Students from New Light High School, an alternative high school in New Haven, met Thursday with Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, and Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, to discuss their concerns and learn about the political process.
Although the students remained largely quiet, their adult escorts – including teachers – brought up the issue of job opportunity and the fact that young people are leaving the state.
Todney Harris, a social studies teacher at New Light said “many” of the youth want part-time jobs, which would help get them off the streets. Harris believes the lack of opportunity for Connecticut’s youth causes young people to move out of state. “Connecticut is depleting, there’s no youth here,” Harris told Porter. “They’re all going elsewhere, where there’s more opportunity in the prime of their lives.”
New Light high school is part of the New Haven public school system and was established to educate at-risk youth who have been unsuccessful in the regular public school system.
Porter said that individuals and communities are going to have to come together to support each other, particularly in light of the coming budget deficits. “The truth of the matter is we’re looking at over a $1 billion deficit right now,” she told the students. “So we have to start thinking outside of the box. What can we do for ourselves and our kids and our communities that will make us better?”
The issue of college also came up, but not in the usual way. During the meeting with Fasano, Colin Dawkins, a construction contractor and chairman of the Minority Construction Council, made the point that “college is not for everyone.”
Dawkins was invited to join the students due to his previous work in teaching high-schoolers carpentry and to speak on their behalf for more trade-based programs for young people.
Dawkins hopes to see more inner-city youth learning construction trades so they can get good-paying jobs without having to pay for college. He advocated for an apprenticeship program for non-union contractors so they could take kids fresh out of high school and teach them.
“If we have our own apprenticeship program in Connecticut for our black and Hispanic kids, then we can classify them as an apprentice. It would be easy for me to take him onto the job and pay him $20 an hour so he could learn.”
Fasano fielded complaints from both students and adults about the lack of diversity among school teachers and bus safety. Fasano responded that there was a bill he supported that would help recruit minority teachers.
The students also raised concerns about racism and police brutality. Rep. Porter told the students she was currently sponsoring a bill addressing that issue. Porter’s bill, HB 663, would “establish accountability” and “consequences” for police officers who use excessive force.
But jobs and racial issues were not the only subject broached during the trip. Student Erin Ifill expressed concern that school bus drivers can’t call 911 in the event of an emergency but have to radio into dispatch to get emergency help.
Afterwards, student Nasir Lytell said the meeting with the legislators was “interesting.”
“I liked it,” he said. “It was a good discussion.