ALEX DAHLEM ’20
Every year Trinity College allows dozens of students from the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy (HMTCA) to take classes on campus. This partnership allows promising high school students to experience the rigor of a college introductory class, hopefully inspiring and preparing them to attend college in the future. Although this is a wonderful way for Trinity to engage with the local community and reap the benefits of our investment in the Learning Corridor, our institution should do more than cater to a magnet school system that merely pretends to solve local habits of self-segregation. Trinity needs to offer collegiate experience opportunities to students of Bulkeley High School and Hartford Public High School.
HMTCA, a regional magnet school just off of Trinity’s campus, takes half of its students from Hartford and half from surrounding suburbs, a system drawn from the legacy of the Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation case of the 1990s. Although this system (part of a greater plan to develop dozens of regional magnet schools in the Hartford area) produces racially diverse student bodies, it often hurts underfunded public schools. It’s great that the Hartford region now has dozens of shining examples of racially diverse schools, but in the end, the public schools left in the dust by this initiative are disproportionately in non-white, lower-income municipalities, such as Hartford. Yes, in theory the unofficial racial segregation of public schools that developed after “white flight” was somewhat mitigated with the development of magnet schools, but in reality those schools are just artificial embodiments of reactive policies designed to seem inclusive on the surface, while failing to legitimately solve racial segregation in Connecticut.
Besides the reactive reasons for their development within the state, another major issue with magnet schools is that they siphon off the brightest and most stable students from public schools, a tough blow for struggling school districts to deal with. Losing the best and brightest students diminishes the esteem of the school while also causing graduation rates to fall. Potential residents often choose West Hartford over Hartford because of the difference in quality of public education. Bulkeley High School, the public high school in the South End of Hartford, had a 2017 graduation rate of 71.4%, well below the state average of 87.4%. Meanwhile, two magnet schools also within Hartford (Sports and Medical Sciences Academy and Classical Magnet) saw graduation rates of 97.8% and 96.2% respectively. If we look even further to the popular suburb of West Hartford, Hall and Conard, the two public schools, had graduation rates of 99.4% and 95.5% each. As great as magnet schools are for propping up an example of racial diversity, they do not solve the ingrained issues that cause public school systems in cities like Hartford to remain severely underfunded, and therefore severely unattractive to potential long term residents.
While it is important for Trinity to support the institutions of the Learning Corridor, our administration, if it really wants to change Hartford, should give opportunities to students at struggling public schools. High school students in Hartford don’t falter academically because they are any less intelligent than their white counterparts in West Hartford. They don’t drop out of school because they inherently don’t care. They perform differently because they aren’t given the same opportunities. Inequality occurs when certain humans aren’t given opportunity, direction, and a sense of hope. When public school students in Hartford struggle, it is because they see privileged peers going off to study in a fancy magnet school with students from the suburbs, and they lose hope that the system will ever believe in them, or at least provide the same opportunity. If we can’t acknowledge the lack of equal opportunity for those that are less fortunate within our society, then it is irresponsible and outright wrong to blame their minor transgressions on inherent inferiority. Our administration must recognize these issues and make sure our college does its part in helping the city.
Trinity, with its immense wealth, educational opportunities, and historical roots within the city, has an obligation to provide that opportunity to not only the gifted or lucky students of the Hartford metropolitan region, but the forgotten young people of Hartford proper. When we give all students (regardless of race, economic status, or location) the same resources to help them succeed, then Hartford will cultivate its own grassroots brand of hopefulness and the city will succeed. That obligation, although not solely burdened onto our school, must be taken seriously if we are going to engage with and transform Hartford.