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Jennifer Straub, Principal of Maloney High School, Meriden

Staying the Course in Meriden

Pandemic or not, the clock is ticking for 9th-graders. Freshman year is an especially vulnerable time for students, who are most likely to become disengaged and disconnected amid the tough transition from middle to high school.

“If I can keep my freshmen engaged until sophomore year, they have virtually no issues as juniors or seniors,” said Maloney Principal Jennifer Straub. “But the whole concept of earning credits and making sure you have enough for graduation is a heavy lift for a 14-year-old. We engage them, connect them to the school, build positive relationships, and show them that hard work pays off four years down the road.”

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Chris Arenas, Co-Director, Domus Knights

Keeping Focus on the Future in Stamford

Keeping focus on the long term is often a challenge for students from vulnerable families, where immediate needs for money, safety, and security can crowd out slow-moving, incremental progress in school. When the pandemic caused simultaneous health and financial crises for already stressed families overnight, “the challenges were endless,” said Mike Duggan, Executive Director of Domus Kids.

"Our work is all about the relationships and trust we build with our students. We push them in the right direction every day, and they know we will make sure they have whatever they need to be successful," said Chris Arenas, Co-Director of Domus Knights.

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Antonio, Saidy, Freddy, Doris (mom), Denise (baby), and Xavier Gutierrez (left to right)

Expanding Connectivity in Norwalk

Antonio Xum Gutierrez is a straight-A student at West Rocks Middle School in Norwalk who plans to study engineering in college. But whenever schools are closed due to COVID-19, he has to miss his favorite class, math. That's when his 8-year-old brother Xavi takes a turn using their mother's cellphone hotspot, which the boys share throughout the day to connect to remote school. Meanwhile, their older brother Fredy and sister Saidy use their personal cellphones to log into virtual classes at Norwalk High School.

The overarching challenges posed by a global, unpredictable, and deadly pandemic can feel vast and overwhelming. But for many children, it's the workaday practicalities that can knock their studies off-course.

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Cristiaan Aguilar, Spanish Teacher, Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, New London

Fostering Social and Emotional Health

The emotional burdens of a long, uncertain pandemic have been heavy for students and teachers alike. Yet as caring adults committed to keeping students on track, teachers are mission-bound to remain steady and supportive no matter what challenges they or their communities face.

For middle-school Spanish teacher Cristiaan Aguilar, that means keeping things as normal as possible—whether he’s teaching alone in front of a computer screen or in a classroom, masked and at a distance. No matter what, he said, a teacher’s job is to keep kids connected.

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