Boost! Helps MBA Student Cope, Improve Attendance

Boost! partnerships help students succeed

Published: Saturday, May 21, 2011
Courtesy of
By Steve Higgins
Special to the Register

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles outlining United Way of Greater New Haven’s commitment to helping children and youth achieve their potential through education. By providing the appropriate tools, support and opportunity, children will grow up to become strong individuals and successful members of our community. To get involved, visit

A 16-year-old New Haven girl whose father had been in prison for many years began missing too many school days at Metropolitan Business Academy this year. She had to take care of her mother and younger sister, and it became overwhelming.
But her attendance has increased significantly since this spring, when she was placed in a program designed to engage students who demonstrated a need for a more personalized learning environment, according to Nisha Sajnani, director of the Drama Therapy, Community Health and Prevention program at the Foundation for the Arts and Trauma.

“She likes the class, and that really makes a difference,” said Sajnani.

The program, ALIVE — Animating Learning By Integrating and Validating Experience — is a special class that takes place during first period, with one goal being to motivate the students to get to school and stay throughout the day.

In the ALIVE classroom, students are invited to make meaningful connections between their lives and their schoolwork. The goal is to make learning relevant by focusing on topics that are of importance to each student and to create a culture of curiosity and caring for one another. Through interactive co-teaching and the use of art, drama, music and poetry, students express themselves and gain a stronger sense of self-worth and belonging.

“She focused on the story of why her father was incarcerated, and she enjoys the improvisation activities,” Sajnani said. “Most of the students have similar stories of troubled families or violence in their neighborhoods, and managing these worries can interfere with their learning.”

ALIVE is among the many programs supported by Boost!, a partnership between United Way of Greater New Haven, the city of New Haven and the New Haven Public Schools, to support children’s overall development and ensure they are ready and available to learn in the classroom.

Boost! started working with five area schools this year to develop partnerships between the schools and community organizations that offer services that can help students thrive in the classroom, as part of New Haven’s groundbreaking School Change initiative.

Kim Bohen, director of education initiatives for United Way, said Boost! has forged valuable partnerships and is helping the schools with everything from professional development for teachers to engaging parents in their children’s education.
“The district asked us to help address the availability and quality of a range of wraparound services” Bohen said. “We’re looking at extended learning opportunities, behavioral health, physical health and family support and engagement — all the things we know have a huge impact on student achievement.”

The five initial schools are Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet School, Clinton Avenue School, Augusta Lewis Troup School, Wexler-Grant Community School and Metropolitan Business Academy.

Judith Puglisi, principal of Metropolitan Business Academy, an interdistrict magnet high school, said Boost! is helping the school use innovative strategies to help students succeed.

“As a Boost! school, we have been able to strengthen our existing partnerships and form new ones in order to increase student engagement and offer more extended learning opportunities,” Puglisi said.

The various programs initiated at Metropolitan Business Academy through Boost! this year include:

‰Higher Men, a male mentoring program provided by Higher Heights.

‰Afterschool Hip Hop, a dance class.

‰SAT Preparation, provided free of charge by New Haven Reads.

‰ALIVE and other initiatives such as on-site crisis intervention, peer group mediation and professional development for teachers on how trauma affects learning and relationships, provided through the Foundation of the Arts and Trauma

“A summer program will be offered at Metropolitan in July, so that the foundation’s drama therapists can continue working with our students after a whole year of supporting them in many capacities, including leadership training, crisis intervention and leading a healthy schools initiative,” said Puglisi.
ALIVE has been a volunteer effort on the part of the staff at the Foundation for the Arts and Trauma, and, this year, United Way has contributed new funding to expand foundation programs at Metropolitan and Barnard School.

“We knew there was a crisis in the schools,” said Sajnani. “We see students who come to our clinic who have terrible things going on in their lives and who need support to participate in their education.”

More than 50 area organizations have answered United Way’s call to address the needs identified through the Boost! program. Boost! is seeking funds to support these organizations. To contribute, go to

Steve Higgins is a Wallingford-based freelance writer.