David Obedzinski, president of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, presented the following remarks at the reception honoring Isabella “Ivy” Horan on May 9 at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford.
In 1997, a signed agreement and an initial gift of $10,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, which was then called the New Britain Foundation for Public Giving, established the Alma Exley Scholarship Fund.
Inspired by Alma’s life lessons, and I quote…“her experiences as an educator helping others – particularly women and those of color – to lead a life of bringing justice to the world and to right the wrongs of the past.” …she asked that this scholarship take root – it was her wish, and it represents her ongoing and lasting work.
Alma is here with us today. She is with each and every Alma Exley Scholarship Recipient. She’s with them as they hear the good news of their award, as they study and learn how they can make a difference, as they discover how they can apply that knowledge, as they think about how they can inspire others as Alma inspires us today, and she is with us as we gather in settings such as this.
The Alma Exley Scholarship and all that it represents is the essence of what makes a community foundation effective in our communities.
A need is identified; a person or persons work with us to establish resources and inspire others to contribute; the fund helps us address that need; and we are inspired by those who benefit from it.
This is a legacy we are so proud to be associated with.
In 1997, this Alma Exley Scholarship began with $10,000. Today, the fund is approaching $170,000, and dozens of students have benefitted from its awards and are tremendous examples of Alma’s spirit and drive to help others.
Thank you to Alma, Woody and the family for entrusting us with this very special scholarship. Thank you to the individuals who make gifts to this fund throughout the year. Congratulations to this year’s recipient, Ivy, and thank you for the opportunity to address you this evening. It is an honor for our community foundation to be associated with this fund. Thank you.
Theodore Martinez, whom we honored in 2018, is an adjunct professor at Asnuntuck Community College, teaching psychology at a state prison. As guest speaker at the reception honoring Isabella “Ivy” Horan on May 9, 2019, he presented the following reflections his experience and the impact of teachers of color.
It’s an honor for me to be here tonight and to pass the torch to tonight’s recipient. Congratulations, Isabella, on this honor, and welcome to the Alma Exley family.
I must admit, I am very impressed in hearing of all of Isabella’s accomplishments. Addressing educational equity is not an easy feat, but incredibly important. As teachers of color, it often falls on us to be the voice of experience for our students. I’m happy to learn she has already found her voice and is already advocating for change.
This year, I began working as an adjunct at Asnuntuck Community College, teaching an Introduction to Psychology course. I mention this because the students I work with are in a situation many of us are trying to prevent. These students have found themselves on the wrong end of the fabled school-to-prison pipeline. Asnuntuck has partnered with four of the correctional institutions in Connecticut to offer college courses, leading to degrees, for students housed in these facilities in an effort to reduce recidivism. This program is under the Second-Chance Pell Program, a national initiative, and I’m proud to say Asnuntuck is one of the largest programs in the country.
Every Monday night, I sit in classroom with 15 students. Of those 15 students, 12 are minorities. This is a trend that many of my colleagues experience. And while the thought of so many minority students pursuing a college degree fills me with pride, their overrepresentation in this particular class, in this particular setting troubles me.
These students are hardworking and dedicated. They’re committed to their success, and on multiple times we’ve reflected on their actions leading to their incarceration. Each time we do, at least one acknowledges if he had known better, he would do better. If he had someone who rooted for him, he might not have ended up here.
When I leave the prison on Monday night, and enter my classroom of third graders on Tuesday morning, I’m hit with the same thought: What can I do to make sure these students don’t end up in my Monday night class? How can I help them?
Like the adults I teach, my classroom of third graders consists primarily of minority students. Of the five students who receive special education support, three are minorities. All of the behavior plans that have been established are for minority students.
This is seen nationally. Research tells us there is an overrepresentation of minority students in special education. We know there’s a problem. The question that evades so many of us is “How do we fix it?”
The first step is why we’re all here. The same research that tells us there’s a problem also tells us that we desperately need more teachers of color. Students of color perform better when they see someone who looks like them. They achieve more when they have someone who speaks like them; who understands them. I’m sure of my fellow recipients currently working in the field can share their own personal stories regarding the truth in this statement.
I always think of one particular student. This student had been identified as a “problem” child by my colleagues and as such was written off by many of them. They labeled him as disrespectful, disruptive and argumentative. Over time, I was able to build a relationship with him. He confided in me, telling me that because we looked alike, he felt better. He began sharing a home-life I couldn’t relate to. This student was disruptive in class because he hated silence. He lived in a rough part of Hartford and had been home alone when someone broke into the house. Silence unsettled him. He was acting out because he didn’t have strategies to manage. Because I stopped and asked why, we were able to work together and help him succeed.
Every day a student like him enters your classroom carrying something unseen. And every day it falls on their teacher to be their one constant. The job is tiring. You build these powerful relationships with students and worry about them at night. Stress comes from trying to plan the perfect lesson that integrates cultural understanding, supports their social/emotional growth and development, and still hits the academic standards.
Teachers are required to wear many hats: educator, surrogate parent, therapist, guide, nurse. Teaching is a lot. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
Nothing matches the feeling you get from working with students, pushing them to continually grow in their learning. Seeing their faces glow when experiencing something new is priceless. Establishing those bonds, working to be that one teacher a student remembers, is fulfilling. At the end of the day, a student won’t remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Isabella, congratulations on becoming the 2019 recipient. Welcome to the Alma Exley scholarship family, and welcome to the fight to change education for the better.
Although students of color account for almost half of the enrollment in Connecticut’s public schools, only about nine percent of educators are persons of color.
Most of the teachers of color are concentrated in the major cities of Hartford New Haven, New Britain and Bridgeport. Some smaller cities and towns, such as New London Bloomfield, also have sizable numbers of teachers of color.
Overall, 46 percent of students in the state’s public schools are persons of color while only about nine percent of educators — including administrators and teachers — are persons of color.
Following are the percentages of educators who are persons of color and students of color in selected cities and towns.
School District % of Minority % of Minority
Avon 33 3
Berlin 19 1
Bloomfield 90 25
Bridgeport 87 26
Danbury 66 12
East Granby 23 4
East Hartford 85 12
East Windsor 40 12
Enfield 29 3
Farmington 38 5
Glastonbury 28 4
Granby 14 4
Greenwich 38 10
Hartford 90 25
Manchester 64 10
Meriden 70 8
Middletown 52 9
New Britain 80 18
New Haven 87 26
New London 81 19
Newington 40 4
Redding 16 3
Rock Hill 44 3
Simsbury 24 2
South Windsor 39 5
Stamford 70 16
Vernon 42 5
Waterbury 82 13
West Hartford 43 8
Westport 18 5
Windsor 74 17
Windsor Locks 39 6