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Whitney Bartell: city magnet inspires a former suburban student to teach in D.C.

Wednesday August 1, 2012

A City Magnet Inspires a Former Suburban Student to Teach D.C. Youth
Story by Grace Clark
This story appeared in the Sheff Movement’s Summer 2012 newsletter

Even though she was attending one of the state’s best public school systems, Whitney Bartell of Simsbury, CT always wanted a different educational experience. While Whitney and her family believed she received a solid education since kindergarten in her predominantly white school system, something was missing – diversity. It wasn’t until high school that Whitney found it, at the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science (GHAMS) in Hartford – a magnet school experience that would define her life’s journey.

“We thought Simsbury, while magnificent, did not resemble America in any way,” said Whitney’s mother, Cathy Bartell. “Not only did the magnet school offer this premier math and science curriculum, but it offered diversity. [Whitney] thought, get out of her element and learn other things, other places, other people.

“Unfortunately, because of the magnet school Lottery, Whitney did not get into the GHAMS until her Sophomore year in high school. She then took her core Liberal Arts classes in the morning at Simsbury High School, and math and science classes in the afternoons at GHAMS (where half of the students came from Hartford and the other half from surrounding suburbs).

Whitney, whose father is an attorney and mother works in health care administration, was impressed not only by the magnet school curriculum, but the educators, who she thought showed a discipline and value for education.

“It was a very new and novel experience for me,” said Whitney Bartell, recently. “It offered a new perspective that there were people very different from me in Connecticut, and it started a fundamental interest for me in education. I realized that everyone should have that opportunity for racially and economically diverse education, regardless of where they grew up.

“In addition, while attending Simsbury schools and GHAMS, Whitney, who graduated high school in 2008, was one of two students chosen to sit on the State Board of Education under Governor M. Jodi Rell; the Board at that time was engaged in discussions related to the Sheff school desegregation case mandates, which gave Whitney an opportunity to learn more about the need for integrated education.

This past June, shortly after graduating from Cornell University in New York with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Education, her minor, Whitney got offered a chance to put some more of that knowledge to work. The Washington DC Fellows Program (http://dcteachingfellows.ttrack.org/) selected Whitney from thousands of applicants across the country to join its prestigious and intensive teaching training program that recruits college graduates from across the country to teach in inner city schools in Washington, DC. After two years in the program, these graduates earn their teaching license. Now teaching second-graders at Washington, DC’s Noyes School, Whitney is excited about getting a permanent position in the nation’s Capitol in the coming academic school year.

“This program is designed to get energetic teachers who want to be effective,” said Whitney. “Much like Hartford, they’ve had a lot of issues in DC. These urban school districts pale in comparison to wealthy suburbs…. My class is 99% percent black students, and is pretty reflective of Hartford Public Schools. There is a burgeoning market of charter schools in DC…. so it’s a good place to build momentum.”

Whitney said coming from magnet schools in Connecticut and strong suburban education in Simsbury has taught her that high expectations are needed to give students the quality education they need to excel.

Kids should have “qood options for education,” which “makes a difference regardless of backgrounds,” said Whitney. “Educators should have extremely high expectations. I think it takes a very skillful educators to make that difference… It’s not until we get an influx of those educators that we will see a change.”