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.

raising the curtain

Aurora high school students started rehearsing a musical about an earlier time — and discovered ‘harsh truths’ about today

Ebony Nash, left, sings during a rehearsal of Ragtime at Hinkley High School. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Nine weeks ago, more than 50 theater and choir students at Aurora’s Hinkley High School came together to begin work on a musical set in turn-of-the-20th-century New York.

At first, the kids did what high school students often do — cluster into familiar cliques, or self-segregate by race. Then the students started immersing themselves in the material.

The musical, “Ragtime,” intertwines the stories of a white family, a Jewish immigrant family and an African-American couple to spotlight differences and commonalities in the American experience.

At the urging of their teachers and directors, the Hinkley students began to use the plot and characters to examine their own actions, prejudice and biases. About 92 percent of Hinkley’s more than 2,100 students are students of color, the vast majority of them Latino.

The cliques and segregation slipped away. The production began taking shape.

“Ragtime” gets its Hinkley High School debut on Thursday and will be performed again on Friday and Saturday.

Chalkbeat sat down with a group of students involved in the production as they were in final preparations to learn about what their experience had taught them. The following is a portion of that conversation, slightly condensed and rearranged for clarity:

Janelle Douglas, a 17-year-old senior who portrays a friend of one of the story’s main characters, said the first time she saw and read through Ragtime, “it was intense.” She often cries as she rehearses her solo, sung during a funeral.

DOUGLAS: “I thought, this is powerful. This is overwhelming. This is amazing.”

Pamela Arzate, 17, plays the role of Evelyn Nesbit, a real model and actress who is incorporated into the fictional story and accused of being shallow.

ARZATE: “It’s very eye-opening because you look at it and it’s just a simple musical, but if you take a step back and go to the real world, it’s the exact same thing that’s going on today.”

Hodaly Sotelo, 17, plays the role of Mother, a woman whose attitudes toward her identity as a wife and woman evolve throughout the story.

SOTELO: “It reminds me of when I was younger and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re over all that racism.’ But now, I look back and I think, what the heck? This stuff is still going on and we thought it was way over.”

Brianna Mauricio-Perez, 17, is one of two student directors.

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “It talks about all of the harsh truths that no one wants to talk about.”

DOUGLAS: “I think it’s safe to say it shows the true colors of our history.”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “Even within our cast we did have to have a talk about how we were so separated because we were at the very beginning. Everyone was in their little groups and with their friends. You just want to keep to yourself.”

DOUGLAS: “It was literally ‘Ragtime.’”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “We had a big talk with everybody. Things have gotten so much better. By the end of Act Two, we were all mixed up.”

Brenda Castellanos, 17, plays the role of Emma Goldman, drawn from a real-life political activist and anarchist.

CASTELLANOS: “Now that we’re closer, now that we’re all comfortable, we put in more effort.”

After nearly every rehearsal, teachers and directors give students a talk, urging them to immerse themselves in the feelings of their characters, relating to them if necessary through their parents, grandparents or ancestors who were immigrants, or through current events.

“What if you saw someone beaten, and bloodied and killed in front of you?” one director asked.

They also remind students of why the play should be impactful. “You have to figure out how for two-and-a-half hours you can give hope to that audience,” Marie Hayden, Hinkley’s choir director told students last week.

CASTELLANOS: “I think it it helps us. Every day, we get more into it and more into it until we actually believe it. You actually feel it — like how Janelle feels when she’s singing and she starts crying and makes everybody cry. We all feel connected.”

Students say they have different scenes that impact them the most, but they don’t hesitate to find how the scenes relate to their life despite the story being set in the first decade of the 1900s. Hayden’s class and the practice for the musical are safe places where they can discuss those parallels, they said.

Shavaun Mar, 16, is a junior who plays the main character of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a ragtime piano player who is the target of racial attacks and struggles with revenge and forgiveness.

MAR: “I feel like that is crucial that we give people those opportunities to talk because a lot of people have very valid things to say but they just don’t have a way to get it out.”

CASTELLANOS: “The shootings.”

ARZATE: “The racism. They help us discuss it because there’s so many things that are going on. Pretty much everyday there’s a tragedy going on. And so, in a way, we can use that sentiment, that emotion that we feel with the real world and convey it when we’re doing this show. We use those feelings and we try to think about it in that way. To display that emotion. To display it to everyone else. And not directly represent what’s going on today but just to give them that ‘aha’ moment, like ‘wow.’”

Ebony Nash, 17, plays the character of Sarah, an innocent girl who wants to help her boyfriend settle his problems.

NASH: “It just makes us want justice in real life because these things are still going on even though it’s not out there. It just makes us want justice for our community. This musical showed me that I need to become better within myself because I’m not perfect.”

SOTELO: “It opened my eyes a lot more for sure. This kind of just makes me realize the problems I have. It makes me realize yea, I’m having immigration issues with my father right now, but that also my friends, you know, they’re going through the same thing too. This DACA stuff or this coming out stuff. I became more accepting of what other people might be going through and how I can help.”

MAR: “The past few years, I have been in a bit of a shell. So putting myself in this situation and pushing myself to be this other person has really shown me what I’m capable of and it’s helping me break out of that shell and realize who I am as a person.”

NASH: “Basically, this is our getaway from real life because we get to come on stage and be somebody else. It also makes us want to put the story out right so people can understand. So people can feel what we want them to feel.”

CASTELLANOS: “That there’s hope after all this corruption that’s going on.”

DOUGLAS: “That even in your bad times you can still laugh, cry, dance.”

NASH: “What I want people to get from this is change. To learn how to change and learn how to forgive and learn how to come together as a community and just, like their worth.”

SOTELO: “And to be strong. To stand up for what’s right.”

ARZATE: “And it might sound weird, but I feel like they should feel a certain level of uncomfort because that means that they’re going to look at themselves while seeing the musical. Maybe they’ll go ‘I’m uncomfortable because I do that’ or ‘I have that prejudice’ or ‘I feel that certain way,’ so if they come out and they feel uncomfortable and then at the end they’re like, ‘Wow. There’s that hope for change.’ Hopefully that like…”

DOUGLAS: “… It inspires them to do better.”

ARZATE: “Like, you can do it.”

SOTELO: “It’s kind of like a water droplet. One small move can domino-effect to something bigger.”

 



By the numbers

New York City schools continue to give out fewer suspensions, though racial disparities persist

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Advocates protest school suspension policy in August 2016.

Student suspensions in New York City schools continued to fall last year year, but racial disparities remain, according to data released Monday.

The total number of suspensions dropped to 35,234 in the 2016-2017 school year, a 6.4 percent decrease from 2015-2016, according to figures released Monday by the education department. Arrests in schools were down 8 percent and summonses declined by 11 percent during the same time frame, according to the department.

While most student groups received fewer suspensions last year, black students and those with disabilities continued to be suspended at disproportionately high rates.

Over the past five years, suspensions have tumbled by 34 percent — a downward shift that started under the previous administration. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has made discipline reform a centerpiece of his education agenda, with a focus on pushing schools to adopt less punitive responses to misbehavior. As part of that shift, his administration has made it harder for schools to issue suspensions.

“As a parent and your mayor, there is nothing more important than the safety and wellbeing of all New York City kids,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press release Monday that announced the latest suspension numbers, along with a slate of new initiatives meant to reduce school bullying. He added that the programs would “keep crime in schools [at] its historic low.”

Infogram

While de Blasio’s discipline-policy changes appear to be continuing to drive down suspension numbers, some educators and critics of the mayor argue that discipline has actually deteriorated in some schools as staffers struggle to respond to infractions without resorting to suspensions.

The principal’s union has balked at the city’s requirement that school leaders seek approval for suspensions in certain situations, including suspensions of young students. Union President Mark Cannizzaro has said that school leaders should have the final say on discipline decisions since they understand the situation best.

“There are a heck of a lot of things that we need to do to make sure that we respond to student behavior more appropriately, but taking the decision away from the principal is a bad thing,” he told Chalkbeat recently.

At the same time, advocates for discipline reform say the city hasn’t gone far enough to ensure schools don’t funnel students into the criminal justice system, and insist that teachers need more training on alternatives to suspensions. They point in particular to the far higher discipline rates for students of color and those with disabilities than of their peers.

Though 27 percent of city students are black, they accounted for about 47 percent of all suspensions last school year. That’s slightly lower than the previous year, when almost half of all suspensions were issued to black students.

“If this is a city that, in 2017, is committed to creating fair and equitable processes and policies throughout the city — particularly for young people of color — then there’s still a great deal of work that has to be done,” said Kesi Foster, an organizer with Urban Youth Collaborative, a student-led social justice organization.

Students with disabilities make up 19 percent of the city’s enrollment, but represented about 39 percent of all suspensions last year. According to the city, that number is down 5.6 percent year-to-year.

Though Foster praised the anti-bullying initiatives announced Monday, along with the overall downward trend in suspensions, he said the city needs to come up with a plan to specifically address the ongoing disparities.

City officials point out that major violent crime in schools is at its lowest level since 1998, when those statistics first started to be collected. The de Blasio administration also touts $47 million in annual spending on mental health supports for students and other efforts to improve school culture.

On Monday, the city announced an additional $8 million in spending on new initiatives to address bullying in the wake of a fatal school stabbing in a Bronx high school. The student accused of the killing was reportedly bullied.  

“These programs are part of the DOE’s ongoing work to ensure that schools are equipped with the critical resources they need to effectively manage incidents and address underlying issues head-on,” according to a city statement.

Alex Zimmerman contributed to this report.