Alumna discusses activism

Jacob Waring Reporter 

Alumna and current teacher at High School in the Community Jen Sarja, spoke with students about why teachers should be activists.

Senior Kylee Vitka- Lainey, an early childhood education major, said she hoped to be a teacher in the same way as Sarja, as she said her words were inspiring to her.

“[It’s] kinda inspiring to see what [she’s] done with social justice and see how I could apply it to my own future classroom,” said Vitka-Lainey.

She said she felt empowered by Sarja’s words.

“…A lot of new teachers get worried about being a new teacher in a new school and advocating for kids is kinda like you’re on thin ice,” she said. “I love what she said, that she will never apologize for advocating for her kids, that was really empowering for me.”

Sarja said after teaching in Connecticut, she realized she could do a lot of activism within the U.S.,— specifically within New Haven—through literacy and the fact that there are
a lot of issues locally that students can take part in.

A recurring example was her fight to save Corlandt V.R. Creed High School in North Haven from closure, and how her own students got involved in the fight to save their schools by walking out.

Andrew Smyth, professor and chair of the English department, said he wanted his department to have every opportunity to promote social justice this month, and Sarja being invited to speak was an example of that.

“She’s someone that’s been involved in activism on the behalf of students in New Haven, and that’s a big question a lot of our future teachers were considering: how can I activate my students without forcing my own agenda on them,” he said.

Sarja said magnet schools have to follow a 75:25 ratio rule, which means a magnet school has to maintain enrollment of students where 75 percent of the school can be black and Hispanic and the other 25 percent must be white students.

She said Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger had made a ruling that Connecticut is not allowed to fill empty seats in the Hartford region’s magnet schools with more black and Hispanic students from Hartford.

According to her, that case had detrimental effects to education in magnet schools.

“What that case did is say, ‘we’re gonna create these magnet schools and the percentage wise, you can’t have more 75 percent black or brown [students],’” she said.

She also said that case is a problem because if the schools cannot maintain that split then there is a chance of the magnet schools being shattered.

Senior Kasie Kelly, an English secondary education major, said she was appalled to know such an inherently racist rule existed, and it hit her on a personal level.

“I didn’t know that was a rule and it was something the magnet schools had to adhere. A lot of us focused on it because we’ve never heard of it before. It’s a very personal issue for me because my brother is half-black, and half-white,” she said.

Sarja said she was glad that everyone robustly participated in the discussion, and that speaking to future teachers in attendance was exciting.

“Having these discussions is invigorating because it’s exciting to see other teachers, and soon- to-be teachers that want to incorporate social issues into the classes,” said Sarja.

Photo Credit: Jacob Waring

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