It’s not unusual to hear students ask, at some point, why do I need to learn this stuff? That’s a complaint or observation about academic learning that’s understandable.
Now a new partnership between the Meriden Public Schools and Quinnipiac University aims to give students a meaningful answer to that disconnect between classroom and the real world.
In doing so, these two educational groups also aim to increase the number of low-income high school students and students of color who enroll in and complete college. They believe that giving this segment of students a chance to address real problems in their community might be a key to helping them achieve higher education goals.
That’s the idea behind the launch of QUADS: Quinnipiac University Advancing Diversity in Science.
“You’re going to learn it a lot better if I attach (the lesson) to your life, instead of just learning this next chapter of a textbook,” Jennifer DePetris Duell, a biology teacher at Maloney High School and one of the program’s teacher facilitators, said in a Record-Journal article by reporter Michael Gagne.
Students will identify a problem in their community and come up with a solution. To accomplish that, students will need to use scientific, math, communication and collaborative skills, along with knowledge of Meriden.
This “contextualized learning” is a way to help students understand how subjects that seem unrelated — like science, math and writing — connect, Cindy Kern, an associate teaching professor at Quinnipiac, said in the same article.
Groups of incoming freshmen at Maloney and Platt high schools will be among the first students to participate in the project which is part of a larger three-year program, led by Quinnipiac. The university also is partnering with high schools in other districts, including Hamden and Ansonia.
Program leaders expect it will be fully underway by the second semester of the upcoming school year. Local students and teachers will have access to Quinnipiac faculty and students for mentorships and visit the Quinnipiac campus.
Quinnipiac received a $306,244 Connecticut Collegiate Awareness and Preparation program grant from the state Office of Higher Education to fund the program, which requires a 25% match from the university.
State data shows larger percentages of white students from Platt and Maloney are attending post-secondary education programs than Latino or Black students. Data also shows smaller percentages of students from low-income families enrolling in or staying enrolled in those programs.
Since 2015, the secondary education gap has narrowed for Black students, however a significant gap for Latino students persists. Students from low-income backgrounds are still enrolling in college at significantly lower rates than their peers.
QUAD presents a bold, yet practical approach to better student engagement for low-income students and students of color. Helping young people understand their city and how they can use their academic skills to contribute to its vitality is a good way to raise informed citizens and seed future leaders. There’s a good chance it also may inspire this upcoming generation to pursue higher education to prepare for those roles.