MONICA SZAKACS — News Editor
Looking into the eyes of the young children of King Robinson, Lincoln-Bassett and Beecher schools, a group of men realize that children are counting on their presence as role models to help them with education and mental support in a program called Southern Academy.
“Basically I’m here because we want the support from the Southern community,” said Trevor King, president of Men about Business. “When Dr. Battle was pushed out—I think he was pushed out—[Southern administrators] had pushed out the program as well.”
Former Interim President Stanley Battle, alongside Bill Cosby and Ramsey Lewis, composer, pianist and jazz artist, raised money for Southern Academy when Battle was in office. According to a brochure, the Southern Academy program is a year-round educational effort geared to help New Haven children enhance their learning skills in key areas from reading comprehension to mathematics to computer science. The achievement gap in Connecticut is one of the worst in the country, according to national statistics.
“Basically [Men About Business] were working with Dr. Battle with the Southern Academy as volunteers, and this semester we were like, ‘you know what, we can’t just let it fall apart because we were already there,’ ” King said. “I mean, the children [have] seen us in the schools and they wanted to feel our presence continue on.”
King and other members of Men About Business, such as Wayne Washington, reached out to Sasha-Gay Benjamin of Student Support Services who said the program is there, but there is no longer any support financially or educationally from Southern. SCSU still has the money raised by Battle, Lewis and Cosby, but it is not being used for the Academy at this point. King said he took it upon himself to gather up the members from MAB and separate them into groups of three (for the three elementary/ middle schools in New Haven) for a scheduled rotation five days a week to go to each school.
“It’s not really a contract, but we go to the schools and the teachers have some type of guideline that they expect us to do to work with group of children that really need the extra support in certain areas,” said King. “We go throughout the week, so it’s not like we go for one day. Yesterday when I took another member into a classroom, one of the kids was like, ‘Yes!’ Really, they enjoy us being there.”
When SCSU first hosted the summer Southern Academy in June 2011, 25 New Haven students participated in the program. The children were taught by Southern faculty, graduates and student teachers. According to a brochure, the
program ran five days a week for six weeks. The children were not only exposed to classroom learning opportunities but all aspects of university life ranging from athletics to performing arts.
A promise was made from Southern to the children; as Battle said in a brochure, “Southern Academy students who go on to graduate from high school and meet our application standards will earn scholarships to attend this university.”
The initial 25 students were given a pre-test that assessed their reading comprehension levels and writing ability beforehand and then a post-test to assess their current skills, according to a brochure. In the pre-test for writing, 30 percent scored at level three or four on a scale from 1-6, compared with 75 percent in the post-test. For reading summarization on a scale of 0-2: in the pre-test, 4 percent scored at level 2, compared with 50 percent in the post-test. For making connections within the readings, in the pre-test 42 percent scored at the lowest level, but post-test results showed 86 percent of students scored at mid-range or higher.
“I’m not here to beg for something that’s already in place,” said Washington, who is also a political science major. “The kids need our help and if we have to fundraise ourselves then we will do it, but if we had the support from Southern administrators and faculty, then it wouldn’t be as rough.”
According to Washington, MAB wants to invite the students back on Southern’s campus, especially during the summer. King said not only would the New Haven kids benefit from the program, but also the Southern community. Southern students get the opportunity to teach younger children. King said he would like to see internship possibilities come out of the Academy and for SCSU students to get college credit for participating in the program, just like in 2011 when the Academy first ran.
“The mayor of New Haven was a fan of Southern Academy; the community loved it,” said King. “Cosby is still on board and is willing to raise money if we had Southern’s support. I mean with crime rate—and we all know what’s going on in New Haven—and Southern trying to put their hand on some students and try to stop them from getting into the negative atmosphere, that’s a good look.”
Washington personally has been a victim of gun violence in New Haven on several occasions when he was a teenager. He said he had his “ups and downs in the city.”
“I have family members that had ups and downs and lost family,” said Washington. “I’ve lost a lot of friends. Trevor’s from Bridgeport and he’s been through basically a lot of the same things—even knows a lot of people that’s been incarcerated.”
King said when a child sees someone they look up to, such as a father or brother, go to jail, then it gives the child the mindset to want to be incarcerated too. Even though it is a negative, he said the children want to be like their role models.
“So with these children seeing us in the school and being able to get the opportunity to come to Southern and hang out with freshmen, sophomores, seniors, grad students, whoever it is, that would give them the opportunity to see that there are other things in life that’s going on,” said King.
Washington said it is good for the children to see someone they can relate to and feel their pain.
“You’d be surprised how much a 9, 10, 11, 12, 13-year-old can just feel—that what you went through they’re going through. And once they see more examples, they find people they want to emulate and can be proud of getting on the right track,” he said.
The MAB has members from many different backgrounds and from different locations; King said there is member for every student to connect with.
“Our biggest focus is to get kids off the streets and into the classrooms,” he said. “We are telling kids to get careers not jobs. If we can get people excited about academics, to excel and make education cool, then we succeeded.”
When Battle left, James Barber, director of student support services and one cofounder of Southern Academy, was the go-to man, according to King. Barber has been in discussion with SCSU President Mary Papazian who is coming on board with the Southern Academy, but King said it took a while. Currently Papazian lives in New Jersey and commutes to Southern the majority of the week.
“Southern Academy is still moving with or without the support of the University,” said Washington. “We carry the spirit of Dr. Battle, and it won’t come to a halt.”