East Lyme - The hum of voices filled the hallway as hundreds of students in identical maroon T-shirts waited for the assembly to begin at East Lyme Middle School.
A student sounded cymbals, and the school band, Ceremonial Winds, played the national anthem to open the ceremony honoring the school as the Connecticut Association of Schools' 2012-13 Middle School of the Year.
The association chose the middle school out of 150 others for its leadership, school culture, commitment to professional development, achievement on the Connecticut Mastery Test, advisory groups and the level of differentiation in the curriculum and student activities, from orchestra to the morning news show, said the association's chairman of the Honors and Awards Committee, Norma Posocco.
Posocco presented a banner to Principal Judy A. DeLeeuw.
Superintendent James Lombardo thanked the entire community, including teachers, students, parents, custodial and kitchen staff, the Board of Education, and the U.S. Department of Education representatives.
First Selectman Paul Formica, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Olga Pirela and Elizabeth Williamson from the federal Department of Education extended their congratulations at the event.
Sixth-grade student Kayleen Keefe read her essay about initiatives at the school, from the choices of four music classes to book drives. "I'm not surprised that our school won this award," she said. "As you can see, I definitely think we deserved it."
Eric Parker of WFSB Channel 3, who graduated from the school, said the school system has helped graduates achieve success in careers from medicine to education.
"You're going to be a big success," Parker told the students, "and I can't wait to hear all about it."
Earle Bidwell, the association's assistant executive director for middle level program and services, presented the school with a framed proclamation declaring October the "Month of the Adolescent."
The chamber orchestra, Sloop Band and ceremonial choir performed. Eighth-graders Xiaochen Xu and Hannah Vanasse closed the ceremony with a rap song titled "You Gotta Know."