MANCHESTER – During his first year as an English teacher at Manchester High School, Joe Battaglia has already had a profound effect on the community.
âMr. Battaglia has been a great addition to our staff,â said Battaglia colleague Amanda Navarra. âHe is an excellent creative problem solver and team player, and he is open to new ideas and strategies. . “
Battaglia, who joined MHS in the fall after teaching at Hartford, is also a rapper and promoter and has given back to Manchester through his charity. Her ability to connect with students as a teacher and mentor has helped some of them thrive.
For the past eight years Battaglia, 39, who uses the stage name Joey Batts, has hosted Hip Hop for the Homeless, a holiday concert series featuring local hip-hop artists to benefit organizations that fight homelessness. One of this year’s shows took place at the main pub and raised almost $ 1,500 for MACC charities, which Battaglia says is the most he has ever raised in a city. The series raised a total of $ 5,755 in seven cities.
Battaglia said the MHS had shown its support for its charity by donating money as part of a fundraising effort called “Invest in the Nest,” which raised donations from teachers who chose to dress up on Friday.
Navarra, who said he recently attended one of the shows, called Battaglia a “wonderful master of ceremonies and performer.”
âI enjoyed that by partnering up with a local organization and featuring local artists, the event feels very connected to the community,â said Navarra, who is the district’s innovation and research strategist. .
Battaglia said the inspiration behind the concert series came from an after-school conversation with a former student, who revealed they were homeless.
“It was the first time I was like, maybe the homeless population is not just old people or veterans or people who have faced terrible tragedy,” said Battaglia. âI thought the homeless population was actually teenagers and people I work with on a daily basis. “
At MHS, Battaglia continues to show this interest in his students, colleagues and students agree. Senior MHS Zach Fareira, who performed in New Britain for Hip Hop for the Homeless, said Battaglia takes time out of his day to check on the students and make sure they are doing well.
âHe always asks me questions about my rap and what’s going on in my personal life,â Fareira said. âHe cares about his students.
Connect music, literature
Battaglia, a University of Hartford alumnus, worked as a teacher for Hartford Public Schools before joining MHS. He said he never wanted to leave Hartford, his hometown, but felt the school system forced his hand after handling the pandemic so poorly.
At MHS, Battaglia said he knew he would have the opportunity to teach students of color, a group he has worked with throughout his career. Manchester, he said, “really embraces this sense of students from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
Teaching English was a natural fit as the subject goes hand in hand with rap and music, Battaglia said. He enjoys teaching “classic cannon tricks” such as “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding and “Odyssey” and “Iliad” by Homer.
English also paves the way for meaningful conversations with students on important topics such as race relations, culture, and ethnicity.
âThe beautiful thing about English is that we can have these open debates – it’s not like algebra or math,â Battaglia said. âIt lends itself to so many learning moments and so many hands-on conversations that they can use in the real world. “
On occasion Battaglia will blend his teaching and music passions to help students connect with reading material and with each other. For some books, students will have the opportunity to draw a specific scene, allowing them to interpret and connect with the material on another level.
The activity also exposes students to elements from different cultures, as most of the students’ drawings are based on art they have seen growing up or traditional art from their country and people, Battaglia said.
âHis teaching style connects more with me and helps me learn better,â said Michael Carta, senior at MHS. “Sometimes he makes us write a mini-story or poetry, and that really helps me better.”
âAs long as the students are willing to take risks, feel safe and know that no one will criticize their art or view it negativelyâ¦ it’s always a fun activity,â Battaglia said.
Playing plays is another activity Battaglia said he enjoys doing with the students because it allows them to “talk about the lines and believe in the characters”. His interactive lessons and his way of teaching created a collaborative atmosphere in the classroom that is “always full of engaged students,” said Navarra.
Battaglia “brings her artistic synergy to her classroom, which encourages students to engage more deeply and challenge their academic thinking in non-traditional ways,” said MHS Deputy Director Amaka Okwuazi.
Growing up in a difficult environment, Battaglia said he always appreciated teachers who showed their support and cared for his general well-being; small gestures like asking a teacher to start a conversation after school had added meaning.
Because of these interactions with the teachers, Battaglia decided around the age of 17 or 18 that it would be âreally coolâ to be someone the kids could talk to if they lacked other supports. Building relationships is one of his strengths, he said, and he continues to be a positive role model for Manchester students and members of the community.
“I’m lucky (the students) are pretty comfortable having these conversations with me because we can meet on common ground and they will open up to me more than they would with another educator, âBattaglia said. “I am very lucky for this.”
Austin Mirmina covers Manchester and Bolton.