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Urban Education Fellows

Southern’s Urban Education Fellows provide elementary school students with books to take home before summer.

Children at New Haven’s Strong School each received a book to call their own and read this summer, courtesy of a fundraising drive organized by a group of students at Southern.The SCSU Urban Education Fellows were able to generate enough money this spring to buy more than 400 books – enough to provide each student with a book. The students were able to choose from a selection of high quality fiction and non-fiction.

“There is an extraordinary feeling of owning a new book as one’s own property,” said Marissa Fasoli, a member of the Urban Education Fellows who helped organize the project. “Those types of feelings have the ability to spark literary interest in even the youngest students. It was wonderful connecting with the local community, as well as showing how Southern education students are willing to advocate for the public schools we work closely with throughout the year.”

The idea for the drive came about as the students brainstormed as to how they could affect the community in a meaningful, positive way, according to Fasoli. She said the decision to choose Strong for the book offering happened after visiting and touring the magnet school.

“There is now more room for dialogue on other ways that Southern students can become involved in the local public schools,” she said. “Having more SCSU student involvement will form closer ties with the students and will spark more interest in pursuing higher education within their home city of New Haven.”

Jessica Powell, assistant professor of elementary education and a co-advisor of the Urban Education Fellows, said the selection of Strong School was a logical choice, given the recent vote by the New Haven Board of Alders to pursue the construction of a new facility for the school on the campus of SCSU.

Southern’s Urban Education Fellows provide elementary school students with books to take home before summer.

“In fact, some of our Fellows actually provided testimony to the board in support of the plan,” she said. “It shows we’re in this together. And we are planning another book drive next year. This is not intended to be just a one-time deal, but rather the beginning of a long partnership.”

Strong connections are planned between the two schools once the building is constructed over the next few years.

Meredith Sinclair, assistant professor of English, also is a co-advisor of the Fellows. The organization currently has a few dozen students who seek to become leaders and advocates for urban education schools, students and parents.

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In addition to the book drive, the students have been busy over the last several months. Three students recently attended a Children Defense Fund’s Freedom School workshop in North Carolina to learn more about empowering youth, as well as encouraging the reading of high quality books and building self-esteem among poorer children. Those students will be sharing what they learned with other SCSU Urban Education Fellows.

The distinctive challenges of teaching and learning in an inner city school are well-documented. Lower test scores. Skimpier budgets. The student body coming from a higher proportion of broken families.

But none of that dissuades a group of Southern students from wanting to teach in that setting. In fact, they see it as an incentive – some would even say a calling.

The Urban Education Fellows – led by co-directors Jessica Powell, assistant professor of elementary education, and Meredith Sinclair, assistant professor of English – are amid an expansion of the organization.

It had been limited to elementary education majors during its first three years, but now is opening its doors to anyone who has or is taking the Education 200 course and has an interest in urban schools.

“Our Fellows want to be leaders and advocates for the urban education community,” Sinclair said. “It is imperative for them to understand the challenges facing those schools so that they can do what is best for children and their families. That’s why many of our activities are geared toward giving them a keen insight into these schools.”

Powell agreed. “Our students want the opportunity to become change agents in urban schools,” she said. “They are starting now to better understand the urban education environment and to build relationships with the schools and communities so that when they become teachers, they will be able to better empower their students.”

Those relationships are being fostered through meetings with urban school educators and student teaching placements in school districts such as New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. In addition, the Fellows are attending conferences on the subject and will be conducting research that has practical applications.

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In addition to Powell and Sinclair, other faculty members assisting in the program are Helen Marx, associate professor of elementary education; Laura Bower-Phipps, associate professor of elementary education; and Andrew Smyth, professor of English.

Those interested in becoming an Urban Education Fellow may contact Powell at 392-6412 or powellj8@southernct.edu, or Sinclair at 392-7048 or sinclairm4@southernct.edu.