Born and bred in New Haven, Heriberto Cordero got a full ride to Quinnipiac University through a partnership with his local public middle school.
Now, back home as a principal, he wants to help his Fair Haven students follow in his footsteps.
A crucial step towards that goal: putting on this year’s “Snowball” event, a Fair Haven School annual dance performance aimed at getting students excited about applying to college.
The performance took place this past Thursday morning in the preK-8 school’s auditorium at 164 Grand Ave.
Every single student—almost 800 of them—has a role in Snowball. Each grade repped a different area university, wearing regalia donated from the schools themselves while performing a choreographed dance to a different song.
University of Connecticut’s fifth-graders on stage moved their feet to a salsa song, prompted by their gym teachers to spin around to either side, and then chanted the school’s fight song in unison.
Principal Cordero sat in the front row, loudly cheering every performance and rushing up to high-five students leaving the stage. New to Fair Haven School and to Snowball, Cordero is no stranger to the New Haven educational system.
He attended Truman School for elementary, then Betsy/Ross Arts Magnet School for middle school. A couple of incidences of violence affecting his family (that he declined to discuss further) caused his parents to transfer him out of New Haven to Wallingford’s Lyman Hall High School. But he found his way back to this city.
“My New Haven public school education gave me the opportunity to be in the top 10 percent of the graduating class at Lyman,” he said. Quinnipiac University has a partnership with Betsy/Ross, which gives college scholarships to top students from the middle school. He was one of about 15 former Betsy/Ross students who were awarded the scholarship, and the only one to receive a full-ride from Quinnipiac.
Once back in New Haven, he stayed — getting his bachelor and master’s degree at Quinnipiac and then a certificate from Southern Connecticut State University. He came to Fair Haven School from an assistant principal position at Clinton Avenue School last year.
“I’m giving back to the community that has given to me,” Cordero said.
Snowball is about building “intrinsic motivation” in students early, so they have the resilience necessary to overcome upcoming challenges later on in their academic careers, Cordero said.
In between dance performances, teachers and students collaborated on PSA-type skits, encouraging their audience to prioritize academic performance and success—because it would pay off later.
First-grade teacher—and Snowball emcee—Mandy Bonz rotated through a few costumes and characters with different vices. Erik the Viking kept getting into trouble and was repeatedly suspended from school.
Eighth-grade student council leaders Dominique Marotta and Carissa Mendoza urged “Erik” to stop acting out in class. They warned him that the New Haven Promise scholarship would only go to local students who had no record of suspensions.
“Getting in trouble at school is like giving up money for college,” they said.
The message got through to “Erik,” who resignedly promised to “be perfect from now on.”
A quick costume change later, “Señor Number Bonz” was failing middle school history teacher Thomas Woodard’s social studies class. But Bonz had As in math. “Me encanta la matematica,” Bonz said, in a fake moustache and sombrero, showing a thumbs-down at the idea of social studies. “I love math.”
But the council leaders advised Bonz to try hard in all subjects, to get at least the 3.0 GPA necessary for the New Haven Promise.
“Do you think you can have a B average in all your classes?” Woodard asked the students.
“An A average!” Cordero yelled out, to titters from the students.
“Every single one of you will be eligible for the New Haven Promise,” Woodard said.
In between the fifth and sixth-grade performances, Cordero was up for a speech to the auditorium of children.
“I want every single student that goes to Fair Haven to go to college,” he said. “How awesome would it be if we had 100 percent of our students all going to college?”