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Learning in the Elm City: Yale's other students

By Julia Paolitto

Ralph Nader was not in a congratulatory mood when he came to Yale on Wed., Oct. 4. Talking with admiration about the University of Southern California's contributions to public education in Los Angeles, he demanded, "Why can't Yale do the same thing for New Haven?" The short answer is that Yale does—and has for over 30 years. Over the past five years in particular, Yale's participation in New Haven public schools has expanded rapidly, and is earning national recognition. Despite its growth and success, however, Yale's institutional connection to New Haven's public schools remains largely a low-profile success story. Even many within the Yale community are still unaware such programs even exist. In fact, Nader's visit fell in the middle of a weeklong leadership training conference for public school teachers courtesy of the Yale Child Study Center's School Development Program, whose national reputation drew teachers from districts across the country.

Though Yale has no formally organized School of Education, or even a department or major in education apart from the Teacher Preparation Program, it has a long and respected historically relationship with public secondary schools, both locally and nationally. Though Yale has been home to a colony of nationally-renowned educational programs since the late '60s, it appears to be experiencing a recent growth spurt, particularly in its interaction with New Haven's public high schools. Participation in Yale-facilitated teaching and learning programs in the public schools is quickly expanding—the Medical School's highly successful partnership with Hill Regional Career High School, a local science magnet school, is being replicated by other Yale departments in other New Haven public schools. In an era when public education is increasingly discussed as a free market commodity subject to the laws of competition and obsolescence, Yale seems determined to develop the perfect product—now all that needs work is its marketing.

Riding the bus to Yale—and beyond

Diana graduated fourth in her class at Career High School last spring. Because of anomalous family circumstances, however, she was unable to apply for financial aid for college, and was resigning herself to entering the Army Reserve Corps when Career's principal Charles Williams called Claudia Merson, Public School Partnership Coordinator at the Office of New Haven and State Affairs (ONHSA). "He said, `Claudia, you know this girl belongs in college,'" Merson recalled. Through a combination of private donors and a campus job, Diana is currently starting her first semester at Xavier University, an historically black Catholic university in Louisiana.

Other than the triumph of luck and pluck, the subtext of Diana's story is the successful collaboration between a community of educators at both Yale and Career. Like her older sister who graduated second in her class at Career, Diana was a participant in Yale's Partnership with Hill Regional Career High School program, for which Merson's office serves as a cluttered ground zero. Career's program is in fact merely the most visibly successful model in a series of Yale-New Haven public school collaborations. The program, run in conjunction with the Yale Schools of Medicine and Nursing, combines classes at the high school with work at the Medical and Nursing schools two days out of every month. The students are also offered a range of medical and health career-oriented certification programs, including a Nurse's Aid course and an Emergency Medical Training (EMT) certification. Diana's top score on the EMT exam and her Nurse's Aid certification enabled her to receive a partial scholarship—more importantly, it gave her a source of income to earn her way through school as the women's basketball team's medical trainer.

This vocational component of the Partnership program complements a strong academic commitment to the physical sciences. Career and Yale also host the Science Collaborative Hands On Learning and Research (SCHOLAR) program, which includes a three week study stint in Yale's residential colleges over the summer and a program of continued weekend study during the school year. From an initial inaugural class of 15 rising sophomores and juniors in 1998, the SCHOLAR program projects a 2001 class of 75 to 90 students.

Diana's experience, though unusual, is a confirmation of the progress Yale has made in a remarkably short time in its interaction with New Haven's public schools. Quantifying words like "standards" and "test results" in trying to assess educational success rates is a questionable endeavor at best. Yet if peer recognition, student satisfaction and grade point averages still mean anything, the Partnership program and others in its mold are doing something right. The program has only formally existed since 1996, yet as Merson emphasized, "This is not a superficial partnership, it is one that touches about 140 kids very deeply in the city." The first class of 15 rising sophomores to complete the Career Partnership summer program saw a marked rise in grade point averages across the board, especially in the physical sciences. Most importantly, "it makes it cool to be a student, and this is something that has really been lost in public school culture," Merson said.
COURTESY YALE-NEW HAVEN TEACHERS' INSTITUTE
Teaching seminars at the Yale-New Haven Teachers' Institute are led by instructors from the Yale faculty.

"Yale is one of the leading institutions in the United States; their work from the early '90s onward is deeply respected all over," said Ira Harkovy, director of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Community Partnerships. "This is very important work, it is crucial to the future of American universities and cities, and Yale has certainly made a mark on that work." Jonathan Gillette, the newly appointed director of Yale's Teacher Preparation program, agreed. "It seems to be a very successful, very vibrant program, and it has done what partnerships are supposed to do, which is to benefit both sides. It seems directed, engaging, and is meeting high academic standards."

The program's greatest advocates thus far, though, have been its student and faculty participants. Luz Minerva Ruiz, a senior at Career in the health professions track of the Partnership program, says the program has given her the confidence and preparation to continue on to college, where she hopes to become a psychologist. When she passed her lab certification exam, she was paired with a Medical School mentor to whom she acted as an assistant. "My mentor was studying the reactions of smoking addiction on mice, and it was amazing for me as someone interested in psychology to go through and watch," she said. Crystal Astrachan, ES '03, also participated in several Yale-affiliated partnerships as a student at Career, including an anatomy teaching program at the Medical School, and a hospital internship. "The anatomy teaching program was one of my greatest experiences in high school," she said. "Every other week, my anatomy class went to the Medical School for a hands-on class with cadavers taught by first-year medical students. It was like getting a taste of medical school in high school."

And there are plans to do more. When in 1998 Yale Information Technology Systems (ITS) converted its computers to IBMs all at once, a coordinated effort by Assistant Vice President of ONHSA Mike Morand, ITS, SNET, and Career High School led to the establishment of the first ever public Technology Access Center (TAC) at the Stetson Branch of the New Haven Public Library. The Center provides public access to 24 donated Yale Macintosh computers and a staff of student volunteers from Yale, SNET, and Career High School who offer instruction and technical support free of charge. A similar plan is being developed at the Fair Haven branch of the public library, with students from Wilbur Cross High School as volunteers.

Yet choosing one set of commitments inevitably means foregoing others. Focusing on partnerships in the specialized magnet schools is natural on one hand; a focused subject area matches communities of scholars, educators and students with mutual interests easily and naturally. But creating partnerships between Yale's specialized schools and New Haven's magnet schools leaves little room to expand into the area's other high schools, Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross. Burt Saxon, a local public school teacher who currently teaches the Saybrook Residential College Seminar "Educational Reform: Theory and Practice," explained the trade-off: "Apparently, Yale and public school officials would rather concentrate Yale's commitment on the magnet high schools, rather than have a diffused commitment in the larger comprehensive high schools." A successful model While for some students the highlights of a Yale partnership program are weekly cadaver dissections, the Career Partnership Program has recently been joined by other formal interactions between Yale centers and departments that provide everything from music lessons to outdoor performances of Shakespeare. In addition to the Career program, the Yale School of Music operates a similar program of free music lessons for students at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School (Coop), an arts magnet school. The Yale Center for British Art (BAC) is another link between Yale and the city's public schools, through a series of workshops and activities run by Curator of Education Linda Friedlaender. In addition to an ongoing partnership with student artists and actors at High School in the Community (an arts magnet school), Friedlaender holds monthly meetings of a high school teacher advisory committee. "We constantly try and tailor specific programs to meet the need of specific schools," she explained. This November, for the first time, the BAC will offer a workshop with both student and teacher participants. Merson and Friedlaender both hope to develop a more structured after-school partnership program with Coop, potentially, Merson hopes, with an internship component in the gallery.
COURTESY OFFICE OF NEW HAVEN AND STATE AFFAIRS
Career High School students observed a cadaver dissection at the Yale School of Medicine.

While New Haven students have partnership programs, Yale awaits their teachers with open arms. The Yale-New Haven Teachers' Institute (YNHTI) has run yearly programs for New Haven public school teachers since 1978. Yale professors teach many of the seminars, and teachers work in small groups designing and editing their own curricular units to implement in their schools. The Institute is currently in the third year of a National Demonstration Project, which has seen the implementation of similar Teachers' Institutes at four other centers around the country. "In New Haven over the last three years, there have been very high levels of teacher interest," James Vivian, the Institute's director, said. The Institute this year will offer seven yearly seminars, up from the usual five. "The teacher demand right now for what we offer is running at an all-time high," Vivian added.

Yale's `big four'

The educational opportunities Yale offers are hot commodities right now, yet they are still managed out of a series of relatively diffuse campus sources. There is no equivalent of Dwight Hall for Yale's institutional ties to local education, and the many centers for research and outreach have always been a decentralized series of links to specialized teaching fields in the city. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the Career Partnership and its variations, originally an informal relationship between teachers and Yale professors in many cases, became formalized in 1996, soon after the establishment of ONHSA. What little centralization Yale's public school partnerships do have is in part a function of Merson's office.

In addition to the recent activity generated by the Temple Street offices, Yale has a number of established educational centers that continue to set educational precedents nationally, still without the formalized structure of a school of education, or even a department in common. Yet while the lack of central organization can mean more freedom to pursue varying specialized objectives, it faces a trade-off in campus recognition. Gillette lamented, "The irony is that Yale has at least four figures of national and international recognition in the field of education, but one of the challenges I feel is that despite such recognition, most undergraduates don't have a clue. There is no way to filter down this information."

Jim Comer is one of Gillette's "big four," and his School Development Program, run out of the Yale Child Study Center, is one of the top three national school reform groups in the nation. Established in 1968, the program continues to be the most prominent African-American-led education reform group in America. In addition to Comer, Yale can claim Professor Emeritus Seymour Serason, Professor of Psychology and Education Robert Sternberg, and Professor of Psychology and Head Start architect Ed Zigler as educational visionaries. Zigler's "Schools of the Twenty-First Century" program is another reform center that rivals the School Development Program in its scope and influence.

`One university, one school system'

Of course, very few people would openly argue with the public good achieved with programs like the Partnerships and the Teachers' Institute. But this has not simply been a case of Mother Yale flaunting her noblesse oblige either. For those who run educational programs at Yale, the justification is simple. "The idea was first and foremost to create a culture of learning," Merson said. Morand explained further, "These programs have to match strength with strength. They need to be intertwined and embedded in the curriculum of the school and support their identified priorities—we are not an add-on."

Behind the national conferences, grants and success stories like Diana's, Yale's institutional commitment to public education remains the major emergent property. Many, including Vivian and Merson, credit Levin's office and the establishment of ONHSA. "President Levin really from the beginning of his administration has placed a strong emphasis on education," Vivian said. "This has resulted in an expansion of the types of interaction that exist between Yale and New Haven." While a disparate network of offices and participants continues to characterize Yale's interaction in the city's school system, it may see its confidence and profile raised thanks to the centralized support of the Administration. As Merson concluded, "I always see us as one university working with one school system."

Graphic by Sarah England. Photos of Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Nursing by Katie Aldrich. Photos of Yale School of Music and Yale Center for British Art by David Gest.

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