As State School Enrollment Declines, Rocky Hill’s Grows


On the east side of town, where six years ago officials shuttered an elementary school, Rocky Hill is doing the unheard-of in Connecticut: building a school to accommodate growing enrollment.

In the past five years, enrollment in Rocky Hill public schools has increased by 11 percent, a striking anomaly in a state where enrollment is sagging and districts more commonly close or consolidate schools than build new ones. That growth, brought on by a stable birthrate in town and an influx of Asian families, has required Rocky Hill to hire nine new elementary school teachers, add 11 portable classrooms to the district’s two elementary schools and break ground on a $48 million intermediate school, slated to open in the fall of 2019.

“We’re an anomaly based on the direction of our enrollment,” said Mark Zito, superintendent of Rocky Hill schools. “Statewide, many districts are shrinking; some districts are closing schools.”

Enrollment in Connecticut schools slumped 6 percent in the last 10 years, and in July the U.S. Department of Education predicted a 14 percent decline by 2026, or a loss of more than 75,000 students, tied with New Hampshire for the steepest projected drop in the country. Faced with half-empty classrooms, districts have shuttered schools — Enfield closed Nathan Hale Elementary in June, Eastbury Elementary in Glastonbury will be closed at the end of this school year, and Madison announced in September it would close an elementary school in two years.

Flagging enrollment is not a phenomenon unique to public schools. St. Mary School in Newington closed abruptly in August 2016 after school officials announced enrollment had halved over the last decade. In Hamden, St. Rita School and St. Stephen School merged this summer after years of shrinking class sizes.

But Rocky Hill has been an exception to the trend, Zito said, due to a fairly stable birthrate and, more significantly, rising in-migration. Many of the people moving into Rocky Hill are of South Asian heritage, and Zito said the district has seen “a significant increase in enrollment of children from India.”

Thirty percent of Rocky Hill’s students are ethnically Asian, according to district data. Fifty-four percent of Rocky Hill children born in 2013 were born to foreign-born mothers, a 2017 report from the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance found, and 55 children that year were born to Indian-born mothers — 47 more than the second-highest group, Pakistani mothers.

Sakshi Dave, a 38-year-old, self-described trailing spouse, moved to Rocky Hill in 2016 with her husband and 8-year-old son after living for stints in Torrance, Calif., Minneapolis and Atlanta. Dave’s husband works at an IT company in Glastonbury, and the couple settled in Rocky Hill because of ample space in the town’s sprawling apartment complexes and the well-rated schools. Dave and her husband hail from Bangalore, in southern India, but Rocky Hill’s sizable Southeast Asian population wasn’t much of a factor in their decision.

“I’m not in that little area where I only want to talk to people with the same food choices as me,” she said. “I want to go out and meet new people and try new things. That’s how I survived all these moves the past seven years.”

Their son, Sanshray, is in third grade at West Hill School. He’s immersed himself in sports and music, his mother said. Each night of the week, he is either at basketball practice, a piano lesson or reading his favorite A to Z Mysteries books at the town’s Cora J. Belden Library. The series was authored by Ron Roy, a Connecticut resident, and when Sanshray learned he was moving to the state, he was — for once — excited to move, his mother said. Nearly two years later, the family is now looking to buy a house in town.

“We’ve seen the best and the worst of America,” Dave said, “but this is a small, comfy, cozy place to live in.”

Shaun Dougherty, a UConn professor of education and public policy, said the ingredients for school-age growth are present in Rocky Hill — an increasing number of households, above-average household income, home prices at the median or slightly above it, yet not high enough to discourage people from moving in.

“All of this points to Rocky Hill being a pretty well-established and attractive suburb” for people looking to start a family, Dougherty said.

In respect to the town’s growing South Asian population, Dougherty said he witnessed a similar demographic shift when he was a schoolteacher outside of Philadelphia and a community of immigrants from Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, sprang up around a Merck office in a Philadelphia suburb. South Asian immigrants who work at Hartford’s insurance companies could find suburbs like Rocky Hill appealing, Dougherty said, with their large and fairly modern mixed-use housing developments.

“While Connecticut will see a net decrease in enrollment statewide, there’s going to be a handful of suburbs that are going to grow,” Dougherty said.

At Rocky Hill’s West Hill Elementary School, growth has been so dramatic the school no longer has space to seat all its students for assemblies.

“Even using both the gym and the [cafeteria], we exceed the capacity of both,” said principal Scott Nozik. “One of the things we can’t do anymore is have the opportunity for the entire school to come together, either to celebrate something or to all hear the same message.”

When Nozik became principal six years ago, West Hill had five second-grade classes. It now has eight. “You get to eight, and it becomes challenging. Where do you put all the kids?” Nozik said.

Last November, Rocky Hill voters greenlighted a $48 million intermediate school, intended to alleviate some of the pressure placed on Nozik’s school and the other elementary school in town. When the school opens — which Zito, the superintendent, said could be as early as the 2019-20 school year — Rocky Hill’s elementary schools will be converted to K-3 schools, and fourth and fifth graders will enroll at the new intermediate school.

In a report last December, a committee set up to oversee the intermediate school’s construction told the town council both elementary schools are “at maximum capacity,” and easing the overcrowding by adding more portable classrooms — as the district has done in the past — “will create problems with lunch waves, restroom access and special curriculum.”

Furthermore, K-5 enrollment is expected to grow by another 253 students in the next three years, the committee found.

“Logistically, we can’t wait for the new school to open,” Nozik said.

On Nov. 15, after nearly a year of committee meetings, reviews, site plans floated and site plans approved, a crew began demolishing the old Moser Elementary School, which closed in 2011 because of untenable maintenance costs.

Dave, too, is looking forward to seeing the new intermediate school. She wanted to take a more active role in her son’s education, and became co-president of the parent-teacher organization at West Hill School. Though many of the school’s students are Indian, Dave hasn’t seen similar representation in the PTO or in community groups. She’s trying to change that.

“More people are getting active — I have so many people of Indian background asking me how to become part of the community,” she said. “I tell them to get out of their shell. Go exploring. I love exploring.”

Asian Latinos in the US

Korean-Dominican? Chinese-Cuban? Yes they do exist! Almost half a million Asian Latinos now live in the U.S. (Source: Tinabeth Piña)

Posted by The Chindian Diaries on Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Chinese-Canadian to his parents: ‘Privately, I yearned for your love’


Growing up, actor Simu Liu constantly fought with his immigrant parents. Now, he sees through their eyes—and pays tribute to them

Simu Liu

Simu Liu is a Canadian Screen Award-nominated actor, writer and stunt performer who plays Jung Kim on the CBC TV show, Kim’s Convenience.

Mom and Dad,

We talked on the phone earlier today. We talk all the time, actually—usually when one of us is in the car on the way to something, or when you’re wondering when I’m coming home for dinner next. We catch each other up on what’s going on—the auditions and gigs for me, the vacations and the gossip on whose kids are getting married next for you.

Simu Liu's first summer in Canada, 1995. (Simu Liu)

Simu Liu’s first summer in Canada, 1995. (Simu Liu)

But we never quite say the things that actually matter.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the words we never say to each other, and to be honest, I think we’ve been doing this whole thing wrong for the past twenty-odd years. We never expressed affection toward one another; instead, we took every opportunity to criticize each other in some deluded obsession with eliminating every shortcoming in the pursuit of perfection. We’ve always been a family of actions over words, preferring pushing to praising, and letting “put on a jacket, it’s cold outside” stand in for “I love you.”

Any of my closest friends could tell you that I ride a rollercoaster of emotions when I talk about my complicated childhood—anger, sadness and resentment being the frontrunners. But I’m tired of being angry at my parents.

So I’m writing this letter to unpack my unsaid words, to thank you for all that you’ve done for me and to tell you that I love you. It’s about time we started, don’t you think?

I was born in Harbin, China, in 1989, a time when you were trying to leave the country—no easy feat, in Deng Xiaoping’s regime—to start a better life abroad. A one-in-a-million opportunity arose for you to pursue graduate studies at Queen’s University, and you took it. You had to. So Grandma and Grandpa raised me in Harbin until I was 5, when life had stabilized enough in Canada for you to bring me over. I was excited to finally meet my real parents and start my life in Canada, but I had no recollection of you—so when you returned in January of 1995, you felt like distant relatives.

When Dad came back, I slept with Grandma and Grandpa in their bedroom, as I had done all my life. They were my parents, as far as I could comprehend.

(Simu Liu)

Liu, with his grandfather and grandmother, in 2011.

When we moved to Canada, life was an adjustment for a variety of reasons. Whereas Grandma and Grandpa were gentle and patient, age and wisdom had not yet calmed your fiery tempers. I often felt like you regarded me as a defective product: you had not been present for my early years, and so my idiosyncrasies left you confused and worried. Perhaps, in the same way that you were strangers to me, your son also felt like a foreigner to you. That rift would only widen as I adopted the values and norms of a culture that you were unfamiliar with.

We fought often. If I tripped on my laces, I was clumsy. If I scored below an A, I was stupid. If I wanted to hang out with my friends, I was wasting my time. I grew to resent the pressure you put on me, resolving to make your lives as difficult as you were making mine. I ran away from home in 2005 after a particularly bad fight, staying at a different friend’s house every day for a week. I spoke dismissively about you, told you I hated you, and that I couldn’t wait to leave the house. But privately, I yearned for your love and affection. I often fantasized about having the family I saw in the movies—the ones where everyone would talk like best friends and hug each other hello and goodbye.

I grudgingly continued down the path you laid out for me—getting into a prestigious business school and landing a stable nine-to-five job—until I couldn’t anymore. My job after graduation was at a top accounting firm, and it could not have been a worse fit for me. My superiors eventually caught on – in 2012, barely eight months into the job, I was laid off.

I was so embarrassed as I cleaned out my things in front of the entire office, but worse to me was the shame of having to tell you what happened. I considered throwing myself off my balcony to avoid facing you. Instead I made the decision to forge a path I could be proud of. I promised myself I would face you when I knew what that path would be.

That month, through a well-timed Craigslist ad, I found my way onto the set of a Guillermo del Toro movie as a minimum-wage extra and instantly fell in love with acting and filmmaking. I checked Craigslist every morning afterwards, applying for anything and everything I could. A few months later I booked my first national commercial and, unable to keep my new life from you any more, I finally came out to you as an actor. Five years later, serendipitous as it may seem, I am now playing myself on TV: a troubled kid, burdened by his relationship to his parents, trying to find his place in the world.

Today, although our relationship is the best it’s ever been, we still rarely talk about the past. I often catch myself replaying some of our worst confrontations in my head; it’s the unfortunate byproduct of a life spent mostly in conflict with you. But something is changing in me too, and I’m finding myself looking at the events of my childhood not through my lens, but through yours.

Liu, flanked by his parents, at his graduation from Western University.

Liu, flanked by his parents, at his graduation from Western University.

In hindsight, I know that you were doing the best you could. Money was always tight, and so you worked hard and often; the alternative would have meant all of us going hungry. You pushed me as hard as you could so that I would never have to know the struggle of not knowing where my next meal would come from. And when I seemed to be squandering all that you had worked towards, you became frustrated. I would have been too. All I wanted as a child was a safe space, but there was no such thing for you—the threat of poverty was too great for you to risk taking your foot off the gas.

Despite some bumpy roads along the way, I believe that you have succeeded at everything you’ve set out to do. You built a better life for me. You made sure that I never had to worry about things like student debt or spending money. You instilled in me the idea that nothing could be taken for granted in this world, and that if I wanted something badly enough, I had to earn it through work. You made me into everything I am today—hardworking, ambitious, resilient—and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

In November, you attended a screening of Kim’s Convenience at the Glenn Gould Theatre in Toronto. It was the first time you had attended any of my shows or events, and although I tried to downplay it, I was giddy with excitement on the inside. It was a perfect night: I was surrounded by the love of my friends and family, and it was better than anything I saw in those movies with the parents I dreamed of having. It took 28 years, but I finally realized that was the kind of relationship that I want with you every day. No more damaged kid. No more anger.

So it’s with a full heart that I want to tell you that I am grateful for all the gifts and privileges you bestowed upon me. I am so proud of everything you have achieved in your careers, despite overwhelming odds. You are my heroes and my inspirations, and I work hard every day not because it’s what you expect of me, but because it’s what you taught me to expect of myself.

我以身为你们的儿子而深感自豪. 让我最感恩的, 是你们一直以来对我的无私奉献和支持, 以及你们所作出的牺牲.

Thank you. I love you. And don’t forget to bundle up; it’s cold outside these days.

This essay is part of the Before You Go series, which collects unique, heartfelt letters from Canadians taking the time to say “Thanks, I love you,” to the people they care for, before they go. If you would like to see your own letters or reflections published, send us an email here.

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January 7, 2018

A Play by an Asian American Woman Will Appear on Broadway for the First Time Ever



A play called Straight White Men is about to make history, becoming the first play written by an Asian American woman to appear on Broadway. The show, written by experimental Korean-American playwright (and David Byrne and Kathleen Hanna collaborator) Young Jean Lee, revolves around three brothers (the aforementioned straight white men) visiting their widower father for Christmas. The eldest brother has an existential crisis over his failure to fulfill his own potential and privilege, and other things surely happen as well. It debuted in 2014 and was deemed both “compassionate and stimulating” and “mournful and inquisitive” by the New York Times. 

Broadway does have a serious problem when it comes to representation. A study by Quartz and the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that in the 2014-2015 season, 84.5% of all actors were white. This issue is also present behind the scenes: during Broadway’s 2015-2016 season, only two plays were written by women. A study by the Dramatists Guild and Lilly Awards Foundation released in 2016 found that over three seasons between 2011 and 2014, only 3.4% of 2,508 non-Broadway productions at 153 theaters were written by women of color.

Interestingly enough, Straight White Men’s Broadway debut will coincide with the 30th anniversary of the debut of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, which in 1988 became the first Asian American play to be produced on Broadway. Straight White Men is also the Broadway debut of Call Me By Your Name star and person the internet loves to half-heartedly dislike Armie Hammer, who presumably has been preparing for the role his entire life.

Multicultural Awareness Boosts Teaching Competency, But Is an Uneven Resource Among Future Teachers



Prior Experience Working with Youth of Color Linked to More Multicultural Awareness


Student teachers with more multicultural awareness foster more positive classroom environments for their students, finds a new study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and published in the Journal of Teacher Education.

However, multicultural awareness varies considerably among future teachers based on their own race or ethnicity and prior experience working with youth of color.

Multicultural awareness – which refers to an awareness of, comfort with, and sensitivity toward issues of cultural diversity in the classroom – is crucial to teachers’ abilities to promote positive outcomes for all students. Despite decades of policy reforms that emphasize the importance of multicultural awareness, few comparative studies have examined its prevalence in students preparing to be teachers (also known as preservice teachers) or the link between multicultural awareness and future teachers’ measured competencies.

“In light of the persistent demographic divide between a predominantly White teaching force and evermore racially and ethnically diverse schools, current and future educators’ abilities to create inclusive classroom environments are critical for fostering student success,” said Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, assistant professor of international education at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.

In this study, the researchers used unique data of preservice teachers’ beliefs and student teacher performance assessments to ask whether levels of multicultural awareness vary by characteristics such as race and ethnicity, education, and prior experience working with diverse youth, as well as whether multicultural awareness shapes teaching competency.

Surveys on multicultural beliefs were collected from 2,473 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in teacher certification programs at a private U.S. university between 2010 and 2015. About 60 percent of the students surveyed (1,498) were also observed and evaluated by master teachers while student teaching.

The researchers found that multicultural beliefs are tied to student teachers’ ability to create strong and nurturing classroom environments, measured during student teaching observations by master teachers.

“Our study underscores the importance of equipping all teachers with essential multicultural knowledge, skills, and dispositions,” added Cherng.

The researchers also found that Black and Latino preservice teachers report greater multicultural awareness than their White counterparts. Asian American preservice teachers report having the least multicultural awareness.

“These differences are consistent with prior research that finds that Black and Latino teachers, drawing upon their own identities and experiences as racial minorities, are often more aware of and sensitive toward cultural differences,” said Cherng. “What is less clear is why Asian Americans report having lower levels of multicultural awareness. It is possible that Asian American student teachers believe that multicultural education, like other discourses on race that make little mention of Asian Americans, does not include or embrace their identities.”

Preservice teachers, particularly Latinos and Asian Americans, who had prior experience working with students of color had higher levels of multicultural awareness.

“This finding suggests that educators may develop a stronger racial consciousness through working with youth of color,” Cherng said.

Preservice teachers in different content area and grade-level programs reported different levels of multicultural awareness. For example, compared to future teachers in early childhood programs, those in math, science, and social studies programs had lower levels of multicultural awareness.

The researchers urge that their findings be used to inform teacher education policy and meaningfully focus both curriculum and instruction on preservice teachers that would benefit most from multicultural awareness.

The study can also inform teacher recruitment efforts. For example, since they found that prior experience working with youth of color is linked with more multicultural awareness, recruitment efforts could focus on community organizations that serve diverse youth.

“Through a deeper understanding of the relationships between preservice teachers’ background characteristics, multicultural beliefs, and evolving teaching competencies, our study contributes to our understanding of preparing teachers for diverse classrooms and prompts further investigation into developing cultural competence in teaching,” said Cherng.

Laura Davis of New York University coauthored the study with Cherng.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development (@nyusteinhardt)
Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School’s mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit