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An Education In Social Justice

August 30, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

Waynette Arnum just couldn't stop herself from gushing as she surveyed students at the new Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford quietly eating lunch Monday alongside Capital Community College students.

But when she made the mistake of trying to speak with her daughter - eighth-grader Breonna Arnum - the mortified child jokingly appealed to a security guard to please remove her embarrassing relative from the premises.

Waynette Arnum of Manchester wasn't the only mother who had trouble going home on opening day at the new magnet school. Kathleen Pilcher of Hartford dropped by Principal Stephen Perry's office to say her son's uniform - a striped tie and blue blazer with the school's emblem - hadn't arrived yet.

On her way out of his office, she announced her intention to go exploring: "I'm just going to peek around."

What the parents saw were quiet classrooms, 230 children in grades 6-12 looking sharp in classic prep school uniforms and a collection of some of the most popular and experienced teachers who transferred from other Hartford schools.

The school, which includes students from Hartford and suburban towns, focuses on a theme of social justice and features a longer school day - 8:30 a.m. until 3:21 p.m., plus mandatory activities. It also has a longer school year, including classes in July.

The rest of Hartford's schools are not opening until the day after Labor Day. But Capital Prep's upperclassmen are eligible to enroll in college courses, so the school times its schedule closely with the college's. There is no tuition charge, but enrollment in the classes is dependent on space availability.

The student body includes Jazzmin Sheff, the granddaughter of Councilwoman Elizabeth Horton-Sheff. Horton-Sheff is the mother of Milo Sheff, the plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit against the state that resulted in a court order to desegregate Hartford schools. Magnet schools are the state's main solution for desegregation.

Jazzmin Sheff, a junior at the school, is taking music history and art history as her first college courses. Sheff transferred from Bloomfield High School, she said, because she likes the school's theme concentrating on social justice.

The theme will be infused through the entire curriculum. In math class, for example, when students study probability, one exercise will use a jar of jellybeans. The colors of the candies will reflect the nation's major races in the ratio that they exist in the population.

Students will then pull jellybeans from the jar to see the probability of each race being sent to war as soldiers. They will then compare those numbers with actual statistics, said Scott Kapralos, a math teacher who is helping to write the curriculum.

"Students will learn that what appears random is sometimes something larger, and they will be architects of solutions," Perry said.

As students study fractions, they will keep diaries to record how they spend their time and determine what fraction of their time is spent sleeping, what fraction is composed of study or work or helping their families with babysitting or other chores.

"The first step to being a just citizen is knowing who you are," Kapralos said.

Senior projects will be the jewel in the curriculum. Each senior will be given a budget, and underclassmen will be assigned to help them with their projects.

Perry, a social worker, told his students that he expects them to sit at attention when they are in class and to focus their eyes on whoever is speaking. Some of them may not make it through the school, he told them, and those who aren't wedded to learning should do their peers a favor by not distracting them.

"These children are competing for the same spots in college as kids from Choate or Kingswood-Oxford. We will prepare them to compete," Perry said. "We will teach the children the habits of effective learning."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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