Herbert takes displaced kids, twice

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Twice in the last two years, Herbert Elementary in the gentrifying West Haven neighborhood has taken in students displaced from nearby schools that the district closed.

The first wave came in the fall of 2004, after Suder Elementary’s doors were shut. This past September, a second wave came from the shuttered Grant. A few more strayed in from closing schools outside of the community. This fall, Herbert’s student body includes some 91 children who transferred in from closing schools, some 22 percent of total enrollment.

Herbert’s principal and faculty report a relatively smooth transition for the displaced students.

“Suder students have adjusted well and feel they are Herbert students,” says Principal Denise Gamble. She adds that Grant students are “still in the adjustment phase.”

Two nearby public housing developments—Henry Horner Homes and Rockwell Gardens—are being demolished and replaced with new housing for a mixed-income community. While Herbert’s attendance boundaries have grown to accommodate nearby school closings, its enrollment continues to shrink. From a high of 566 students in 1999, the figure has steadily declined to 447 in 2003, the year before Herbert began accepting displaced students, to 419 this fall.

Some of the children who transferred in to Herbert from Suder last year have already moved away, notes Gamble.

Still, the district provided Herbert with extra resources—three additional teaching positions, a bump up from half-day to full-day Head Start and a crossing guard to help some displaced students navigate their longer walk to school, which now requires them to cross busy streets. The district also kicked in additional funds for textbooks and supplies.

Gamble also made an effort to make displaced students and their families feel welcome. She hired three former Suder staffers—a 5th-grade teacher, a Head Start teacher and a guidance counselor. It helped because “the students saw familiar faces,” she says.

Families were invited to attend monthly parent training workshops and join a parent book club, Gamble adds. Herbert’s parent liaison helped out with everyday needs such as bus cards or clothing. A message on the marquee outside the school said, “Welcome Suder School.”

Herbert also sent fliers to families whose children were already enrolled, asking their help to welcome the new students “with open arms,” says Cloria Duckins, chair of Herbert’s local school council. Today, she says, “we can barely distinguish who [displaced students are]. We made them fit right in.”