Community Learning Initiative Fellows Present Fall Semester Research

Students Partnered with Community Organizations on Education, Incarceration, and Immigration Research

Hartford, CT, December 16, 2014 – The opportunity to engage with community organizations and the city of Hartford is a hallmark of a Trinity education. For five Community Learning Initiative (CLI) fellows, this partnership produced some remarkably important work in the areas of education, immigration, and incarceration. Presenting their research last week, the students discussed their findings and the new skills they learned, but also what the experience meant to them and why working with community partners is important.

Students worked with Hartford Public Schools, Achieve Hartford, the Hartford Public Library, Connecticut Parent Power, and the Judy Dworin Performance Project for their research. In addition to their community partners, each had a faculty sponsor who helped guide them through the process.

Richelle Benjamin ’15 partnered with CT Parent Power under the guidance of Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, visiting assistant professor of educational studies. Benjamin analyzed public testimony from the debate about Connecticut’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Benjamin presented the most common explanations for support and opposition to the Common Core, along with which groups and types of individuals were most supportive or opposed. She particularly enjoyed using the information to visualize the arguments by both sides.

“This is the first time I’ve handled so much data,” she said. “It was really interesting dealing with the data to tell a story.”

CLI Fellows at the December 9 research presentations.
Photo by Diana Guay Photography.
 Minh Anh Nguyen ’16 and Minh Nguyen ’16 worked together with Hartford Public Schools and Achieve Hartford to evaluate Hartford’s efforts to attract racially diverse students to its magnet schools. Their faculty sponsor was Diane Zannoni, G. Fox and Company Professor of Economics. By visualizing the geographic distribution of students in Hartford magnet schools, Nguyen and Nguyen discovered that between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years, Hartford Public Schools succeeded in attracting a more diverse population of students from a broader geographic area. Like Benjamin, they found the experience of using large sets of data to visualize their results to be rewarding.

Working alongside Judy Dworin, professor of theater and dance, and the Judy Dworin Performance Project, Victoria Smith Ellison ’15 compared various arts programs in prisons around the country and the services and benefits they provide to inmates. The Judy Dworin Performance Project conducts arts and performance programs at the York Correctional Institute in Niantic, Connecticut, as well as provides opportunities to formerly incarcerated women.

Ellison concluded through her research that “arts programs provide a community of support for formerly incarcerated women, increase their self-sufficiency, and increase public awareness about incarceration and those affected.”

Chloe Shiras ’15, working with faculty sponsor Garth Myers, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Urban International Studies, helped create an FAQ for The American Place, a resource center for immigrants at the Hartford Public Library. Shiras worked with the Hartford Public Library staff to identify the most frequent questions and concerns that immigrants, most of them undocumented, bring to The American Place. She then explored the government and social service resources available to find answers, something Shiras said “took a lot of creativity.” Most of the questions involved issues related to education, healthcare, and deportation. Shiras’s work will now be distributed as an FAQ sheet at the Hartford Public Library.

“It was great working with the Hartford Public Library,” Shiras said. “They were very helpful and gave me a lot of feedback about what immigrants in Hartford are looking for.”

The CLI fellows conducting year-long research projects will present their work in April, at CLI’s Community Partners Appreciation Event.