The high number of students being suspended, expelled, and arrested in urban schools is finally getting some attention. In 2011, Real Hartford reported that within a small time frame during the previous school year, seventeen students had been arrested at Burns and eleven at Milner, both elementary schools in Hartford. Those two elementary schools combined had more arrests than any single high school in Connecticut for that time period.
More recently, Achievement First, a charter school group, was criticized for having a high number of suspensions, particularly of those in the lower grades. The Hartford Courant reported that an estimated “11.7 percent of kindergartners and first-graders at Achievement First Hartford Academy were suspended last year an average of 5.4 times each.”
In fact, Achievement First Hartford Academy led in Connecticut for the highest percentage of elementary (32.5%) and middle (49.4%) schools students receiving in-school or out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
Despite the poor track record for harsh discipline, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto wants to close one of the Hartford Public Schools and reopen it in 2014-2015 as an Achievement First charter school. This is a matter that is expected to be voted on by the Board of Education at the end of August.
Hard statistics on suspensions and arrests exist, but might not deliver the message in a way that makes people empathize.
That’s where HartBeat Ensemble‘s Youth Play Institute (YPI) comes in.
YPI is a program that guides young people in developing a one-act play, creating the set, acting in it, and more. Through brainstorming sessions, youth decide what issue to focus on.
This time around, they picked the topic of institutionalized racism as it plays out in the schools.
Their play, Learning to Fail, was recently performed at the Carriage House Theater. Julia Rosenblatt, founding member and co-artistic director of HartBeat Ensemble, says “we had about 60 people come on Friday night and on Saturday and Sunday we sold out.” The house holds 77 people.
Because of the demand, the public will have another opportunity to see Learning to Fail, as it will be performed again at the Carriage House Theater later this month. During the week of August 19-23, 2013, HartBeat Ensemble is offering the show as part of a ninety minute professional development session for educators.
Rosenblatt said the audiences for this play have been extremely diverse and have included attendance from individuals affiliated with “Burns Elementary/Middle, Clark Elementary/Middle, Annie Fisher Elementary/Middle, Hartford High, CT River Academy, Achieve Hartford!, The Discovery Center, and Prince Tech.” She says this was also attended by Trinity College faculty, a security officer from Newington High School, Hartford Board of Education members, and a member of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE).
A school principal teared up, Rosenblatt said, during one of the talkbacks.
An employee of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School came to all three performances.
Rosenblatt says, “We had one of our volunteers ushers break down because she said, ‘it was amazing but hit a little too close to home.’ She herself is in community college now but says she just barely made it through to graduation with all the suspensions she had under her belt.”
If reading statistics has not made this issue real, maybe listening to the students will fill in some blanks.
The public encore performance of Learning to Fail will be on Wednesday, August 21st at 7:30pm. Tickets are $5. This will be held in the Carriage House Theater.
To book a professional development session, contact Cindy Martinez at 860-548-9144 ext. 112 or email@example.com