When is a B in school not good enough? When you're Doris Smith's kid.
The East Hartford parent was talking this week about why she sent
her two children - Sherifa, 16, and Dante, 14 - to the new Capital
Preparatory Magnet School, which opened Monday in its temporary home
at Capital Community College in Hartford.
"I felt they weren't being pushed enough," the
Jamaica native said.
For example, Dante's teachers would tell her Dante was disciplined,
respectful and a good student. When he got a B on his report card,
Smith wanted to know why. Dante had missed a homework assignment, she
was told. It was news to Smith, who had been in constant contact with
"They said, `Well, he's still doing good,'" Smith said. "But
to me that wasn't good enough. If you can get an A, I want an
A out of you."
That's why she is so enamored of Capital
Prep, and Stephen Perry, its 36-year-old, goatee-wearing, no-excuses-tolerated,
streetwise principal. He ran an intensive summer college prep
program that became the model for the new grade 6-12 school.
Sherifa had been a regular participant in Perry's six-week summer
boot camp, a college primer known as ConnCap - the Connecticut Collegiate
Awareness and Preparatory program.
But Sherifa was miffed at the tone Perry took with her and some of
her peers this year.
"On the second day, she said, 'Mr.
Perry told us off,'" recalls
Smith, a parent volunteer at the school. Sherifa said Perry "didn't
think we should be in this program."
Smith asked her daughter what she
planned to do about it. "She
said, 'Well, I'm going to show him,'" Smith said. "That's
what I liked. Some of these children need that."
This school year is an important
one for Hartford, rapidly changing into "Magnet City." Capital
Prep opened, heralding its college-geared curriculum. The University
High School, to be located eventually on the campus of the University
of Hartford, is allowing students with a proficiency in math and
science to be exposed to college life and to take college courses.
With these new magnets, Hartford is off to a helluva start in trying
to meet Mayor Eddie Perez's edict to send more city kids to four-year
universities. Want to start changing perceptions about the capital
city? Get people talking about how impressed they are with the schools.
About 1,500 students applied for the 230 seats available at Capital
Here's a school that actually replicated and expanded upon an academic
success story in the city - an all-too-rare phenomenon. Show me a program
that is successful in educating urban youth, and I'll show you one
that is simply struggling to survive, let alone expand.
The ConnCap program, over a six-year period, sent 100 percent of the
approximately 140 students who participated on to college.
A few years back, a crying parent, thrilled
at her daughter's progress under ConnCap, asked Perry, 'What
After some persistent lobbying of city and state officials, a full-blown
school was hatched.
"When you spend $27,000 to send your child to Kingswood-Oxford,
you are sending them for one reason only - to prepare them for the
next level of education. That's it," said Perry. "So, our
expectation is that our children have to compete for the same
spots at the same schools."
Capital Prep's 230 kids, from 16 towns, are a serious-minded bunch.
Seventy-five percent of the students are African American, Latino or
Asian. Some of the suburban kids travel from as far away as Ellington
Darius Ritches was rockin' the school
uniform - blue blazer, white shirt, striped tie, khaki pants, black
shoes. A diamond earring glistened from each ear. The 16-year-old
junior from East Hartford looked sharp, or as senior Crystal Rosario
put it, "crispy."
Juniors and seniors must take some college classes. School is year
round - July to August; August to December; January to June. Classes
are 93 minutes long, as opposed to the typical 45. There are mandatory
"It doesn't matter who you are, there are high expectations here
for everyone," said Rosario, 17, from East Hartford.
Some students already have their resumes and college essays prepared.
"This program is going to make a big change in our community,
a huge change," said Rosario, who would be the first in her family
to pursue post-high school education.
She said succinctly, and this surely this will hearten Perez:
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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