A “Snowball” Aims At Latino College Gap

Melissa Bailey PhotoFlanked 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
Eastern University.
Yeah, that will be me.
A warrior.

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

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posted by: New Haven Promise on February 14, 2014  3:20pm

This story is simply not complete without promising statistics from New Haven Promise. With the combined efforts of the school district, Promise and other stakeholders, we can report that 90 percent of the Hispanic students who have qualified for New Haven Promise are in good standing academically and that 90 percent of them are enrolled this semester. These numbers are clearly well above national averages and deserve attention in a story of an event so focused on college going and New Haven Promise. Snowball is the type of event that is successful in creating a college-going culture and the video on this year’s event captures why: http://youtu.be/9r1_-V7iJHk

posted by: Radimom on February 14, 2014  8:34pm

These are nice statistics.  However, since you are from New Haven Promise, why don’t you share the Actual Number of Hispanic students who are benefitting from New Haven Promise and are enrolled this semester? Considering that around 1,000 seniors graduate from New Haven high schools each year, how many are actually recipients?

posted by: Tom Burns on February 15, 2014  12:23am

Fair Haven—you are amazing—I am so proud of all the students, parents, teachers, administrators and staff—keep doing what you are doing—so proud—Tom

posted by: Teachergal on February 15, 2014  11:56am

Why does NHI only report on Fair Haven K-8? What’s happening in other NH schools or am I missing them?

[Editor: Thanks for the question! We do try to report on lots of schools. We also pick a different school every year to “embed” in so as to report in some depth and focus on a particular issue facing the system, including how to deal with a large immigrant population as in Fair Haven ... In previous years we’ve done turnaround schools—Brennan, Wexler—as well as the teacher-run experiment at HSC ...]

posted by: New Haven Promise on February 16, 2014  2:55pm

Twenty eight percent of all New Haven Promise scholars (424) are Hispanic and 29% of 2013 Promise supported scholars (170) are Hispanic.

posted by: HewNaven on February 17, 2014  4:38pm


I also did not realize you all are “embedded” at Fair Haven this year, and I consider myself a regular reader! Perhaps a little 1-3 sentence preface could be included at the beginning of each piece??

Great story, btw.

[Ed:Thanks for the suggestion. At the end of each story we do list links to all the stories from the series about about the school.]

posted by: Radimom on February 17, 2014  6:20pm

So, if NH Promise is in its third year (I don’t quite remember) maybe 60 HIspanic scholars are supported for the class of 2013?  This would mean 60 out of the 1000 who graduated, tops.  It’s a great thing for them but if 40 percent of the class is Hispanic (just a guess) that’s just barely over 10 percent of the Hispanic graduating class that is being supported.  New Haven Promise and New Haven students, need to do better than that.