priority on community

Union announces three school community centers, adding to city's push

The United Federation of Teachers announced three more schools they will begin to transform into community hubs on Thursday, adding to the union’s and city’s efforts to provide additional services at more schools across the city.

The announcement from UFT President Michael Mulgrew comes two days after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would use a $52 million grant to add health centers, job training and other services to 40 schools. Mulgrew, who has overseen the launch of over 20 community schools in the last three years, said both groups are working at their own school sites to speed up the city’s plan to create 100 of these schools by 2018.

“This is a lot of hard work, and we basically just said let the flowers bloom,” Mulgrew said. “Creating 100 community learning schools is a major task, and it’s not easy.”

The schools, P.S. 184 and P.S. 156 in Brownsville and Gotham Professional Arts Academy High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, will add services like medical or dental offices, though the organizations working with each school will help them determine what specific needs they have. The union has pointed to those services as key to improving schools in low-income neighborhoods, a vision the de Blasio administration shares.

Their push for community schools gained ground after Mulgrew and de Blasio toured a school with a similar model in Cincinnati, where city leaders took a decade to launch 52 community schools, in 2012. But de Blasio has said he wants the city to have nearly double that number in much less time.

“It’s like whoever can do this work, let’s just move, and move it quickly,” Mulgrew explained.

Mulgrew made the announcement at a construction kick-off for a school-based health and vision center at P.S. 188 in Coney Island. This summer, the school will start to transform its cafeteria into a $2 million health center, which will offer eye exams and glasses to students, as well as medical, dental and mental health services.

Peter Lopez, the site director at P.S. 188 for Lutheran Family Health Center who will oversee the school’s health services, said the continuity of services is crucial for students without access to regular health care.

“Whether they’re insured or not, they can come see the school-based providers,” he said.

P.S. 188 is the seventeenth city school Lutheran Family Health Center is working to transform into a community school. The facility will also serve students from other Coney Island schools.

Nedene Carby, a teacher at P.S. 156, one of the schools set to receive new services, said offering health services in the school shows the parents that the teachers are invested in more than just the students’ academic performance.

“Often times [students are] absent because they have a doctor’s appointment, and if it’s right here, we’ll be able to meet their needs, not just academically, but emotionally as well,” Carby said.

Even so, it is hard to tell whether having those services in schools improves students’ academic performance. Principals at New York’s community schools have said the services have not been provided for a long enough time to tell, and students’ test scores in Cincinnati have increased between one and three percentage points.

De Blasio said this week that he would not judge the schools’ success by test scores, but rather focus on attendance, student health, and parent engagement.

An earlier version of this story said P.S. 184, P.S. 156 and Gotham Academy Arts Professional High School would all receive health centers in their schools. Instead, they will establish their specific needs to decide what services to offer.

Stay up to date on New York City’s education news by following Chalkbeat on Twitter here.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.