An educational studies research project this semester introduced Trinity students to some of the ways in which the College engages with Hartford’s public education system.

School Choice class HMTCA partnership
Natalie Miller ’24 discusses research based on interviews with parents and caregivers of students enrolled in the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. Photos by Helder Mira.

Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Elise Castillo’s “School Choice, Equity, and Democracy” course (EDUC-304) connected students to a local public school with the support of Trinity’s Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) and Trinfo.Café. Their research project focused on interviewing parents and caregivers of students enrolled in the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA) about how its partnership with Trinity influenced their decision to enroll their children in the school.

According to Castillo, the research project served both to increase the Trinity students’ skills in community learning research and to evaluate and improve the partnership’s initiatives. As an added benefit, Castillo said, “This experience fostered more connections between my students and the broader community outside of Trinity.”

School Choice class HMTCA partnership
Teddy Komjathy ’24 talks about recommendations for improving Trinity’s partnership with Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy.

Launched in 2011, the HMTCA-Trinity Partnership is an early college experience for students attending the interdistrict magnet school located just across Broad Street from the Trinity campus. Some examples of the partnership include: qualified HMTCA juniors and seniors may take Trinity courses and receive college credit; HMTCA seniors take English courses in a classroom on Trinity’s campus; and HMTCA students may attend a Summer Writing Institute taught by Trinity professors. In addition, a new afterschool program connects HMTCA students with Trinity student tutors and mentors.

HMTCA-Trinity Partnership Program Manager Liliana Polley said, “Creating mutually beneficial relationships—not just with HMTCA, but with the Hartford community—benefits everyone. The partnership creates opportunities for HMTCA and Trinity to foster meaningful connections with the city.”

School Choice class HMTCA partnership
Sophia Jones ’24 gives a presentation as part of the ‘School Choice, Equity, and Democracy’ course.

Castillo designed this semester’s project for students to share their research with Polley and other staff and faculty members. “The students connected their main findings to some recommendations for all of us who are involved with the HMTCA-Trinity Partnership to think about in terms of strengthening the partnership going forward,” Castillo said. “It’s a complicated task to dig into the data and really identify what’s most important, what are the main themes, and how can we package them in a way that is accessible to somebody who was not there when we were doing the research.”

Students conducted interviews with HMTCA parents and caregivers at Trinfo.Café—a community space next door to the school—and at CHER’s offices at 70 Vernon Street. Findings from students’ interviews brought up some questions and challenges to address. Castillo said, “There were some assumptions that parents had about what it meant to have their kid go to a school that has this affiliation with Trinity that actually were not correct. That was important for us to identify, because that means there’s some work we can all do to make it clearer for the HMTCA community what exactly are the programs that are offered to them at Trinity, and what we don’t offer.”

Polley said that creating more opportunities and access to Trinity’s resources is critical in supporting Hartford’s initiatives to improve education access. “We have been working on creating those opportunities, but there is more that can be done,” she said. “For example, there is strong interest in greater community access to Trinity’s athletic facilities.”

School Choice class HMTCA partnership
Erica Crowley, director of community learning, and Liliana Polley, HMTCA-Trinity Partnership program manager, listen to students present their research.

Class member Maria Vicuña ’24, an educational studies major with a concentration in race and educational disparities, is an HMTCA alumna and a student member of the HMTCA-Trinity Partnership Committee, giving her a unique perspective. “It’s really cool hearing conversations about all the work it takes in the partnership, as someone who used to go to HMTCA and now being here and part of the committee to improve the partnership,” Vicuña said. “I’m from Hartford, and I see people take these [EDUC-304 and community learning courses] and are dedicated to interviewing and teaching kids and wanting to do a good job. For me, as someone from the community, it makes me happy to see Trinity’s efforts to make the partnership a better place and improve relationships with the Hartford community.”

According to Castillo, this type of research can also help students improve their overall connection to the Hartford community. “A very small number of my students had been to Trinfo.Café before, so students got to learn that we have this community space right across the street from our campus with this rich history in fostering community relationships and offering opportunities for Trinity students to get involved in the community,” Castillo said. “I see that as a positive outcome and I hope my students—now that they know about Trinfo.Café—will be more likely to attend an event or volunteer.”

School Choice class HMTCA partnership
Maria Vicuña ’24 and Xavier Mercado ’24 present their research based on interviews with parents and caregivers of students enrolled in the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy.

Students’ interactions with the Hartford community through the HMTCA interviews added to their understanding as community members and future leaders in education. Xavier Mercado ’24, an English and educational studies double major who plans to pursue a career in education, said, “Outreach in urban settings is important to me in helping kids have the opportunities to know that they’re able to be successful. I’ve always been someone who sees the power of education, so I would want to use my role as an educator to emphasize this. Doing work like this really helps to push the message.”

Castillo added, “This project contributes to more Trinity students really understanding that we have HMTCA students from the school across the street using and welcome on Trinity’s campus. We can also strengthen and expand opportunities for our students to be present at HMTCA and create more synergies across the two communities.”

Learn more about the HMTCA-Trinity Partnership here.