Willimantic, Conn. – At the 2015 Connecticut Campus Compact Awards (CTCC), Eastern Connecticut State University and Windham Public Schools won the Campus-Community Partnership Award for their joint effort with Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future), an afterschool program for Latino youth living in Willimantic. Run by Windham Public Schools and supported by Eastern, Puentes al Futuro has resulted in a partnership that benefits local schoolchildren while enhancing the learning of Eastern students.
In the four years the partnership has been in effect, more than 150 children from Windham Middle School and Windham High School have received year-round mentoring and tutoring from 80 Eastern students, while enjoying enrichment activities related to Latino cultures.
Approximately 70 percent of the student population of Windham Public Schools is of Latino descent. “We need more programs like Puentes,” said Bill Stover, director of engagement for Windham Public Schools. “It’s one of the few programs that directly supports our Latino students, giving them a voice both in their school and in the community, where they can speak out with pride about who they are and where they come from.”
Research shows that as a result of participating in Puentes al Futuro, 100 percent of the children agree that they feel more motivated to do well in school. Students reported that the program helped them improve their grades and personal confidence, as well as better understand their heritage and community.
The partnership is embraced across Eastern’s campus. The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) provides student volunteers and administrative, funding and programming support, and coordinates the five-week summer program for middle school students on Eastern’s campus. Several faculty members also incorporate activities with Puentes al Futuro into their curriculum, in a teaching strategy known as “service learning.” This is the case with Anthropology Professor Ricardo Perez’s course “Latinos in the United States.”
“By making students apply classwork to the field setting, they are placed at the center of the learning process,” said Perez.
Although there are nearly 30 colleges and universities constituting the CTCC, only four awards were given at the ceremony on June 17 at Central Connecticut State University. Awardees were selected by a panel of national experts. “Chosen from a great pool of applicants and nominees, the recipients of this year’s awards represent the great diversity of community engagement work in higher education taking place in Connecticut,” wrote the CTCC.