Building Connections and Opening Doors: Inside Community Outreach Programs at Hopkins

Any student joining a new school might feel a mix of excitement and anxiety as they take the first steps onto a campus. For Donavan C. ’26, joining the J School in seventh grade did come with those same emotions, but a few minutes into his first day, he suddenly felt more comfortable than he had expected.

“I had already been here before. A lot,” said Donavan.

That’s because before enrolling here, Donavan had taken part in three community outreach programs implemented by Hopkins to connect the School to eager students in the local community. Raised in New Haven, Donavan’s journey to Hopkins perfectly encapsulates the aim of all of these programs: to increase access to a world-class education for local kids who are enthusiastic about learning.

“For any student in the area, experiencing Hopkins even in a small way can be a game changer,” said Angela Wardlaw, a member of the Hopkins Class of 1984 as well as the current Director of Community Engagement and Associate Director of Admission. Wardlaw, who spearheads all community outreach programs at Hopkins, is driven to help these initiatives connect with as many students as possible.

Donavan is one of many who have benefited from this work through the years.

Finding a Spark Through Reading

Wardlaw initially met Donavan when he joined Book Buddyz—a Hopkins-led program—while attending fifth grade at L.W. Beecher School in New Haven. The program, which Wardlaw implemented, allows interested students in local public schools to gather after school to read, analyze, and discuss literature. Donavan was part of the inaugural Book Buddyz group, which he attended with a few classmates at Beecher.

“I think I get as much out of it as they do,” said Wardlaw, who excitedly traveled to Donavan’s former school each week to lead discussions and get to know each student. “At the beginning of the year, I give them books, bookmarks, and Hopkins t-shirts. It’s really fun to see them wearing their maroon and grey shirts every time we visit.” Donavan jumped at the opportunity to share his joy of books with others.

“Mainly it was cool that we got to read and just hang out with each other after school,” remembered Donavan.
Wardlaw said she noticed an immediate spark in Donavan.

“When Donavan became interested in Book Buddyz, we heard nothing but great things about him from his teachers and principal,” she recalled. “Then when I met him, I recognized right away that he was a special kid. Not only did he love to read and write, but his passion for learning stood out.”

Wardlaw has enjoyed running the Book Buddyz program immensely and says she is energized by the progress she sees in students.

“To have a group of kids develop and grow in the program is so wonderful to see,” said Wardlaw. It’s nice to see young boys from our city—most of them brown and black—in a light that not a lot of people see them in,” she added.

A “Path” to New Opportunities 

The Book Buddyz experience inspired Donavan and his family to apply to the Hopkins Pathfinder program. Hosted by Hopkins, Pathfinder is an engaging educational program that prepares high-achieving students from local public schools for high school and beyond.

Students apply to the program—which includes both after–school and summer instruction—in the fall of their fifth grade year, and if accepted, are along for the ride until the summer after their eighth grade year. Those who attend New Haven public and parochial schools are eligible to apply for admission to the program regardless of their city or town of residence. Many current Hopkins teachers and advisers help lead Pathfinder, which has been operating for over 20 years despite several program name changes over time.

Donavan was thrilled to be accepted to the program which has allowed him to spend after-school time and four summers on the Hopkins campus. He has also built lasting connections with fellow students and teachers including Errol Saunders, Executive Director of the Pathfinder Program and a history teacher at Hopkins.

“Pathfinder is great,” said Donavan. “It’s like regular school in the summer but also really fun.”

The five-week-long summer portion includes a half hour of homework for each class and a schedule that allows time for recess and social engagement between students. Donavan recalled reading Shakespeare one summer as a learning experience that was both enjoyable and challenging. Outside the classroom, he has enjoyed activities like learning African drumming, playing four-square, and participating in “Olympic” competitions.

While Pathfinder isn’t a direct pipeline into admission at Hopkins, the quality instruction that students receive through the program provides them with an understanding of what a Hopkins education will look like. As a plus, Pathfinder teachers and program staff are often able to relay important insights about students to the Hopkins Admissions Committee when appropriate.

Preparing for a Bright Future

Another initiative Donavan took advantage of was Hopkins’ Read and Readiness program, which helps students prepare for the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT). Students accepted into Read and Readiness receive eight weeks of free SSAT prep tutoring, including books, study materials and test fees. 

This four-year-old program once again provided Donavan and his family the chance to take another step forward in the educational process.

Participation in all three programs—Book Buddyz, Pathfinder, and Read and Readiness—culminated in a Hopkins acceptance for Donavan, who made the difficult decision to leave his former school and take on a new opportunity at Hopkins. Walking onto the Hopkins campus for that first day of seventh grade, Donavan immediately spotted a few students who had been in Pathfinder that summer.

“It helped me feel good that I knew the campus and some people here,” he said.

A relationship with Hopkins that began in fifth grade has grown into a great fit for the incoming freshman. It would be an understatement to say that Donavan is enjoying his time at Hopkins. He has built many friendships and, despite feeling challenged initially by the workload of school, he has fit right into what he calls a “nice, friendly environment.”

On nice days, you can find Donavan on campus playing tennis or pickup football with friends in between classes.

“I tell people who don’t know about Hopkins that it still feels like summer camp all year round,” he said.

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2022 edition of
Views, the Hopkins School Magazine. 
    • Donavan C. '26

    • Angela Wardlaw ’84, Director of Community Engagement and Associate Director of Admission

    • Donavan (far right) gathered weekly with his fellow classmates for Book Buddyz

    • Donavan (right) and a classmate get crafty during a science experiment as part of the Pathfinder Summer session 2021

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Hopkins is a private middle school and high school for grades 7-12. Located on a campus overlooking New Haven, CT, the School takes pride in its intellectually curious students as well as its dedicated faculty and staff.