“Education is the seed to the tree of success,” writes Sophie Tricarico.
Yet, she notes, Bridgeport schools lack many of the resources of those in Westport, just a few miles away. One example: While classroom teachers here enjoy the assistance of multiple paraprofessionals, in Bridgeport there may be only one for an entire school.
And while the Staples High School cafeteria is open for breakfast, snacks and lunch — with options ranging from frozen yogurt to sushi — youngsters at Luis Muñoz Marin Elementary are served “horrific” meals, like 5 chicken fingers and an “unidentifiable fruit cup.” When Staples students brought the Marin kids pizza, the children saved the chicken and fruit in their bags, for a meal later at home.
Sophie was stunned to see the differences in education between the 2 nearly neighboring communities. She wants Connecticut to make a difference for the future — “one seed at a time.”
Luis Munoz Marin Elementary School
Sophie is close to the educational disparity issue. She’s a Staples student — and a member of Linda McClary’s Child Development class.
Working with Christie Barcelona — a former Staples student who now teaches 5th grade at Luis Marin — McClary organized a pen pal project. In addition to writing each other, they arranged for the Westporters to visit the Bridgeport school this past fall.
This month, the elementary schoolers will come to Staples.
Recently, McClary asked her students to write essays about their experiences. The topic was “disparity of education in Connecticut.”
For many in McClary’s class, it’s been an eye-opening semester.
“I have been able to see outside of the ‘Westport bubble,'” Sophie wrote. She called herself “blessed” at the opportunity to meet the Luis Marin 5th graders.
Staples High School
Other essays were equally fascinating. Sami Levin said:
Over school breaks, dozens of Staples kids take a trip somewhere exotic like Ecuador or Nicaragua to help families living poorly by building schools, homes, etc.
I am not trying to take away from their experience, but it blows my mind the amount of people who go on these service trips plane rides away, versus the amount of people who go a few miles down the highway to help families.
Ten miles down the road, we can help. We can make the difference.
Sami contrasted her time at Luis Marin with her visit to Coleytown Elementary School — another part of McClary’s curriculum.
Coleytown Elementary School
Coleytown classrooms have rugs, a smartboard, plenty of cubbies and “hundreds of books, based on genre and authors. An amazing environment for the students to learn.”
In Bridgeport the desks were all paired, with a few pencils for pupils to share.
“The kids who need comfort and stability at school are the ones who aren’t getting an equal education,” Sami wrote. “How is this fair?”
Sami called the visit to Luis Marin “honestly life changing. It made me deeply appreciate the teachers, janitors, principals, etc. in my school who make this environment a place I love going to every day. I just hope that one day, each child has the opportunity to value and enjoy education like I do.”
Elisabeth Tonsberg admitted — “much to my absolute dismay” — that she has been stuck in a “rich kid bubble.” She assumed everyone had dolls, piano lessons and other expensive things. Surrounded by laptops and other affluent students, she asked herself: “How many times have I driven past Bridgeport and not even had a second thought to the shattered windows and empty buildings?”
An abandoned factory near downtown Bridgeport.
She called the “complete imbalance” of Connecticut’s schools “absolutely unacceptable.”
How can we possibly make these kids excited to learn without proper supplies? How can we expect American children to achieve amazing things, and improve our country, when they aren’t provided with enough materials to better their education?
Individual meetings proved instructive. Gabby Neufeld learned that her pen pal faced enormous struggles at home. Spending time together helped the young girl — and made the older one feel like an important role model.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to give her advice on friends,” Gabby said. “Also, to try to positively affect her future by telling her to do well in school and never slack off.”
Other students — Emma Buchanan, Morgan Leonard, Charles Overton, Emily Pozzuto — shared their own, powerful insights.
I was especially moved by Lily Williams’ unique perspective. Growing up in Fairfield, she was chosen through a lottery to attend the Bridgeport 6 to 6 Magnet School. She hated to leave her childhood friends, and dealt with enormous culture shock.
Bridgeport’s 6 to 6 Magnet School
But as the year went on, Lily learned about her classmates’ “cultures, neighborhoods, families and background stories.” That led her to “a new world full of fresh faces and experiences that changed my perspective to helping others.”
She stopped judging others — “which was hard for a middle school girl” — and felt transformed into someone who was “open-minded to accept all of the new experiences happening around me.”
In 8th grade, her family moved into her grandparents’ Westport home, to take care of them. This time, it was “culture shock in reverse.”
I have learned so much in the past several years, and recently from my Child Development class, about educational disparity. Every child deserves an equal opportunity at a good education.
As my inspiring teacher, Linda McClary, said to my class: “Get up in the morning, go to school, and thank your lucky stars your parents moved to this town and this school.”
Last year, Child Development student Nicole Dienst went to Bridgeport. Here are her interviews with Luis Muñoz Marin Elementary School teacher (and Staples grad) Christie Barcelona, and former superintendent of schools Fran Rabinowitz: