By Chris Senecal
HARTFORD — When Sahar Hakim, Catholic Charities’ after school program director for Thirman L. Milner School, was planning the first year of a new Milner LEADS student summer internship program this past spring, she had no idea that the program was going to make such a positive impact on the entire community.
The eight eighth-grade students selected for the paid internship program spent each morning learning about what it takes to be a leader, and each afternoon organizing neighborhood festivities as a part of National Night Out, an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie. All of the students learned how to effectively communicate with local leaders, businesses, and organizations to as a part of their work.
The Milner LEADS students chose “Stop the Violence” for their National Night Out theme. Members of the Hartford Police and Fire Departments, along with Mayor Luke Bronin and former Mayor Thirman Milner, joined in the event. Hundreds of neighborhood residents, community organizations attended and residents enjoyed the festivities, the largest one of several National Night Out events held throughout Hartford.
These types of unique enrichment programs will continue to be offered to hundreds of students and their families thanks to grants totaling $1.6 million from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to support Hartford’s seven community schools.
“Learning to speak to adults and asking them to participate in the event was extremely challenging,” said Alexiah Smith, who was in charge of recruiting entertainment for the event. “But it was so satisfying to see that all of our hard work paid off, and so many people donated their time and resources and so many people participated in the event. It showed us that even though we’re young, we can accomplish positive things for our community.”
First developed in 2008, Hartford Community Schools seek to close a variety of opportunity gaps that Hartford students and families often experience as a result of economic disadvantages. The seven community schools receiving funding from the Foundation include the Asian Studies Academy at Bellizzi, Alfred E. Burr Elementary School, the Fred D. Wish Museum School, Thirman L. Milner School, Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, Burns Latino Studies Academy, and West Middle School.
Three Hartford nonprofit agencies currently coordinate student supports and services in the schools working in partnership with the schools’ principals and district leaders. Over the course of an academic year and the following summer, the schools will each provide a broad range of wraparound services such as vision, health and dental care, mental health services, academic support and enrichment, civic engagement programs and cultural activities.
“The Hartford Foundation is committed to promoting educational equity and opportunity through the entire region that we serve,” said Sara Sneed, Director of Education Investments for the Hartford Foundation. “Hartford Community Schools represent a proven model of school improvement and student support that results in better academic outcomes for students and schools as well as significantly increased community engagement in student learning and student success.”
The community school model has been cited by the State Department of Education, Hartford Public Schools and others as a stabilizing force among Hartford schools, due in large part to community schools’ focus on school culture and climate alongside academics and developmental gains. Overall, Hartford Community Schools presently serve more than 4,000 students and connect the schools with more than 60 community partnerships, including partnerships with area universities, health care providers, cultural organizations and others.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. In 2015, the Foundation celebrated ninety years of grantmaking in the Greater Hartford region, made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations. It has awarded grants of more than $630 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.