Category: Blog

The People Who Do the Work: The Students We Invest In to Get Us Results

When Grecia Zaldivar moved to Hartford from Lima, Peru her freshman year of high school, nearly all her teachers were native Spanish speakers and taught classes in Spanish, regardless of subject matter. Bulkeley High School teachers gave non-native English speakers simplified assignments, such as drawing a picture about what a book meant, rather than writing a paper, Grecia says. 

“I saw that didn’t make us learn. That was easy homework. I didn’t like being in those classes,” she says, because it made it difficult for her to learn and improve her new language. “I couldn’t practice my English.” 

Most of her classmates knew little English. By her junior year, she asked her guidance counselor to place her in classes where teachers only spoke English. Her advisor warned her that classes would be difficult. 

“I said, ‘Yes, I know. I want to learn English. I need to learn English,’ ” she says. She knew she could do the work as long as she could learn English. She tutored math her junior and senior years of high school to students who were non-native English speakers.  

“Some teachers, they thought because we only speak Spanish, we’re not capable of doing harder work,” says Grecia, a senior at Central Connecticut State University and a peer mentor to freshmen with last fall’s ALL IN! Coalition Campus Retention program.  

By her senior year of high school, she took AP classes in order to be with students whose first language was English so she could really practice and improve her English. Thanks to her high school English teacher who told her about how to apply for scholarships and financial aid through FAFSA, Grecia, a Hartford Promise Scholar, paid for her first year at Central with scholarships and need-based financial aid. 

Still learning English, her first year at Central was really hard, she says.  Despite using Google translate, she didn’t always understand the assignment, she says. “I was always in the learning center and going to my professors’ office hours.” Her persistence paid off. She made the Dean’s List all her semesters and the President’s List after earning all A’s her sophomore year and on.  

She’s majoring in psychology with minors in business and theater. She had enough credits to graduate this spring, but chose to continue for another semester in order to complete the theater minor she started in her senior year.  

“I loved my acting classes and movement classes. Those classes, they used to make my day,” she says. They helped her open up and be less shy, she says. And, after researching potential careers that combine her interests, she says, she learned she could take her love of psychology and acting to become a drama therapist, but she would need at least a theater minor to get into a graduate program with that focus.  

Grecia has drawn on her own challenges and experiences to help others in her role as a Resident Advisor on campus at Central and as a peer mentor within last fall’s Campus Retention program.  When mentoring one of the freshmen last fall, she advised a mentee who struggled with shyness to take an acting class. Her mentee said it helped with her nervousness and with public speaking.

Grecia  has used her life experience to  help others, and while she became a mentor out of a desire to serve, she’s learned about herself as well.  “I felt like, maybe I’m making an impact on them,” she says. “I’d like to do this as my career, maybe be a psychologist at a high school or college.” 

Indeed, it seems that the biggest asset we have in our city just may be the students themselves. We plan to invest in them more. 


How Lincoln Financial Actuaries are Supporting Student Achievement in Hartford

What if there was a way to analyze what prevents students from persisting to high school graduation and to a successful college experience?  And what if educators could put interventions in place to give students timely, targeted support to increase the likelihood that they’ll complete college?

A new collaborative effort between Hartford Public Schools (HPS), and the ALL IN! coalition is designed to do just that with the help of Lincoln Financial Group.

Through the initiative, actuaries from Lincoln will analyze student data from two sources: the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) and HPS data spanning from 2009-2016. U.S. colleges and universities submit data to NSC about students who enroll, attend and graduate. (Note: The data provided to Lincoln was carefully reviewed by Hartford Public Schools to remove any information that could lead to identifying a particular student.)

Coalition members already know that some students accepted to college don’t even start and that others who start don’t graduate. The ALL IN! coalition launched a program last summer to prevent ‘summer melt’ – when students who plan to attend a college don’t start in the fall because they can’t afford a fee, miss a deadline or face some other obstacle.

“Every school district in Connecticut sends their graduating class data to the NSC and the clearinghouse issues reports back to the district. The reports detail, in aggregate, how many students are attending each of the potential higher education options – two- or four-year, part-time or full-time, private or public, in-state or out-of-state – and whether they entered college within 24 months of high school graduation,” says Martin Estey, executive director of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education. “The problem is that nobody has analyzed these reports to spot trends and patterns that might serve as clues to which path is most likely to end in success for Hartford schools’ graduates.”

In 2012, Estey suggested that those working together for students’ success apply some high-level data analytics expertise to the clearinghouse spreadsheets, add some data points that aren’t included in the reports, and analyze the numbers to see what they forecast.

“Connecticut has the highest concentration of actuaries in the country – many right here in Hartford,” said Estey.  These are professionals who analyze risks and the likelihood of future events.  Why can’t we apply some of that type of analysis and talent towards understanding student behaviors when they leave high school?” he says. “When approached with this project, Lincoln’s actuaries spoke up right away.  They were willing to donate extremely valuable expertise to this effort.”

The Work Begins

Hartford Public Schools has transferred data to Lincoln Financial and it’s expected to take to school year end for a team of four actuaries to analyze the data and create a predictive model.  Once a predictive model is completed, the Lincoln actuaries will meet with the HPS subject matter experts to help them understand the data for their future use.

“Lincoln Financial is committed to helping children reach their greatest potential by providing support for educational programs that impact academic achievement.” said Marlene Ferreira, regional director- Community and Foundation Relations, Lincoln Financial Foundation.  “We are very excited to be providing skilled volunteers for this initiative to unleash the power of predictive analytics to identify the factors of academic and post-graduation success.

Paul Diego Holzer, executive director of Achieve Hartford! added, “This kind of partnership work is not common – it’s ground breaking. Hartford is one of only a handful of cities looking at data the way we plan to look at in the coming months.”

Kathleen England, former chief academic officer, Hartford Public Schools, commented, “The predictive model will help us point to which aspects are really impacting our students in whether they attain college enrollment.  This data has the potential to help the district better match students with universities, colleges or advanced certification programs that are the best fit for them.  I think it’s a really good example of different stakeholders being able to collaborate and come out with something we feel will be really powerful for our students and families.”


New Agreements Give Big Boost to Eliminate Summer Melt: A Summer Transition Team Update

The unofficial start to summer has begun, and with that, the official start to an often-overlooked phenomenon of “summer melt” – a surprisingly common occurrence when college intending Hartford students – those who graduated, completed SAT’s and college applications, got accepted – ultimately fail to show up on campus in the fall. Hartford students who have overcome significant hurdles to graduate high school find this next leg of the race particularly difficult to transcend.

First generation students, especially those from urban settings like Hartford, tend to lack support networks to help them through the often-frustrating process of enrolling in college. School counselors aren’t available over the summer, relatively few family members have been to college, peer pressure from friends who are not college-bound, and the allure of paychecks from jobs over the summer can all actively discourage them from that final step in the college matriculation process.

Promisingly, interventions like the “summer melt initiative” launched by the ALL IN! coalition have shown progress in increasing the number of students who enroll.  Efforts to mitigate attrition among college-intending high school graduates — which include phone calls, text messages and personalized email reminders from outreach specialists – can be what inevitably makes them successful in navigating this transition.

Now in its third year, the summer transition program is getting a major boost of additional resources to support more Hartford graduates.  Three higher ed institutions have signed MOU’s with the coalition to provide the list of Hartford students who have applied and were accepted, simplifying and standardizing the process of connecting directly to the right students. The schools include Manchester Community College, Capital Community College, and Central Connecticut State University.

In previous years, students have been nominated for the Summer Melt action team (now referred to as Summer Transition) by their school counselors, based on the criteria that they have been accepted to college, are not in any other summer program, and seem at risk for not actually enrolling for the fall.

With an accurate list from the higher ed institutions, outreach specialists can focus their efforts on connecting more graduates to the colleges they planned to attend with greater efficiency.

So, over the next few weeks many of us will attend high school graduations, celebrating the achievements of those who worked hard to achieve the dream of maybe being the first in their family to go to college, let’s remember those Hartford students who will need a little extra support over the summer to fully realize these important dreams.


Developing the Talent of the Future: Can a Work-Based Learning Network be the Answer?

It’s a pressing conversation growing in urgency in Hartford and across Connecticut, as more employers seek ways to create the robust talent pipeline needed to fill vacant positions.

One promising talent development strategy involves educators, community-based organizations, and employers collaborating to create better and more opportunities for high school students to engage in work-based learning — an integration of classroom training with real-world work experiences. Developing quality activities that link work and learning helps ensure students have the skills and key training they need to compete in post-secondary education and the workforce.

While pockets of work-based learning opportunities exist for Hartford students, the experiences for both students and employers are sometimes disparate, disconnected, and disappointing for both.

Some employers have expressed concern about students who lack the necessary work readiness skills and some students note the employer’s lack of capacity to create meaningful job tasks that build career skills. Additionally, students don’t always see the connections from classroom to work.

A Network Can Help

To build city-wide collective action around work-based learning for students, the ALL IN! Coalition and Capital Workforce Partners convened the Work-Based Learning Network first with those community-based providers in charge of placing and supporting students in internships. The first members to join include:

  • Blue Hills Civic Association
  • Center for Latino Progress
  • Jr. Apprentice
  • OPP
  • City of Hartford
  • CBIA
  • CRT
  • Hartford Public Schools

Members got to work discussing a set of uniform competencies that all could agree will help ensure foundational skills are built across all work-based learning activities.  Now, nearing completion is the toolkit for providers, schools and employers that lays out those competencies and how to assess them, to be piloted this summer through the Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program (SYELP).

Developing the talent of the future and closing equity gaps for Hartford students will depend on strong work-based learning programming that can help students not only identify a career path but be ready to pursue it through post-secondary education and training. Ultimately, it’s how we will achieve a thriving regional economy and better communities for all.

We look forward to sharing more about this work as it develops and encourage our partners and colleagues to join us.


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