the next day

‘Will I be deported?’ Inside America’s classrooms in the wake of Trump’s win

Students from Martin Luther Early College in Denver walked out of classes Wednesday to protest Trump's win (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post).

As teacher Nikki Wilks looked around at her Memphis classroom on Wednesday, her high school students seemed to reflect the divide in the nation itself.

One student, who is black, said she worried about raising her 3-year-old daughter in a nation led by President-elect Donald Trump — a world, she imagines, where she won’t be able to speak her mind about racism or inequality. She told Wilks that she needed a hug.

Another student came in wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, unfazed by or unaware of the anguish felt by many students in a school with a significant Hispanic population, a frequent target of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

Wilks, who had supported Hillary Clinton, admitted to being shell-shocked. She was in and out of tears all morning as she tried to teach her 12th-grade English classes at Kingsbury High.

“The classes are much more somber than normal,” Wilks said. “It feels somewhat like everyone is walking around on eggshells, scared that if we actually vocalize it, we are making it more real, more permanent.”

Across the country, educators of all political persuasions tried to offer space for students to process the surprising Election Day results, in which Clinton won the national popular vote but Trump won the White House. At schools in New York, Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee, school leaders scrambled to react to the news before Clinton had even given a concession speech.

And in the wake of a campaign in which Trump talked about ramping up deportations, building walls, and banning Muslims from entering the country, teachers at schools that serve immigrants and their families faced intensely personal questions. Will I be forced to leave? Will my parents?

Kevin Kubacki, who runs the Neighborhood Charter Network in Indianapolis, recalled a young student from Brazil asking teachers last year if she could form a club encouraging families not to vote for Trump. She didn’t want her friends from Mexico to have to leave, she said.

“For us, this very real,” he said. “Today, our students have a lot of questions and a lot of fears.”

East Bronx Academy for the Future students Carla Borbon, Justin Vargas, Jayla Cordero, and Hugo Rodriguez talk about the election. (Alex Zimmerman)
East Bronx Academy for the Future students. (Alex Zimmerman)

In an early morning huddle, staff members at a Neighborhood school talked about using lessons about the three branches of government to remind students how no one person has ultimate power in America. Staffers also plan to ask a lawyer to meet with parents concerned about their immigration status, Kubacki said.

In the Denver suburb of Aurora, Principal Ruth Baldivia said she heard of two incidents Wednesday in which students were “not being nice to their fellow Mexican students,” telling them they will have to leave the country.

And at Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter network with two elementary schools in Denver, CEO James Cryan said a number of students asked if the election result means that they’ll no longer have a home in the U.S., “or expressed concerns about a specific relative, asking if their father or mother will have to move away.”

Experts say Trump’s vision of an America rid of people who are currently here illegally would be expensive and time-consuming to achieve. But Trump will have wide latitude to quickly roll back the protections that President Obama extended to undocumented immigrants who are law-abiding and who came to the country as children with their families.

In Queens, New York, a ninth-grader named Kevin who came to the U.S. one year ago from Argentina said his immigrant classmates at Newcomers High School arrived to class full of worry.

“They were saying that they could be deported,” he said.

Even before students arrived, educators were grappling with how best to handle the news.

Sarah Scrogin, principal of New York’s Bronx Academy for the Future, woke up Wednesday morning and wondered: When roughly 70 percent of her students are Hispanic, and many have friends or relatives who could face the consequences of Trump’s harsh stance on immigration, could teachers simply carry on with normal activities? On the other hand, would it be appropriate for teachers to share their own political views as a way of comforting students — or themselves?

“Our job as educators is not to tell others what to think,” she wrote in a morning email to staff, “but rather, to work together with young people to develop their own critical thinking.”

Rayne Macias, of Fairview High, and Jason Segovia, hug as they walk down the street with protesting Boulder High students. morning to protest the (Cliff Grassmick, Boulder Daily Camera).
Rayne Macias, of Fairview High, and Jason Segovia, hug as they walk down the street with protesting Boulder High students. (Cliff Grassmick, Boulder Daily Camera)

Christine Montera, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History, got that email and arranged her classroom’s desks into a circle for students to talk. Opinions in class varied: One student, Carla Borbon, said she was concerned for LGBT people “because this man is homophobic,” she said. “A lot of people were wondering what is going to happen to them.”

Junior Hugo Rodriguez had a different take. “I was annoyed about things people were saying about Donald Trump, saying that he’s a rapist and wanted to deport everyone — that’s not true,” he said. “I actually don’t mind Trump as president.”

Exit polls show that America’s youngest voters were more likely to have voted for Clinton on Tuesday. On Wednesday, many were determined to make their voices heard in other ways.

In Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, dozens of high school students walked out of class in protest of Trump’s victory. At Denver’s Noel Community Arts School, district leaders invited reporters to an impromptu assembly, where students spoke of their frustration. Some sang “Hallelujah.”

Senior class president Peter Lubembela was one of the speakers. A Congolese refugee who was born in Tanzania, he came to the United States when he was 7.

This morning, Lubembela said he was ready to move forward. “We have to empower ourselves and work harder than before and prove all these stereotypes wrong,” he said.

Melanie Asmar, Eric Gorski, and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting from Denver, Shaina Cavazos and Dylan McCoy from Indianapolis, Caroline Bauman from Memphis, and Christina Veiga and Alex Zimmerman from New York City.

the right mix

How to integrate Manhattan middle schools? This parent says make them enroll a mix of low- and high-achievers

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Parents weigh in on a proposal to integrate District 2 middle schools by making them enroll students with a range of academic abilities.

In Manhattan’s vast District 2, students can choose which middle schools to apply to — but many of the schools get to choose which students to accept. As a result, some schools wind up with many high-achieving, privileged students, while others serve many needy, struggling students.

One parent has a plan to fix that: Require each middle school in the district, which stretches from Lower Manhattan through Chinatown to the Upper East Side, to enroll a mix of struggling, average, and high-achieving students. Shino Tanikawa, a member of the district’s Community Education Council, presented her idea at a committee meeting on Wednesday.

“We need an admissions system that does not judge students or value some students more than others,” she said.

Tanikawa is part of a small but growing group of advocates across the city who are trying to combat segregation by reforming how students are assigned to schools — a grassroots effort that the de Blasio administration has encouraged and, in one district, turned into official policy.

But the administration has so far only been willing to act on plans that have local support. That could present a challenge for Tanikawa’s proposal in District 2, where parents are used to competing for spots at selective middle schools. While most families support classroom diversity in theory, many also want their own children surrounded by students with similar skill levels.

“There is research that shows that just as some kids at the lower end need support,” said Debra Freeman, a parent at Wednesday’s meeting, “there are kids who are at a higher end who will be very bored and can have issues if they’re not sufficiently challenged.”

District 2 families can enroll at middle schools near where they live, or apply to others across the district. Eighteen programs at the district’s 24 middle schools are “screened,” meaning they rank applicants based on factors including test scores, grades, interviews and other factors. Most schools consider students’ attendance records in admissions decisions — a screen the education council has proposed to eliminate based on research showing that poor students are more likely to miss school.

Critics say that screening applicants by ability exacerbates school segregation, since academic achievement is closely linked to students’ socioeconomic status. In District 2, schools are largely divided along race and class lines: Among schools with middle-school grades, the student-poverty rate ranges from a high of 70 percent to a low of 3 percent, according to data collected by Tanikawa.

“These are public schools,” said Robin Broshi, a member of the education council who supports the proposal to mix students with different academic abilities. “There’s no reason why one segment of a population should have a systematic advantage over another segment of the population to public schools.”

Tanikawa’s plan is based on the so-called educational option, or “ed opt,” admissions system used by some of the city’s high schools. Designed to promote integration, schools using that model aim to enroll students along a range of different academic levels. However, many have struggled to attract enough high performers because they compete for those students with the most selective schools.

To prevent the same thing from happening in District 2, Tanikawa’s plan calls for all the middle schools to use the ed-opt model. Tanikawa said the district should also adopt recruitment practices to attract a diverse mix of applicants to each school, and better ways to share information about schools with parents. She would pair those changes with efforts to attract more teachers of color to the district and ensure that classroom instruction reflects all cultures.

But getting families to apply to middle schools that currently serve more needy students is likely to be an uphill battle, with a school’s selectivity often equated with its quality. Parents who listened to Tanikawa’s proposal said that some of the district’s middle schools offer advanced courses and are known for sending students to elite high schools — while others are not.

“Work has to be done around these middle schools because there are disparities,” said Tunisia K. Riley, a parent in the district.

Other districts that have tried to adjust their middle-school admissions policies to promote integration have faced pushback.

When the superintendent in neighboring District 3 floated a plan to integrate Upper West Side middle schools by reserving some seats for low-income students, some parents rebelled and the idea was shelved. An outcry also ensued at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn when the education department changed admissions there. Parents at the elite school worried academics there would “deteriorate.”

In District 2, a final plan is still a long ways off.

Tanikawa intends to recruit parents, principals and district leaders to come up with specifics for the proposal. While the education council does not have the power to enact it, Tanikawa hopes that if it garners enough local support, the city will make good on its promise to back local integration efforts and sign off on the plan.

That is what happened in District 1, which includes the East Village and Lower East Side. After years of advocacy, parent leaders won city approval for a new admissions system designed to make the district’s elementary schools more diverse. It will be in place for the upcoming school year.

“I’m hoping people will have the courage to change the system in a meaningful way,” Tanikawa said.

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 Fariña, 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.