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Y's Men Of Westport Learn Lesson In Unequal Educational Playing Fields

Frank Derico, executive director of Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, speaks to the Y's Men of Westport/Weston.
Frank Derico, executive director of Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, speaks to the Y's Men of Westport/Weston. Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs

WESTPORT, Conn. — “Connecticut has one of the worst achievement gaps in the United States,” Frank Derico told the Y’s Men of Westport/Weston at its regular weekly meeting last week.

He was referring to measures of academic performance that show low-income children in Connecticut public schools lag behind their upper-income peers by nearly four grade levels.

Derico, executive director of Neighborhood Studios of Fairfield County, used summer vacation to illustrate how the gap widens.

The affluent student continues the learning process when school ends by attending summer camp, participating in summer programs, and traveling with his/her family. But the less affluent student may waste away during the summer with few opportunities for academic growth.

When school resumes, the low-income student has lost about a month of learning from the previous school year.  Year after year, that loss is compounded, and often whole grade levels are lost.

This is where Neighborhood Studios makes a difference, Derico said. In its programs, students engage in art, dance, music and theater programs, developing their cognitive and social skills and increasing their chances for success in all areas of learning.

Derico cited impressive results: Students of lower socioeconomic status who took music lessons in grades 8 to 12 increased their math scores significantly, as compared with non-music students.

In addition, reading, history, geography and even social skills soared by 40 percent. High School graduation rates for students of Neighborhood Studios Conservatory program (covering visual arts, media, music, theater and dance) topped 90 percent compared with 63 percent for Bridgeport and 79 percent statewide.

“While some program participants and graduates have pursued careers in the arts,” Derico said, “it is not our purpose to produce professional visual artists, dancers, actors or musicians. Our goal is to provide educationally creative experiences in a supportive, structured environment where participants will thrive.”

Neighborhood Studios is located at 391 Washington Ave. in Bridgeport. For more information on its programs, click here .

The Y’s Men of Westport/Weston is an organization of retired and semi-retired men with a continued interest in activity, fellowship, learning and community service. For more information, click here .

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