Sheff Movement Discusses Plans for the Future

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HARTFORD, CT- On Saturday, February 16, representatives from the Sheff Movement: Quality Integrated Education for All Children, held a monthly meeting at Capital Prep High School in Hartford. Gathering in the library, the guest list included several citizens from surrounding Hartford towns such as Avon and West Hartford, administrators from local magnet schools, and even two students from a local magnet school along with their parents doing a history project on the Sheff v. O’Neill court case.

Ambar Paulino and Alex Conaway At the Sheff Meeting (Photographed by Jack Dougherty)

Starting off the meeting at 9am, Elizabeth Sheff, a parent who was principally involved in the 1989 case, began to speak on the agenda of planning a legislative forum in April hosted by the black and Hispanic caucus to highlight the academic achievement for those students who attend “Sheff schools”.  Currently, the issue is that there aren’t enough schools in the Greater-Hartford area that please the motives of the Sheff movement; which are to be high-performing and support school integration. Staff coordinator and attorney Phil Tegler, mentioned that a bill signed last May agreed that the failing schools are to be provided with special funding and support, as well as advisory groups made up of the parents to help guide to a turnaround process. With $25 million for capital investments in high quality school models and $16 million aimed for low-performing schools, still there is little support for required diversity.

Sheff raised the question, “Why open new schools? Just build upon those who are already successful.” To answer this, statistics  were brought into the picture: many of the magnet schools get nearly 2,000 applicants a year, and out of that vast number only a mere 20 students get accepted. These parents of Hartford and surrounding suburbs are interested in their kids going to a school with a diverse education, however there is not enough space, therefore opportunities are limited.

This past year the Breakthrough II School located in the Blue Hills neighborhood of Hartford  was asked to be a magnet school, in which a lottery was supposed to be held for May but was switched to September. Out of 800 applicants there were only 85 spots to be filled. Principal Tammy Cassile mentioned that a lot of frustration was shown from the parents because many applications were rejected, and due to the changing of the lottery some kids had to remain at their district schools.

As the Hartford area anticipates the possibility of opening new magnets schools for the 2014-2015 school year, the winter edition of the Integrated Voice Newsletter informs the readers that just, “a simple beam of sunlight through huge classroom windows can shed light on the possibilities of the students and the town”.

Robert Cotto of the Sheff Movement, began to discuss the possibility of the implementation of a dual-language immersion program. Cotto, a representative of the Hartford Board of Education began to explain that there were many different types of Dual-language immersion programs, but that they would want to replicate the 2-way language programs which were offered in some states like Utah and North Carolina. He mentioned that the program would host native English speaking children and native Spanish speaking children in the same school, learning from a curriculum that would be taught half a week in Spanish and the other half in English. He stated, “Best research suggests that a two-way language immersion program benefit kids in all subjects, including African Americans.”

Susan Eaton, author of The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial, also noted that this program has been sold successfully as an economic development model. She went on and suggested that the Hartford Board of Education does not need to look at other state models to start a dual-language program. The crowd at the meeting agreed, and Cotto backed up Eaton’s claim by stating that there are successful schools within the reach of our very own state.

Sheff suggested that the focus of the two-way language immersion program be on the state in comparison to just the Hartford School district.

“People need to learn a different language, it calls for success,” Sheff said. Many members agreed to the fact that learning a second or even third language would be a successful tool, especially one that can and should be used in the workforce.

Jack Dougherty, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT proposed an event at Trinity, which would aim to bring awareness about this dual-language immersion program. He stated that by hosting this event at Trinity, the Sheff Movement would ultimately increase awareness on and off campus.

Sheff happily agreed and suggested that by inviting professors, other interested advocators and even people from the legislative branch of Education, the Sheff Movement would be bringing this idea to the surface, and ultimately starting a revolution. She concluded the meeting by mentioning that engaging the youth in such events would also be beneficial because the Sheff Movement wants to create leaders and advocates for educational equality.