By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – Transferring from Norwalk High School to Briggs High wasn’t easy but it was worth it, two Norwalk teenagers said to the Norwalk Board of Education this week.
“Last year I missed 60 days of school,” said Luis Rivera, a senior. “You couldn’t get me to go to school, I didn’t want to go to school. You could not get me to go to school but Briggs makes it a lot easier.”
Freshman Christine Velez echoed the sentiment, saying, “The transfer from Norwalk High School was a huge change. Smaller school, smaller environment, it feels like a family. Every day I just don’t want to miss school at all.”
The pair were there to share the success of teacher Andrew Mullen’s graphic arts classes with the board, and as evidence that the alternative high school for teens with behavioral challenges has turned a corner after going through a makeover as rumors of its closing swirled.
Social studies teacher Bob Stein, a 13-year Briggs veteran, said the policies instituted by new Principal Marie Allen, Ph.D, have made a difference. Students know what is expected of them and that the school is not a dumping ground, he said. The teens want to be there – population had jumped by “at least a dozen kids” in the 8 to 10 days before the meeting, he said.
“I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, principals come and go,” he said. “I want to tell you something: Things have really changed over the last two years at my school. We started out two years ago with all kinds of problems. Every time I turned around there was an article in the paper about something. Then Dr. Allen came and, little by little – I wondered why – she made it much more difficult for people to beat the system. … I haven’t seen a fight in the school, male or female, for a number of years now, which was unheard of in the day. Everybody seems to get along and it really is a much better attitude and atmosphere, and people feel much better about themselves. Which for me, it’s all about self esteem. Some of these kids are beaten down and they need to feel good about themselves. I love the things they are doing.”
The high school is continuing to make progress, Allen said. The population last Tuesday was “64 and growing.” She hoped to have 70 students by Jan. 30 and 100 by the end of school year.
“We have come a long way and we are growing,” she said. “If you enter Briggs now you’re going to see a more diverse learning community. We’re proud of the progress that we have made.”
Stein said his class is next door to the art room, and he sees the impact of Mullen’s new graphic arts class. “I see the looks in these kids faces, with these graphic arts,” he said. “They come to school because, not only are they doing something here for themselves, I think they see a future for themselves.”
The students showed board members a PowerPoint presentation showing the results of their graphic novel class, and photos from a trip they took last month to New York City.
Afterward, Luis handed board members a copy of his digital photography portfolio. Allen pointed out he had spent an hour sitting in the woods to get a photo of a crane with a fish in its mouth.
“It’s a great hobby, and a great thing to do to get me out of the house,” he said. “In this generation it’s tough to get a kid out of the house when they have video games and iPods and all this stuff. But when you have your camera – I want to go out there, I want to see things I never saw before and take pictures and take it home and show my mom and show my friends, like, look what I saw.”
The busboy has an internship coming up with a commercial photography studio, arranged by BOE member Mike Barbis.
Christine read her poetry to board members. She said writing poems is a way to relieve her anger and express her feelings.
“I see a lot of things in the future for me,” she said. “People say I’m a good writer, some people say I’m a good artist. I’m thinking of doing both as a graphic novelist or something like that.”