let them eat packaged cake

Brooklyn Tech to students: No homemade baked goods allowed

Brooklyn Technical High School students buy snacks before school today at Rocky's Deli and Grill on Fort Greene Place.

If students at Brooklyn Technical High School want to eat a homemade brownie with their lunch, they now have to do it surreptitiously.

The elite high school instituted a new policy last week banning all homemade baked goods from the building. Students are speculating that the policy is a response to drug-laced baked goods that are sometimes brought to the school.

The announcement came in Tech’s morning announcements Feb. 9, sandwiched between the Pledge of Allegiance and a notice about healthy relationships:

Attention students: Homemade baked goods are no longer allowed in Brooklyn Tech. Students found with baked goods will have them confiscated. Be advised that store brought baked goods in a sealed package are still allowed in school.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Principal Randy Asher declined to comment on the new policy, citing an ongoing investigation. A spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Marge Feinberg, said the investigation was internal to the school.

She also said the policy change had nothing to do with the city’s own two-year-old restrictions on homemade goods at school bake sales. The restrictions ban the sales of homemade goods before 6 p.m. in school buildings, with a once-a-month exception for sales organized by parent organizations. ban on homemade goods being sold at school bake sales.

The city’s limits on school bake sales have made it tougher for Tech’s clubs to raise funds and have driven food sales onto the black market, Tech students said today. They said some students would bring baked goods to school and sell them in the halls and cafeteria or by word of mouth.

A sophomore who was buying a packaged chocolate chip coffee cake at Rocky’s Deli and Grill, on Tech’s block, before school today suggested that Tech’s administrators were trying to end that practice.

Plus, students said, at least some of the underground bake sales featured goodies laced with drugs, especially marijuana. Earlier this month, students at I.S. 208 in Queens bought pot-laced brownies from a classmate and ate them at school.

“I think the [new] policy is reasonable. … A lot of kids do actually put weed in stuff,” said a Tech junior who stood outside Rocky’s this morning. “But sometimes it’s a bit of a punishment, too, for the kids who don’t participate.”

“It’s really stupid because maybe one two people put bad things in, but not everybody’s going to do that, obviously, said another student, a sophomore.

Students said they doubted that administrators would crack down on a single homemade cookie pulled from a lunch bag but said they didn’t expect trays of brownies and cupcakes to make their usual appearances anytime soon.

The new policy was already having an impact today. Students said baked goods would typically have been part of Valentine’s Day celebrations, as they were during the lead-up to the holiday break in December. Instead, the parade of students down Fort Greene Place carried flowers, candy, stuffed animals, and even the occasional balloon — but no trays of baked goods.

“It takes away from the holiday,” said a sophomore on his way to school. “If we can’t do that next year [at the holidays], it’s going to be a big blow.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.