Research to help change behaviors and impressions about city students and schools

Survey participants make their presentation.
Survey participants make their presentation.

Erick Carrion, who arrived at New London High School from Puerto Rico as a junior, wanted people to know what it feels like to take a test in a language they barely know.

During a recent presentation to the community on a participatory research project, Carrion handed out a test written in Spanish. He collected the tests, which he called the C.R.A.P.T. Practice Test and read off the scores. Few of the 50 or so people in the audience did very well.

"I wanted to make you feel the way I felt when I took the CAPT test,'' said Carrion, who failed the test and was told he could not graduate until he passed. "I didn't know the language but I had to take the test."

Carrion, who continued to learn English and graduated in 2010 from New London High School, was one of 10 current and former students who spent five weeks this summer working for New London Youth Affairs on a project called "Hearing Youth Voices."

They contacted other teens in the community - enticed them with pizza, doughnuts and ice cream - and interviewed them about their perceptions of school. Some were students, some had already graduated and some felt they were "pushed out."

The results of the participatory action research project in which students asked questions and analyzed the data were presented at the public library. The forum included skits, poems and a PowerPoint presentation.

"We want to help change the opinions of adults about our schools,'' said Sheila Cortez, one of the students. "It's not our fault New London is not the best school. It's not the teachers fault either."

Forty-one youngsters - 18 Latino, 12 blacks, four whites, one American Indian and six of mixed race - were interviewed for the project. The student researchers discovered that 54 percent of the students had positive interaction with some teachers and 80 percent reported negative interactions with teachers.

Eighty percent said they faced serious life struggles outside of school; 51 percent said they believed, at times, they were discriminated against; and 100 percent said they believed students at the Science & Technology Magnet High School were treated better than those at New London High School.

"Our project challenged the idea that experts are only on an (college) academic campus,'' said Laura Burfoot, a 1999 NLHS graduate and a member of a collaborative team of three that directed the project.

"We are here because we want to be heard. We are here because we care,'' said Chelsea Cleveland, class of 2007.

The third member of the team was Ranita Ray, who is working on a doctorate in sociology at the University of Connecticut.

Following the presentation, Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Fischer said he would like to meet with the students to discuss their findings. And Jeanne Sigel, marketing and development director at the Garde Arts Center said she would like to see the group make a presentation at the Garde.

"You have our attention,'' she said "We need to take your message to a bigger audience."

The group is also looking for money to offset the cost of the summer program and for future events. Tax deductible donations can be made to the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, 174 State St., P.O. Box 769, New London, CT 06320.

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