NEW BRITAIN - Hundreds of New Britain elementary school students converged on Central Connecticut State University’s campus Monday to get a taste of college life during “Finish the Race.”
This special event, in its second year, encourages higher learning and encourages collaboration in a friendly environment. Fifth-graders from Northend, Chamberlain and Smith elementary schools joined DiLoreto fifth- and eighth-graders and were treated to a day of activities and learning.
To start the day, students went to Welte Auditorium to be welcomed to the campus and to hear Nelba Marquez-Greene, founder of the Ana Grace Project, CCSU President Zulma Toro and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart speak.
Marquez-Greene shared the story of Kathrine Switzer with the children. In 1967, Switzer became the first woman to try to compete in the Boston Marathon. The race was “men only” at the time. The attempt was controversial, with race officials pushing Switzer off the course as she ran.
Five years later, Switzer’s passion was realized, as women were officially allowed to compete in the marathon.
“In your life, there are going to be people who think that - because you’re a girl, you’re a boy, your skin color, you wear glasses or your don’t wear glasses - there are going to be many people that say, ‘You can’t finish the race,’ ” Marquez-Greene told the students. “But you can finish the race. And guess what? That same lady who was stopped from finishing the race, she’s racing today in the marathon.”
The Ana Grace Project was founded in 2013 after Marquez-Greene’s daughter, Ana, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown. According to the group’s website, the organization aims to promote “love, kindness and connection” for children and families.
Toro encouraged students to think about college and their futures, because it’s never too early to prepare.
“I want you to understand that at Central we love you. We are passionate about having you here and helping you finish the race,” Toro told the students.
Stewart, who graduated from CCSU, had some words of encouragement for the students.
“You are here because people love you. The city of New Britain wants you to succeed,” Stewart said.
After an introduction to campus, students split into two groups and headed to other parts of the school to learn more about the university.
Students were treated to a liquid nitrogen demonstration by engineering students, followed by a presentation from admissions’ office officials about why college is important.
After lunch, each student received a new pair of athletic shoes, courtesy of Fleet Feet of West Hartford. They also received a backpack with a sports drink, water bottle and wristband inside - helpful items for their next activities.
CCSU student athletes escorted the students to the campus’ athletic fields for more fun. Members of the school’s football, basketball and track teams led the New Britain students in an assortment of sports drills and games.
Marquez-Greene told The Herald that Monday’s event was possible through collaboration among CCSU, Fleet Feet and the New Britain school district.
“They really make teamwork easy and fun,” Marquez-Greene said. “You can do more when you have teamwork. I would not have been able to do all these things by myself. When we come together, we can really do a lot for our kids.”
This year, “Finish the Race” featured many more students than last year. More than 400 New Britain elementary students were involved this year, compared to just 88 students in 2016.
“I want to say thank you to every single person who contributed to this day,” Marquez-Greene said. “It’s going to change lives.”
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.