Stamford Academy 11th Grader “Jerome” (not his real name)
Last year, Jerome was very excited to read the book Push by Saphire. His friends at Stamford Academy kept talking about the book, and he was looking forward to seeing the movie Precious when it came out a few months later. Jerome was working with one of our reading specialists, Ms. N. The two sat down to read the book together. As Jerome started reading, Ms. N knew it would be a huge challenge for Jerome to finish this book. She did her best to work slowly and break it apart for him, but he was only able to complete the first few pages. Ms. N. knew something needed to be done to address Jerome’s reading challenges. She recommended him to the special education team and kept focusing on basic literacy skills.
Push is about an urban teenager who struggles with illiteracy. Throughout the book, the main character learns how important reading is in her life. Ms. N. decided to use this book and topic to connect to Jerome’s own struggles with reading, which led to additional conversations about the importance of literacy. The two took a step away from the book, and Ms. N developed a different reading plan for Jerome. They focused on reading shorter, simpler texts in order to build his skills. By the end of the school year, Jerome had completed four simple books including Osbert and Lucy and Tex The Cowboy. He was able to write a report on each book and truly understood why it was important to take a step back in order to move forward with his literacy education.
Jerome is currently working on reading comprehension strategies with Ms. N and is determined to grow as a reader. He now reads independently and finished The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and is in the middle of reading Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.
Domus Academy student “Ray” (not his real name)
Ray, a Domus Academy student, arrived at our school unconcerned with his grades or academic work. He had a difficult time focusing in class and often needed instruction in a small group or individual setting. He spent the majority of his time in our problem-solving room; he often provoked other students and left class without returning for extended periods of time. Ray was extremely defiant to school staff members. He was involved in daily conflict with his fellow students during transition times and in the gym and cafeteria, which usually resulted in him returning to Problem Solving. His constant need to be redirected had greatly interfered with his academic growth and achievement. Ray’s family advocate, Stan, had regular, meaningful conversations with Ray to let him know how much potential Stan and the school staff saw in him. Stan would pick him up in the morning and take him home after school to let Ray know how much he is cared about. Stan discussed Ray’s actions with him and showed him some patience and good faith, and in just a few months, Ray has turned around his performance in school. He has virtually remained out of Problem Solving, has had excellent attendance, and raised his grades significantly, even asking for extra credit work. Ray has shown he is ready to take his academics more seriously as he prepares to go to a technical high school in the New Haven area.
Trailblazers Academy 6th Grader “Barry” (not his real name)
Barry is a 6th grade boy at Trailblazers. Before coming to Trailblazers, Barry would never participate in physical education class because he was scared of being picked on for being overweight. After meeting Mr. Carney, Barry stated he immediately felt comfortable because Mr. Carney told him he would never make him do anything which would embarrass him or anything he could not physically do. Over the last year, Barry developed a positive relationship with Mr. Carney which helped him build up his self-esteem and confidence. Barry has begun to manage his weight with skills he learned in Mr. Carney’s PE class and is now a member of the wrestling team.
Domus Academy 8th Grader “Derrick” (not his real name)
Derrick is a 14-year-old 8th grader at Domus Academy who lives with his mother and brother. Derrick is currently involved with the juvenile court system. When Joy, Derrick‘s family advocate, first met Terence, Derrick’s mother explained he was just a “bad kid.” Joy attempted to instill hope in the mom by explaining that Domus Academy would help her son improve academically and behaviorally, but the mother remained skeptical, having been let down time and again by systems set up to support her children. When Derrick first entered Domus Academy, he was getting into physical altercations and verbally fighting with other students and school staff; he also left the school without permission. Derrick was reading at a pre-K level, despite being an 8th grader; he did not take his education seriously at all. Joy met with Derrick regularly to help him to develop goals and get used to this new school where people cared about his education and showed that concern daily. Joy approached Derrick from a strengths-based perspective, regularly praising him for work he did when he decided to do it and acknowledging Derrick’s successes. Derrick was connected with the special education teacher who began to work closely with him to develop his academic skill set. After being at Domus Academy for several months, Joy believes Derrick has changed completely. He no longer worries about fighting and being the main distraction in the school and no longer wants to leave school early. Derrick always does his work in class and remains productive. He’s a completely different person from the one Joy first met during the summer prior to the school opening. Derrick has won the Phoenix of the Week Award for his tremendous efforts and is proud to share his accomplishments on tests. Joy regularly calls Derrick’s mom to tell her the good things he’s doing in school. Derrick is now on the basketball team, even though at the beginning of the school year he said he didn’t want to do any extra activities. He has truly turned his life around.
Trailblazers Academy 7th Grader “Diamond” (not her real name)
Diamond is a 7th grader who transferred to Trailblazers in search of a new beginning for her education. One of the biggest changes Diamond felt as a result of her transfer was her experience in Mr. Carney’s PE class. Diamond recalls not having much to do in PE in her other school because she felt that most of the activities were geared towards boys. At Trailblazers, Diamond quickly noticed Mr. Carney is very creative and versatile when creating his lesson plans to meet the needs of every student no matter the gender. On days she did not feel like participating in PE class, Diamond says Mr. Carney would always find a way to motivate with his positive words of encouragement or a warm smile and good attitude.
Trailblazers Academy 6th Grader “Jose” (not his real name)
Jose, a 6th grader at Trailblazers Academy, was severely bullied in elementary school. While completing the comprehensive assessment form Trailblazers uses to get to know each student and family, Jose’s mom shared with Terri, Jose’s family advocate, that Jose was constantly sad and withdrawn. Terri helped Jose set goals on his student action plan and had regular conversations about trying to get more involved in school, being more confident, and making friends. Terri reached out to Jose’s teachers for support and asked for their help integrating Jose with his peers in the classroom. By late fall, Jose decided to run for student council. He put up posters around the school and even had “campaign managers” (two new friends he had made). Terri modeled with Jose how to approach and talk to his classmates while he passed out his election-day cupcakes. Jose was acquiring new social skills and applying them quickly; he also wrote a great speech and practiced it with Terri. Jose showed confidence and courage when he read his speech in front of the whole school at Trailblazers’ weekly Town Hall Meeting. Although Jose didn’t win the election, Terri believes he gained something even greater: a sense of belonging, skills to develop healthy friendships, and the confidence to take risks. Jose’s mom is thrilled with the change she has seen in him. She believes Trailblazers’ small classes and supportive and empowering environment have helped her son grow. Jose’s mom is brought to tears when she even thinks about what Jose went through in elementary school; she believes that if he went to a larger school without the support of a family advocate like Terri, he may still be struggling with social and emotional challenges. Jose’s mom is glad he has found a place where he is encouraged to try new things and safely challenge himself.
Trailblazers Academy 8th Grader “Lia” (not her real name)
Before coming to Trailblazers Academy, 8th grader Lia was getting Cs and Ds on her middle school report cards and struggled with her temper and attitude. Her behaviors got her in trouble, which brought her grades down. Lia and her mother wanted to see changes; they both wanted her to do well. Lia and her mom spoke with Sam, the director of the Lion’s Den, Trailblazers’ after-school program, who took Lia under his wing and worked with her one-on-one. Sam had Lia write down what was important to her, and together, they made a goal sheet of all the things she wanted to accomplish. Lia and Sam started this process in December 2010, and since that time, Lia has made tremendous progress academically and socially. Lia herself has noticed the change. She even made the honor roll recently. Sam and Lia are now going to meet again to start another goal list since Lia has achieved the ones she originally listed.
Trailblazers Academy 6th Grader “Marcus” (not his real name)
Marcus is a 6th grader at Trailblazers Academy who has made tremendous strides this year after developing a relationship with his physical education teacher, Mr. Carney. Marcus expressed that his PE experience has really helped him with his personal life. Marcus always felt disconnected from his previous PE teachers because they would only focus on the lesson and not on building a relationship. Marcus seems to always find an open ear in Mr. Carney during PE class when it comes to talking about his problems or seeking advice, and they’ve built a strong connection that goes beyond just learning about standard phys ed topics.
Trailblazers Academy student “Rachelle” (not her real name)
Rachelle had multiple fights and behavior issues last year. She frequently threatened to hurt students and staff, and she was dealing with significant social and emotional challenges. This year, with the help of her family advocate, Rachelle identified a goal she would like to work on this year: in her words, “to be a better human being.” Since that time, Rachelle has worked hard on mediation skills and now comes to the family advocate when she has a conflict with someone. She has become very solution-focused. Rachelle recently had an issue where one student accused her of stealing. Instead of screaming at that student as she would have done previously, Rachelle waited until the next day to approach the family advocate. She asked to have an adult present while she talked with the student. Rachelle was able to calmly and competently express her feelings to the other student she was having a conflict with. She told the student how she felt, using “I” statements, and never accused the other student of wrongdoing. Rachelle has shown tremendous emotional progress this year.
Stamford Academy student “Nicole” (not her real name)
Nicole is a special education student who came to Stamford Academy from a nearby school district. She currently lives with her aunt in Stamford but is involved with the State Department of Children & Families and has a State guardian. Nicole has been struggling in math, starting the year with a D. Her triennial PPT was supposed to be April 2010 to implement some changes to her supports. Because of complications with districts, our special education team could not get the district to schedule the meeting until December 2010, but even then, they wanted to wait another 45 days until a reading assessment was conducted. After a few meetings and hours of advocating for the PPT to be conducted ASAP, the meeting was finally scheduled. The family advocate had a supportive pre-meeting with Nicole to discuss specific struggles and needs. At her long-overdue triennial PPT, Nicole was articulate and respectful; she spoke with confidence about concerns which needed to be addressed. The family advocate was so proud to see Nicole communicating professionally and advocating on behalf regarding her own learning needs. Nicole will now have a full evaluation for her reading and math skills as well as weekly tutoring after school.
Trailblazers Academy 8th Grader “Roy” (not his real name)
Roy, a 14-year-old student at Trailblazers Academy, did not enjoy coming to school, which led to many absences, calls home, and meetings. His family is extremely poor, and Roy found an easy way to obtain things he really wanted without paying for them. He began stealing from his family, and on one occasion, he stole from his teacher. After brainstorming ideas to help Roy and his family overcome this situation, Roy’s family advocate decided it would be best if Roy began seeing the school psychologist and a mentor from the [City of Stamford’s] STAMP program. The family advocate also requested the family be adopted by a local donor as an angel family to help them have a Christmas celebration with gifts and a nice meal.
Roy started meeting with his mentor and began participating in the Stamford Youth Soccer Team, free of charge. He has been attending school with increased frequency and with his hard effort, his Social Studies project was chosen number one from his entire grade. Full of happiness and gratefulness, Roy’s mother shared with the family advocate that Roy has made a drastic change since we began working with him. He has begun finding small jobs to earn money for the things he would like to buy and has stopped stealing. Mom said she could not thank us enough for what we have done for Roy and the entire family.
“Gerald” came to Trailblazers in the 6th grade reading at a 3rd grade level—he was an unhappy foster child who struggled with friendships and behavior. At our Lion’s Den Out-of-School-Time Program, Gerald connected with a staff member who saw his athletic abilities and used that strength to help him learn to make better decisions and focus on the consequences of his behavior. Gerald was eventually adopted by a loving family. His behavior began to improve, and by his 8th grade year, he was selected to be a leader on two sports teams and was reading at an 8th grade level, progressing five levels in three years. Gerald is now a young man ready to enter high school and be a success socially and academically.
“I was on the road to death and destruction when I met Mr. Woods. Mr. Woods was the person who has had the greatest impact on my life. From the beginning he took me under his wing and treated me like a son. He gave me advice and supported my decisions, whether right or wrong, but let me know the consequences. His belief in me empowered me to strive to do better. In doing so, over the years I have developed a better character, drive, and respect to become a better person and have a successful life.”
-a young man in Project Hope, our street outreach program
“I want to thank you for allowing me to work for you once again and work with the brightest young kids I have ever encountered. It was an experience in itself. I learned a lot from the youth and as well as my fellow counselors, and I have really enjoyed my time with the Domus family. I am back at school now continuing my education. Thanks once again and keep in touch.”
– a Chester Addison Community Center youth who works at the center during the summer and on college breaks