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New Haven BOE student rep aims to address mental health and teacher shortages in schools

New Haven Register - 6/13/2024

Jun. 13—NEW HAVEN — Giving other city schools a bigger voice is one main reason why Jonaily Colon ran for student representative on the Board of Education.

"I wanted to be able to represent more small schools," said Colon, a rising junior at High School in the Community.

She said as a representative, she'll give a voice to the smaller student bodies on a board whose current student representatives are from Wilbur Cross High school.

Colon's priorities will include advocating for mental health and addressing challenges like funding and teacher shortages during her two-year term, which starts July 1.

"That stuff can't be fixed overnight. It's definitely way beyond my term, but it's something I want to look into," she said.

High school students from across the district voted between Colon and Wilbur Cross sophomore Vikram Dalal, each of whom garnered 50 signatures from their school and 50 from other high schools in the district to make it onto the ballot.

Colon, coming from a school of 270 students, earned more than 800 votes compared to Dalal's 565.

Voter turnout for Colon compared to Dalal, a "solid candidate" from a school of more than 1,700 students, speaks to the strength of Colon's campaign, said HSC Principal Cari Strand.

"I knew we'd have a good turnout," said Strand, who runs elections every year. "I wasn't prepared for how enthusiastic all the students would be, how excited they would be to have one of their own running."

Now just finishing her sophomore year, Colon has already distinguished herself in her high school year. Last year, she won state and local competitions, eventually competing nationally, for a documentary she made called "Frontiers In 'Mental Hygiene:' How Clifford W. Beers Shifted Attitudes Towards Mental Illness."

Her teacher Danny Roque was impressed by her work ethic throughout the process, and the comfort with which she reached out to the community to raise money for her trip to Washington, D.C., which she accomplished in two weeks.

"Since freshman year, she's been on a path," Roque said. "She hasn't put down the pencil one bit."

Along with others across the district, Colon won the mental health advocacy award this year. She also works at Gather New Haven as a Growing Entrepreneur and the Peabody Museum as a museum educator. She mentors middle schoolers as part of NHPS's Project Pride outdoor experiential learning program through her school's Wilderness Inspired Leadership Development program.

Colon also volunteers at the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. She has taken courses at Gateway Community College in sociology and criminal justice, and she qualified to take Yale courses next year.

She also likes reading and writing, crocheting, scrapbooking, drawing, and she's learning to play the guitar.

Taking the spot of outgoing Wilbur Cross senior Harmony Cruz-Bustamante, Colon joins John Carlos Serana Musser as a student representative. She said the two have already been talking about their duties.

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