Social Justice, Education, and Geoffrey Canada: A Green Street Worker’s Response

On January 21st, Harlem Children’s Zone founder and Waiting for Superman contributor Geoffrey Canada came to Middletown to speak at Wesleyan University’s Social Justice Leadership Conference.  A Bronx native and long-time educator, Canada’s defense of the importance of quality education in the inner city comes from personal experience.  Many involved at Green Street were in attendance, and one Wesleyan student was inspired to write about Canada’s words and how they apply to the work she does in Green Street’s After School Arts & Science Program.

Sam’s response:

Geoffrey Canada’s lecture was certainly just as relevant and inspiring as it was a call to action. He asserted that at the moment, America is not living up to its potential in providing equal, first-rate education to every one of its children. Progress is made by going the extra mile, beyond the expected and what is simply required, even if that means working for the cause around the clock and in spite of hardships, frustrations, and setbacks. Canada stressed the importance of all citizens taking accountability for the quality of education in America. We are all responsible for how children learn and are taught, just as we are responsible for the kind of attention they receive. Politicians and reformers with power and influence are definitely making progress as witnessed in a public arena, but Canada said that not everyone can be a “general” in the education reform struggle. “Soldiers”, those who work on the front lines directly with students, out of the spotlight, are also necessary.

Education reform begins with the belief in every child’s academic potential, right to good education, and opportunity for growth. That belief fuels the work we do at Green Street, and our faith in the ability of each child manifests itself in our encouragement and interactions with them. By treating every student as an individual and catering to their interests and concerns, our students understand that they matter and that they are capable of achievement. The people of Green Street are very much the kind of “soldiers” about which Canada spoke. Little by little, differences are made in the lives of the children as they spend a few hours after school at Green Street each day. The extra academic enrichment and care they receive are small steps to making a big difference in not only their extra-curricular learning, but also in their entire academic, social, and developmental lives.

Submitted by Samantha Maldonado, ’13, After School support staff

A Place for Community Involvement within Academia: Students Respond to Stimulating Article

helping handsRecently, the Hartford Courant published an opinion piece by Harvard University student, Alexander Heffner on the importance of community involvement in higher education.  According to Mr. Heffner, “College should be home to learning that has consistent social application — not to students glued to their textbooks in straitjackets for the sake of passing courses. Learning should draw a connection between course material and its potential relevance in the ‘real world.’” Click here to read the whole article.

Wesleyan University’s Green Street Arts Center is a perfect vehicle for what Mr. Heffner feels is lacking in the collegiate experience.  Green Street is an extension of Wesleyan University into Middletown’s North End.  Every day we have students from Wesleyan University and Middlesex Community College come to intern in the office, work with after school students, volunteer, and take part in recreational classes or events.

Upon reading Mr. Heffner’s opinion, we were inspired to ask our own students to share their thoughts on the matter. We encourage you to leave a comment with your response to the article as well!

Isabel Dickinson ‘11
Isabel DickinsonAs a student at Wesleyan, a university that encourages service learning, community involvement, study abroad, and growth outside of the classroom through the arts and sciences, I feel that this article does not accurately describe American collegiate institutions.  However, after a moment of reflection, I have to take into consideration the amount of initiative it takes for any one student to become more active in the community in which they live and study. It is not the institution’s sole responsibility to make their students active; anything less than making community service a requirement for graduation will leave some students inactive.  But for the most part, I think that the majority of students are not willing to let experiences such as tutoring underprivileged youth or participating in Feet to the Fire or taking a service learning course, among many other opportunities, go by the wayside in their four years at an elite institution such as Wesleyan.

Sydney Lowe ‘13
Sydney LoweAlexander Heffner is adamant that colleges should require community involvement—in his article he calls for a redefinition of the collegiate education system, advocating for a new civic focus on learning. I think he’s completely right.

In my experience, most university students tend not to recognize the significant connections between service learning and their academics when they should.  I, on the other hand, grew up where community involvement was an actual requirement.  In my New York City public high school, all students were required to complete a minimum of 40 hours of community service per year.  I spent my four years volunteering at libraries, at children’s museums, and most memorably coaching my middle school swim team.  By the time I had graduated, I’d simultaneously completed over 400 hours of community service and cultivated an appreciation for service learning that I’ll carry with me for years to come.  It is this appreciation that I see all the time at Wesleyan.  Founded on the dual principles of scholarship and service to community, Wesleyan University stands as an exemplar to other schools.  There are so many incredible opportunities to get involved on campus and in the surrounding Middletown community; it would honestly be a shame for those who didn’t take advantage of them.  Service learning shouldn’t have to be a requirement, but I think rather needs to be an integral part of the human philosophy: we should do it because we sincerely want to—because we want to change the world starting with our local communities.  I’m so glad to have found a family at Green Street Arts Center where I can fully participate in service learning and make a difference.  I’m excited to get to know the others who will join me in saving the world as well!

Alanna Badgley ‘13
Alanna BadgleyWith Thanksgiving coming up, I am bound to answer the question, “how is school going?” more times than I will be able to count.  My answer will not start with a review of my classes, or a recap of the most recent concert I went to.  Instead, I will be most likely to talk about how I spend my afternoons.  From 3-6pm every school day, I’m not napping as a result of a late night cram session the night before, but rather I’m at Green Street Arts Center working with the After School Arts and Science Program.  My second year at Wesleyan University is also my second year at the center, which I initially discovered through a community service initiative during my freshman orientation. As a result, I am now on first name, high-fiving basis with more than one hundred youth in Middletown, many of whom I see as I walk down Main Street, or that I sled with down the hill on our campus when it begins to snow.  This is my college experience.  I’m not isolated in a bubble of academia. I’m intimately involved with my community, and will leave Wesleyan in two and a half years not only with a Bachelor’s degree and a few good stories, but also with the fulfillment of truly connecting with the community around me.

Charming Yu ‘13
Charming YuThere are many forms of learning, and while the standardized classroom environment is crucial, I also believe that community engagement is a well-rounded approach.  After exploring Wesleyan University’s Office of Community Service last school year, I learned about Green Street Arts Center and began actively participating in its After School Arts & Science Program.  Being a part of the After School Program gives me the opportunity to interact with not only my fellow Wesleyan University students, but also volunteers from high schools and colleges in the area.  Perhaps more importantly, I am also able to interact with the younger generation (elementary and middle school students) and see how various changes, especially technological advances, in the past decade distinguish their experiences from my own experiences when I was in primary school.  Being involved in the community alters my perspective and helps me see where I stand in relation to different social circles, something that is difficult to achieve when you stay in your college bubble.  However, staying involved in the community and understanding the situations around you is only the first step to tackling the various problems the 21st century presents.

William Tyner ‘13
William TynerIn the opinion of a Wesleyan University student, what sets Wesleyan apart from other liberal arts institutions is its strong encouragement of student community involvement.  Throughout the school, there are numerous programs in which students can get involved such as WesReads, WesMath, and Green Street Arts Center, among others.  With great effort, Wesleyan tries to bridge the gap between educational theory and its application, and as a transfer student that is precisely why I chose to attend Wes over other liberal arts colleges.  I think it is crucial that as students, we have the opportunity to descend from our ivory towers and apply our often overly theoretical knowledge of the world to contribute something with real and tangible outcomes to society.  While many students are compelled to participate in social engagement, many do not do so, and I believe that it is the institutions job to promote it.  To me, the overall goal of an education is to cultivate our reflexive self-examination skills by adapting what we learn in the maths, sciences, humanities, and so forth, to our own individual projects and goals and simultaneously to the progress toward the common good. Along with developing excellent numeracy and literacy skills, the goal of education should be to prepare students for civic engagement by encouraging them to get involved in their community, and this is something that few institutions foster in their curriculum.  For example, this semester I am taking a Sociology of Education course that requires each student to observe and volunteer at a local school.  This type of curriculum gives me a place to actively apply the knowledge learned in class to my observations and volunteer experiences at the local school.  I am then able to apply my practical knowledge of society that is influenced by my academic knowledge to my work at Green Street.  Green Street is a place where students from all different corners of the community can come and contribute something meaningful to society, and I believe that having an outlet to positively influence society is a powerful asset.  Green Street is a prime exemplar of the coalescence of academic theory and its real world, practical application.  The fact that Wesleyan strongly encourages its students to become a part of the Green Street community and other Middletown community organizations is something truly special and beneficial in the long run.

Jenny Huang ‘11
Jenny HuangAttending college is often regarded as “training for the real world,” but consider this: we’re already living in the real world.  As college students striving to be engaged and responsible global citizens, we must start within our own community.  Working with and learning from people with diverse backgrounds is just as important as the research we develop with our fellow scholars.  The various and numerous resources that Wesleyan students have at their disposals enhance our power as citizens to make a positive impact in the community we live in.  An existing model for university engagement within the community includes Green Street, which draws upon the dynamic resources of Wesleyan and Middletown in an effort to enrich the lives of the students and families that utilize the facilities.  Privileged institutions, like universities, have the ability and obligation to foster a sense of social responsibility among students to engage in community advocacy.  Incorporating hands-on involvement into the curriculum would support Wesleyan’s recently launched Making Excellence Inclusive initiative, which aims to re-imagine “how to better educate our students to become more effective and thoughtful citizens.”  As Heffner suggests, we must redefine the priorities of today’s colleges.  The ivory tower does not have to be a bubble!  We may be students for only a limited time, but we are citizens for life.  Look around–this is the community we live in and it sure is real, so what are we waiting for?

Camille Martin ‘11
Camille MartinAlexander Heffner has an interesting point of view on college curriculum.  It’s important for students to relate what they learn in class rooms to their environment.  This type of hands on experience will carry them through college and the rest of their lives.  Student’s often become preoccupied with passing classes and don’t spend time applying what they learn.  However, most colleges offer humanities and science courses in which you can intern or volunteer in the community.  Coming from a community college I’ve been able to intern and work in the community. In fact, the college I attend offers a human services program where you choose two internships your second year. Interning at Green Street Arts Center I get to work with kids in an art setting.  This experience counts toward my college credit and is viewed as an actual class.  Working in a field I’m interested in has taught me things I’d never learn in a class room setting and has enabled me to apply what I’ve learned in school so far!

Gabe Gordon ‘11
Gabe GordonAs a student majoring in Philosophy at a liberal arts university, I know what it means for higher education to remain tied down in an abstract, seemingly arbitrary level of learning.  I agree with Mr. Heffner’s plea for an American educational system that emphasizes more hands-on community involvement over the rote standardization of knowledge.  I am also grateful that my school helped found the Green Street Arts Center in an effort to collaborate with the town in which it resides. Dozens of my fellow students volunteer as tutors, private music teachers, and support staff at Green Street’s After School Program.  The kids and students work together to give back to the community through the arts.  Organizations like Green Street are invaluable parts of any community that wishes to unite people of all generations and backgrounds and to realize the ideas that Mr. Heffner proposes.

To close, I would like to add, that Green Street is not the only way Wesleyan continues to work with Middletown.  Wesleyan has the Center for Community Partnerships (CCP), where combining the assets of the Service-Learning Center, the Office of Community Service and Volunteerism, the Office of Community Relations, and Green Street Arts Center, the CCP seeks to serve the development of both the individual and the community, guided by principles of mutual respect and shared responsibility.  While many colleges have these types of programs, how many are actively encouraging their students to participate?  And how many have resources like Wesleyan’s CCP and Green Street Arts Center?  How many students are looking to get involved in their communities?  The resources are there. Reach out. Find them.

Compiled by Lisa Bruno, Development Assistant, and Rachel Roccoberton Griffin, Administrative Assistant, with the help of the above students

To reach out and find ways in which you can get involved in Green Street Arts Center, call 860-685-7871 or email gsac@wesleyan.edu.

From Cosby to Hawai’i and Back

Wesleyan University’s Green Street Arts Center’s Homecoming/Family Weekend events were an enormous success. The building was bustling with community members and Wesleyan families, thank you to all who participated during this weekend of wonderful events.

On Friday, the entire neighborhood hummed with excitement, as jazz wafted from Green Street’s entry way out into the cool, Fall night. The space at 51 Green St. was transformed to a warm and inviting autumn oasis of rich browns and crisp oranges for a night with the one and only Dr. Bill Cosby. With the arrival of Dr. Cosby, a line quickly formed of people waiting to meet, shake hands, and take pictures with the famous comedian, actor, author, and educator. Guests were treated to delicious food, marvelous entertainment, and fine art as they enjoyed the event. After the reception, guests were treated to Dr. Cosby’s on-campus performance at the Center for the Arts.


Saturday afternoon, Green Street hosted an Open House and welcomed over 125 attendees. Popular Wesleyan band Buru Style filled the Performance Studio with fun and entertainment, while Jocelyn Pleasant and Lovette Caesar-Johnson lead guests in the sounds and rhythms of West African drumming and dance in the Dance Studio. Later on, Green Street’s resident salsero, Jason Pepin, introduced people to the sultry sounds of salsa dance and music. The community drum circle was also a popular choice for all ages as was the visual arts projects. This event was featured in an article in The Middletown Press.

Our Sunday Salon Series continued with Professor J. Kehaulani Kauanui’s “Hawaiian Nationhood & Indigenous Rights”.  With 30 attendees, this intriguing event offered insight into the outstanding Hawaiian independence claim and persistent issue of sovereignty facing the Kanaka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiian) people. Said one participant, “This was a fascinating topic and a dynamic presentation. Kehaulani truly engaged the audience in an intellectual and passionate conversation void of pretension. I was riveted the entire time.”

Dine & Donate, Green Street’s delicious weekend-long fundraiser, provided Homecoming/Family Weekend attendees with a great excuse to sample many different Middletown restaurants. In a true show of community partnership, seven local restaurants (Esca, Fiore, Mikado, New England Emporium, Puerto Vallarta, Thai Gardens, and Typhoon) generously agreed to donate a portion of their weekend proceeds to Green Street Arts Center.

If you weren’t able to join us this weekend, don’t worry, we are already planning our next big benefit event. Be sure to mark your calendars for “A Feast for the Senses”, our second annual auction benefit, on Thursday, February 17.

Submitted by Lisa Bruno, Development Assistant

Exploring Passions

Emma performing
Emma Z. performing Sugar Plum Fairy. Photo courtesy of www.actionpic9.com.

I actually met Sarah-Jane Ripa during Orientation week at an event on Wesleyan’s campus where she was running a booth for Green Street Arts Center. I asked her about ballet classes at Green Street and she told me that none were presently offered but that she would be glad to find me a teacher so I could continue my passion for dancing. She told me that she would make it work.

I didn’t know it then, but I would be working with Sarah-Jane just three months later. Since coming to Green Street I have found it to be the kind of place that supports people following their passions. I have had the pleasure

Students working on Homework

of speaking with many of Green Street’s adult students who tell me how much they enjoyed their teacher or their class and they want to make sure to sign up for the next session. As for the kids of Green Street, it is clear in their faces. Just yesterday I worked with a child in the after school program, who quickly finished all her homework (getting all her spelling words correct) and who then wanted to color pastel pictures with me, and the day before I watched a first-grader correctly finish his math homework in 5 minutes, and then ask me for long division problems to practice for fun.

The Community Mural Project

I have spent the past year working with Sarah-Jane and the other members of the Green Street Arts Center team on various projects, helping to run events, working in the after-school program, and organizing classes. This is a group of extremely dedicated people who truly do make it work. Despite tough economic times, Green Street has remained dedicated to its students. There are so many options available to the point where you can sign up for a class or a private lesson in nearly any creative genre you could think of. You can also attend interesting events ranging from the Sunday Salons to cultural dance events to various performances by local musicians.

I think that Green Street is a place where anyone can come to express themselves and explore their passions. Sarah-Jane made the ballet class work for me and my friends and we study on Saturday mornings with a fantastic teacher.

I love coming to work at Green Street because it is my way of being active in the community I am living in. I thoroughly enjoy working with the children and adults of Green Street to share our common passion for creative expression with the Middletown community. It has affected me in a very meaningful way and because of it, Middletown, as well as each of us, is more beautiful.

Submitted by Emma Zawacki, Wesleyan Student and Green Street Worker