Co-Op After School Program Turns New Haven High School Students into Leaders 

As the 2022-2023 academic year wraps up, the students at Dwight Hall’s Co-Op After School (CAS) have reflected upon an extremely successful and innovative year. CAS is a collaboration between Dwight Hall and New Haven’s Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School that provides diverse after-school activities for Co-Op students, creating an inclusive and enriching environment for all participants. In its fourteenth year, the program now reaches 350 students annually and is continuing to grow. 

Some of the program’s recent success can be attributed to a December 2022 grant awarded under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. This new funding will establish innovative hubs for students’ after-school activities and complement core After School Grant Program funding from the Connecticut State Department of Education and support from the Carolyn Foundation. Since 2022-2023 was the first full year of programming since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, students and staff alike have been eager to create new student-driven programs. So far, this has been a major boost to after-school activities as Paul Bryant Hudson, CAS Program Director, notes, the funding has helped “take things to another level.” 

In particular, the expansion in programming has been focused on the Genders-Sexualities Alliance (GSA) and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, which previously did not have sufficient funding to support students’ needs and interests. Students involved in the affinity group have been passionate about creating a community where all students of all identities feel welcome and supported, including those who typically would not find themselves in the group but want to learn more about it. Further, they seek to extend the support the program offers to resources for LGBTQ+ communities, students, and families. The biggest event hosted this year was the Exqueerience – an event “planned for and by students” according to Paul, which hosted live music, food painting projects, and karaoke. The organization is stronger than ever, and hopes to continue this upward trend into the next school year.

Exciting traditions, such as a yearly trip to Broadway, have also resumed for the first time in four years with essential support from the three funders. This year, 60 CAS students saw MJ: The Musical. The performance resonated with many of the students who are regularly involved in arts programming. 

Paul describes Co-Op students as “creators and artists at the core” who produce “high quality art and events.” This year, over 100 students were involved in a production of Hairspray–many of whom also attended the Broadway trip. From those who participated in the school’s ensemble to those who worked on the tech crew, all students saw themselves represented in the Broadway performance as they reflected on the work that went into their own projects. 

CAS is restarting old traditions and injecting new opportunities into the program with an emphasis on student responsiveness and leadership. In addition to supporting the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, the American Rescue Plan grant will help establish a CAS Community Service Hub and a Student Leadership Lab. 

Paul emphasized the importance of student feedback in designing programs. He will ask students questions such as: “Are you interested in running this program again? Or do you have some other ideas? What are some things you want to talk about or some social issues you want to address?” With these responses, students and faculty collaborate to develop a curriculum that is both educational and interesting to all students involved. Then, students are given the opportunity to create or lead the program themselves to build leadership skills. The American Rescue Plan grant has played a crucial role in expanding this initiative. With more funding, smaller groups of about five or six students can work together to build up their own individual projects to form programs with fewer students, making more of an impact.

In the future, Co-Op After School aims to expand on its current initiatives and continue to encourage students to pursue leadership positions and curate their own curricula.

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