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"Hearing Youth Voices" Outlines Student Concerns With New London Public Schools

Youth researchers share findings at forum at the Public Library of New London

One of the first things attendees received at a Hearing Youth Voices forum on Monday was an exam dubbed the CRAPT Test. A play on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, the exam offered a few questions on vocabulary and writing comprehension—all in Spanish.

Erick Carrion, a graduate, collected the papers and announced that most people who attempted the CRAPT Test failed miserably. The purpose of the exercise, he explained, was to demonstrate the difficulties experienced by students who take the CAPT while still learning the English language.

This presentation was one of several offered at the forum, which discussed the findings of 10 youth researchers. The group, made up of current and former New London students ages 14 to 19, interviewed 41 students and alumni at NLHS and the to find out what issues the students believe are most pressing in the .

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Chelsea Cleveland, who has helped oversee the group, said Hearing Youth Voices intends to include more youth input in matters regarding the district.

“We’ve heard complaints, but we’ve also heard really good things about the New London school system,” she said.

The students interviewed brought up concerns on a number of subjects, including racism, sexism, teacher favoritism, and the achievement gap. Although 54 percent of those interviewed said they had a positive relationship with some teachers, 80 percent reported a negative relationship with some teachers. Fifty-one percent said they had seen teachers use favoritism, often towards athletes or magnet school students. Some students said this led to a sense of inferiority.

The presentation by Hearing Youth Voices explained the findings, but also expressed the concerns in creative ways. These included poems and skits using dialogue collected from real student experiences. In one sketch, a teacher clashes with students and hopes to be assigned a class of students from the magnet school. In another, the teacher refuses to allow a student learning English to speak Spanish and says he should return to his country if he wants to speak it.

“Our goals are to change the way adults think about us and improve the schools for New London students,” said researcher Yanitza Cubilette.

Another researcher, Genesis Cubilette, gave an informational presentation critical of the No Child Left Behind Act. She said curriculum has transitioned to preparing for standardized tests and led to a “push out” policy where students who are performing poorly are forced out of school rather than assisted.

“In the end it’s only for the title and the money, because students aren’t being helped,” she said.

Laura Burfoot and Cleveland, both alumni of New London Public Schools, formed the group with doctoral student Ranita Ray after discussing how to involve youth in school policies. They did some fundraising through the to support the activities, while the and Work For It teen employment program hired the researchers. donated its space and supplies to assist the project.

This is the first year Hearing Youth Voices has contributed such data, but it plans on continuing its work.

“We consider this only the beginning, and as a group we have to decide which direction we want to continue in,” said Burfoot.

Researcher Tiyana Brown said she would like to continue the work, since she believes there are numerous other issues that can be addressed. Carrion said these include the continued as well as the lack of a theater program despite the school’s newly renovated auditorium.

Margaret Curtin, a member of the Board of Education, suggested that the group should present its findings to the school administration as well as the City Council.

“We certainly support you,” said Curtin. “We certainly don’t think New London High School is a dumb school.”

Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of New London Public Schools, offered to meet with the group to discuss future activities.

“Whenever you want to get together in my office, we can get together and talk about possibilities,” he said.

Hearing Youth Voices will make another presentation today at 2:30 p.m. at the .

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Clark van der Lyke August 14, 2012 at 11:59 AM
I bet tests in English are hard for kids that speak any language except English and don't need to have a forum to conclude that. Teachers favor certain students...really? As I get older one of the most common of experiences is how we continue to approach the same old ideas and experiences as if they were something new for that generation. They are new to the revolving forums and study groups , but not to many of us old fogies. What comes around has been around and there is little new earth being turned. Except cell phones, that was new. People having to learn English is not a new idea nor a new problem. Somehow all previous generations of Italian, Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Polish, Russian, Syrian, Greek....students got over it without dual language classes, books, tutors, dual signage (telephone-telephono) and an excess of related teacher employment producing programs. I always admired one of my daughter's classmates who spoke only Italian when she entered the 3rd grade at St. Joseph School. She learned how to ask to go to the girl's room by the end of the first day and I swear spoke fluent English in a month. Her only dual language exposure was at home.
David Irons August 14, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Clark, I find much to agree on with you in this subject. One has to wonder how some of the famous people of our nation's history ever survived, let alone flourished, without the help of dual language programs and signs, forms in multiple languages, court interpreters and all of the extras that we pay for today with our taxes.
Regina Nicholson August 14, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Clark, Hearing Youth Voices will make another presentation today at 2:30 p.m. at the Public Library of New London. This is something you should consider attending, then maybe you would have greater insight into what was researched and shared and less negativity to spread. Applause to the group of young people who put this program together. Bringing matters to the forefront is what will get them addressed, do not let the voices of discontent and misunderstanding stand in the way of your success.
Laurie Gorham August 15, 2012 at 06:46 PM
HUGE cudos to Hearing Voices and to Laura and company for organizing this! The NLPS school district could do much more in involving youth in policy-making. This will help them do that. I'm interesting in hearing more about the youths' perception of racism and sexism. Did anyone videotape the presentation?

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