LEAP Returns Home
by Nicolás Medina Mora Pérez | Jun 5, 2012 1:23 pm
Posted to: Dwight
“I’ve seen a lot of murders,” said Newhallville native Leshawna Murrell. “That’s why kids need someone to bond with, someone they can trust. And that’s why I joined LEAP.”
Murrell 21, is set to be one of the senior counselors at Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership’s new summer site in the the Dwight-Kensington neighborhood. She spoke Monday at the announcement of the site, which took place at the site’s home base: Augusta Lewis Troup School on Edgewood Avenue.
LEAP is an after-school program that provides academic help and a safe space for enrichment to students from New Haven’s toughest neighborhoods aged 6-12. It operates year-round—in the afternoons during the school year, all through the day in the summer. LEAP is run by college and high school students who move into the neighborhoods they serve and develop close ties to their students. The college and high school students—called “academic coaches” and “counselors”—are in turn supervised by a team of professionals.
“This new site is especially exciting,” said Massie, “because it was really the New Haven community that made it possible. This project is entirely community funded. We had made provisions to take money out of our reserves, but we didn’t need to. When our board of directors matched the money donated by the community, we had enough.”
Although the Dwight-Kensington site that will open this summer is brand new, it represents a homecoming for LEAP. The after-school program used to have a site there but then had to close shop, a decision that Connor called “rational.” LEAP returns to Dwigh-Kensington, known as the Tre, in a time when it is deeply needed. Just weeks ago the largest-ever federal raid in state history swept through the neighborhood, resulting in the arrest of over 100 alleged gang members.
“A lot of these kids don’t have anyone that they can trust,” explained Murrell (pictured), who said that she understands the challenges of the street from her own experience. “Just the other day, we had a boy no older than 13 jump the fence in our back yard. And I was like, ‘go back to school, there’s a lot of people who can help.’”
LEAP counselors are among those people. Massie explained that the summer program focuses on literacy skills because it is very easy for kids to backslide in their reading ability when they don’t have to go to school every day. She explained that summer programs can help prevent that kind of regression, and even increase the likelihood of graduation.
Yet reading isn’t all. Murrell, who just finished her bachelor’s in anthropology and sociology at Fairfield University, said that beyond the academic help, what matters the most are the bonds of trust formed between counselors and students.
“When a kid is like ‘I’m big, I’m bad,’ we need to break him down,” she said. “It’s tough, but it really works. You have to be like, ‘Listen, you have to respect me.’ You need to show the kid that he can actually go out there and do something with his life. You need to show them respect, and show them that they have to respect people too.”
Legacy In The Community
LEAP has been around in New Haven for 20 years the program’s generational continuity is evident everywhere. Troup Principal Michael Connor (pictured) used to be a junior counselor during his own high school days. Imani Josie, another senior counselor present, said that her father volunteered in the ‘90’s when the program was starting.
“I grew up here in the neighborhood,” said the 21-year-old rising psychology senior at Western Connecticut State University. “When I realized that I wanted to give back, my dad was like, ‘You should do LEAP!’”
Josie said that one of the greatest joys of working for the program is the extent to which it is embedded in the community.
“The other day I was at a neighborhood barbecue, and this kid who had gone to LEAP like five years ago was there,” she said. “He wasn’t even in my group, and he must have been like six at the time, but he remembered me. He was like, ‘You used to always tell me to look before I crossed the street!’
Josie smiled when she thought of the kid.
“It was encouraging to hear that,” she said.
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