August 12, 2005
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
Kids hanging out together, laughing and telling jokes - it's a
typical snapshot of what many teenagers do during their summer
vacation. But some Hartford Public High School students have discovered
that solving word problems, writing their life stories and thinking
about their futures can be fun too, through a free academic enrichment
program offered right in their own neighborhood.
The students, about 30 in all, are participants in the Crossroads Cooperative
Learning program, a three-week session led by teachers from Westminster
School in Simsbury. But instead of traveling to Simsbury to improve their
math, writing and science skills, the Hartford students meet at Immanuel
Congregational Church, a few blocks from Hartford Public, in the Asylum
"These kids are so great. They deserve the same opportunities as
the kids that go to our school," said program director Todd L. Eckerson,
who started Crossroads in 2001.
The goal of Crossroads is to help the Hartford students graduate from
their high school and create a plan for after graduation that includes
college or employment. Crossroads is supported financially by Westminster
and Immanuel as well as the Barnes, Edward E. Ford and Salmon foundations.
In addition to the summer sessions, Eckerson visits Hartford Public three
times a week during the school year, meeting with the students and their
teachers and recruiting new participants. He and other Crossroads teachers
also visit the students' homes to get to know family members. Most of the
students involved hear about the program from their siblings, friends,
coaches or teachers, Eckerson said.
"The program is very flexible," he said of the summer session,
which encourages but does not require consistent participation. "It's
more for enrichment."
After a hot breakfast and time to socialize, the students gathered Thursday
for a group discussion on what they have accomplished so far. Compliments
flew, not only from Eckerson and the other Westminster teachers, but from
the students themselves, who are quick to point out positive things about
themselves and their friends.
"Most of my friends are here," said 18-year-old Luis Padilla,
who will be a senior this September. "Most of us got each other involved.
They kept saying how good it was and it was fun."
Padilla has been busy working on his
college application essay, a creative piece about himself, he said. The
teachers in the Crossroads program told him to make his essay compelling,
to write it so it "jumps off the
page," he said.
"Mine will be about how when I started high school, I slacked off," Padilla
said. "And it was my wrestling coach that got me more involved and
into this program."
Sixteen-year-old Angielee Burgos has been a Crossroads participant for
two years. She likes to come, she said, because she meets new people, while
getting extra help for school.
"We learn more things that we haven't done before," said Burgos,
who hopes for a career in catering. "We learn more about SATs and
what you need to pass them."
In addition to schoolwork, the students meet with a guidance counselor
to discuss education and career options. They also have access to Naviance,
a college preparatory software program that is linked to their own guidance
department at Hartford Public. The computer program enables the students
to create their own profiles and link with college websites. It also allows
the guidance counselors from Hartford Public to track the students' progress
because they can access the profiles online at any time, Eckerson said.
"The collaboration with Todd Eckerson and Westminster School is phenomenal," said
Richard Serrano, a career coordinator at Hartford Public. "We have
300 students that are graduating; it's very difficult to give them
that one-on-one attention. Todd had been great in providing support to
Crossroads has had good success so far. Ninety-seven percent of the students
who joined Crossroads in 2001 will go on to attend two- or four-year colleges
this year, Eckerson said. In addition, two of the Crossroads students (who
graduated from Hartford Public this year) have received financial aid scholarships
so they can attend a year at a Connecticut prep school before taking the
SAT and applying to colleges.
"It's all about having a plan," Eckerson said. "Our
goal is to keep kids in school."
For information on Crossroads, call 860-408-3048.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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