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"A New Haven Dreamer"


New Haven is, and always has been, a city of immigrants. And dreamers. Successive waves of immigrants from all over the world have shaped New Haven's diversity, enriched the culture and added to the strength as a city and nation. And that is something we should all be proud of.


Cristopher Israel Rodriguez is an immigrant and education is important to this former Wilbur Cross High School senior who came to New Haven from Ecuador just three and a half years ago. Cris came to our attention when he won second place last May in the High School Physical Science Division of our annual science competition. He also won the Precision Combustion Award and the Elliot Perlman Award, monetary awards which he was thrilled to also capture. He desperately wants to be a professional architect, as he told lawmakers at a meeting of New Haven Dreamers in February 2018. He’s taking difficult courses like physics to make sure that can happen someday.


But he knows that it will be financially difficult for his family. He and his mother are undocumented, which makes finding a job to help pay for school difficult. Cristopher said his mother can’t afford to help. He took college courses while he was enrolled in high school to help offset future costs. He said he already knows that he will have to work full time to help pay for school since he won’t have any access to federal education aid. He also is not sure he will be eligible for the New Haven Promise scholarship. (The program doesn’t exclude people based on immigration status. But many dreamers may not have been in the city or the school system long enough to qualify.) He argued that having access to the pool of student generated financial aid that he would be paying into would not only be helpful but fair. “To not be eligible for help,” he said, “that’s not fair.”


Life has not been fair to many of New Haven students and they have to work very hard to overcome obstacles. The undocumented immigrant joins the struggle for equality along with others who have faced injustice and poverty and the multitude of factors that converge to keep a child from achieving. Cristopher beat the odds and graduated from high school. He did well. But where did he go? The story does not end with his high school graduation. Cristopher Israel Rodriguez petitioned the school board at the end of his senior year in June to be able to stay on at the high school and take courses to lighten his college load financially and he was approved. He also wants to enter the New Haven Science Fair again this year.


His teacher, Nick Farrell told me very recently Cris has received a full scholarship for the Wesleyan-Columbia Electrical Engineering Program at Wesleyan University in the Fall. He will end up with two degrees in four years. We would like to help students like Cris who face what seem to be unsurmountable obstacles in their life, and provide them with tools to overcome them. Mentors, supplies, a venue to display a project that will receive attention from the right people at the right time--these are all doors that open possibilities to dreams becoming a reality, for so many students versus a "dream deferred," as Langston Hughes so eloquently stated in his poetry from the Harlem Renaissance.

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