June 7, 2007
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer
After several months of lectures, classes and discussions about everything from the Connecticut River to making the right choices in life, 40 seventh- and eighth-graders involved in Riverfront Recapture's new river steward program did what you would expect.
They went fishing.
The students from Breakthrough Magnet School also took part in team-building and problem-solving activities, played soccer and football and ate pizza Wednesday to celebrate their participation in "A Reel Chance."
"I thought it would be fun," said eighth-grader Mare Garcia, "but it turned out even better than I thought."
Mare and her classmates learned about native history on the river, raised salmon to release into the water, were introduced to the basics of fishing and discovered what happens to the water they use in their homes before it goes to New England's biggest river.
They also learned about how bomb-sniffing and police dogs do their jobs, as well as how crime-scene investigators find fingerprints and solve crimes. And they listened as a former gang member told them about the personal cost of 10 years of prison time and how to learn to make better choices.
For Craig Mergins, creator and coordinator of the program, the environment, career opportunities, friendly introduction to police and straight talk about the importance and consequences of choices were at the heart of "A Reel Chance."
"You hope when they walk away from this program they remember some of these things," said Mergins, who is director of programs and operations for Riverfront Recapture. The program is sponsored by Citizens Bank.
Maritza Soto-Gomez is a social worker at Breakthrough Magnet, a K-8 school in the neighborhood where the former Charter Oak housing complex stood. Soto-Gomez said Wednesday that the program helps reinforce the school's message to its students that they need to be responsible young people outside of the classroom.
"Character education is important. That's why this program is successful," Soto-Gomez said. "We want to challenge the kids to stop and think about solutions and outcomes."
Soto-Gomez said the students and the parents involved in the project began to look forward to each new segment and that sixth-graders are already excited about the prospect of participating next school year.
"This program definitely has a place in our school," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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