Fernanda Gonzalez moved to Hartford in 2014, having emigrated years earlier from Mendoza, Argentina. She excels in math, and dreams of one day pursuing a degree in accounting. Her classmate, Francisco Rodriguez, came to Hartford at 17 from the Dominican Republic. He’s driven by helping others and hopes to land a job in social work. “I’d like to encourage people to achieve their dreams,” he explains. “The way others have encouraged me to pursue mine.”

There was no shortage of love and encouragement on June 10, 2016, when the Bushnell Performing Arts Center welcomed 13 parents to recognize their work towards achieving a GED. Part of Hartford Public School’s Adult Education Program, the GED classes are held twice a week at Burns Latino Studies Academy (BLSA). Students complete six hours of weekly course work, plus homework, in preparation for the GED exam. Once passed, they receive a Certificate of High School Equivalency.

Group (1 of 1)The GED program at BLSA is a coordinated effort between Hartford Public Schools (HPS), the Village for Children and Families, and COMPASS Youth Collaborative. HPS provides curriculum and teachers, the Village handles parent coordination, and Enrique Sierra, COMPASS’ Community School Coordinator, handles the logistics.

The GED program is a long-running fixture on Washington Street but was introduced recently at Burns. As Maribel Bermudez, a project coordinator for the Village, notes: “having these classes at the school is so much better for the parents. One, the classes are in Spanish, and two, the parents are available, because their kids are in school during the morning.” Fabio Ayala, the lead teacher and a former HPS administrator, cites another advantage: “It’s a small, tight-knit group. I think they feel, and we feel, that we’re family.”

Celebrating that family was the idea of Yolande Spears, the Bushnell’s Vice President of Education and Community Relations. “When I heard that there was a program having parents come in to work on their GED, I asked the question: how are you going to celebrate the families?” she recalls. “It is so important to have their children see their parents rewarded for continuing their education.” Thanks to Ms. Spears and her team, the festivities included a catered dinner from Max Group, and a special performance by the Ray Gonzalez Jazz Quintet, a much lauded Hartford band.

Long after the band played and the dinner was over, the significance lingered – especially for the kids. Nine-year-old Ronnie, whose mother Rosa received several awards, couldn’t help but share his pride at her accomplishments. “My mom is very good,” he said. “She would do anything to reach her goals – she is my hero.”

Ronnie and his brothers celebrate with mom Rosa

Rosa and her sons celebrate

Band 2 (1 of 1)

Ray Gonzalez Jazz Quintet