a bad rap

Parents of minority students criticize culture at top high school

City Councilman Charles Barron criticized Chancellor Cathie Black for failing to condemn a video posted by Stuyvesant High School students that used racial slurs. To Barron's right is Veronica Celestin, the mother of a Stuyvesant student.

Parents and politicians gathered today outside of prestigious Stuyvesant High School to condemn what they describe as a pattern of racial exclusion and insensitivity at the school.

The group was responding to an amateur rap video that shows four young white men — reportedly Stuyvesant students — using racial slurs. The video emerged after a former student at the school posted it to YouTube.

Recently critics have said that the city’s selective public schools don’t admit enough black and Hispanic students, and that the Department of Education hasn’t fully implemented its own anti-bullying program.

At today’s event outside of the ten-story school building in Lower Manhattan, several parents of students of color talked about their children’s experiences. Veronica Celestin, whose daughter Breanna found the video posted to Facebook, said they were disturbed by the “racist video.”

“This has been a very difficult and traumatic time for Breanna and our family,” said Celestin, reading softly from a typed statement.

Another Stuyvesant parent, Ruth Sowell, said that her child sometimes felt unwelcome at the school. Her son, Michael Bucaoto, is a Stuyvesant football player who is bi-racial.

“They didn’t treat him as an equal,” Sowell said. “He felt he had nowhere to go.”

The percentage of black and Hispanic students admitted to the city’s selective-enrollment schools has declined over the last decade. This year the city offered just 12 black students and 13 Hispanic students spots in the 2011 freshman class at Stuyvesant. Meanwhile, Asian students received 569 offers and white students received 179. In the 2008-2009 school year, just two percent of Stuyvesant’s 3,245 students were black and three percent were Hispanic.

Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said the department is improving its outreach to parents in communities where student enrollment in specialized schools is low. She also said that the department is looking into the rap video.

“We are investigating this incident and will take disciplinary action against those involved,” Feinberg said. No Stuyvesant administrators would comment on the video or confirm if any students have already been disciplined, but several students said the four boys in the video have been suspended.

City Councilman Charles Barron criticized Chancellor Cathleen Black today for failing to condemn the video. He also said the DOE should act immediately to send a message to students that harassment is unacceptable.

“This is not a case of ‘boys will be boys,’” Barron said. “This is a form of cyber harassment, cyber terrorism, cyber bullying.”

In 2007, the city launched an anti-bullying program for schools called Respect For All. Last month, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced an expansion of the program, which involves staff training and protocols for tracking and dealing with bullying and harassment.

But in a survey of 198 teachers released last month, only 28 said they believed the city’s anti-bullying efforts have been effective. The survey was part of a report published by the Sikh Coalition, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

The report said that despite the city’s detailed anti-bullying plan, many students still don’t know how to report bias-based mistreatment and many schools still fail to investigate reports of harassment.

Feinberg disputed the results of the survey, saying it relies on a “tiny fraction of staff and grossly misrepresents the strides made by our schools.” She also said that every school has a designated staff member to whom students can report bias-related incidents and that 4,000 school employees have participated in a two-day Respect For All workshop.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, said that the DOE should use the controversy over the video as a “teachable moment” about respect and ways to deal with harassment. But she added that racial imbalance in student enrollment can cause issues at schools.

“I think it’s generally agreed that Stuyvesant High School has a problem. There are very, very few African American students there,” Lieberman said. “And that number has dwindled over the last number of years from merely unacceptable to horrifically unacceptable.”

A Stuyvesant employee who asked not to be named said that the school could do more to promote diversity and discourage harassment.

“People here live in a state of denial,” said the employee, who was not a part of the press event. “Nothing’s done in a proactive way.”

Several students said that racial conflicts are uncommon at the school and the administration takes reports of bullying seriously. They also said that, after the video became public, the administration sent home a letter to families explaining the school’s policy on harassment.

“I don’t like how Stuyvesant is getting a bad name because of it,” said Mohammed Rahman, a sophomore at the school. “It was just kids fooling off.”

Rahman added that the students in the video deserved to be suspended. “They went overboard,” he said. “They really need to understand that racism isn’t accepted at school or in general life.”

pre-k for all

New York City will add dual language options in pre-K to attract parents and encourage diversity

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen FariƱa, back right, visits a Mandarin pre-K dual language program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver on the Lower East Side.

Education Department officials on Wednesday announced the addition of 33 dual language pre-K programs in the 2018-19 school year, more than doubling the bilingual opportunities available for New York City’s youngest learners.

The expansion continues an aggressive push under the current administration, which has added 150 new bilingual programs to date. Popular with parents — there were 2,900 applications for about 600 pre-K dual language seats last year — the programs can also be effective in boosting the performance of students who are learning English as a new language.

Another possible benefit: creating more diverse pre-K classrooms, which research has shown are starkly segregated in New York City.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the new programs reflect the city’s commitment to serving all students, even as a national debate rages over immigration reform.

“It’s important to understand that immigrants or people who speak a second language are an asset,” Fariña said. She called bilingual education “a gift that I think all schools should have.”

Included in the expansion are the city’s first dual language pre-K programs in Bengali and Russian, which will open in Jamaica, Queens, and the Upper West Side, Manhattan, respectively. The other additions will build on programs in Spanish, Mandarin and Italian. Every borough is represented in the expansion, with 11 new programs in Manhattan, nine in Brooklyn, six in Queens, five in the Bronx, and two on Staten Island.

In the dual-language model, students split their time between instruction in English and another language. At P.S. 20 Anna Silver, where the recent expansion was announced, pre-K students start the morning in English and transition to Mandarin after nap time. Experts say the model works best when the class includes an equal mix of students who are proficient in each language so they can learn from each other as well as the teacher, though it can often be difficult to strike that balance.

Officials and some advocates view dual-language programs as a tool for integration by drawing middle-class families eager to have their children speak two languages into neighborhood schools that they otherwise may not have considered. Research has shown that New York City’s pre-K classrooms tend to be more segregated than kindergarten. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students are from a single racial or ethnic background. That’s compared with one in eight kindergarten classrooms, according to a 2016 report by The Century Foundation.

Sharon Stapel, a mother from Brooklyn, said she knew early on that she wanted her daughter to learn another language and strike relationships across cultures. So she travels to the Lower East Side with her four-year-old, Finch, to attend the Mandarin dual-language pre-K program at P.S. 20 Anna Silver. On Wednesday, the city announced it will add a Spanish dual language program at the school.

“We really see it as how you build community with your neighbors and your friends,” Stapel said. “It was also an opportunity for Finch to become involved and engage in the cultures and in the differences that she could see in the classrooms — and really celebrate that difference.”

Citywide, about 13 percent of students are learning English as a new language. That number does not include pre-K since the state does not have a way to identify students’ language status before kindergarten. However, based on census data, it is estimated that 30 percent of three- and four-year-olds in New York are English learners.

Dual-language programs can benefit students who are still learning English — more so than English-only instruction. Nationally and in New York City, students who are learning English are less likely to pass standardized tests and graduate from high school. In one study, students who enrolled in dual-language courses in kindergarten gained the equivalent of one year of reading instruction by eighth grade, compared with their peers who received English-only instruction.

The city has been under pressure to improve outcomes for English learners. Under the previous administration, New York City was placed on a state “corrective action plan” that required the education department to open 125 new bilingual programs by 2013. Though the city fell short of that goal, the current administration has agreed to place every English learner in a bilingual program by the 2018-19 school year.

Among the greatest barriers to achieving that is finding qualified teachers, Fariña said. In some cases, it can be hard to find teachers who are fluent in the target language. In others, teachers who are native in a foreign language may only be certified in their home country, and it can be hard to transfer that certification to New York.

In order to open an Urdu program recently, Fariña said, the teacher, who holds a degree from another country, went through Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification program that usually caters to career-changers or recent college grads.

“I think the biggest challenge we have right now is ensuring our teacher preparation courses are keeping up with our need and demand for teachers who can teach another language,” she said.

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”