3-K for All

Coming to a district near you: As city expands pre-K for 3-year-olds, Mayor de Blasio urges families to sign up

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Applications open Monday for 3-K for All, the city's free preschool program for 3-year-olds.

Riding the heels of an announcement that New York City will move more quickly to make free preschool available to all 3-year-olds, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday visited a “3-K for All” classroom to encourage parents to sign up for the program.

Applications open Monday for 3-K sites in the four districts that currently offer the program. Those are District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brooklyn, which opened last year; and District 4 in Manhattan and District 27 in Queens, which are new this year.

This week, the mayor announced the city would expand 3-K ahead of schedule in four additional school districts. The $46 million expansion will begin in April, when applications open for District 5 in Harlem Manhattan and District 16 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

The program builds on the mayor’s signature education achievement, free pre-K for all 4-year-olds. De Blasio has called early childhood education a game changer for families, who save money on childcare, and an educational boost for students who might otherwise stay at home.

We’ve really devoted ourselves in the next four years to creating a city that becomes more and more fair for everyone,” de Blasio said Friday, when he visited a bustling 3-K classroom at P.S./I.S. 323 in Brownsville. “This is one of the most basic ways we can do that – that every 3-year-old get the same strong start, and that it is universal, and it is free.”

During the mayor’s visit, 3-K teacher Carine Bruny said her students would be “pros” by the time it came to start kindergarten. As they stacked blocks and cooked imaginary meals in the classroom kitchen Friday, they were also learning how to work together, Bruny said.

Throughout the day, she encourages her young students to share what they’ve done and how they feel.

“They are expanding their language skills from one-word responses — or no response at all — to sentences,” she said.

While the city was able to launch the program for 4-year-olds, dubbed Pre-K for All, at lightning speed, it will take longer to extend free preschool to younger students. Constrained by space and funding, the city has started offering 3-K in mostly high-needs districts — though de Blasio says he hopes to make it available across the city.

The programs are open to families regardless of where they live, but some give priority to those who live in the district.

By next year, city officials expect to serve 5,000 3-K students. They hope to make it available across the city by 2021, with spots for more than 60,000 3-year-olds.

But, with an estimated price tag of more than $1 billion, that will require an influx of about $700 million from outside sources at a time when the city faces budget threats from both Washington, D.C. and Albany.

after parkland

‘We’re not kidding about this,’ says one teen leader of Memphis march on gun violence

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students in Indianapolis participate in the National School Walkout on March 14. This Saturday, students in the Memphis area will join a related March for Our Lives.

Memphis students were on spring break when this month’s national school walkout against gun violence happened, but 13-year-old Simran Bains is not going to miss her chance to publicly speak her mind.

PHOTO: Simran Bains
Eighth-grader Simran Bains is a student leader at Schilling Farms Middle School in Collierville.

An eighth-grader at Schilling Farms Middle School in Collierville, which is on the outskirts of Memphis, Simran is one of more than a dozen teenagers planning this Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Memphis.

She believes the student drive to protest gun violence following last month’s shooting of 17 people in Parkland, Florida, will not end anytime soon. Saturday’s march is part of a national movement organized by Parkland students to keep the conversation going about gun violence.

“I think this moment is different,” Simran said. “For every school shooting I can remember, it’s the same cycle. People are sad and shocked, but nothing ever changes.”

Students and other supporters will walk to the National Civil Rights Museum from Clayborn Temple, the historic assembling area for civil rights marches of the 1960s.

We spoke with Simran about what this march means to her and what she hopes Memphis learns from it. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

Why are you participating in Saturday’s march?

For me, I’ve always been a little louder than my peers. I’ve always been one to go on a tangent or two. When I heard about the march from a friend, it really stood out to me because it’s being organized by people my age. I have never seen people this young doing stuff like this. It was inspiring. There’s this perception in society that there’s a gun problem in America and that’s how the world will always be. But here, I’m seeing young people, who are the future of America, changing the world, and I wanted to be a part of that.

What message do you hope to send?

I hope people hear that even though we’re young, we’re not kidding about this, and we won’t back down. I want people in Shelby County to care more about this issue and listen to us. I hope people recognize that even if they have a right to protection, no one should have to fear for their life while receiving a public education. This is a serious issue. If we don’t do something, it only gets worse from here.

But I also hope we can broaden the conversation beyond school shootings. We have one of the highest gun homicide rates in the world, one of the highest suicide-by-gun rates in the world. We’re talking about people killing themselves, not just people killing people. Suicide and homicide aren’t often brought into this conversation. I hope that changes in Memphis.

I also want the march to remind us that we can’t become desensitized to gun violence. Whenever we read that someone was shot, we don’t always think how somebody just lost one of their own. That person will have to go home to empty bedrooms.

What specifically would you like to see happen in Tennessee?

I’m personally not one to advocate for the total removal of guns. I think that’s sometimes an assumption of people who are against protests like March for Our Lives. They assume we want to take all guns away. That’s not necessarily true. But I want a written exam to purchase a gun, like in Japan. I also want a longer wait time when you purchase a gun. I don’t think you should be able to walk into a gun shop and walk out the same day with a weapon. School shootings, or gun violence in general, can often be a spur-of-the-moment decision. What if the person had to wait a few days, weeks or months before they actually got that gun? Would they still feel the same way they did when they first went to buy the gun?

Have you or your family or your friends ever been personally touched by gun violence?

My family has never been a gun family. My parents are immigrants from India, and it’s just never been a thing for us. Going to school where I do, there’s a lot of political viewpoints. Some people are really pro owning guns, some are really against. And it’s an interesting place to talk about this. But also, I’ve gotten to know people from different backgrounds. I know people in Memphis and areas surrounding it who have lost someone to guns. I’ve known people who have lost loved ones to guns in homicides or gang violence.

History alive

Inspired by Hamilton, Colorado students perform their own raps and poems on the big stage

PHOTO: Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
From left, West Leadership Academy's Alexandra Andazola Chavez, Jose Torres Andazola, Rossy Martinez Sanchez, and Zehydi Chaparro Rojas perform "The Story of Peggy."

The plush red seats at the Wednesday matinee of Hamilton in Denver were filled with 2,700 teenagers who’d spent weeks studying a special curriculum about the hip-hop musical’s namesake, Alexander Hamilton, and the other Founding Fathers. Even though the show’s four-week Denver run had been sold out for months, the teenagers were seeing it for free.

Some of them had dressed for the occasion in high-heeled boots and three-piece suits. Others wore jeans and Converse. They represented 38 Colorado high schools that serve high proportions of students from low-income families, and many of them were students of color.

That’s notable because most of the cast of Hamilton are actors of color. Hamilton, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson are played by black and Latino actors, a decision creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has said reflects America’s racial makeup and is meant to pull the audience into the story of an immigrant, Hamilton, who played an important role in the nation’s founding.

Before the show, 23 students took the stage to perform their own spoken word poems, raps, monologues, and scenes inspired by what they’d learned from the Hamilton Education Program curriculum, which was devised in part by Miranda and has its own hashtag: #EduHam.

“My body felt electrified,” said Josiah Blackbear, a 15-year-old sophomore at West Early College in Denver, who performed a rap he’d written about Alexander Hamilton. “The words I was speaking brought power and truth to the rest of the venue.”

Here is video of six of the student performances, including one entirely in Spanish.