the trump effect

After Trump’s election, activists call on education officials to expand anti-bias training

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Angela Martin (center) rallied with dozens of parent-activists in front of Tweed Courthouse Thursday afternoon.

In response to heightened anxiety in the weeks after Donald Trump’s election, several advocacy organizations and elected officials are asking the city’s education department to expand anti-bias training and support for immigrant families.

At a rally Thursday afternoon, a few dozen parent-activists gathered outside the department’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse to call for additional training of 600 staff, including teachers, parent coordinators, and principals to ensure that students feel protected from racist or anti-immigrant sentiment.

“We know that there has been a rise in incidents community-wide,” said Carlos Menchaca, chairman of the City Council’s immigration committee. He noted one incident in which a cafeteria worker “basically said to a kid, ‘I hope you’re ready to pack your bags,’ referring to deportation. That’s just lack of training.”

City Councilor Carlos Menchaca.
PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
City Councilman Carlos Menchaca.

Several parents, who were organized by the union-backed Alliance for Quality Education and the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), had recent stories of their own: A child in an elementary school who feared deportation back to Ecuador, a basketball game that devolved when rival teams began using racial epithets, a Puerto Rican student who was told to “go back to his country” on the subway.

“Schools don’t have the tools to pursue this,” said Angela Martin, a parent and CEJ member who held a sign displaying a photo of a swastika that was spray-painted in Westville, New York. “All city agencies must have a plan — that must include the Department of Education.”

In addition to expanded training for school staff, attendees called on the department to hold “know-your-rights” workshops that can help advise families on how to respond to the type of threats Trump has raised, such as the creation of a Muslim registry or changes to their healthcare or immigration status.

Though state education officials have referenced “disturbing incidents” in recent weeks, it’s difficult to know the extent to which racist or anti-immigrant attitudes that pop up in New York City classrooms have been sparked by the election.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña recently downplayed the issue somewhat, reportedly saying at a Staten Island community meeting that she didn’t think post-election harassment in schools “was as rampant as people were saying” and that most reports turned out to be unfounded.

Still, education department spokeswoman Toya Holness noted the department “share[s] the same urgency” in creating a safe learning environment, and has hired hundreds of new guidance counselors and mental health consultants over the past two years. Officials did not immediately say whether they planned to grant the activists’ requests.

“Schools are safe havens for communities and must be free from bullying, harassment or discrimination of any kind,” she wrote.

What's your education story?

How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate

PHOTO: Provided
Jean Russell

Jean Russell is on sabbatical from her work as a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School in Fort Wayne after being named the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year. Her work as 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year ignited her interest in education policy, and she is in the first cohort of TeachPlus statewide policy fellows. Nineteen other teachers from urban, suburban and rural areas are also members of the class. Below is Russell’s story condensed and lightly edited for clarity. For more stories from parents, students and educators, see our “What’s Your Education Story?” occasional series.

When I started this January as the 2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year, my overarching goal for my year of service is to focus on recruitment and retention of great teachers. One of the things that came up was the opportunity to serve on the ISTEP alternative assessment panel. (The committee was charged with choosing a replacement for the state’s exam.)

I definitely felt like that was something that is affecting recruitment and retention of great teachers in Indiana, and yet I was reticent about whether or not I was equipped to really be a part of that and to be a helpful voice at the table because policy is not something in my 26 years of teaching that I’ve had anything to do with before this.

The first couple of times that I went to those meetings, I like I just was out of my league, and I didn’t really feel like there was much I could contribute. And I think it was the third meeting, there came a point where a couple of people were saying things where I just felt like having the inside-the-classroom, in-the-trenches voice would really help the conversation.

I was so nervous. I remember, I was shaking, and my voice was cracking. The meetings were in the House of Representatives, so I had to push the button and lean into the microphone, and I’m like, “Hi, I’m Jean Russell.”

But I said what I knew, “I’ve been giving this test for 25 years and these are my experiences, and this is what I think.” I think the biggest surprise in that moment — I won’t ever forget that moment — was that they listened. And I knew that because they were asking good follow-up questions and making references back to what I had said. It sort of became a part of that conversation for that meeting. I never became very outspoken, but I think at that point, I realized that there is most assuredly a time when teacher voice at the table is important to decision making.

I feel like the four walls of my classroom just blew down, and suddenly I realized how many stakeholders there are in my little classroom, in my little hallway, in my little school.

(In the past, policy) just did not make my radar. I think I just felt like, nobody was really interested in what I thought. The work of the classroom is so intense and there’s such a sense of urgency every day to move everybody forward that this broader idea of education, I think I just thought it was something that happened to you and you just work within those perimeters. For the first time in 26 years, I’m realizing that that’s not necessarily the case.

First Person

It’s time to retire the myth that any counselor can do the job alone — even at a tiny school

A few of the author's students who graduated last year.

I waited five years to get my dream job as a counselor in a New York City public school. After all of that waiting, I was full of ideas about how I would be able to use my experience to help students navigate what can be an overwhelming few years.

I wanted to make our school counseling more individualized and full of innovative support mechanisms. I wanted our guidance department to be a place that anyone could leave with a grand plan.

A few months into that first year, in fall 2015, it was clear that my vision would be, to put it bluntly, impossible to achieve.

When I received my position at a Harlem high school in District 5, I was assigned to not only take on the responsibilities of a school counselor, but also to act as the college advisor, assign (and then frequently re-shuffle) class schedules for every student, and several other tasks. My school had just under 200 students — enrollment low enough that it was assumed this could all be managed.

This proved to be a very inaccurate assumption. I was working with a group of students with low attendance rates, and many were English language learners or students with disabilities. Many students were overage and under-credited, others were in foster care or homeless, some had returned from incarceration, and a couple were teen parents or pregnant.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum school counselor-to-student ratio of one to 250. I know from experience that extremely high student need makes that ratio meaningless. Almost all of these students needed help in order to be ready to learn. Their needs tripled the feel of our enrollment.

This frequent mismatch between need and numbers puts school counselors like me in the position to do a great disservice to so many students. As the only counselor available, a seemingly small mishap with a task as crucial as graduation certification or credit monitoring could have spelled disaster for a student. I know some seniors missed certain financial aid opportunities and application deadlines, and some ninth, 10th, and 11th graders could have used more academic intervention to help them transition to the next grade level successfully.

My success at keeping our promotion and college admissions rates on the upswing was largely due to my outreach and partnership with community-based organizations that helped support several of our students. Had it not been for their assistance, I wouldn’t have achieved anything near what I did.

I’m still a counselor at my small school, and some aspects of the job have gotten easier with time. I love my job, which I think of as the most rewarding yet intense position in the building. But I still believe that there is almost no case in which only one counselor should be available for students.

Principals and school leaders directly involved with the budget must make sure to effectively analyze the needs of their student population, and advocate for an appropriately sized counseling staff. Small schools face real funding constraints. But ones serving students like mine need more than they’ve gotten.

Students’ social and emotional development and their academic success go hand in hand. Let’s not make the mistake of conflating enrollment numbers with need.

Danisha Baughan is a high school counselor and college advisor. She received her masters in school counseling in May 2010 and has held elementary, middle, and high school counseling positions since then.