NAUGATUCK — A program at Maple Hill Elementary School is helping students with their homework as well as their jump shot.
Hoops and Homework was started by Maple Hill Elementary School first grade teacher Jodie Ruccio, who also coaches Naugatuck High School girls basketball team, last year. The program recently wrapped up at the school.
The hour-long program, which took place on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, was split into two halves. The first half was set aside for the students to work on homework or class work they had not finished during the day. The second half was for teaching the basics of basketball.
Ruccio said she and Maple Hill Principal Cheryl Kane worked together to figure out a program that would benefit the students while being fun. She added other basketball programs for children can be expensive.
“There’s not really a whole lot for elementary school kids to do that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” Ruccio said. “Nobody had to pay anything for this program.”
About 140 students, in first through fourth grade, took part in the program this year. Due to the large turnout, the program was split into two sessions; first- and second-graders took part in the program on Tuesdays and third- and fourth-graders participated on Thursdays.
Ruccio said the program was an especially big hit with the younger students, with more than half of the participants coming from the first and second grades.
“It was great,” Ruccio said. “The kids were so excited. On Mondays they were asking if it was Tuesday yet.”
It wasn’t just the students who were excited about the program. Over 75 percent of the Maple Hill staff volunteered to help out, according to Ruccio said.
In addition, students from City Hill Middle School and Naugatuck High School volunteered to teach basketball skills and help the Maple Hill students with their homework.
“They were enthusiastic about the homework part, and they would get kids excited about their homework,” Ruccio said about the student volunteers.
The program, and Ruccio, also caught the eye of the Connecticut Association of Schools.
Ruccio, who has taught in Naugatuck for 11 years and coached the girls varsity basketball team for eight years, received a Connecticut Association of Schools Award in recognition of excellence in education celebration for the program. She was honored by the Board of Education during its December meeting.
Interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly pointed out that the award was recognized on a state level.
Connelly said on the same day Ruccio received her award, he sat in and observed her class.
“Besides being a great coach she is an outstanding teacher who really knows how to use technology,” Connelly said.
Board member Glenn Connan thanked Ruccio for everything she has done for Naugatuck students in and out of the classroom.
“I’ve had the pleasure of my kids being in Jodie Ruccio’s class. She is their favorite teacher,” Connan said. “I can’t thank you enough for what you do for the district and what you do for my kids personally.”
Ruccio said that she plans on continuing the program and already has requests from about 50 students to sign up.
Ruccio said she will run the program again in March, after basketball season is over.
“I can’t say no or turn anybody away. If we have to go a third session we will,” Ruccio said.