Step Up New London plans relaunch
New London― Trina Charles, the new executive director of Step Up New London, said she grew up during a time when neighbors, family friends and acquaintances didn’t seem to have a problem speaking up about someone else’s child.
“If you did something wrong and your parents were not around, they would get on you and let you know,” Charles said.
The 48-year-old mother of three and grandmother to one says some of that “it takes a village” mentality has been lost through the years with families becoming more isolated and in some ways less involved.
It’s part of the reason she became involved with Step Up New London in 2020, first as a community organizer and later as co-director. She transitioned into the role as executive director in June with the departure of Step Up New London founder and co-director Meagan Parrott.
Charles said she remains focused on activism, advocacy and making a difference in the community by boosting the visibility of the organization and gaining new members.
Step Up New London was formed in 2017 and community building is the cornerstone of the Black-led organization. The focus of the group is advocating on behalf of Black and brown families for an equitable and just education system. It’s also more than just education, Charles said.
“We’re starting to move into a lot more community-based programs primarily because when you think of education, children, home life and education go hand-in-hand. In order for our children to perform well in schools, you have to have that support,” Charles said.
As a result, Step Up New London, which already hosts an ongoing series of workshops and forums, is partnering with other local organizations on topics such as food and transportation assistance programs.
The group is exploring the idea of a tuition assistance program to help pay for things such as music or art lessons for children and teens. A trip is being planned to Washington D.C., to visit the National Museum of African American History & Culture. A Step Up New London relaunch block party will be held from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 15 at Williams Park.
In the past, the group has held forums on finances, community organizing and undoing racism. It recently held a forum on home ownership.
During a recent meeting at the group’s headquarters at the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) building at 106 Truman St., Charles discussed future plans and some of the reasons she feels there is a need to get families more involved. She was joined by community organizers Vicky Torres, Orrieon Cowes and Regina Mosley.
Involvement in the community is second nature for her, Charles said, having had her grandparents, Irene and Wade Hyslop Sr., as role models. She said they were the kind of people who focused on community involvement and said you don’t have to be rich to be able to give back.
Charles, who grew up in Norwich and now lives in New London, previously spent seven years as a paraprofessional working with special needs students at Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School, an elementary school in New London, where she also served as head of the school’s parent teacher organization. Her time in the New London Public Schools, is where she said she learned that some families had problems having their issues addressed.
Acting on behalf of families, Step Up New London presented a petition with several hundred names to the Board of Education earlier this year calling for the removal of School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie and a group of top school administrators.
“We are asking for a complete reconstruction of Central Office,” the petition reads.
Step Up New London called for things like mandatory anti-racism and de-escalation training for staff and better parent engagement.
Charles said the petition came at the request of parents frustrated with the lack of outreach and communication from the schools. Said the presence of Ritchie and the administrators was not being felt in the community. Parents, Charles said, also want to see more diversity in the school leadership.
“You need to be connected with the community and have a rapport. Central office should be as diverse as the community it serves,” Charles said.
“This isn’t us trying to bash the New London Public Schools or the administration,” Charles said of the petition. “What we’re trying to do is bridge the gap between the administration and the community. We’re advocating for the people of the community.”
Board of Education President Elaine Maynard Adams said the school board accepted the petition but cannot address any specific concerns about a situation without details, which were not provided as part of the petition.
“We are aware that not everybody’s family’s experiences in New London Public Schools is a positive one. We are doing everything we can to change that,” Maynard-Adams said.
She said the schools sponsors dozens of family engagement events. The school board, she said, urges families to come into the schools and talk to teachers. She said those with issues should be able to find a resolution.
The Board of Education, she said, hired Ritchie and has been happy with the work she’s done in the district. Hiring and firing administrators is not in the purview of the school board, she said.
Ritchie, in an email, listed the host of family and staff events that ran throughout the summer and said the district held more than 60 events for the school community last school year.
“We continue to reflect on what we have seen and learned through our efforts and are determined to further grow these opportunities to provide even more events this coming school year,” RItchie said.
The school also has a full-time Parent Engagement and Empowerment Coordinator and Parent Ambassadors in each school “who help co-plan and co-lead engagement events and they work to empower families to co-support students’ growth and achievements,” Ritchie said.
“Family and Community Partnerships continue to be a priority as we believe in the power of teamwork and appreciate others rising to support the success of all,” she said.
Regina Mosley, a community organizer for Step Up New London is the former president of the Board of Education who decided not to run for reelection in the last election.
“For me it was more just the advocacy perspective,” she said of her involvement in Step Up New London.
She said Step Up New London is teaching people how to advocate for themselves and is hosting forums on topics such as understanding racism and systemic racism.
“It’s important that parents understand that their voices are important and their voices matter. Step Up New London is able to kind of have them find that voice and fosters and encourages their empowerment,” Mosley said.
“We’re trying to let people know you’re voice is your power and you have to use it. So, I think that is why pretty much all of us are here. We don’t know we have power until someone reminds us,” she said.
Step Up New London, which is funded through A Better Way Foundation, is located at 106 Truman St. For more information visit www.stepupnewlondon.com, call 860-287-0311 or visit them on Facebook.