going postal

After struggles and Sandy, seniors celebrate applying to college

Senior Kristine Supple hands off a stack of college applications to a postal worker parked at the Franklin K. Lane high school campus. Behind her is Folorunso Fatukasi, a University of Connecticut-bound football star.

It was one thing for college-bound seniors at the Channel View School for Research to lose internet access and have to attend classes in a new location after Hurricane Sandy knocked their homes and school building out of commission.

But it was quite another to lose access to Jennifer Walter, the do-it-all school staff member whose job it is to help them get their college applications across the finish line. Walter’s home was flooded, along with the computers and printers she used to put together the finishing touches for students’ applications.

“She is a guidance counselor, a senior advisor. She’s everything. She’s a friend. She’s like an aunt,” Ivonne Aguiar said on Friday as she prepared to mail applications to a slew of colleges, including her top choice, Vanderbilt University.

Channel View is one of eight city high schools operated by NYC Outward Bound Schools where students send off their college applications with collective pomp and circumstance in a tradition that began last year at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School. A top Department of Education official has held up the ritual as a low-cost strategy for preparing students for college, and Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined students at WHEELS on Friday for his second college application-mailing ceremony as seven other schools, including Channel View, held marches of their own.

Channel View teachers said they adopted the ritual after observing its effect on students at WHEELS. But Sandy challenged the school’s first effort to hold the event. Channel View and its neighbors in the Beach Channel Campus are among the last schools to remain displaced by the storm; Friday’s parade took place on the football field of Franklin K. Lane Campus, Channel View’s temporary home.

And at a time when the students needed help writing essays, filling out online applications, obtaining transcripts and sending SAT scores, Walter, the school’s high school guidance counselor, was dealing with her own personal post-Sandy trauma. Walter usually helps her students work through these basic steps during school, then spends her nights at home writing dozens of recommendation letters for individual students.

“But I lost my computers, my printers, I didn’t have access to the internet for four and a half weeks,” said Walter, who lives on Broad Channel, the community located on a thin strip of land connecting the Rockaway peninsula to the rest of Queens. “It was very difficult for me and I lost a considerable amount of days not being there for them.”

On Friday, 46 days after the storm struck, Walter said the adversity was officially in the past. She marched with 65 Channel View seniors across the football field outside their temporary building and through a throng of screaming underclassmen who waved college pennants. Walter then peeled off as the seniors handed over stacks of college applications to a postal truck parked on the track.

“With every hurdle that there has been we’ve been able to climb up the hill together,” Walter said.

Seven weeks after the storm, it remains unclear when Channel View will return to its original building on the Rockaway Peninsula. A department spokeswoman said students are scheduled to return Jan. 3, but the school’s reopening has been delayed once already, and one teacher said on Friday that officials would meet next week to make a final decision about whether the school can be habitable by then.

In the relocated space, attendance has fallen to 85 percent, down from last year’s 91 percent. Principal Patricia Tubridy said many of  the missing students were still uprooted and living somewhere other than their homes. Others, she said, had enrolled in other schools and she hadn’t been notified yet.

Seniors said they were excited to participate in the collective college-application celebration because it showed their resilience.

“We’re marching today to prove that even though Sandy did push us back a llittle, we’re Rockaway-strong,” said senior Kristine Supple. “We’re going to keep fighting.”

A video from Channel View’s college-applications march is below, following by photographs from all of the marches that NYC Outward Bound schools held on Friday.

Students at NYC Outward Bound schools turned in their college applications on Friday. Clockwise from top left: Channel View School for Research; Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, where Chancellor Dennis Walcott participated; James Baldwin Expeditionary Learning School; Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School; Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, which held a “cybermarch”; Leaders Expeditionary Learning School; Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School; and Validus Prep. (All photos courtesy NYC Outward Bound)

 

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.