At Hartford's Journalism and Media School, A Call For Students To Enroll
High School To Reopen In Renovated Tower Ave. Building
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
July 16, 2013
HARTFORD — The "On Air" signs are turned on inside the new Journalism and Media Magnet Academy on Tower Avenue.
Steps away from the high school's soaring entrance is a TV studio with a bright lime green screen, awaiting cameras and engineering equipment. Across the hall is a radio station, and nearby is a screening room for student presentations.
The $37.45 million renovation and expansion of the former Barbour School building is a month from being completed. Crews from Newfield Construction, still hammering away last week, are expected to remain on site until Aug. 15, the last scheduled day of construction.
But just how many Weaver High School students will decide to attend the academy, in its new location in the city's North End, when classes begin Aug. 27? That's unclear.
Principal Leonard Epps said enrollment is "in flux." He did not give an estimate.
"Those who have been accepted but have not made a decision yet — this is the place to be," Epps said in an open pitch to city families. "It's exciting, it's new. New leadership, new opportunities. We don't want them to miss out."
About 200 Hartford students attended the Journalism and Media Academy at Weaver last school year. With the move to Tower Avenue, the school will no longer be part of Weaver's academic program, although students can still play for Weaver sports teams.
Educators indicated there is some tension in the North End over splitting from Weaver, which is expected to undergo a $100 million renovation beginning within the next two years.
"I think some people are skeptical about the Tower Avenue location," said Kellie Wagner, the school's magnet theme coach who was previously an English teacher and newspaper adviser at Weaver. There are "concerns over leaving Weaver, but we're not — we're building on a tradition."
The new tradition will include suburban students. Under an agreement between the state, plaintiffs in the Sheff vs. O'Neill desegregation case and the Hartford school system, the academy will have available 180 magnet seats for incoming freshman this 2013-14 school year, including 90 for suburban students.
By 2016-17, the magnet seats will expand to 12th grade. Total enrollment would be 400 students.
In addition, through a partnership with Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, 12th-graders will spend their senior year in the newly constructed $3.5 million Learning Lab at the network's Asylum Avenue headquarters. That arrangement begins this coming school year.
Epps, 45, was principal-in-residence at Hartford Public High School's Law and Government Academy before his appointment last month as JMMA's principal. But he started his Hartford career at Weaver High School, where he taught social studies for 18 years.
"I'm going to have children of children that I have taught" at Weaver, Epps said. "It's a new building, but all those connections over the years are still going to come into play ... The people are still part of the school."
One of the first features that Weaver journalism students might notice at their new school is the abundance of natural light. The main entrance features floor-to-ceiling windows, and classrooms and stairwells throughout the Tower Avenue building also have large windows.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has described Weaver as prison-like for its lack of windows. Classes are held in what seems like a bunker.
Last Thursday, Donna Sodipo, CPBN's director of education services, joined Wagner and a small group of staffers who toured the facility for the first time.
"Students will really appreciate this," said Sodipo, standing near the media center on the third floor. "A learning center like this strengthens intellectual curiosity."
Sodipo and Wagner hope incoming ninth- and 10th-graders will attend the school's summer bridge program that begins July 23 and ends Aug. 2. Only a "handful" have committed to the half-day sessions at CPBN, where work will include public service announcements, video projects and team-building, Wagner said. The goal is for 50 students to sign up.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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