Mayor Toni Harp does not give Apple Watches to teenagers very often. But on Monday, five New Haven youths were each awarded an Apple Watch for earning top marks in a summer program run by the city.
The five teenagers, who participated in the four-week YouthStat Summer Program — an initiative that aims to make young people at high risk of delinquency in New Haven more employable — were recognized for their success in the program during a press conference on Monday at City Hall. This year’s summer program marks the first time that YouthStat, which typically runs during the school year, operated outside of the academic calendar since its establishment in 2014.
Harp said the dedication exhibited by the five honorees made them clear standouts among the 24 total participants in the program.
“Young people who enrolled in YouthStat get our attention because they are falling behind,” she said. “These young people distinguished themselves by getting ahead.”
The program taught mathematics and English, Harp said, but its main intention is to “keep the children productive over the summer.”
“Summer slippage,” a term child educators use to refer to students returning to school after summer break with lower levels of educational attainment, is often identified as a chief cause of the racial achievement gap. Low-income minority families often cannot afford the expensive summer programs their wealthier peers can.
Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett, who works with Harp to organize YouthStat, said the program was a unique experience for all involved. He said participants’ motivation was vital to the program’s success.
“This summer school was not a credit-receiving summer school,” Bartlett said. “This summer school was because these young people decided they wanted to invest in themselves and in their education — and it was voluntary.”
Bartlett, who said he served as the unofficial principal for the program, said the YouthStat program fits well with the 10-point plan for increasing educational achievement that Harp announced earlier this month. He said the program is part of Harp’s push to increase time spent in school.
Harp launched YouthStat after a series of shootings across the city took the lives of two New Haven teenagers. She said YouthStat used data analysis to identify public-school students at risk of engaging in criminal behavior and invite them to the program. Harp, who is up for re-election next week, has made youth services a priority during her term in office.
Bartlett said that due to the success of this year’s program, the city will run the program again in the summer of 2016. He added that preparations are already underway.
At the start of the summer program, Bartlett said high-achieving participants were given gift cards. But Harp later decided Apple Watches would do an even better job of motivating the students, Bartlett said, adding that the funding for the five watches came from Harp’s personal foundation and not from city funds.
Jean Calcano, a senior at New Light High School and one of the five honorees, said the program turned what might have been a wasted summer into a useful one.
“[The program] is good if you’re not doing anything with the summer,” he said. “If you just want to hang out all summer, it’s better to do something productive.”
Eddy Garcia, another honoree and a senior at Wilbur Cross High School, agreed with Calcano, stating that the summer program helped him develop the skills he will need once he enters the competitive workforce.
Garcia — who will begin the Eli Whitney Technical High School’s manufacturing after-school program later this year — said he hopes graduating with a certificate in manufacturing will put him in a good position for securing employment.
Malcolm Welfare, a leadership coordinator with New Haven Public Schools, said all 24 of the program’s participants exceeded expectations.
“What we wanted to do was to give you something,” he said during the press conference. “The fact that you guys rose to the occasion and showed that it can work […] really inspired me.”