Yale’s ‘Snowball’ message: ‘You can do it!’ (and we’ll help)
Playful antics, collegiate costumes, and an energizing spirit of possibility marked the Fair Haven School’s winter assembly Jan. 31, where pre-school through 8th-grade students received a serious motivational pitch: It’s never too early to begin thinking about college.
That was the message Yale President Peter Salovey and other dignitaries emphasized at “Snowball,” an annual celebration of the Yale-funded New Haven Promise scholarship program that also underscores the local school’s perennial drive to inspire college aspirations in its students.
The scholarship program provides up to 100% of tuition for Elm City public school students who graduate high school with at least a B (3.0) average and who attend a two- or four-year public college in Connecticut, or up to $2,500 toward tuition at an in-state private, not-for-profit institution. Yale annually contributes up to $4 million per year.
Since the scholarship’s inception in 2011, Promise has awarded $17 million in college funding to more than 1,500 New Haven public school students.
“Keep working hard so when you get to the age where you go to college, we will be waiting for you!” Salovey told the students, referring to New Haven Promise.
Fair Haven School Principal Heriberto Cordero said the “Snowball” event — during which each grade at the school represents a particular Connecticut college — is designed to help build a “college-going culture” among the students.
Among the other Yale officials at the event were Salovey’s wife, Marta Moret ’84 M.P.H., who is the president of the consulting firm Urban Policy and an adjunct faculty member in public health at Southern Connecticut State University; Director of Athletics Vicky Chun and Senior Associate Athletics Director Nathalie Carter; New Haven Promise Director Patricia Melton ’83; and Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins.
Yale bulldog Handsome Dan and the university’s costumed mascot, Boola, also attended, along with members of Yale’s cheerleading, softball, and baseball teams.
Among the other local and state officials who helped rev up the students were U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona, New Haven Interim School Superintendent Illene Tracy, and Quinnipiac University President Judy D. Olian.
The “Snowball” ceremony, which also encourages physical fitness, featured the students in each grade — wearing T-shirts from the college they represented — performing a short, choreographed group dance and singing college fight songs. When members of the 8th-grade class, clad in blue Yale t-shirts, took to the stage, Salovey, Moret, and the rest of the Yale delegation joined them for a spirited dance routine to the music of the country folk song “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”
Cordero said his school’s students always look forward to “Snowball,” now in its 11th year, which is also attended by students’ families. The event is organized by the school’s gym teacher, Sharon Arnold, with support from other teachers, including dance instructor Jeff Manley, who choreographed the performances. Math teacher Michael Mazzacone entertained the students with his various changes of costume, which ranged from a hula dancer to a cheerleader.
In his remarks, Salovey told students that he and Moret — New Haven city residents for 40 years — once lived in the neighborhood that is home to Fair Haven School. He noted that Moret, whose family is from Puerto Rico, shares a heritage with many of the school’s students, who are predominately Hispanic. He thanked them for their high spirits at “Snowball.”
Cordero, a New Haven native whose parents hail from Puerto Rico, said that it was “a given” in his home that he would attend college, and he became the first in his family to do so. He encourages the students through “Snowball” and other school activities to “believe in themselves,” repeatedly telling them “You can do it!” about achieving academic success and attending college.
DeLauro recounted how her father, an immigrant from Italy who could not read or write in English, dropped out of school in 7th grade after being made fun of by his peers.
“We embrace every culture,” DeLauro told students. “It is our strength that we are sons and daughters of immigrant families. My dad could only dream that I would be in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Education, she continued, “is what makes us equal — not race, religion, culture, gender, or political party.” She urged the students to “reach for the stars.”
Melton works with Fair Haven School throughout the year to help inspire college dreams in the students and to inform them about New Haven Promise. Every year, various city and state leaders “adopt” a grade at the school and speak to the youngsters about their own college experiences, she said.
Among those who this year adopted classes are New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker ’10 FES/SOM. The New Haven Promise Council, an entity founded this year that supports New Haven Promise scholars in obtaining internships and employment, adopted the 7th-grade class.
Chun, who also attended last year’s event, said that she, too, looks forward to “Snowball.” “Once you come, it’s hard not to get pumped up!” she said.
Support for New Haven Promise also comes from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Wells Fargo.