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Achieve Hartford! Hires Parent Advisers To Help With Choice

Vanessa De La Torre

November 20, 2011

Angelica Rivera grew up in New York and figured she knew how to enroll her two young daughters in a public school.

When the time came early this year in Hartford, she was flummoxed. "I didn't know it was so complicated to register a child. I didn't know about zones," said Rivera, 23, who lives in the city's North End. "I didn't even know how many schools there were in Hartford."

The school system recently launched a $183,500 media campaign to promote its school choice program in TV, radio and print. The advertisements all remind parents of a Jan. 31 deadline to apply.

But getting parents to understand their options and mobilizing them to fill out the city's choice application has been a massive undertaking for Achieve Hartford!, a reform advocacy group that has partnered with the city and school system to help parents navigate the complex market of school choice.

The nonprofit's goal is to help 1,200 parents in one-on-one sessions with other parents who have been trained to act as advisers, said Paul Holzer, Achieve Hartford!'s interim executive director. And they have only a short time to accomplish the feat.

In the last school year, Hartford families had until March 31 to list their top four school picks for their children.

For the 2012-13 year, parents must submit the choice application by Jan. 31 for children entering transitional grades such as pre-K, kindergarten and ninth grade. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto decided this fall to move up the date, in part to align with the state's Jan. 20 choice application deadline.

Hartford parents of children in non-transitional grades can begin applying Feb. 13 if they want to change city schools.

Under the Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation case, parents can apply for seats in state magnet schools and suburban districts through Open Choice. Meanwhile, reform initiatives in Hartford have resulted in nearly 50 city schools, many with specialized themes for parents to contemplate in addition to test scores, after-school programs and whether there is bus transportation if a school falls outside a family's neighborhood, or "zone."

Career-oriented academies at the high schools mean that students must decide whether they are interested in pursuing the culinary arts or finance, for example, while still in the eighth grade.

Achieve Hartford!, which is supported by the business community, began its outreach program in November 2010. With nine parent choice advisers, the group helped about 900 parents fill out their applications last school year in sessions scheduled at early learning centers and city schools.

Now there are 12 paid advisers such as Cureene Blake, a mother from Asylum Hill whose three daughters have attended the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School. One is in college now.

Blake said Tuesday that Hartford parents are more savvy than outsiders may think, and that when she discusses schools, "I tell them the positives and the negatives."

In Rivera's case, she sought help from Achieve Hartford! in January, enrolled her daughters in pre-K and kindergarten at Wish Elementary School and became one of the bilingual choice advisers this fall.

"Everything you need to know to register your child, I explain to them how it works," Rivera said.

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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