New curriculum to buoy Promise

New Haven public school curricula have been reworked to foster a “college-going culture” in the city.
New Haven public school curricula have been reworked to foster a “college-going culture” in the city. Photo by Alon Harish.

Thanks to a revamped curriculum for New Haven public schools unveiled Monday, the city’s effort to build a “college-going culture” will now start as early as pre-kindergarten.

The curriculum, dubbed “Pathways to Promise,” is a pre-K through eighth-grade supplement to the New Haven Promise college scholarship program that was rolled out last fall with funding from Yale. At a press conference at Hill Regional Career High School on Legion Avenue Monday morning, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the curriculum is meant to address a major criticism of New Haven Promise: that because eligibility for a scholarship hinges on having a 3.0 GPA and good attendance, the program will not benefit children who lack adequate parental guidance.

“We’re acutely aware that the Promise won’t reach kids who don’t already have support systems in place unless we start developing college-going aspirations early,” DeStefano said.

The Pathways to Promise curriculum, developed by national education nonprofit College Summit, is one of the two major components of the Promise Partnership, which received a $2 million grant in April from Yale-New Haven Hospital and $300,000 from Wells Fargo. The other is a $290,000 city contract with nonprofit College Summit, which will enlist high school seniors in an effort to spread the word about the opportunities associated with a college education.

Taking a page from the approach of charter schools, the curriculum emphasizes an early connection between basic skills like reading and math and future aspirations, said J. B. Schramm ’86, College Summit’s founder and CEO.

Key features of the curriculum, a copy of which was obtained by the News, include monthly activities designed to spark an interest in college, a college-themed journal and lesson plans centered around inspirational people.

The objective of the curriculum is to “keep the drumbeat banging” on the message that college is both important and feasible, Schramm said. It is important that the curriculum begin as early as pre-kindergarten, he added, because children make important choices about their futures by the time they reach elementary school.

David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union, said at the press conference that Pathways to Promise gives teachers the chance to play an enhanced role in realizing their students’ college dreams.

New Haven schoolchildren got a preview of the Pathway to Promise curriculum on May 3, the city’s “College Day.” During school that day, teachers throughout the city were encouraged to initiate conversations with students about the importance of their own college experiences.

The curriculum will not be mandatory, New Haven Promise spokeswoman Betsy Yagla said, though 89 percent of teachers in a survey the city conducted in May said they support the idea of talking to students about college. Still, the curriculum is only a set of suggestions, she said.

When New Haven Promise was announced last November at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, University President Richard Levin said Yale committed to fund the scholarships to the tune of $4 million annually within seven years. In its first year, 110 students received partial scholarships, out of 372 who applied.

In order to qualify for the scholarships, which fund up to 25 percent of tuition costs at in-state public colleges and universities and up to $625 at private schools, the students had to earn at least a 3.0 GPA, have a 90 percent attendance record, complete 10 hours of community service and demonstrate good behavior.

Because the ultimate goal of the Promise Partnership is to assist children who would otherwise struggle to meet the scholarship’s eligibility requirements, the program raises the possibility that funds for the scholarship will dry up. So far, that possibility has not yet appeared on the city’s radar, said Emily Byrne, executive director of New Haven Promise.

“I hope we have that problem,” she said.

Yale’s funding of Promise scholarships will reach 100 percent of tuition costs at public schools and $2,500 at private schools by the time high school sophomores graduate.

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