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USA Today: EPA doing too little to track air pollution in schools

A map of the schools where air pollution is greatest, from USA Today.
A map of the schools where air pollution is greatest, from USA Today.

PS 20 on Staten Island is more polluted than nine out of 10 schools in the country, according to a a USA Today investigative report.

The newspaper looked at air pollution levels at schools across the country and found that hundreds of thousands of students are exposed to high levels of air pollution at the schools they attend. But the study emphasized that environmental scientists haven’t devoted much attention to determining how much pollution is safe for kids.

The report found PS 20 to be the city’s most polluted public school. But Brooklyn has it worst of the five boroughs, with the greatest number of schools ranked among the most toxic. (See the schools with the worst pollution problems in each borough.)

Some good news for New Yorkers: None of the city’s schools were among the 435 worst polluted in the nation.

The newspaper used the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution model to rank schools on their exposure to chemical pollutants. The mathematical model uses information provided by polluters, along with weather information, to track the likely movement of toxic chemicals in a given area. Scientists and EPA officials stressed that the numbers are estimates that can best be used to identify schools for additional, on-site pollution testing.

Although the EPA sets standards for acceptable levels of pollution in the workplace, it has not set a similar standard for acceptable levels of exposure for children at school. Because children are smaller than adults and still developing, they may be more vulnerable to negative health effects of toxic chemicals. Yet the EPA has done little to assess pollution exposure at schools, USA Today reported:

The U.S. EPA, which has a special office charged with protecting children’s health, has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in pollution models that could help identify schools where toxic chemicals saturate the air. Even so, USA TODAY found, the agency has all but ignored examining whether the air is unsafe at the very locations where kids are required to gather.

Use USA Today’s searchable map to find out how your local school compares.

The ten most polluted public schools in each borough, according to USA Today:

Bronx:

  • P.S. 43 Jonas Bronck School, 165 Brown Place (35th percentile)
  • P.S. 161 Ponce De Leon School, 628 Tinton Ave. (36th percentile)
  • P.S. 62 Inocensio Casanova School, 660 Fox St. (36th percentile)
  • M.S. 302 Luisa Dessus Cruz, 681 Kelly St. (36th percentile)
  • P.S. 277, 519 St. Ann’s Ave. (38th percentile)
  • J.H.S. 162, L. Rodriguez de Tio School, 600 St. Ann’s Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Samuel Gompers Vocational High School, 455 Southern Boulevard (38th percentile)
  • P.S. 25 Bilingual School, 811 E. 149th St. (38th percentile)
  • P.S. 5 Port Morris School, 564 Jackson Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies, 470 Jackson Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Three other Bronx schools also ranked at the 38th percentile.

Brooklyn:

  • P.S. 373 Brooklyn Transition Center, 185 Ellery St. (12th percentile)
  • Urban Assembly School for Urban Environment, 70 Tompkins Ave. (12th percentile)
  • The Brooklyn Charter School and P.S. 23 Carter G. Woodson, 545 Willoughby Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 59 William Floyd School, 211 Throop Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 297 Richard Stockton School, 700 Park Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 25 Eubie Blake School, 787 Lafayette Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 304 Casmir Pulaski School, 208 Hart St. (12th percentile)
  • J.H.S. 318 Eugeno Maria Dehostos School, 101 Walton St. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 120 Carlos Tapia Magnet School, 18 Beaver St. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 250 George H. Lindsay, 108 Montrose Ave. (17th percentile)
  • One additional Brooklyn school, P.S. 257 John F. Hylan School at 60 Cook St., also ranked at the 17th percentile.

Manhattan:

  • Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, 421 East 88th St. (22nd percentile)
  • East Side Middle School and P.S. 158 Bayard Taylor School, 1458 York Ave. (23rd percentile)
  • The Family School, 323 E. 47th St. (26th percentile)
  • Environmental Science Secondary School and M.S. 224 Manhattan East Center, 410 E. 100th St. (30th percentile)
  • New York Center for Autism Charter School and P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio School, 433 E. 100th St. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 59 Beekman Hill School, 228 E. 57th St. (30th percentile)
  • High School of Art and Design, 1075 Second Ave. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 38 Roberto Clemente, 232 E. 103rd St. (30th percentile)

Queens:

  • P.S. 85 Judge Charles Vallone, 23-70 31st St., Long Island City (14th percentile)
  • Academy for New Americans, 30-14 30th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 17 Henry David Thoreau School, 28-37 29th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 234, 30-15 29th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 84 Steinway School, 22-45 41st St., Astoria (15th percentile)
  • I.S. 141 The Steinway School, 37-11 21st Ave., Long Island City (15th percentile)
  • P.S. 2 Alfred Zimberg School, 75-10 21st. Ave., Jackson Heights (15th percentile)
  • Newcomers High School, Academy of American Studies, 28-01 41st. Ave. (17th percentile)
  • Middle College High School, High School for Applied Communications, and International High School at LaGuardia, 31-10 Thomson Ave. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 78, 48-09 Center Blvd. (18th percentile)

Staten Island:

  • P.S. 20 Port Richmond School, 161 Park Ave. (11th percentile)
  • P.S. 56 Louis Desario School, 250 Kramer Ave. (20th percentile)
  • P.S. 18 John G. Whittier School, 221 Broadway (23rd percentile)
  • Port Richmond High School, 45 Innis St. (23rd percentile)
  • P.S. 6 Cpl. Allan F. Kivlehan School, 555 Page Ave. (28th percentile)
  • I.S. 34 Tottenville, 528 Academy Ave. (28th percentile)
  • P.S. 3 Pleasant Plains School, 80 South Goff Ave. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 26 Carteret School, 4108 Victory Boulevard (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 21 Margaret Emery-Elm Park School, 168 Hooker Pl. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 44 Thomas C. Brown School, 80 Maple Parkway (31st percentile)
  • Four other schools in Staten Island ranked at the 31st percentile.

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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.