BETHEL, Conn.-- Nicholas DaPonte, Bethel Middle School's new principal, said he really enjoys working with children in this age group.
"There is a lot of growth during these years," said DaPonte, a Monroe resident. "Between sixth and eighth grade, you really see a lot of changes in the students and see them grow up."
DaPonte was appointed to the position, which was left vacant when his predecessor Derek Muharem accepted a position in another district.
DaPonte has a lot of experience working with middle school-age children -- his prior position was as assistant principal and interim principal of Dag Hammarskjold Middle School in Wallingford. Before that, he was a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher at Amity Middle School in Orange.
"It can be a tough time for students and the craziness and energy they have is what makes it fun to work with them," he said. "I enjoy helping them find their way and supporting them as they need support."
Bethel Middle School, with about 670 students in sixth through eighth grades, is progressive in its teaching techniques, he said. "We are one of the early adaptors of Standards Based Grading," DaPonte said.
Instead of using letters for grades, for each skill students need to know, they receive a number from 1 to 4 and are given specific feedback on areas they should work on.
"The focus is on what the students need to know and do, and we report very specifically on those standards," he said. "This gives a higher level of feedback to students and parents. The teachers' instruction is very focused."
For struggling students, the school has teachers to work with them, as well as a great counseling staff and a variety of support programs, he said.
"As a school we are continuing to learn and try new things and see what else we can do to best meet students' needs -- both academically, socially and emotionally."
DaPonte's life is filled with kids after he leaves for the day as well. Along with his wife, Jennifer, he has four children, ranging in age from 22 months to 7 years old. Jennifer DaPonte is a math coach at a New Canaan Elementary School.
DaPonte earned a bachelor of arts degree in music with a minor in history from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, a master’s degree in teaching from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, and a sixth year degree in educational leadership from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
One of his goals for the school year is for teachers, staff and administrators to work together. "We want to build on the work from last year and refine it and take it further," he said.
In 2015, Bethel Middle School was given the Middle School of the Year award from the Connecticut Association of Schools. In addition, the school performed well on the SBAC — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.
DaPonte said another one of Bethel Middle School's strengths is the support provided to staff by the district as a whole, "which helps the teachers support the students in the best way they can.
"The work the staff is doing here is tremendous. They are such a hardworking and dedicated group of people," he said. "You can see the response from the students. The kids are so positive and really enjoy being here. And I attribute that to all the work the teachers are doing with the students."
For extracurricular activities, he said, "There is a lot offered here. We have something here for everyone, no matter what their interest."
DaPonte said his own interest has always been music. "I took up drums when I was in the fourth grade," he said. "As an undergraduate, my focus was on jazz drumming. I was in a band in college."