the next day

‘Will I be deported?’ Inside America’s classrooms in the wake of Trump’s win

Students from Martin Luther Early College in Denver walked out of classes Wednesday to protest Trump's win (RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post).

As teacher Nikki Wilks looked around at her Memphis classroom on Wednesday, her high school students seemed to reflect the divide in the nation itself.

One student, who is black, said she worried about raising her 3-year-old daughter in a nation led by President-elect Donald Trump — a world, she imagines, where she won’t be able to speak her mind about racism or inequality. She told Wilks that she needed a hug.

Another student came in wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, unfazed by or unaware of the anguish felt by many students in a school with a significant Hispanic population, a frequent target of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

Wilks, who had supported Hillary Clinton, admitted to being shell-shocked. She was in and out of tears all morning as she tried to teach her 12th-grade English classes at Kingsbury High.

“The classes are much more somber than normal,” Wilks said. “It feels somewhat like everyone is walking around on eggshells, scared that if we actually vocalize it, we are making it more real, more permanent.”

Across the country, educators of all political persuasions tried to offer space for students to process the surprising Election Day results, in which Clinton won the national popular vote but Trump won the White House. At schools in New York, Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee, school leaders scrambled to react to the news before Clinton had even given a concession speech.

And in the wake of a campaign in which Trump talked about ramping up deportations, building walls, and banning Muslims from entering the country, teachers at schools that serve immigrants and their families faced intensely personal questions. Will I be forced to leave? Will my parents?

Kevin Kubacki, who runs the Neighborhood Charter Network in Indianapolis, recalled a young student from Brazil asking teachers last year if she could form a club encouraging families not to vote for Trump. She didn’t want her friends from Mexico to have to leave, she said.

“For us, this very real,” he said. “Today, our students have a lot of questions and a lot of fears.”

East Bronx Academy for the Future students Carla Borbon, Justin Vargas, Jayla Cordero, and Hugo Rodriguez talk about the election. (Alex Zimmerman)
East Bronx Academy for the Future students. (Alex Zimmerman)

In an early morning huddle, staff members at a Neighborhood school talked about using lessons about the three branches of government to remind students how no one person has ultimate power in America. Staffers also plan to ask a lawyer to meet with parents concerned about their immigration status, Kubacki said.

In the Denver suburb of Aurora, Principal Ruth Baldivia said she heard of two incidents Wednesday in which students were “not being nice to their fellow Mexican students,” telling them they will have to leave the country.

And at Rocky Mountain Prep, a charter network with two elementary schools in Denver, CEO James Cryan said a number of students asked if the election result means that they’ll no longer have a home in the U.S., “or expressed concerns about a specific relative, asking if their father or mother will have to move away.”

Experts say Trump’s vision of an America rid of people who are currently here illegally would be expensive and time-consuming to achieve. But Trump will have wide latitude to quickly roll back the protections that President Obama extended to undocumented immigrants who are law-abiding and who came to the country as children with their families.

In Queens, New York, a ninth-grader named Kevin who came to the U.S. one year ago from Argentina said his immigrant classmates at Newcomers High School arrived to class full of worry.

“They were saying that they could be deported,” he said.

Even before students arrived, educators were grappling with how best to handle the news.

Sarah Scrogin, principal of New York’s Bronx Academy for the Future, woke up Wednesday morning and wondered: When roughly 70 percent of her students are Hispanic, and many have friends or relatives who could face the consequences of Trump’s harsh stance on immigration, could teachers simply carry on with normal activities? On the other hand, would it be appropriate for teachers to share their own political views as a way of comforting students — or themselves?

“Our job as educators is not to tell others what to think,” she wrote in a morning email to staff, “but rather, to work together with young people to develop their own critical thinking.”

Rayne Macias, of Fairview High, and Jason Segovia, hug as they walk down the street with protesting Boulder High students. morning to protest the (Cliff Grassmick, Boulder Daily Camera).
Rayne Macias, of Fairview High, and Jason Segovia, hug as they walk down the street with protesting Boulder High students. (Cliff Grassmick, Boulder Daily Camera)

Christine Montera, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History, got that email and arranged her classroom’s desks into a circle for students to talk. Opinions in class varied: One student, Carla Borbon, said she was concerned for LGBT people “because this man is homophobic,” she said. “A lot of people were wondering what is going to happen to them.”

Junior Hugo Rodriguez had a different take. “I was annoyed about things people were saying about Donald Trump, saying that he’s a rapist and wanted to deport everyone — that’s not true,” he said. “I actually don’t mind Trump as president.”

Exit polls show that America’s youngest voters were more likely to have voted for Clinton on Tuesday. On Wednesday, many were determined to make their voices heard in other ways.

In Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs, dozens of high school students walked out of class in protest of Trump’s victory. At Denver’s Noel Community Arts School, district leaders invited reporters to an impromptu assembly, where students spoke of their frustration. Some sang “Hallelujah.”

Senior class president Peter Lubembela was one of the speakers. A Congolese refugee who was born in Tanzania, he came to the United States when he was 7.

This morning, Lubembela said he was ready to move forward. “We have to empower ourselves and work harder than before and prove all these stereotypes wrong,” he said.

Melanie Asmar, Eric Gorski, and Yesenia Robles contributed reporting from Denver, Shaina Cavazos and Dylan McCoy from Indianapolis, Caroline Bauman from Memphis, and Christina Veiga and Alex Zimmerman from New York City.

bad fit

‘It’s not a solution’: How a Harlem co-location proposal is highlighting disparities between two schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Valencia Moore, PTA president at P.S. 36, called for more resources at the school.

A plan to co-locate two schools in Harlem is drawing intense opposition from residents who say the city Department of Education has long neglected the host school, P.S. 36.

The city wants to temporarily move some students from Teachers College Community School into P.S. 36, which overlooks Morningside Park. But at a community hearing Wednesday, parents blasted the proposal and accused the department of letting P.S. 36 languish until its space became needed by a wealthier, whiter school community.

Valencia Moore, PTA president of P.S. 36, listed all the repairs and resources she says are needed at her school: new electrical wiring, stronger Wi-Fi, replacement desks and new bookshelves.

“Some of our teachers are using milk crates to store their books,” she said. “We’re short-staffed now, where we have parents coming in and volunteering.”

She added that parents have asked the city for years to make repairs to the school’s playground. City officials on Wednesday said they are planning to make the fixes and promised to look into another recurring request — to renovate bathrooms. For parents, the city’s response only exacerbated a sense of inequity many feel.

“Now, all of a sudden you can find money to fix the playground — because you’re bringing a wealthier school,” said Sanayi Beckles-Canton, president of the local Community Education Council. “You have kids bullying other groups of kids because their school looks better. That’s going on in Harlem… We deserve better.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Sanayi Beckles-Canton, president of Community Education Council District 5 in Harlem.

TCCS is a diverse school where fewer than half of the students are low-income. Meanwhile, most of the students at P.S. 36 are black or Hispanic, and almost 90 percent are poor. To meet their students’ needs, P.S. 36 has partnerships with eight community organizations, which offer health screenings, counseling and mental health services within the building.

The co-location proposal stems from a battle to create a middle school for TCCS — something the community has pushed for. Opened in 2011 through a partnership between the city and Columbia University, the school is poised to admit its first sixth-grade class in the upcoming school year.

The problem is there’s no room for the extra grades at the current TCCS campus on Morningside Avenue, between 126th and 127th Streets. So city officials have proposed moving TCCS’s younger students — pre-K through second grade — into the P.S. 36 building. The move is supposed to be temporary until the Department of Education can find a permanent home for TCCS.

Parents at TCCS have concerns of their own.

Laura Blake has a daughter at TCCS. She said parents are skeptical the co-location would work, and worry that staff and resources will be stretched thin across two campuses.

“It’s not a solution,” she said.

She echoed concerns from P.S. 36 parents that there simply isn’t enough room for more students — despite assurances to the contrary from city officials.

Moore, the P.S. 36 PTA president, worried the co-location would impede her school’s ability to continue to host community partners and serve its sizeable population — 31 percent — of students with special needs.

“We’re the little people,” she said. “We shouldn’t be bombarded by people who have money.”

According to the co-location proposal, only 64 percent of P.S. 36 is currently being used and students will still be able to receive the special education services they’re entitled to.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education explained why the move was necessary. “As demand for TCCS grows among families, we’re committed to providing its students and staff with the space and resources they need to continue thriving,” Michael Aciman wrote in an email. “This temporary re-siting will help ensure that the school can continue to grow enrollment and expand the grades it serves, as we work diligently to find a permanent home that meets the needs of the entire TCCS community.”

The Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide body, is scheduled to vote on the proposal at their regular meeting on Feb. 28.

words matter

NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña on pre-K diversity struggles: ‘This is parent choice’

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Chancellor Carmen Fariña

Chancellor Carmen Fariña is again drawing criticism from school integration advocates — this time for appearing to excuse racially segregated pre-K programs as products of “parent choice.”

When asked about diversity in the city’s pre-K program at a state budget hearing Tuesday, Fariña seemed to skirt the issue:

“The pre-K parent, rightly so, wants whatever pre-K program is closest to home. They’re in a rush to get to work. They have to do what they have to do. And the one thing that I can say [is] that all our pre-K programs are the same quality … Whether you’re taking a pre-K in Harlem or you’re taking a pre-K in Carroll Gardens, you’re going to have the exact same curriculum with teachers who have been trained the exact same way.

But I, as a parent, am not going to be running to another part [of the city]. So it’s a matter [of] applying. Parents apply. This is parent choice — the same way you can go to private school, parochial school, charter school, you can go to any pre-K. You have an application process, you fill it out. And generally, this year, I think people got one of their first top choices, pretty much across the city. So this is about parent choice.

… So I actually do not agree with this. I think if you’re counting faces, then it’s true. If you’re counting parent choice, it’s totally different. So I think to me diversity is also, we are now taking more students with IEPs [Individual Education Plans] in our pre-K programs. We are taking more students who are English Language Learners in our pre-K programs. Diversity has many faces.”

Fariña’s response didn’t sit well with some integration advocates, who want the chancellor to offer a more forceful commitment to tackling diversity issues.

“It’s basically an argument for separate but equal — that what really matters is drilling down on resources and teachers,” said Halley Potter, who has studied segregation in New York City’s preschools as a fellow at the think tank the Century Foundation. “The problem with that argument is that, in practice, that is rarely if ever true.”

In a recent study, Potter found that the city’s pre-K program is highly segregated. In one in six pre-K classrooms, more than 90 percent of students come from a single racial or ethnic background. And, Potter said, research shows quality goes hand-in-hand with diversity: Children in mixed pre-K classrooms learn more and are less likely to show bias.

Matt Gonzales heads school integration efforts with the nonprofit New York Appleseed. He said excusing segregation as a by-product of parent choice seems to “completely absolve officials” from taking steps to increase diversity in pre-K classrooms.

“That’s disappointing because we’re in a place where we’re looking at ideas and potential solutions to segregation in the city, and I worry whether pre-K is being left out,” he said.

The city called the critique unfair. “By any measure, these are extreme mischaracterizations of a thoughtful response on our commitment to pre-K quality,” Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye wrote in an email. “Divisive rhetoric doesn’t move us towards solutions. The chancellor has always been committed to inclusive schools and classrooms, and we’ll continue our efforts to strengthen diversity in our schools.”

This isn’t the first time Fariña struck observers as tone-deaf on diversity. In October 2015, she suggested rich and poor students could learn from each other — by becoming pen pals.

The city has taken some steps to integrate pre-K classrooms, allowing a number of schools to consider “Diversity in Admissions.” But as of September, the program is only open to public schools, and the majority of pre-K centers in New York City are privately run.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Education have said they are working on a plan to improve school diversity, and hope to release details by the end of the school year.

Monica Disare contributed to this report.