a thousand words

New Visions awards college scholarships to seven city students

Sharmin Mollick, 18, pores over an Advanced Place Physics assignment at Marble Hill High School for International Studies.
Sharmin Mollick pores over an Advanced Placement Physics assignment at Marble Hill High School for International Studies.

I spent the day today with a couple of students with amazing stories — Karina Melendez and Sharmin Mollick. Mollick came to New York as a ninth-grader who spoke no English and hid her love of biology and genetics from her disapproving family. Melendez fought bone cancer at age 10, later lived in shelters and foster homes and is now second-ranked in her junior class.

The two are among seven city high school students selected for college scholarships by the school support organization New Visions for Public Schools. Quick bios of the students are below the jump. But stay tuned over the next few days as we post text and audio profiles of Melendez, Mollick and Luis Ng Tong.

“All of this happened for a reason,” Melendez told me today. “I have a story; I might as well tell it.”

Annenberg, Blackrock Scholarships Awarded to Exceptional New Visions Students
Overcoming the Odds, Seven Students Will See Their College Dreams Come True

NEW YORK, April 29, 2010 – The two major college tuition funds administered by New Visions for Public Schools have awarded their 2010 scholarships. One New Visions student was selected as the recipient of the 2010 Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship, and six seniors at New Visions schools have been named recipients of the 2010 BlackRock-Schlosstein Scholarships.

Karina Melendez has been waiting a long time for things to go her way, and finally, they are. In January, she got to move into a good home when the parent coordinator at her high school became her foster mom. Then this month, the 17-year-old was selected as the recipient of the 2010 Leonore Annenberg College Scholarship. No longer will she have to worry about the prospect of tuition she can’t afford. She’ll be covered anywhere she wants to go.

The Annenberg scholarship will provide Karina with the full, four-year cost of attendance at an academically rigorous college, including travel expenses to visit New York if she leaves the area. She was selected from among 65 applicants, all nominated by principals at New Visions schools, based on her academic achievements, integrity, commitment to service, financial need and ability to overcome adversity.

Karina, an aspiring lawyer who is ranked second in her junior class of 100 students at Bronx School of Law and Finance, stands out for her extraordinary resilience and determination. At 10, she was diagnosed with bone cancer, and for three years, her schooling consisted of tutoring at home or in the hospital. She beat cancer and performed so well on state tests that she was able to rejoin classmates her age without repeating a year. But at 14, her family was evicted from her childhood apartment, and she had to live with her aunt, in homeless shelters and then go into foster care. Through it all, she put her energy into learning.

“A part of me always saw school as the one thing in my life I could control,” she said in a recent interview. “Everything else in my life could fall apart, but no one could take that away from me.”

Six seniors at New Visions schools have been named recipients of the BlackRock-Schlosstein Scholarships, which provide up to $20,000 over four years, with a maximum of $5,000 per year, toward the cost of full-time undergraduate study. The scholarship amount is determined by tuition costs and financial need. The winners are:
Dieynabou “Dee” Barry, Bronx Center for Science and Math. Human rights abuses in Dee’s home country of Guinea have inspired her to become “a bettering force in this world,” as she wrote in an application essay for the scholarship. On track to be her class’s valedictorian, Dee has been admitted to Dartmouth College, where she wants to major in international studies. Her goal is to become a member of the United Nations and address human rights issues.

Joanna Mei Juan Luo, High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology. Joanna, who plans to attend New York University, wants to become a nurse and is passionate about public health issues. She will be the first in her family to graduate from high school. “My father was never given a chance to go to high school, let alone college,” Joanna wrote in her scholarship application essay. “From the stories he tells us, I call up a vivid mental picture of him as a barefooted child walking on the dirt road, with two buckets dangling from each end of a stick placed on his shoulder, as he makes his third trip to the village’s only water well. I have always known that if I ever wanted to honor my father with the chance to say, ‘My children all went to college,’ I would first need to set the example.”

Oi Yee Liu, High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology. Oi Yee is extremely passionate about math. After she moved to the United States from Hong Kong four years ago, “My new life in this country was overwhelming and constantly tortured me because everything required English.” Except math. She became known at school as “math girl.” Classmates began to ask her for help in math, and a teacher nominated her for the Math Honor Society, enabling her to make friends and improve her communication skills in English. Oi Yee will attend Lehigh University, where she plans to major in finance.

Sharmin Shompa “Sini” Mollick, Marble Hill High School for International Studies. Sharmin grew up in Bangladesh in a conservative Muslim family that did not encourage her to go to school and disapproved of her desire to study biology. After coming to the United States, she had to keep secret her study of science and goal of becoming a genetic researcher. “Because science contradicted with my parents’ beliefs, I studied for science classes when no one was around, usually in the bathroom,” she wrote in her scholarship application essay. “I wanted to prove to my parents that studying science would not corrupt my mind but would allow me to have a positive impact on the world.” Sharmin is secretary of the school math club, a member of the National Honor Society, and a tutor in algebra and calculus. She will attend Cornell University.

Stephanie George, Collegiate Institute for Math and Science. Stephanie loves history, and she has been on a quest to learn about her family’s past in Jamaica to help define her identity as an Afro-Caribbean American. She enjoys learning about the similarities in folklore and beliefs around the world. “I get goose bumps when I think of how all our lives are linked together through history,” she wrote in her scholarship application essay. At CIMS, she is president of the student government, vice president of the National Honor Society, an editor on the student newspaper, and a representative on the school leadership team, a decision-making body that meets with the principal, staff and parents. She will attend Vassar College.

Shi Giang “Luis” Ng Tong, East-West School of International Studies. Luis was raised in Colombia, where he was the only Chinese person at his school. From the time he was a young boy, he wanted to contribute to solving humanity’s problems, such as finding a cure for cancer; however, he stopped school in seventh grade. Luis resumed his education when he arrived in the United States but was ashamed of his language barrier and the fact that he was older than his peers. But his determination remained, and since his sophomore year, he has been the top student in his grade and taking college courses through the College Now program at Queens College. He is now fluent in English, Chinese and Spanish and studying Korean. His science teacher Gloria Nicodemi says he’s the first student she’s ever taught who scored a 100 on the earth science Regents, then got another perfect score the next year on the chemistry exam. “I strive to become an engineer who solves the people’s challenges of today and tomorrow, to struggle side by side with humanity’s problems,” he wrote in his scholarship application essay. “I do not want to be just anyone, I want to be someone that leaves a mark in the world before my existence extinguishes.”

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”