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Students Still Adjusting To City High School's Academy System



November 27, 2008

Angel Hernandez spread white paint across a brown paper banner after school last week, outlining the word "Seniors."

At Hartford Public High School, the banner symbolizes a small victory in some students' fight to remain a unified school amid changes that saw students separated into four academies this year. During a fall pep rally Wednesday, students sat according to class, not academy.

"I'm surprised it's still called Hartford Public High School," joked Hernandez, a senior in the Engineering and Green Technologies Academy.

During the school day, students attend classes in separate wings of the building on Forest Street, wear different uniforms and eat during separate lunch waves.

But after school, a group of about a dozen students from the three upper-class academies (the fourth academy is for freshmen) meet to discuss events for all students. They have many questions: Will there be one prom? One yearbook? One graduation?

Answers to the first two questions seem to be a solid "yes," the students said. But graduation, the big question, is still up in the air.

"Most of us don't really like the idea of being separate," said Mariah Forbes, the senior class vice president for the Nursing Academy. The other academies engineering and green technologies, law and government and freshmen have their own class officers.

"You want to represent your own academy," Forbes said. "But you still want to represent your whole school, and I think everybody's doing that."

There's a long history of school spirit at Hartford Public High. It's the country's second-oldest public high school, with roots stretching to the 1630s. That means there are lots of alumni, established scholarship programs and even a museum with artifacts from the former high school buildings.

But the school had fallen to the lowest ranks of student achievement in recent years. For example, only 2.5 percent of 10th-graders met state goals in reading tests last year, while 35.4 percent reached proficient levels. The state averages are 45.5 percent and 82.7 percent, respectively, on the same tests.

As part of a reformation of the city school district, Hartford Public High School was broken into four academies to provide specialized courses and smaller learning environments. The change has received mixed responses.

Though some parents are happy with the new structure, others have complained that the same classes and clubs aren't available for all students. For the time being, there are no honors classes, which upsets some honor students. And, three months into the school year, some programs are still being developed.

School district spokesman David Medina wouldn't address specifics about the separate academies' clubs, or whether there would be one graduation or three.

"The Nursing Academy, the Law and Government Academy and the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology are unique theme schools. How they develop will depend on their individual focus," Medina wrote in an e-mail. "The district is not demanding that they be the same or march in lock step. That is what our reform strategy is all about. People need to stop asking why the academies aren't the same and start embracing their differences."

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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