Clergy, volunteers aim to create ‘college-going culture’

For more than a year, City Hall and New Haven school board officials have been trying to create a “college-going culture” among youth in the Elm City. This past weekend, they took their message to the streets.

On Saturday, 78 community and school district volunteers went “canvassing” in the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods. Based out of Lincoln-Bassett School on 130 Bassett St., the volunteers went door-to-door, talking to students and families about the New Haven Promise program, the upcoming “Parent University” — a daylong series of workshops for parents about college — and the general importance of instilling ambitions for higher education in their children. The weekend event, which reached 426 parents, marked the second of three canvassing initiatives planned for this year. The first canvassing event, a “kindergarten canvass,” took place last month, when 216 volunteers fanned out across the city and reached 1,500 kindergarten families.

“If we get parents involved in their kids’ education in the early grades, these children will have a greater shot at success,” said New Haven superintendent Reginald Mayo. “By visiting families in the neighborhoods where they live, we achieve a deeper form of engagement that shows our true commitment. Our families need to know about Parent University and New Haven Promise.”

For this most recent canvass, City Hall officials, public school community members and officials of Promise — the Yale-funded program that provides high-achieving New Haven high schoolers with college tuition scholarships — partnered with several local clergy members. Abbe Smith, a spokeswoman for the city’s public schools, said members of the clergy are “influential leaders of the African-American and Hispanic communities in New Haven,” adding that their participation was particularly helpful in reaching out to African-American men.

The two clergymen in attendence were Rev. Boise Kimber, president of the Connecticut State Missionary Baptist Convention, and the Rev. James Newman, president of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association.

“We have joined this effort to positively engage fathers, particularly African-American and Latino fathers in our city, so they can be at the forefront of taking advantage of some of these new educational initiatives,” Kimber said in a Sept. 12 press release. “Fathers and male role models are critical for our children, and we want men to become even more aware of the life-changing role they play whether they are in the home with the child or not. We want to see our men at Parent University, learning about the Promise program and leading the charge to strengthen their family through education.”

Patricia Melton ’82, the executive director of Promise, said partnering with clergy members made logical sense for canvass organizers, as the groups involved all have mutual goals — “making sure that students and parents know that college is not only a necessity but that with the financial investment of Promise, it is affordable.” She added that while going door-to-door, volunteers informed parents of Promise scholarship requirements, discussed the dates of Parent University and left families with kits that explain how parents can help their children succeed in school.

The all-day Parent University, which will be held at Gateway Community College on Nov. 3, includes workshops covering how to motivate children in high school and plan for college. The program is free to all public school parents and will be conducted in both English and Spanish.

The next canvass, which will target families in Fair Haven, is slated to take place on Oct. 13. Until then, Smith said clergy and school staff will be visiting local businesses to drop off flyers and engage more community members through street outreach.

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