June 18, 2005
By REGINE LABOSSIERE, Courant Staff Writer
Tennille Cintron was asked last August if she'd like to take
her daughter out of the Hartford school system and place her
in Ellington schools.
Cintron, 28, who lives in Hartford's
South End with her husband and their children, had been looking
for a way to send her 7-year-old daughter, Jada Lewis, to school
outside the city. Jada was having trouble reading, and even though
Cintron spent time with her at night reading, Jada was still
lagging. In Hartford schools, "There's
so many kids and not enough teachers and not enough resources," Cintron
"Of course I said `yes,'" she said. "It was like a
miracle to me."
So Jada became a member of Ellington's first class of Open Choice
students, who finish their first year of classes on Monday.
Ellington is the most recent town in Greater Hartford to join
the decades-old program. Open Choice, formerly called Project Concern,
is a voluntary desegregation program that allows Hartford parents
to enroll their children in suburban schools.
There are six Hartford students at Center School and five at Windermere
Just about everyone involved, from parents and the superintendent
to the program coordinator, says the program has been extremely
"It's gone very smoothly right from the beginning," said
Superintendent Richard Packman, who initiated bringing the program
The board of education agreed to take part in Open Choice years
ago, but a lack of space prevented it from doing so. The board
decided last year it would have enough room.
"I'm still very excited about Ellington opening up their
doors to us. They've been exceptionally receptive," said Nessa
Oram, Open Choice program director at the Capitol Region Education
Oram said that the program buses more than 800 students from Hartford
to 28 of 35 towns in the capital region. CREC is looking at Portland
and Hebron as future possibilities. She said that CREC probably
wouldn't be able to bring Hartford students to many more towns
because state statistics show that other towns are sufficiently
Cintron and other parents said they were happy to have their children
participate, but adult worries entered their minds. Would their
children be able to wake up by 7 a.m. and handle the 45-minute
bus ride? Would students of Ellington, known as a homogenous community,
cause problems for their minority children? Would their children
be able to adapt from being a majority in Hartford to looking like
almost no one else in the new town?
Catrina Wright, 32, said she
was "totally relieved" when
she was told that her daughter, Jazz-Min Murphy, now 8, could attend
Windermere. But Wright still wondered how Ellington folks would
perceive her daughter, she said, hinting at possible racism. "I'm
being realistic. It can happen."
Wright said that her daughter was shy the first weeks of school
and thinks that her shyness had more to do with skin color than
just first-day nerves.
"I think she has opened up and warmed up," Wright said. "I
do believe she was uncomfortable. Anyone would be uncomfortable."
Not every parent had the same concerns. Herself a product of Project
Concern, Tameka Woolcock, 26, had no worries about sending her
6-year-old son, Kristopher Beasley, on a bus to Ellington.
"All that race stuff, I don't have time for it," Woolcock
said. Children "don't notice it unless you point it out. By
them starting so young, that's not Kris the outsider. It's just
School officials agreed. Center School Principal Carole Schloss
and Windermere School Principal Frank Milbury said they've made
sure that the new students were treated the same way any other
student would be treated. But Schloss and Milbury have their own
methods. Schloss is known for her mothering personality.
"She's always seeing me," Kristopher said about Schloss,
who admittedly adores him. "She sees me and she goes like,
`Is that Kristopher? Come over here!'"
"They have just acclimated beautifully," Schloss said. "They're
Center School kids, and everybody sees them that way. ... I think
we feel very proud that they have acclimated to our school and
to our community with no major problems whatsoever."
Milbury is known for getting down to business. He said that any student who comes
to his school comes to work, regardless of ethnic or geographic background.
"These kids come in here and do a good job. There's no nonsense,
and I think that they are learning," Milbury said. "Every
one of these kids has made progress."
Woolcock knew that sending her son to Ellington would be better
for him. He has septo-optic dysplasia, which impairs his vision
and affects the way Kristopher learns. Woolcock said the special
learning programs Ellington offers have changed the way he learns
and have made him more confident.
"The school is just excellent. They keep on top of everything," Woolcock
said. "He started way behind everyone else, and now he's with
Cintron said she's impressed with the work Jada has done in the
past year and is even more impressed that Jada often reads for
fun now when she didn't used to.
"I want more books," Jada said. "I
like the work we do. ... I'm just happy."
Wright said that Jazz-Min also has benefited by attending Windermere.
Jazz-Min even said that she wants to move there to spend more time
with the friends she's made during the school year.
Having a network of Ellington families linked with Hartford families
would benefit the students, parents and school officials said.
Students would be able to stay in Ellington more often and go home
with an Ellington student until the parent can come.
Schloss had appointed Center School mom Jennifer Barone as leader
of that network, but the plan didn't go as smoothly as they had
"Our thought was that we could match family with family," Barone
said. "Because kids are so young, it just didn't quite happen.
We're going to try it again next year."
The average cost of the program is $8,952 per child, Packman said.
The Open Choice program and state grants help pay for the students.
Packman emphasized that the program comes at no additional cost
to Ellington because teachers and running the schools already are
paid for. Packman said that the district would receive four new
students next year, making 15 Open Choice students in Ellington.
Minus a few early jitters and minor quirks, the students are comfortable.
To some parents, that's all that matters.
"When we're on vacation, he's eager to go back," Woolcock
said of her son. "If he's sick, he wants to go back. So that
tells me something. You know how most kids say, `I want to stay
home today'? Never, ever, ever."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at