Category: Education Matters

Seeking Partners’ Input into Plans for Future Service

Achieve Hartford is at the beginning of our strategic visioning and planning process, and we’re at a crossroads. In the coming weeks, we’ll be reaching out to ALL IN! Coalition partners for their input on our future role.

The ALL IN! Coalition action teams that have scaled into full-fledged programs across six communities in partnership with Capital and Manchester community colleges may expand even further, while the Coalition work focused on systems-change in Hartford is approaching five-years old.

In Hartford, with all the players, programs and institutions focusing on post-secondary enrollment and career pathways, it’s time for us to ask the question: What’s our role going forward? In April, we’ll be seeking to interview or survey you, and we would like very much to hear your voice.

  • We have served as the backbone organization to the ALL IN! Coalition’s steering committee, funder advisory committee, the post-secondary supports network and multiple action teams and projects. 
  • We have relished this role over the last four years – driving collaboration, coordination and communication between and among partners and sectors.
  • We seek to learn: 
    • Is there a need for us to play our current role going forward? 
    • Is there another area of systems-change focus for us to address? 
    • Should we expand our direct support to community college students to drive degree completion beyond Hartford County? 
    • Should we merge with another non-profit and seek leaner and more efficient operations?

We need to hear from you. Be on the lookout for a request from us, and know we truly appreciate your voice in helping us answer these tough questions. We hope to continue being a service to you, whether you’re a public-sector, philanthropic, corporate or nonprofit leader. Please help us determine how we can best serve the underserved going forward.

Community Colleges’ Staff Do More Than Teach

The national statistics about who attends community colleges tell part of the story: among students entering college in the fall of 202, 39% of community college students had experienced food insecurity in the past year; 48% of the over 195,000 college students surveyed experience housing  insecurity; and 14% were affected by homelessness, according to the 2021 #RealCollege Survey, by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Overall, 13% had lost a loved one to COVID, with Latinx students more than twice as likely as White students to lose a loved one, the survey found. 

“The pandemic didn’t stop the need [because campus was closed down.] It exacerbated it in a lot of ways,” says T.J. Barber, campus associate dean of student development, Manchester Community College (MCC). The pandemic “highlighted just how critical it is for the College and other institutions to be aware of what is out there to help our students.”

Community colleges offer a host of services to address basic needs, including food pantries, emergency aid and laptop loans. The need just increased during the pandemic, Barber says. While the campus was shut down, Barber and another MCC staff member drove repeatedly to Rentschler Field in East Hartford to get boxes of groceries distributed by Foodshare to give to students, since students didn’t have cars and couldn’t bring the food home by bus without it spoiling during the three-hour trip. 

With classes converting to remote only in March of 2020, students needed laptops and hotspots since many couldn’t afford home internet service or computers. The MCC library loaned out about eight laptops for two-day loans prior to the pandemic, and, when campus closed, the MCC Foundation funded an additional 20 laptops for a semester-long loan, says Debbie Herman, director of library and educational technology, MCC. Through CARES Act funds, the college purchased 60 more laptops to lend out through the Library, as well as 18 hotspots, she says. 

“The library has always been a haven for students who need a quiet place to study or a printer or computer,” she says. “When we had to close down in March 2020, it was devastating not to be able to provide students with that space.”

Some students found themselves out of work when the pandemic hit, so they were able to get emergency funds to pay an abnormally high utility bill or for an unexpected car repair, food assistance, and, when campus reopened, help completing applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Barber says. According to the #RealCollege Survey, more than half of respondents reported having at least moderate anxiety, and staff like Barber and his team try to encourage students to take advantage of the mental health counseling and academic support services.  

This is why, Barber says, he never turns down a donation or an offer to volunteer: The “Career Clothing Closet” holds a lot more than business attire, since students’ basic needs must be met to be ready to learn. It also includes baby clothes, sweatpants, pots, pans, dishes and furniture.

Developing the Talent of the Future: Can a Work-Based Learning Network be the Answer?

It’s a pressing conversation growing in urgency in Hartford and across Connecticut, as more employers seek ways to create the robust talent pipeline needed to fill vacant positions.

One promising talent development strategy involves educators, community-based organizations, and employers collaborating to create better and more opportunities for high school students to engage in work-based learning — an integration of classroom training with real-world work experiences. Developing quality activities that link work and learning helps ensure  students have the skills and key training they need to compete in post-secondary education and the workforce.

While pockets of work-based learning opportunities exist for Hartford students, the experiences for both students and employers are sometimes disparate, disconnected, and disappointing for both.

Some employers have expressed concern about students who lack the necessary work readiness skills and some students note the employer’s lack of capacity to create meaningful job tasks that build career skills. Additionally, students don’t always see the connections from classroom to work.

A Network Can Help

To build city-wide collective action around work-based learning for students, the ALL IN! Coalition and Capital Workforce Partners convened the Work-Based Learning Network first with those community-based providers in charge of placing and supporting students in internships. The first members to join include:

Blue Hills Civic Association

Center for Latino Progress

Jr. Apprentice


City of Hartford



Hartford Public Schools

Members got to work discussing a set of uniform competencies that all could agree will help ensure foundational skills are built across all work-based learning activities.  Now, nearing completion is the toolkit for providers, schools and employers that lays out those competencies and how to assess them, to be piloted this summer through the Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program (SYELP).

Developing the talent of the future and closing equity gaps for Hartford students will depend on strong work-based learning programming that can help students not only identify a career path but be ready to pursue it through post-secondary education and training. Ultimately, it’s how we will achieve a thriving regional economy and better communities for all.

We look forward to sharing more about this work as it develops and encourage our partners and colleagues to join us.


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Hartford, CT 06106


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