October 6 , 2004
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB , Hartford Courant Staff Writer
A half-dozen Bulkeley High School students who either dropped out in the past or consistently skipped school and failed classes pleaded Tuesday for the survival of the afternoon high school that they say they love.
Sophomore Janet Rosario, 17, dropped out of school and ran with troublemakers before she enrolled in the afternoon school. She told Hartford school board members Tuesday night that the afternoon school has turned her life around.
"Now it's different. I stay in my house all day and then I go to school. When I go home, it's late so I go home and do my homework,'' Rosario said. "I go to school and that's a miracle.''
The school, which starts at 2:15 p.m. and ends at 7:30 Monday through Thursday, is in its third year at Bulkeley. But enrollment has fallen to half of the initial 80 students, and administrators say they can't afford to keep the program going.
So it's possible that the program at Bulkeley and a similar one at Weaver High School, which began this year and also has about 40 students, will be closed down this month, Superintendent Robert Henry said. Bulkeley has four teachers in the program and Weaver has five.
"Ideally we could keep these programs open, but I have to be mindful of the costs. One program has four teachers and one has five -- it's over half a million dollars,'' Henry said. "I'm looking for options. It could be creating one central location to combine their enrollment or reconfiguring HALO [the district's alternative school] to add an afternoon program or something like that.
"The door is still open. The decision may be to close it, but I'm not there yet,'' Henry said.
Teacher Monica Brase was tearful as she explained to the board her fear that her students will drop out of school without the small classes and quiet atmosphere of the afternoon program.
"These students need more structure than the other students,'' Brase said. To illustrate the impact the program has had, she said that in the year before the program started, 54 of her students had accumulated a total of 411 days of suspension. The first year of the program, that number dropped to 52 days, she said.
Margaret Coffee, a coordinator with the Hartford Young Parents Program at the Wheeler Clinic, told the board that the afternoon session gives young parents the chance to share their parenting responsibilities. While one parent attends day school, the other goes to the afternoon session, she said.
Young parents are more likely to stay in school if they can attend a regular high school than try to make their way through adult education, Coffee said, suggesting that the district open the program to students from other high schools to increase enrollment.
Even the state child advocate, Jeanne Milstein, weighed in before the meeting. Noting that the peak hours for violent juvenile crime are between 3 and 6 p.m., she said that an afternoon school, like after-school programs, would contribute to keeping teenagers safe.
"These are the critical hours to keep kids busy and occupied,'' Milstein said.
Alex James, a 19-year-old sophomore, said he feels cared about in the small program and has significantly improved his academic standing.
"My mother's been proud of me. I'm getting good grades. The teachers care for us and we care for them,'' James told the board. He asked for more time for the program to recruit students. "It seems as if you don't care about our future.''
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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