With just weeks until the new school year starts, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein are working on plans to improve the beleaguered New York City public school system. Radio Rookie Jesus Gonzalez spoke to young people around the city about what they want to see changed.
Mark Green responds
On the day that Bushwick Rookie Jesus Gonzalez' (and Hunts Point Rookie Janesse Nieves') education report aired on WNYC (August 21, 2002), former Public Advocate and former Mayoral Candidate Mark Green was at a rally with Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons amongst others. This is what he had to say :
MC: We now would like to hear from the former Public Advocate for the city of New York who is now with the New Democracy Project. Let us welcome Mark Green.
MARK GREEN: Thank You. I'm here because of Russell Simmons and Jesus Gonzalez. This morning on the way to work I heard an amazingly important and interesting report on NPR, from what are called Radio Rookies. Young people commenting on issues of the day. Jesus Gonzalez is seventeen and a public school student in Bushwick. And he had what he called a message to Mayor Bloomberg; And Jesus Gonzalez described how he has to share textbooks in his high school with other students. And he said, in his own way, "can you imagine having to share a textbook before a test? Often because textbooks are scarce the teacher will Xerox pages from the textbook for assignments." And then he said "You know, we put these pages in our pocket and often lose them because pieces of paper don't seem all that important to us, and when your studying for a test you often don't have these pieces of paper around because they're not bound into one book."
Look, we can talk about mayoral control and we can talk about budget. All are urgent and relevant. If this city can't make sure that Jesus Gonzalez in Bushwick, and thousands of students like him don't have textbooks, we're failing our students. It's not that they're failing. We're failing them. When I heard this report it was heartbreaking. It's wrong and it's fixable. Either public education is issue number one or it's not. And either coalitions of parents, educators and elected officials band together to make sure kids have textbooks or they won't. So lets start small. I'm not here to debate larger fiscal issues, but small issues. Let's make sure all kids have current textbooks. When we pass that test, maybe the children will pass theirs. Thank you.
JESUS NARRATION: Listen up Mayor Bloomberg. I've been hearing a lot of talk about what our schools need.
LATIA: We don't have enough funds to raise books and stuff so... we're studying from like old books and the teachers are paying for our books with their own money.
JESUS NARRATION: That's Latia Buxton, a Seventh grader from I.S. 67 in the Bronx. Students often have to share books in class. My friend James Ford never finished high school.
JAMES: How would you feel if you had to sit there and share a text book with another student?
JESUS: It's ridiculous.
JESUS NARRATION: James and I both went to Bushwick High School in Brooklyn. I dropped out of there last year. My experience at Bushwick was horrible. Instead of being able to bring books home, we often got handouts. We would just grab them and put them in our back pockets, and lose them most of the time. It didn't seem important. And for math class, if we wanted to refresh our memory on how to do a problem, we couldn't, cause the handouts just had the questions, not how to do it on them. I know some students don't return their books to school, but the Board of Ed needs to find some solution. Textbooks and computer equipment should be a priority and it's just as important to have school staff who are committed to making sure we get smarter.
YARI: Security guards needed to be trained more cause kids use to walk out the school in front of the security guards. They use to not do anything about it.
JESUS NARRATION: Yari Mercardo is 19. She also dropped out of Bushwick High School.
JESUS NARRATION: The students were frustrated. The teachers too. Some of them felt hopeless when the students didn't show up, but I never saw a teacher speak with the students about how important it is to graduate. Instead they seemed more concerned with whether kids wore hats in the building. Here's what James has to say about that.
JAMES: It's a difference between teachers who don't care and teachers who are fed up. Well, these teachers didn't care. They didn't put enough effort to get fed up so I don't understand how they could have been fed up.
JESUS NARRATION: Classes need to be smaller. It's just too challenging for teachers to give the proper attention to students in big public schools. . At Bushwick, guidance counselors are also overwhelmed. But not everyone there falls through the cracks. Elvis Acosta is 19 and graduated from there this past year.
ELVIS (translated into English from Spanish): "My experience at Bushwick was the best experience of my life...as a student but also in my personal life."
JESUS NARRATION: Elvis especially enjoyed the technology program ... it's a good program where students learn graphic design and other computer stuff. Elvis says he had 100% support from his teachers, and now he's an intern at Microsoft. Here's his advice for the mayor:
ELVIS (translated into English from Spanish): The mayor should give more funding for night school, Technology, Saturday school, and for trips to museums so that the students can learn more of what they learned in class.
JESUS NARRATION: A lot of students do better in programs that are creative about educating them. Emily Gonzalez attends an alternative high school in Manhattan called Humanities Preparatory School.
EMILY: I enjoy it because it's a diverse school. And you have opportunities that you wouldn't be able to have in an ordinary high school. Teachers care about you. You're not just considered a number. And it really helps you to do the best that you can. Teachers really care about you.
JESUS NARRATION: Like Emily Gonzalez, I also attend an alternative school - Bushwick Outreach Center. When I dropped out of Bushwick high school, I thought I wouldn't be able to ever graduate. Now I know I will. At my new high school, teachers hold us accountable if we miss school or homework. And they actually taught me how to study the correct way. Like one teacher told me when I read something, to look up the words that I don't know, and then read it again so I can understand. The next day when we would come in, she would put the words up on the board and tell us to define them. That was something I've never done before. I felt weird because I was actually studying! I wasn't used to having to pick up a dictionary.
So Mayor Bloomberg, these are a few simple things that you can accomplish for the schools: Train the staff to show their commitment to their students' education; You should make sure that all schools have at least the supplies they need; and for the less fortunate schools in poor communities of New York, look at the model of alternative schools that are working effectively. If you can't do that, you should think again about being in charge of the Board of Education.