News about the program and our honorees

Cherokee Teacher Gains National Notice as Novelist

Annette Bird Saunooke Clapsaddle’s novel came out in September, and it’s already in its second printing.

Her book, Even as We Breathe, has received rave reviews. Publishers Weekly called it “a lush debut, and “an astonishing addition to World War II and Native American literature.”

Since her novel came out, she has been doing virtual readings – at least three a week — at bookstores in New York and across the country. And she was interviewed recently by National Public Radio correspondent Neda Ulaby at her home in the mountains of western North Carolina. Click here to listen to the interview.

Annette Bird Saunooke Clapsaddle

Honored While at Yale

We honored Ms. Clapsaddle with a scholarship in 2003 when she was an undergraduate at Yale. She earned a master’s degree at William & Mary and then returned to her hometown to work for her tribe, first as assistant to the principal chief and later as executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. She has taught English and Cherokee Studies for 10 years at Swain County High School, whose student population is 30 percent Native American.

She lives in Cherokee, N.C., the main town within the Qualla Boundary, home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, to which she belongs. The Eastern Band was formed by the Cherokees who escaped being displaced by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. When the federal government forced the Cherokees off their land and drove them west in what became known as the Trail of Tears, some hid in the mountains and remained. Later they reclaimed some of their land and reconstituted themselves as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“My Cherokee ancestors have been here, we would say, since the beginning of time,” she told NPR. “Other people would say over ten thousand years.”

A World War II Mystery

The novel is a mystery set at an upscale resort in nearby Asheville during World War II. The resort served as an internment camp for valuable prisoners of war, such as diplomats and their families. The main character is a teenage boy named Cowney, a Cherokee who is accused in the disappearance of a diplomat’s daughter. While Cowney tries to prove his innocence, he also attempts to unravel his complicated family history.

You can order the book here.

The Impact on Her Students

In writing her novel, Ms. Clapsaddle was determined to create characters her students might know in real life.

“For me, that’s what I set out to do, is give my students a story,” she told NPR. One of her students reported he never thought he’d see so much of himself in a character as he did with Cowney. She was deeply moved when he sent her text saying, “People just don’t write about people like us.”

That review is her favorite.

But here’s one of my own. Having just finished the book, I would say that it is more of a love story than a mystery. It’s a compelling love story that ends with an intense emotional impact. The story touched me in a personal way. I think this was not only because of the compelling characters and their fate, but also because of the author’s deeply felt connection with the locale of the story in the ancestral homeland of the Cherokees.

Hearty congratulations, Annette.

  • Woody Exley

Street Mural in Windsor Targets Racism

Sacha Kelly, a mathematics teacher and artist who helped create Black Lives Matter murals in Hartford and Bloomfield, is still spreading the word. She is one of the artists who converged on Windsor recently to paint a colorful mural that spells out “End Racism Now.”

Ms. Kelly, whom we honored in 2009, teaches at the Academy of Science and Innovation, a magnet high school in New Britain run by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).

Sacha Kelly

The mural is on the pavement between the public library and the Eagle Green. Each of the 12 letters conveys a message of its own. Ms. Kelly, the lead artist of the project, painted the letter ‘I.’

“It has different hues of skin colors just to symbolize all the different tones and complexions of the human race, and it says ‘I am a human’,” she told Fox61 in an on-camera interview. Her letter features a geometric design showing the spectrum of skin colors, from chocolate brown to creamy white.

TV News Report

Thanks to the Hartford Courant and Fox61 for covering this story. Click here to view the Fox61 report, which features Sacha and Khaiim Kelly.

Levey Kardulis of Hartford, the project manager, said the mural was intended to emphasize unity. “I did not want chains and handcuffs,” he told the Courant. “I want to bring people together, not create lines of separation. This isn’t done for protest. It’s about community, about bridging the gap.”

Acts of Kindness

Khaiim Kelly, Sacha’s husband, the rapper known as Self Suffice, was also involved in the project. He pointed out that the project has inspired acts of kindness from passers-by, including a woman who was concerned about the artists’ comfort.

“She said ‘no, no no,’ and she walked across the street and got some knee pillows for the artists to lean on Mr. Kelly said. “Another couple came by and said, ‘How can we help?’ You know they started sweeping leaves out of the way.”

Participants from Three Schools

The project already is bringing people together, including students from three of the town’s schools, Windsor High School, Loomis-Chaffee High School and Medina Academy, a Muslim private school.

Said Kardulis, “These are three schools here in the town of Windsor that haven’t worked together before, and they were all working on social justice programs in school, but you know I brought them together to work on this one project.”

Tony Le, of East Hartford, painted the letter ‘S,’ which was centered around voting.

“It’s your right to vote,” he said. “You’ve earned it. They can’t stop you. It’s your vote, your voice. We have to promote that unification of many lives, of many cultures, because this is America.”

An Ongoing Mission

The artists hope that even though the painting is complete, their mission will continue.

Said Sacha Kelly, “I think that is the answer to ending racism. The more we work together, the more we realize that we have more in common than different.”

Desiree Primus of the Windsor Human Relations Commission said the mural reflects the town’s proactive social-justice stance. The town council declared racism a public health crisis in June, and the commission has sponsored a Zoom series on racial justice and community policing, a book club, food drives and a vigil on the green.

New Britain Teacher Expanding the Teacher Pipeline

Sandy Fraioli is taking an ambitious, long-term approach to increasing diversity in the teacher corps. She is starting in high school.

In a pre-Covid-19 photo, Sandy Fraioli, front left, with Colleen Moffett-Mals, who is teaching the Rising Educators course, and their students, front row from left, Shaza Oufi, Lizmarie Maldonado, Deseriah Castillo and Romona Hall, and back row from left, Evan Vinas, Ethan Roy and Maram Aljahmi.

For seven years Ms. Fraioli has led a program to encourage students at New Britain High School – particularly students of color — to pursue careers in teaching. Since then, students from NBHS have enrolled in teacher-preparation programs at Central, Eastern, Southern Connecticut State Universities, University of Saint Joseph, University of Hartford, UConn and Arizona State. And some have graduated and have become teachers.

Sandy Fraioli is Lead Teacher, Family and Consumer Sciences, at NBHS and Teacher Leader in Residence at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

Expanding Into Eight More Districts

Three years ago Ms. Fraioli established a partnership with Educators Rising, a national organization that provides a curriculum of courses to motivate high school students and help them to prepare for careers in education.

This semester, the Connecticut State Department of Education is launching EdRising initiatives in eight additional school districts, Danbury, Hamden, Hartford, Meriden, New Haven, New London, Stamford, Waterbury and Windsor. Ms. Fraioli hopes to have the same success in these districts that she has achieved in New Britain.

Ramona Hall, who took the course at NBHS, has been admitted to UConn, where she plans to enroll in the Neag School of Education.

“The Educators Rising course definitely helped me to decide what I want to do,” she said. “I had so many good experiences.” As part of the class, she volunteered at elementary and pre-school programs in New Britain. She also did a lot of reading and viewed TED talks about multicultural education.

Ramona Hall, a graduate of New Britain High School, has begun at UConn.

“We learned about the need to be aware of different kids’ situations and how to adapt to teaching in different environments,” she said. “We learned so much about teaching in a diverse community.

“Definitely take the class,” is her advice to other high school students. “It’s so worth it. I’m so happy I took it. The focus on actual teaching was really valuable.”

Dr. Shuana Tucker

Dr. Shuana Tucker, Chief Talent Officer, at the Connecticut State Department of Education, introduced Ms. Fraioli to Educators Rising three years ago when she learned about her efforts to interest students in teaching careers.

“We are pleased to partner with the National EdRising/Phi Delta Kappa organization and the Buck Foundation to implement a proven grow-your-own model to diversify our educator pipeline here in Connecticut,” she said.

Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims

Kudos From New Britain Board Member

Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, an Alma Exley Scholar who serves on the New Britain Board of Education, is excited by the way the program has grown from the seed she planted a decade ago.

Dr. Sims initiated and taught the Teacher Cadet course from 2010 to 2012 when she was a teacher at New Britain High School. Sandy Fraioli took over the program in 2013 and nurtured its growth over the pasts seven years. This year Dr. Sims joined the UConn faculty as associate director of teacher preparation at the Neag School.

“I am excited to see the program’s growth and evolution, and the continued support it has received,” said Dr. Sims. “My priorities as a member of the New Britain Board of Education (BOE) remain what they were when I was a teacher in the district — ensuring equity and access for all of our students.

“The EdRising program not only provides the scaffolding for diverse students to become interested in and be able to access teacher education programs, but it also provides a pipeline for bringing graduates back into our community and school system.

Graduate Teaching in New Britain

“In fact, those results are already evident,” she said. “I still keep in touch with several alumni of the first cohort I taught nearly 10 years ago. One is now an elementary school teacher in the district! I look forward to seeing more graduates who participate in this program noted on our BOE personnel reports as new hires.”

At a time when only eight percent of Connecticut public school teachers are persons of color, educators have tried a variety of efforts to achieve greater diversity at the front of the classroom. Many have recognized that efforts to recruit more teachers of color must start early. Waiting until students are in college may be too late.

Moving Into Middle School

“We also had a club at the middle school this year,” Ms. Fraioli said. “Those students are starting high school knowing they want to be teachers. The younger we start the better.

“Our students need teachers who are reflective of the population they’re working with,” she said. “Diversifying our pool of teachers is essential for all ethnicities.

“The earlier we begin planting the seeds in our students that they have the knowledge, confidence and skills to become a teacher, the more apt that they will be to pursue a career in teaching. This has to start now!”