seeking a match

Voices from the 2013 high school search: Roselyn Jimenez

Roselyn Jimenez

Roselyn Jimenez, 12, was on the verge of tears when she entered the cafeteria packed with students and school booths for the Manhattan high school fair. “I don’t want to be here,” she said.

Jimenez said she was overwhelmed partly at the chaos in the room but also, in a larger sense, at the thought of growing up. “I’m not ready for high school,” she said. “It’s scary.”

Jimenez said that most of her friends at M.S. 319 want to go to George Washington High School, but she doesn’t.  “They think it’s going to be like middle school,” she said. But she thinks George Washington would be much different from middle school. “It has a lot of gangs,” she said.

Before the fair, Jimenez said, she didn’t know what high school she wanted to go to, or even what questions to ask to find out. Her mother, Ingrid Mota, pulled her from Inwood Academy Charter School this year and moved her to M.S. 319 because she didn’t think her daughter was learning enough. “She was having problems with other girls, like gossip, he-said, she-said,” said Mota.

Because of the change in middle schools, Jimenez said, she still hadn’t met her counselor at M.S. 319, and hadn’t received any guidance at school for how to apply to high schools.

Jimenez said her favorite school activity is drawing, but she had not kept any of her drawings to put into a portfolio required for the schools specializing in art.

Jimenez saw the “uniform school” sign taped above the New York Lab’s School’s booth and stepped backward. She shook her head and said, “No.” But her mom approached the booth anyway, even as her daughter — with four earrings in one ear, color added to her hair, stretch pants and a black sports jacket — refused to come any closer.

At the booth for the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology, student Alec Cruz, a junior, immediately read Jimenez’s body language and said, “You’re not that into this, are you?” Cruz ended up chatting with Jimenez, offering stories about how the school offers bonfires, games, and other programs to help ninth graders acclimate.

“It sounds cool. They take the new kids and help them bond with each other,” said Jimenez.

Socializing is something Jimenez prides herself on. She sent text messages frequently during the fair and said she has more than 6,000 friends and followers on Facebook. “They call me Facebook famous,” Jimenez said.

A social connection finally drew Jimenez’s interest in a school. When she saw the booth for the Global Language Collaborative, a high school on the Upper West Side, she remembered that a friend had attended the school and gone on a trip with teachers and students to China.

“I love traveling. It’s exciting because you’re in a new place,” said Jimenez. She has already visited the Dominican Republic with her family and toured the American South with her sister and cousin, where she got to see Dolly Parton. Based on that, she said she liked Global Language Collaborative. Maybe, she said, she’d go on some cool trips in high school.

Mota looked up, as if thanking the heavens, and said, “At least she likes one school.”

Oliver Morrison is a student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

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.