skills, teamwork, and current events knowledge, which are immensely crucial for the future. Stephanie, previously mentioned, shares that these debate classes definitely played a role in her decision to attend more debate camps to build her interest and eventually join the team in middle school. Other programs include band, orchestra, chorus, and Befores and Afters, which take place either right before or right after school and include classes like pottery, soccer, chess, and much, much more, allowing parents some extra time at work while their kids enjoy learning and playing. Students have also had great experiences participating in the school’s Student Council. They say it’s a great opportunity to practice their speech-writing and -delivering, teamwork and leadership skills, and ability to incorporate everyone’s ideas to create an even better school.
No matter your interests, everyone can find a program they love at NMS. Another anonymous current student comments that one of her favorite things about NMS is how much each of the classes teaches about all different subjects. She noticed how, even in non-academic classes, the teachers are constantly trying to expose them to all different sorts of skills: “in gym we play so many different seasonal sports and games, like football, soccer, basketball, hockey, gymnastics, volleyball, and more. In art, we do drawing, painting, watercolor, crafts, sculpting, 3D design…” This truly shows how broad the overall NMS curriculum is and how many chances are given for each student to thrive in their own unique ways.
As described by former and current students themselves, NMS is the perfect place for any student to thrive. With encouraging teachers, an inclusive community, and a variety of programs and events to set it apart from other schools, anyone is bound to bring their love for learning and school up to the next level. Bonds formed with teachers and fellow peers last a lifetime, as do the skills the students are able to build during their time there. North Mianus School is definitely an extraordinary place for any child to grow up.
Author: Alicia Qin