Around 100 members of the Elm City and Yale communities gathered Tuesday night at the Afro-American Cultural Center to celebrate the inaugural School Climate Awards, which honored at least 49 students from almost three dozen New Haven public schools for contributing to a positive learning environment.
The Af-Am House provided venue for the award ceremony, an event organized by Educators for Excellence-Connecticut, the local chapter of a national educators coalition. New Haven public schools and the New Haven Youth Stat Program, an initiative that connects at-risk youths to appropriate resources, co-hosted the event. The student recipients, who ranged from elementary school to high school students, were all nominated by teachers and school administrators, according to Eva Schultz, a fifth-grade teacher at Mauro-Sheridan Magnet School.
Director of the Af-Am House Risë Nelson kicked off Tuesday night’s award ceremony by welcoming the audience of student award recipients, their families as well as teachers and administrators from New Haven Public Schools.
“We are here tonight to celebrate your commitment to yourselves and your education,” Nelson said. “We are here to affirm that you all have the power to boost your school’s climate.”
Most of the students nominated experienced hardships in various aspects of their lives, said Schultz. She explained educators chose students who showed proactive efforts to participate and thrive in school despite the obstacles they endured elsewhere, such as financial or emotional difficulties at home.
“These are the next college graduates and they will change our city,” Schultz said.
She, along with Matthew Erickson from the city’s school district office, implemented a series of policies aimed at improving student motivation in New Haven Public Schools, one of which is the School Climate Awards. Schultz added that this award is one of the easier measures that New Haven can put to action in a short time period.
In her address, Mayor Toni Harp expressed gratitude for the students’ hard work and contribution to better school climates. She said an uplifting learning venue is positively correlated to elevated levels of student achievement, adding that public schools should be a wholesome place where students can learn and grow.
“I want each and every one of you to know how proud I am of you,” Harp added.
Glen Worthy, James Hillhouse High School principal, said though he has only served in the role for seven months, his primary objective is to make sure that the culture in the building is conducive to learning. He added that the students who were nominated from his school demonstrated strengths beyond the classroom, such as leadership and social skills.
He added that the awards are a step in building a stronger relationship between students and administrators.
“Once we have that relationship, we can understand where students are coming from,” Worthy said. “And it goes a long way to make our students do what they are supposed to do.”
There are 48 public schools in the New Haven area.