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Bridgeport Students Help Save Program That Gives Them Opportunity to Shine

Sixth grade students shared what they've learned about watersheds and the dangers of pollution.

June 10, 2016

The leadership skills that Bridgeport students have learned thanks to the bilingual Talented and Gifted (TAG) program at Cesar Batalla Elementary School came in handy earlier this spring when budget cuts threatened the program.

At the end of March, students learned that their beloved program might be cut so they organized on their own during lunch time to save it, said TAG teacher Ana Batista. "They made posters, and the older students went to city hall to protest before a City Council meeting," she said. "I was really impressed with the kids."

The bilingual TAG program at the K-8 school was on the list of programs slated to be cut when the amount of aid the city would receive from the state remained unknown. The City Council has managed to spare the program for now, though other Bridgeport programs and services still face cuts.

Cesar Batalla Principal Hector Sanchez, bilingual TAG teacher Ana Batista, and Bridgeport Education Association President Rob Traber

Batista said that the program keeps students engaged with school, gives them leadership skills they don't gain anywhere else, and builds their confidence. "If kids feel good about themselves, they're able to perform better at school and succeed academically," she said.

"TAG shows me things that I really like to learn," fifth-grader Priscila Vargas said. "TAG is going to send me really far one day. I would like to go to Yale."

Almost seventy percent of students in the bilingual TAG program speak a language in addition to English, and the children all learn either Spanish or English as a second language through instruction in the program. Each fourth through eighth grade cohort of 15 to 18 students is pulled out of regular classes one day per week to take part in the TAG program, which focuses on project-based learning.

"We need to provide the children of Bridgeport every opportunity we can to thrive and demonstrate their strengths," said teacher and Bridgeport Education Association President Rob Traber. "This program is one important element of that."

Expo offers TAG students opportunity to showcase their work

The TAG students' many successes were on display Friday night at the 4th Annual Bilingual TAG Expo where students gave presentations, showed off their debate skills, and recognized the support they receive from parents, teachers, and community leaders.

Seventh grader Dajonique Small gave a presentation on the brain at TAG night, explaining that the brain is so small, and weights so little, but is responsible for so much.

Batista said that the students look forward to the TAG Expo night all year.

Eighth graders Java Ahamed and Gina Baculima gave a presentation on what they'd learned about the Holocaust and Hitler's early rise to power. Ahamed said it really struck her how Jews had been treated and how Hitler and his supporters started by blaming Jews for problems Germany faced.

Ahamed and Baculima said that one of the things they most appreciate about TAG is that it gives them an opportunity to get involved with community service. With the help of the Greater Bridgeport Latino Network, the students were able to plan a blood drive and help clean up a local neighborhood.

"We get to meet and work with new people," said Baculima.

"We got to visit museums in Hartford, and we went to the State Capitol. We even went to Washington, D.C.," said Ahamed.

Eighth grade students Java Ahamed and Gina Baculima prepared a presentation on the Holocaust to share with classmates and their families.

Batista said she can identify with her students' need to experience the wider world. "My parents, all they did was work," she said. "My mom almost didn't come to my high school graduation because she was scared to miss work."

Batista added, "Our program gives them exposure to things outside of Bridgeport. Most of the students don't have the experiences that many middle-class families are able to provide for their kids."

"Our kids can do anything any other kids can do," said Traber. "Arts, athletics, music—all the things we cut back on take away opportunities for our children to shine."

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