What is the Welcome Center?
The Welcome Center is the Hartford Board of Education’s office for enrollment services. The Hartford Public School system is a bewildering place. To enroll in Hartford Public Schools, students and families from the West Indies go to the Welcome Center and go through the process described below.
Controversies Over Grade Placement
According to some of our survey respondents, students arriving from the West Indies are sometimes placed in a grade they deem too low. One parent spoke about this issue in our survey concerning the grade placement of her son:
“The school system in the US thought he was not smart enough to be in the age appropriate class.”
Another student said:
“The teachers don’t understand me and I was put in a grade that I think was too low.”
In all, 3 out of 12 respondents mentioned that students were placed in an improper grade on their own accord when asked what their experience was like migrating to the U.S. Because of this and the concerns from our community partner that this was a frequent occurrence, we wanted to know how the school system determines the grade level of entering children.
According to policy documents, students enrolling in Hartford Public Schools from other school districts, “are placed in the grade they would have reached elsewhere pending observation and evaluation” (5000 Series Students Updated). From our interviews with school officials we have found that students are placed into a grade primarily based on their date of birth and their previous schooling transcripts. She also reported that:
“(The School System) is doing a much better job now in placing students where they belong based on age and grade.”
After speaking with a Hartford school administrator, we understand that many students immigrating from the West Indies do not have their previous school transcripts when they began the enrollment process making placement in a grade difficult. One administrator we spoke to said that when a student had missed a significant amount of school, the student underwent placement testing. One of our respondents required a placement test, “because of lack of old school history”, suggesting that placement tests are given to students whose past schooling is undocumented.
Children in Jamaica and Hartford would be in the same grade at different ages based on the table we made below. From this, we believe that students from the West Indies with a main focus of Jamaican schools would be placed in the wrong grade according to their date of birth. The biggest difference from our perspective is that kindergarten, 12th, and 13th grade is optional in Jamaica. We have found that what US students are learning in 12th grade is what Jamaican students would finish in 11th grade. Therefore, the newly arrived West Indian students are being held back based on their date of birth and placed into the grade that US students would be in.
School Structure Differences between USA and West Indies (Jamaica)
|USA||West Indies (Jamaica)|
|1st grade (Elementary)||6-7||Grade 1 (Primary)||5-6|
|2nd grade||7-8||Grade 2||6-7|
|3rd grade||8-9||Grade 3||7-8|
|4th grade||9-10||Grade 4||8-9|
|5th grade||10-11||Grade 5||9-10|
|6th grade(Middle school)||11-12||Grade 6||10-11|
|7th grade||12-13||Grade 7 (Lower Secondary)||11-12|
|8th grade||13-14||Grade 8||12-13|
|9th grade/Freshman||14-15||Grade 9||13-14|
|10thgrade/Sophomore||15-16||Grade 10 (Upper Secondary)||14-15|
|11th grade/Junior||16-17||Grade 11||15-16/17|
|12th grade/Senior||17-18||Grade 12 &13||17+ *(optional)|
One of the Welcome Center personnel also directed us to a program available to every newly incoming student’s family even just coming from a different state. This program is called “Hartford Parent University.” This program guides parents, guardians, or families through the enrollment process as well as helping the students and their respective families to get acclimated to the system. This program is suggested to all families of students just coming into the Hartford Public School System, however, we have found that this program is underutilized because it is inconvenient for busy parents/guardians.