Shelton educator’s global project wins teaching award

A second-grade teacher at Long Hill Elementary School helped “build a bridge” between her students and those in a classroom in England.

Through her Countries Connect project, Marlo Verrastro-Ruggiero’s students were able to regularly interact across the Atlantic using Skype and a webcam.

The students from Shelton and England worked together on blogs, exchanged letters and photos, and participated in other learning and fun activities.

In recognition of her efforts, Verrastro-Ruggiero recently received the 2014 Weller Excellence in Teaching Award.

The award was introduced to the Shelton public school system in 1994 by the Weller Foundation. It recognizes quality and innovation by classroom teachers in kindergarten through the fifth grade.

Verrastro-Ruggiero was among those honored during the Weller Foundation’s annual awards banquet at the Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University. She received $1,000 and a certificate of honor.

More recently, the Shelton Board of Education held a reception to honor Verrastro-Ruggiero, where she was joined by many colleagues and administrators.

English connection

Verrastro-Ruggiero has a special connection to the class in Essex, England, that is involved with the Countries Connect project.

Her cousin, Daisy Curry, is a student in the class. Verrastro-Ruggiero’s mother is from England, and she would spend every other summer in the United Kingdom when growing up.

Verrastro-Ruggiero was able to secure the webcam needed for Countries Connect through Donors Choose, a website where people donate money to support projects listed by teachers.

With the project, her students were able to learn about children in another country while using the Internet as an educational tool.

“Applying skills learned in reading, writing and social studies, students could share information and foster relationships while increasing their knowledge of — and utilizing — the latest technology,” Verrastro-Ruggiero wrote about Countries Connect.

Verrastro-Ruggiero has been teaching for 16 years, coming to Shelton two years ago. She previously taught kindergarten at Read School in Bridgeport.

She said teaching students a few years older has been rewarding. “I’ve been inspired by the change,” she said.

The Seymour resident grew up in Trumbull, graduating from Trumbull High in 1993.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I wanted to make a difference in a child’s life.”

Verrastro-Ruggiero now is working with her students to make books for children in Uganda. It’s a project she first pursued while working in Bridgeport.

The nonprofit Weller Foundation was established in 1962 to provide financial assistance to educational, charitable and civic organizations. The organization’s programs include scholarships, student awards and other supporting contributions.