Meet your neighbors... the ABC House
NEW CANAAN — There is a family dynamic among the students living at the A Better Chance house in New Canaan.
Ryan Hernandez and his roommate, Adrian Davis, tease each other about snoring while sitting on a couch in the living room. Rajon Mitchell rolls his eyes as Hernandez recounts a recent trip the boys took to Washington D.C. where he got locked out of the room he and Mitchell shared.
Each boy has assigned chores, like setting the table, doing the dishes or getting the mail. The chore list is posted on a corkboard in the kitchen and a family calendar and whiteboard remind everyone of upcoming events. Resident directors John and Laura Walsh act as heads of the household and keep everything running smoothly.
A Better Chance is a national program providing access to public and private schools to gifted students of color. The ABC Program in New Canaan is one of 22 community school program houses in the country where students reside in the community and attend public high school.
The five boys live in a four-bedroom house and attend New Canaan High School. The Walshes live in an apartment on the first floor and two tutors for the house live in an apartment off the home. The boys — senior Rajon Mitchell, juniors Kai Clancy and Josiah Jones, sophomore Ryan Hernandez and freshman Adrian Davis — are all from the Bronx or Queens, with the exception of Davis, who is from Philadelphia. Through the A Better Chance program, funded by community donations, the boys are able to go to school in New Canaan, taking advantage of its strong academics and extracurricular activities.
Mitchell, the only senior in the house, is planning on studying urban planning in college. He’s been accepted to Rutgers, but knows he wants to go to a big university, something he learned on an ABC sponsored college bus tour he took this summer.
For more information on “A Better Chance,” visit www.abchouseofnc.org/
“I realized I do not like small liberal arts schools,” he said. “I want to be able to interact with different people. I like that type of variety. That’s where I thrive.”
Clancy and Jones also said they want to go to city schools. Having come from New York City, the boys said it’s been an adjustment to suburban living in New Canaan.
“It’s a different atmosphere. You have to be very dependent on other people,” Jones said, referring to the lack of public transportation in town and needing to rely on others to drive.
“Everyone does the same thing,” said Clancy. “Everyone’s kind of the same. But they’re cool people. I like them.”
Hernandez said he noticed everyone does organized sports after school in New Canaan.
“It’s more of a sports town,” he said. “Back where I lived, some people wouldn’t do sports. Everyone hanged in the park.”
The boys are required to do after-school activities and all opt for sports. This winter, everyone is wrestling except Hernandez,, who is throwing shot put. He’s currently ranked 16th in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Conference.
When the boys aren’t playing after-school sports (all but Hernandez are on the wrestling team which Mitchell captains), they like to shoot hoops in the driveway on weekends. Every Sunday, they visit their host family where they join in on the family’s weekend activities. Once a month, the boys stay with their host family for the weekend, so the Walshes can enjoy time to themselves.
The boys also go home some weekends or go on trips as a house. They like walking to downtown New Canaan and taking advantage of the restaurants and cafes there. In whole, their lives are pretty similar to a typical high schooler’s life. But the boys stand out in New Canaan, where they’re one of a few students of color in a predominantly white town.
“There’s a lot of curiosity,” Jones said. “One thing that’s interesting is they like to play with your hair. They don’t mean to be obnoxious, but it’s just different. It takes adjustment to their lack of knowledge.”
“They’re used to what they see on social media,” added Mitchell. “It’s a matter of being truthful.”
Mitchell said some of the staff at the high school have been sensitive toward the students’ feelings as minorities in the school.
“Prior to reading (Huck Finn), the teacher pulled me aside and asked if I was comfortable reading it with the n-word,” Mitchell said. “But I embrace it. In order to move forward, we have to know what we’ve been like in the past to do better.”
The boys have also had to adjust to a smaller school experience.
“The class size is much smaller,” Jones said. “The teachers try to connect with you on a more personal level. Some classes are more personalized based on the teacher.”
“My first experience here was everyone came at you,” Hernandez added. “It was easy to know everyone in the grade.”
The boys have also noticed a difference in the standardized testing, as well as the way their fellow students dress and act. On top of adjusting to life in a small town, they also have to adjust to living away from home, which was part of the appeal of the program.
“I didn’t know this (program) existed until the eighth grade,” said Mitchell. “I thought ‘A Better Chance?’ That sounds amazing. It’s basically like college.”
“You get used to it,” Davis said about being away from home. “(Being homesick) just depends on the day.”
However, the boys are able to depend on each other for support and companionship.