Flanked by Frankie the Falcon and some grown-up cheerleaders, hundreds of students in grades pre-K to 8 took the stage in a school-wide dance performance aimed at motivating kids to go to college.
The event, the 7th annual Snowball, took place recently at Fair Haven School, an 800-student neighborhood school in the heart of the city’s Latino community—where work starts early to reverse a wide Latino achievement and college-going gap.
Principal Margaret-Mary Gethings said she borrowed the idea for a school-wide dance performance from Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School in Hamden. The event initially aimed to introduce kids to the “joy of learning a dance.” Gym teachers, who are required to teach dance, put the show together. For the past five years, as the city has placed a greater emphasis on college-going through New Haven Promise scholarships, the event has taken on the theme of a college pep rally.
Parents, students and staff packed the school’s auditorium for the event. Students in each grade, beginning with pre-K, donned the colors of a local college or university and learned that college’s fight song.
Frankie the Falcon, the mascot of Albertus Magnus College on Prospect Hill, checked out the program, ...
... watched 6th-graders dance in Albertus Magnus T-shirts, ...
... then joined them onstage for the college fight song.
Cheerleaders from Quinnipiac University backed up the 5th-graders.
Proud mom Carmen Martinez, who has kids in the 5th and 7th grades, sneaked up to the front of the auditorium to snap photos on her phone. Martinez said she took some classes at Gateway Community College, but never got a degree.
“I still want to go back,” she said. And she’s determined to make sure her kids make it through.
Latinos have lagged nationally in college attainment: In 2012, 14.5 percent of Latinos ages 25 and older had earned a bachelor’s, compared to 34.5 percent of whites and 21.2 percent of blacks. New Haven is still seeing a significant black-Latino gap in academic performance and graduation. Only 1 in 10 Fair Haven adults have bachelor’s degrees, according to Data Haven.
But Latino high-school graduation and college enrollment rates are on the rise, according to the Pew Research Center.
Citywide, about a quarter of New Haven public school graduates earn a two- or four-year degree within six years of finishing high school. The number of kids enrolling in college is rising slightly, though persistence in college has been a challenge.
At the latest count, 64 percent of New Haven high school grads enrolled in a first year of college, and 49 percent enrolled in a second year. The district has set a goal to boost those numbers by 2015, so that 85 percent of city high school grads enroll in college, and 75 percent stay through to a second year.
New Haven’s new emphasis on college comes as the value of the college degree is rising: A bachelor’s degree leads to an extra 1 million in lifetime earnings, better health and much lower chances of unemployment, according to one estimate. At the same time, the gap in college completion between the rich and poor is growing. President Obama recently joined a national push to address the barriers that lead many low-income college students to drop out.
Seventh-grader Jonna Bacote (at left in photo with her good friend Janine) is determined to be part of the next wave of city kids to beat those odds. In a poem printed on the Snowball brochure, she recounted her uphill journey so far. Her poem began:
Growing up was rough,
My dad left when I was only two,
and he dropped out of high school.
I wasn’t always the smartest kid,
Yeah, I played around a lot,
I didn’t think I was gonna make it
that far in life…
Jonna, a founding member of Kesa Whitaker’s Ballet Haven dance program, said she now aims to take advantage of Promise and enroll in college:
Next thing you know I’ll be at
Yeah, that will be me.
Past stories on Fair Haven School:
• New Recess Rules Kick In
• Boys Find A Place On The Stage
• Bilingual Ed Overhaul Under Way
• New Havener Of The Year
• Common Core Hits Fair Haven
• Firefighters Respond To The Turkey Call
• VH1 Helps 15th City School Start Tooting
• Mr. Shen & Ms. Benicio Hit The Books
• Maneva & Co. Take On The ‘Burbs
• Aekrama & Ali Learn The Drill
• Fair Haven Makes Room For Newest Students
• From Burundi, A Heart Beats On
• As Death Nears, She Passes Down The Dance