Panel discusses college readiness among New Haven students

On Wednesday evening, local residents concerned about New Haven education gathered in Dwight Hall for Yale’s third monthly exChange forum.

The forum featured a panel including prominent figures such as New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., district supervisor and Principal of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School Dolores Garcia-Blocker, Executive Director of New Haven Promise Patricia Melton ’83 and Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan. Before an audience of approximately 30 members of the New Haven community — including Yale students, educators and others involved in education — panelists first answered questions regarding educational outreach in New Haven and then facilitated discussions with audience members in small groups. Executive Director of Dwight Hall Peter Crumlish said the goal of the forum was to bring Dwight Hall into New Haven’s education dialogue.

“Traditionally, Dwight Hall is where people come together,” Crumlish said.

The discussion primarily focused on the problems that New Haven public schools face in preparing their students — particularly those from low-income backgrounds — for college.

According to Blocker, the largest challenge facing schools is the lack of knowledge about how to prepare students for college. Many parents and teachers do not know what skills a college student should have, so they cannot provide adequate assistance, she said. Blocker proposed that university professors and high school teachers should collaborate to give students the skills they need to place out of remedial college courses and start earning credit during freshman year.

Quinlan, on the other hand, said that cost is one of the biggest obstacles to expanding college access. As the price of state schools like the University of Connecticut or the University of California, Berkeley increase, fewer students see college as a realistic target, he said.

Melton, who was a first generation college student herself, said socioeconomic status plays a large role in students’ decisions about college and cited poverty as the primary roadblock to college access. In areas of high unemployment, it is difficult to convince parents and students that college is a viable option, she said.

“If you live in a community with 30 to 50 percent unemployment, making the case that [college is achievable] is a real stretch,” she said.

The panelists also discussed the successes of current programs in the Elm City.

Blocker lauded the mayor, superintendent and board of education for their collaborative efforts. Because those three groups are working towards the same goals in high-leverage policies, the New Haven education agenda has made progress, she said.

DeStefano added that much of the success of New Haven’s programs is a result of their comprehensive nature.

“It’s not like McDonald’s where it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s there and you go,” he said.

Following the panelists’ comments, discussion opened to include the entire audience.

Many audience members raised concerns about not only preparing students in academics, but also in emotional intelligence.

Carlos Torre — a former Yale dean, a professor of education at Southern Connecticut State University and the president of the New Haven board of education — said students need to be socially ready for college.

“We concentrate on two parts of a triad — making students financially and academically ready. They need to be socially ready,” he explained.

ExChange forums are sponsored by Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs.

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