bricks and mortar

At two early college schools, insistence that location matters

Last month, I wrote a story for the Village Voice about the challenges facing early college schools, schools that partner with local universities to offer students a taste of college while they’re still in high school. One major challenge, I reported, is that the schools can’t always maintain space on or near the campus of their partner colleges, threatening the collaborations.

Last week, developments occurred at two of the schools I mentioned in the article that underscore the relationship between location and identity for early college schools. The Daily News reported that Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College is likely to stay in its current home on the campus of the college because the Department of Education is moving to purchase the building. The real estate deal has not been finalized, but the department has come to an agreement with the owner, DOE spokesman Will Havemann told me on Friday.

Also on Friday, parents at an early college school in a different borough were responding to news about their school’s future location. A cadre of parents from Bronx Early College Academy traveled to City Hall Friday afternoon to protest a move planned for their school that would quadruple its distance from its partner college, Lehman College. The parents were protesting both the site, in the building of IS 166, a large middle school that is closing because of poor performance, and the process by which the DOE selected it, according to leader Annabel Wright, who estimated that about 20 parents made the trip to Lower Manhattan.

BECA parents say the new site won’t allow for a robust collaboration between the school and Lehman College. Parent Annabel Wright, who said she chose the school because of its early college model, told me the commute by DOE-provided bus between IS 166 and Lehman will take a big chunk out of BECA’s extended school day, which runs until 4:30 p.m. (She estimated that the commute, with traffic, could take more than half an hour each way. says the drive should take about 15 minutes each way.)

Wright, who said she chose BECA because of its early college model, told me she though the school’s newly strong leadership would not be able to make up for the distance. “I feel like there will be success, but it doesn’t allow for the ultimate success of what can happen in this program,” she said.

In my Village Voice article, I quoted the principal of a college-partnered school in Staten Island, who told me that commuting by bus and car to their classes at the College of Staten Island hasn’t been a problem for her students. And Cass Conrad, who heads the early college initiative for the City University of New York, told me she hoped that schools and colleges would develop innovative solutions for the logistical problems posed by distance.

Wright and another BECA parent I spoke to, Ibrahim Bah, also said they were disappointed that the DOE chose the site before they had a change to visit it. Havemann said the engagement process about the new site had long preceded the DOE’s decision to move BECA into the IS 166 building. Last year, the Post reported that BECA parents had been told that the school might not be able to add high school grades unless it found a larger site. The space that the school is vacating in Riverdale is being turned into an annex space for an overcrowded elementary school there, the Riverdale Press reported back in January.

Wright said BECA should never have been put in the position of being given a location that’s far away from Lehman College. “When this school was in development four years ago, there should have been a permanent plan,” she said. “[The DOE is] opening all these schools with great programs. They need to think about the sites.”

CORRECTED: The original version of this post incorrectly identified the name of the school where BECA is moving.

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.