FAMILIES AND EDUCATORS CALL ON CITY COUNCIL TO PRIORITIZE THE NEEDS OF SCHOOL STUDENTS MOST IMPACTED BY COVID-19
NYC Charter School Students, Parents, and Teachers Send Testimonies to NYC Council Finance Committee on the FY’21 Executive Budget Urging for More Relief and Resources for Students in Low-Income and Minority Communities
Housing, Food, Mental Health, Employment, and Learning Resources Among Top Priorities for Families and Students
(NEW YORK, N.Y.) – Today, a number of students, parents, and educators associated with charter schools submitted testimony to the New York City Council Finance Committee on the FY’21 Executive Budget calling for immediate actions on behalf of students and families most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their testimony highlighted the burdens on many New York City students, including those that have lost family members to the disease, and who in the best of times, struggle to get by.
Some charter school leaders and parents expressed concerns about inadequate living conditions for students living in shelters and NYCHA complexes, calling for immediate legislative actions to improve the quality of life.
Testimony ranged from inadequate living conditions of low-income families to mental health care access, food and paycheck insecurity, and insufficient virtual learning resources. Some school leaders spoke out about using personal funds to help their students’ families who are experiencing desperate need.
“It is only by working together that we will see our way through this cruel pandemic. Public charter school educators and parents, together with their district and private school counterparts, are going beyond the call of duty to ensure that all students have a fair fighting chance during these challenging times,” said NYC Center School Center CEO James Merriman. “We stand with all families and educators and call on the City Council to prioritize the needs of communities that have been most impacted by the virus outbreak.”
Read Full Testimonies Below:
TESTIMONIES FROM CHARTER SCHOOL STUDENT, EDUCATORS AND PARENTS PRESENTED TO NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SUBCOMMITTEE ON CAPITAL BUDDGET
FISCAL YEAR 2021 EXECUTIVE BUDGET HEARINGS
My name is Michel Ouedraogo, and I live in Brooklyn, New York, on Broadway. I am in the 12th grade, I am 17 years old, and I currently attend MESA Charter High School in Bushwick. My Mom currently works at Woodhull Medical & Health Center as an Assistance Coordinate Manager where she works in the OHS Department.
As a senior in high school, I expected this to be the greatest year of my high school life, and I was honestly looking forward to Prom, my senior trip, and other senior privileges. This was supposed to be the payoff for our hard work, but unfortunately, it was cut short for the class of 2020.
I am also worried about the future. Every summer since 2017, I have had the opportunity to take part in the Summer Youth Employment Program, where I was able to work hard and make money. Summer Youth taught me how to manage my money and how to keep a job. If there were a safe way for me to work, that would be a big step up in this pandemic.
This has been very hard for us. My sleeping schedule has gotten worse over the weeks of us being quarantined. I always get up early and am on time for school, but since the school closed, I started falling asleep later or earlier than usual; it was just all over the place and, in my opinion, unhealthy for me. I am a football player, and I have tried exercising, but since the gym and parks are closed, it is more challenging. Basketball and football keep me energized and calm me whenever I am stressed out. I feel like it’s an escape from the real world. The city needs to find some way to make exercise available for kids my age.
Thank you for your time and for listening. Please stay safe.
Dear Councilmember Salamanca:
My name is Darlene Jackson-James, and I am a Dean of Students at Classical Charter Schools in your District. As you know, Classical Charter Schools, earned two National Blue Ribbons, in 2014 and recently in 2019. Our ELL scholars have outperformed their peers in Scarsdale. However, the South Bronx has been called one of the “hungriest” communities in New York City, if not the United States. Nearly 40 percent of the people in the Bronx live below the federal poverty level. COVID-19 has forced a disproportionate number of Black and Latinos to dwell in cramped and substandard housing: rat and roach infestation, poor ventilation, no hot water, or heat. Current policies and procedures have blocked families from applying for housing subsidy to obtain suitable housing. The bureaucratic process is a deterrent for many of our parents, so they silently suffer because they have no voice or advocate. It this time of crisis, I have seen families shuffled from one bureaucratic process to another.
Meanwhile, their bills pile up, food is scarce, and so are their dreams. Gentrification has pushed our families even further to the margins, forcing them to remain in insufficient housing. Dr. King relentlessly spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.” In that statement, he emphasized the importance of urgently and directly addressing inequity, without delay. I am urging you to use your voice and influence to end the cycle of poor housing conditions for our community and families.
Ms. Darlene Jackson-James
Classical Charter Schools
My name is Natasha Cherry-Perez, and I work with Uncommon Schools we have 24 charter schools, serving almost 9,000 students and families in Central Brooklyn. I was born, raised, and still live in East New York, Brooklyn, and I want to share how the Coronavirus is impacting our families. All of the societal fault lines that already affect our black and brown families in regular times are hitting our families even harder during this pandemic. Our students live in Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie, East Flatbush, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, and Williamsburg, where they are more likely to have worse health outcomes and less access to high-quality health care, and face food and housing insecurities. Our families are facing the struggles of living in shelters and NYCHA and not having access to the internet. We have sent thousands of Chrome books and internet hotspots so that our children can continue to learn remotely. We are still trying to get devices to families with multiple children because we understand it’s hard to share one computer with various household members.
We are sharing all of the resources that we can find with our families struggling with food insecurity, paychecks, and social-emotional support. Some staff members, including me, are using our own money to help get families necessities like toilet paper, soap, deodorant, and sanitary napkins. With neighborhood schools on lockdown, all we have are families with children trying to survive and stay safe. We are trying to do this in communities with hospitals, supermarkets (or food deserts), streets, and housing that have always been grossly neglected and underserved. Our charter school families and children feel the disparities of COVID-19 in multiple folds every day.
The disparities are evident, and we cannot miss our chance to improve and make the changes that we need in our neighborhoods. If there are funding, resources, and legislation that can improve the lives of our families’ by supporting and better equipping our hospitals, small businesses, shelters, NYCHA, and schools, we must do so urgently. Let’s not step away from this and go back to the status quo. All the lives lost will be in vain if we do so. We are counting on the City Council members to bring forth progress out of this pain, and please know that we are here to support you. Thank you for all that you are doing to help make this city a better place for everyone.
I have been a New York City public school educator for the past 13 years in both traditional public schools and public charter schools. I have taught in the South Bronx, Brownsville, Canarsie, and now work with schools in East New York as a History coach. When COVID-19 hit, I was not surprised to see our teachers and leaders going above and beyond to ensure that there was a remote learning plan in place for our students. I was not surprised because that is always what passionate educators do; they find solutions to take care of our students.
However, the impact of this pandemic has hit our students of color in low-income neighborhoods the hardest. They are in live zoom sessions of 90 kids to a room, lacking the attention and feedback they deserve. This was our best solution since many of our teachers have children of their own and were not able to teach multiple sections of students. We were passing out laptops the days before our schools shut down and calling every family to make sure students had access to the internet. Many of our students are overwhelmed with stress because they live in NYCHA housing, often in multigenerational households. They cannot socially distance or isolate themselves and are worried about family members being in close proximity to one another and getting sick. I have students who will complete their classwork late in the evening because they are watching their siblings during the day while their parents work multiple essential jobs. Students who have lost their grandparents and parents are worried about funeral costs. Students who can’t visit the colleges they were accepted to and aren’t sure what life decisions to make. Like all NYC students, they are sad to miss their proms, graduations, and socializing with their peers.
Despite all of these obstacles, our kids are resilient. They don’t complain about what they are missing. Instead, they focus on the importance of the sacrifice we are all making. They express gratitude for how their communities have stepped up to help them complete their school year successfully. It is especially heartwarming to hear them talk about the benefits of reduced carbon emissions for our planet. I am proud of our students who are utilizing every moment as a learning opportunity. These students are resilient and believe that the adults will take care of them, and things will get better. We, the adults, need to ensure that is the case.
Before the pandemic, I worked in a high school where 80% of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch, 100% were students of color, and 100% of the seniors were accepted to college. There were two social workers for 500 students and three college counselors. Teachers came to school on Saturdays to teach SAT and AP review prep sessions, we helped our students write their personal statements, I wrote 30 letters of recommendation, and I worked 12 hour days. All of that time and energy and extra work without extra pay is worth it.
I had a student Demarre get up before school to go vote in the midterm elections and then made it to school on time. I had a student Nicole text me in August with her Vassar dorm room set up excited to take her first French class. One of my students Jason, is the first in his family to go to college in the United States he is currently the only student of color in Brown’s accelerated medical school program. I watched my students achieve incredible goals with very little resources. Our teachers can’t work harder than they already are working. Our students can’t achieve more with even less. You can’t cut the special education teacher that made Demarre want to get to 1st period on time, or the Spanish educator who made Nicole fall in love with languages, or the college counselor who told Jason that Brown had an accelerated med school program and stayed after school with him to fill out his FAFSA form.
Our students already operate in a segregated system that gives them less we can’t continue to make cuts to communities already suffering from inequity long before this pandemic began. Every child deserves a social worker to talk to about the family member they lost during COVID-19. They deserve a hot meal to eat, a computer to work on, a safe building with supplies to walk into, a teacher to give them feedback on their work, a college advisor to help them decide where to live out their dreams. Our kids deserve even more than those basics, but let’s ensure that in these challenging times, we will keep their hearts, minds, and bodies safe.
Dear Councilman Cabrera,
My name is Paulet James. I am a parent of a scholar of Classical Charter Schools, a high performing charter school in the South Bronx. I work with children who have disabilities. Despite the growing number of children and adults affected by a disability and mental illness, there is inadequate funding and resources to support disabled New Yorkers effectively. One out of ten children and adults experience mental health challenges that affect their ability to function at school and work (health.ny.ny.gov/prevention). Overall, 11.3 percent of New Yorkers are disabled, and roughly 2-million people in New York have a form of disability. Social and economic inequities only make this problem more pervasive. Something needs to be done to end this vicious cycle, which forces children and adults to be left untreated and uncared for. Please consider the needs of our most fragile and vulnerable citizens: those who are disabled and mentally ill.
Dear Councilmember Rafael Salamanca,
My name is Jose I Vaquero I am a parent of a scholar of Classical Charter Schools, a high performing charter school in the South Bronx. While scholars at CCS have made outstanding academic gains, many families are forced to live in substandard housing: improper ventilation, in many instances with no heat and hot water, and rodent infestation. While applications for housing subsidies are frozen due to COVID-19, children and families have to endure cramped and deplorable living conditions, with little or no food. I urge you to please invest in our community and address the concerns of our children and families. Fair housing and equitable living conditions are necessary for all children to thrive in life.
No child in our communities should be forced to endure cramped, uninhabitable living conditions
On behalf of all the families that you represent, I urge you to propose Public Housing Funding that will improve the quality of life for children and families in the Bronx and New York City.
Joseì I Vaquero