Letter: Collaboration is key to helping Norwalk’s young people

To the Editor,

Recent discussion about spending public funds to support a youth boxing program offers the latest example of why Norwalk continues to fail our young people. With the best of intentions, sincere, caring adults create program after program that they think, they hope, will keep youth engaged in positive ways, especially when they are not in school.

But a patchwork of programs is not what our community needs. Elected officials, policymakers, and funders need to decide whether they want to continue to be part of the problem or part of the solution. While the Common Council debates the merits of allocating block grant funds and the BET works on the budget, Norwalk ACTS — a partnership of community agencies, organizations, and individuals — engages in strategic planning, using data to identify and prioritize young people’s academic, social-emotional, and physical needs.

Here are three reasons why we continue to fail our young people and a few suggestions for what we could do differently:

1. There is a major disconnect between the planners and the decision-makers. In practical terms, shouldn’t the Redevelopment Agency, which oversees the block grant program, and the Common Council members who decide who gets funding invite Norwalk ACTS partners to the table?

2. Too few organizations, individuals and agencies know how to effectively partner. While it is harder to develop and run programs with others, the benefits in terms of cost-effectiveness and quality definitely outweigh the challenges. What does this mean? Elected officials should make collaboration a priority. Everyone can play a role in closing the achievement gap. This is why the school system should have a voice (not just a sign-off on a grant) in most if not all publicly funded youth programs, regardless of where and when they take place. At the very least young people would see that the adults in their lives are talking to each other and that what happens outside school matters in school.

3. Too many adults lead with their hearts, not with their heads. Elected officials and policymakers continue to support programs with no measurable results other than making us feel good. Accountability needs to move beyond simply counting how many young people from the target population participate in a program, to measuring impact on academic, social-emotional, and physical well being. Solid data, good research and strategic planning can help.

Young people know best that business as usual isn’t working. It’s not rocket science but it will take political courage to get it right. Can well-intentioned adults put aside self-interest and let heads lead hearts in the right direction?

Susan Wallerstein, Ph.D

Dr. Susan Wallerstein is a retired education professional who is active in Norwalk community affairs.



9 responses to “Letter: Collaboration is key to helping Norwalk’s young people”

  1. Dorothy Mobilia

    Susan Wallerstein’s proposal that we avoid relying on a patchwork of programs to engage youth in positive ways is a sound one that we should listen to. I would add that my recent involvement in a teenaged group’s efforts to bring attention to hunger and world and community needs, sometimes one on one, inspired me with the realization that this generation can and will do great things in the right atmosphere. Part of that atmosphere is having adults talk to each other and, as Dr. Wallerstein says, “that what happens outside school matters in school.” Hopefully, they will engage these young people in ways that can enrich us as individuals and as community.

  2. Marjorie M

    Why Norwalk ACTS? They were not elected by the people to make decisions. They are not the Board of Education, who decides what is best educationally. Besides, if we are thinking in terms of a continued day or weekend of education, the people involved with curriculum are the ones who should be involved in the decision making.
    As for other activities, I welcome opportunities from residents who are willing to give their time to help children in their community. Norwalk ACTS may have good intentions, but who knows what is best for kids out on the streets after school or on weekends? I say community members who have probably lived that life. Susan, you have good intentions, but sometimes you need to think with common sense in mind.

  3. Susan Wallerstein

    @MarjorieM While I am not a member of the Norwalk ACTS group, I did participate in a few of their meetings last year. FYI the group includes broad community representation including Board of a Education members and school administrators responsible for curriculum, assessment, early childhood education, etc. Also at the table when I attended were folks from the Housing Authority learning centers, Health Department, and several mental health orgqnizations. Quality partnerships promote collaboration among those responsible and accountable for different parts of the puzzle rather than re-inventing the wheel.


    Marjorie — you always have all of the answers. And please tell me, the Board of Education? Do they even all have college degrees? Other than the fact that they got elected, what qualifications do they have? Except for Sherelle Harris, I’m not sure that any of them have any special qualifications in this area. Norwalk ACTS is a group of professionals who are well positioned to work with our children — from birth to career. I agree wholeheartedly with Susan Wallerstein.

  5. Marjorie M

    Yankee Clipper, you have me confused with Susan Wallerstein. She has all the answers all of the time.

  6. e=mc2

    Now lets see, bunch of talking heads with expensive
    degrees trying to figure out what to do with the kids. Gee, wonder what should be done? Dont need a degree to figure out the main issue. Just ask any kid in Norwalk. What will the kids say? “There is nothing, nothing and no where for kids in Norwalk”.
    Common theme, generations old, since the farms disappeared anyway. Now some adults may promote this or that program but will a kid get involved and stay involved? Maybe a new approach like trying something different, say like asking the kids. One question for the adults to reconcile is: Why, with the city’s largest portion of the budget, are the schools only open during bankers hours? Heck even most of the banks, still in business, are open till 5. Empowering young flourishing minds is not limited to 7 hours a day, 5 days a week with holidays and snow days off and 8 weeks off during the summer. And we cant for the life of all of us, degrees in hand, figure out what to do. It’s not really that hard people. The secret? Give kids a Challenge using Competition, Creativity, Compassion, Inspiration, Responsibility and Teamwork as framework. It is that simple. It is that difficult. Now finish your latte’s and get into your yoga positions and think. How do you challenge and inspire a young mind? Hint: its not sports, that’s physical and it shouldn’t require huge expenditures to accomplish and maintain.

  7. I wonder if ANY – ANY of these “programs” are aimed at kids OUTSIDE of the sad state of dysfunctional families in South Norwalk. Nope. Know why? Those kids have parents who don’t throw them out at 1am in the morning, they have parents who keep them in a midnight.
    But you will never find any program, subsidized by taxpayers (mostly taxpayers outside of South norwalk) in any other part of norwalk except where handouts and the demand to take care of those breeds are the norm.

  8. Susan Wallerstein

    @ MarjorieM Oh my, such hostility! Love to get a better understanding of where you’re coming from – maybe over a cup of coffee one day, my treat – should you ever decide to reveal your true identity.

  9. Let’s Be Honest!

    When a student takes a seat at the table as a member of the Board of Education, their insights are typically powerful. Youth should always be part of the solution and involved in any collaborative effort in communities.

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