Special to the Herald
NEW BRITAIN – Covid-19 has interrupted every aspect of living and educational services are no exception.
As staff and students create new ways to ensure success in this academic year, students say the TRiO Program at New Britain High School proves the anchor of stability and motivation they need.
Senior Julio Bilbraut, 18, is looking forward to graduation in June, but he admits it feels so far off with the day-to-day struggles of remote learning. Bilbraut is a veteran TRiO member who credits the program with assisting him in the process of going to college, as he would be the first in his family to do so.
“My biggest challenge is trying to keep my school life in a routine and also keep my home life stable,” Bilbraut said. “It’s overwhelming because certain resources aren’t there and my motivation drops. But coming to TRiO and just having Mr. Julio to talk to, really helps keep my head in the game – like LeBron James.”
Along with academic support services, being student-centered in helping them deal with social and family issues are just a few of the topics they said helps redirect their effects toward successfully graduating.
Michaela Ahern, 17, like most seniors, is feeling the pressure of their final year amid the impact of covid. She said coming to TRiO is a taste of the “normal” she remembers before covid.
“Everything is so different now. A lot of people are feeling depressed and unmotivated. I get that too, but that’s why I come to TRiO,” Ahern said. “Yes, things are different as far as how TRiO is run – the lack of people we usually see and stuff. But the feeling is still the same. It’s like a family member who’s changed, but it's still family, still familiar. That’s TRiO, so it helps keep me going.”
TRiO continues to service over 300 New Britain High School students yearly and the challenge of engaging with students during this pandemic is evident. TRiO personnel at CCSU have been reaching out to TRiO participants on a weekly and bi-weekly basis, each imploring a different tactic to meet students where they are. Home visits, calls, texts, emails and even FaceTime with students are some of the ways TRiO has had to evolve.
Seniors also meet virtually for SAT preparation class, financial aid workshops and individual tutoring sessions with CCSU student workers on the weekend and during after-school hours. Students also participate in virtual TRiO Game Nights, where students like Sebastian Romero said it helps keep him connected.
Assistant Director Julio Muniz is credited with helping to engage more New Britain High students during these times and keeping them on the path toward graduation.
“TRiO is a vital asset to the school in helping to ensure our students not only graduate but go on to higher education,” said Luis Delgado, family school liaison for New Britain High School. “Our kids have to deal with a lot, not just academics. Julio and his staff have a great rapport with students and have been instrumental in keeping them on track. It’s a tough business to be in nowadays, but by instilling that education is key and showing kids you believe in them, it goes a long way.”
TRiO has had to tweak how services are developed to students as both staff and students navigate the new norm. Students say staff has been drilling the importance of checking emails more regularly and the need to develop self-advocacy skills. The transition of communicating with students on a remote level has presented challenges that continue to evolve creative solutions.
“It is human nature to adapt to what you're experiencing. We are using our instinct to meet students' needs at their various levels and we have to think outside the box,” Muniz said. “In a sense, we almost have to be available 24/7 and do whatever it takes.”
New Britain High School, like many schools across the nation, has experienced record-breaking absenteeism in both remote learning and in-school. Muniz said although it may seem like an uphill battle, the efforts to continue to reach students to achieve their educational goals is worth the frustrations of the times.
“Honestly, I don’t know where I would be this school year without TRiO. So many of my friends have decided to just take the year off – I thought about it, too,” Bilbraut said. “School is a lot harder now, but it’s better than sitting home all day. Now, I’m a few months away from graduation and they have another year left.”