On "Fly Choices Day" HSC Students Soar

Cari Strand | April 12th, 2019


Citizen Contributions  |  Education & Youth  |  New Haven Public Schools  |  Arts, Culture & Community


Keily Guillen, Marlin Pineda, and Osman Delgado learn about culture through food
Keily Guillen, Marlin Pineda, and Osman Delgado learn about culture through food. Cari Strand Photos. 

What happens when students are allowed to run their school?

You might think the result would be endless recess or ice cream for lunch, but when High School in the Community (HSC) announced plans to do exactly that on the half day before April vacation with our annual Fly Choices Day, students instead proposed workshops like “Self-Confidence Boost,” “How to Follow a U.S. Election,” “Theater Time,” “Cultural Comparisons,” “Painting with the Colors of Extinction,” “The Dead Poets’ Society of HSC,” and more.

“Fly Choices Day gives students the opportunity to ideate and lead, to flex the muscles of working with people, getting others excited about what they’re excited about," said Future Project Dream Director Christian Shaboo, who worked with student leaders to prepare them for the day explained. "All of those are necessary skills in any profession or next step students will take on, so the more experiences they have like that the better HSC is the only school I’ve seen that’s bold enough to take the chance to let students step up and lead an entire day.”

Workshop leaders (juniors Ashantee Terry, Sam Perez, Orianna Martin, and Simone Henderson) at the Fly Choices Day kick off
Juniors Ashantee Terry, Sam Perez, Orianna Martin, and Simone Henderson at the Fly Choices Day kick off.

Seven years ago, Library Media Specialist Fran Pierson and Shaboo envisioned Fly Choices Day as an experiment in student leadership. Each year, students have taken on more and more responsibility; this year all 16 workshops were student run. In the weeks leading up to the event, Shaboo and Pierson met with students to help them bring their visions to life, focusing on planning, structuring, and implementing workshops and on engaging their peers. Students were allowed to select their topics and were given complete control of their session’s design.

The day began with a kickoff in the cafeteria. Students took pictures in a “photo booth” area, guest speakers shared wisdom and poetry, and English teacher MarcAnthony Solli brought down the house with his rendition of “Runaround Sue,” backed by the HSC student jazz band.

Social studies teacher Jack Stacey and math teacher Barbara Crowley showed off some impromptu classic dance moves. Once the students were energized, they headed to advisory groups where they worked together to clarify the day’s purpose and then moved to the student-led workshops they’d selected.

Senior Lincy Valeta co-leads a theater workshop
Senior Lincy Valeta co-leads a theater workshop. 

“This day lets students serve as teachers, and lets older students nurture our younger students,"Pierson noted. "That’s exactly what should happen in schools.”

“This is a unique aspect of our culture, community, and program," Solli added. "It’s proven to be one of the most highly engaging days during which students are operating at their peak level of engagement. It’s an outlet for creativity and higher order thinking through unique and authentic experiences.”

Junior Tyla Narcisse co-emceed the day. “We learn every day but this one day is dedicated to being happy and expressing ourselves. It motivates kids to come to school the rest of the days because they’re happy here," she said. 

“It gives students the opportunity to share things they like and get other students involved," agreed junior Johnny Williams. "It’s different, and no other high school does this.”

The Colors of Extinction workshop
 "The Colors of Extinction" workshop.

Senior Jairo Uribe designed and led “How to Follow a U.S. Election” with his friend Al Tomasati because, “I thought it would be fun to lead a workshop. We want people to learn about the primaries, and we’re adding comedy so people can learn and have fun at the same time.” 

Senior Raul Soto signed up for Uribe and Tomasati’s workshop, explaining, “I’m new to voting and want to learn about it.”

For senior Tony Torres, leading a poetry workshop was about “being able to see what’s in students’ minds, hear what’s in students’ minds, and understand what’s in students’ minds so we can get to know each other better."

"When we understand what goes on in our heads, we’re able to understand each other as individuals. If another student writes a poem that shows me what’s inside him, I could end up appreciating him and shaking his hand,” he said. 

Asked why she chose to lead a session, senior Sofia Yanza explained, “I felt like I was really focused on my academics this year and wanted to do something fun.”

Yanza’s “Healthy Relationships” workshop taught her peers to define positive relationships as, “When both parties support each other, aren’t overly protective, not pushy or making you do things you don’t want to do. It’s all about communication and making sure both people have the same expectations.”

Photo booth picture of HSC graduate Raven Blake and Dream Directors Christian Shaboo and Soloman Green
HSC alum Raven Blake with Christian Shaboo and Solomon Green. 

When everyone gathered back in the cafeteria at the end of the day, spirits were high. Music pumped through the space, and students shared the work they’d done that morning, reading their poetry, singing, and keeping the energy going until the final bell rang.

HSC Class of 2008 graduate Raven Blake, a speaker at the kickoff, was impressed by the experience.

“HSC is brighter, more joyous [than when I was a student]," she said. "I saw students supporting each other and teachers and students engaged and focused on social justice. It’s really cool to get kids active in helping people instead of just ‘fulfilling community service.’ It’s more exciting and purpose driven.”

“In the debrief,” said English teacher Dianna Carter, “every student in my advisory group reported having deeper empathy."

Cari Strand is a curriculum leader at High School in the Community.