Dear friends and partners,
More than 10 years ago, I decided to get involved in supporting students and educators in Connecticut. With an introduction from a friend, I visited an alternative high school in Norwalk to ask how I could help and soon found myself volunteering often, getting to know the young people and educators at the school.
At this school for students let down by the traditional system, the young people I got to know were very smart, with passions that lit them up, and so much potential to succeed. But they also had difficult circumstances that caused their lives to be very hard. Many had experienced poverty and trauma. Because of the host of challenges they faced as a result, they needed extra support to get to high school graduation relative to young people who didn’t face these challenges.
Any of my four sons could have been in the same position as the students at this school, left behind and underestimated, had they faced similar challenges and circumstances. I see my sons in young people across Connecticut, and that is why I have such passion to help them.
The years when a child is in preschool and elementary school are an important time for shaping a child’s life. Middle school is also very important. But I couldn’t stop thinking about what happens to the young people who reach high school and are not on track to graduate, because their lives have been harder, and because society has failed them?
I couldn’t think of anything else that I could do with my family’s resources and my time that could compare to supporting more of Connecticut’s young people who are struggling to instead succeed, particularly during their high school years, when there is such a critical window of opportunity for a young person to get the extra support they need to change the course of their life.
I got to know the educators while I was volunteering at the high school, too. I saw close up just how passionate they are, how much responsibility they feel for their students who are struggling, and how they really would do anything for them. My respect and admiration for educators continued to deepen, as did my commitment to supporting them as well—through recognizing their efforts which are too often underappreciated and providing opportunities for professional learning aligned to their interests and desires.
As we have expanded our efforts in the years since to reach educators and youth who are off-track and disconnected in communities across the state, our approach remains informed by our ongoing engagement and collaboration with young people, teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, superintendents, youth development professionals, community leaders, and other experts whose insights can best inform our work.
We continue to learn and stay nimble. I find that the more I know, the more I realize I don't know but can continue to learn by keeping an open mind. I believe that if we all work together, we can build a Connecticut that supports every educator and young person to reach their greatest potential.