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The Future of Gifted Education in the Bronx

A banner hung at the main entrance to P.S. 153 reads “In Pursuit of Excellence”

On weekday afternoons, Co-Op City resident Hewan Fraser takes a walk along Baychester Avenue to pick his kids up from school. He first stops by P.S. 178, the Dr. Selman Waksman School, for his nine-year-old daughter then makes his way over to P.S. 153, the Helen Keller School, where his seven-year-old son is a second grader in the gifted and talented program. 

In pre-school, both of the Fraser kids took the admissions test required for entry to New York City’s gifted programs, but only one of them scored high enough to enroll. 

“It is night and day as far as the type of facilities, the type of education, and even the staff,” Fraser said about the difference between the two schools. At P.S. 153, his son is in an academically rigorous environment, but at P.S. 178 his daughter is not, Fraser said. 

“Part of the reason that my wife and I are still living here, is because of the attention that he gets at (his) school,” Fraser said about his son.

Much may be changing for the Fraser family.

Gifted programs have been under scrutiny citywide, given the recent recommendation by a group of 45 parents, students, educators and advocates that such programs be phased out. The group—known as the School Diversity Advisory Group or SDAG—was established three years ago to assess the state of New York City public schools and recommend ways to make them more equitable and diverse. It’s a mission that Mayor Bill de Blasio has long had on his agenda. 

Though de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have not yet offered a definitive answer on the fate of the city’s gifted and talented programs, they announced last month that they would take the 2019–2020 school year to decide. The decision will only be made after considering public input, they said.

“We have to make sense of the recommendations very carefully,” said de Blasio at a press conference held on the first day of school. “We know we are going to take the whole year for deep stakeholder engagement to really think it through because we’re all trying to figure out what’s a fair way of going forward.”

Should Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza adopt the recommendation as policy, gifted and talented programs in elementary schools across the city would eventually come to an end. That includes the nine programs located in the Bronx.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has openly opposed the SDAG recommendation and its potential implications in the Bronx community. “The path toward true equity is providing quality education to every student at every grade and the mayor’s administration should expand, not eliminate, accelerated learning opportunities for our children,” Diaz wrote to Bronx Ink in a prepared statement. “If more black and Latino students take the test, more will undoubtedly qualify for these programs.”

Back in 2017, Diaz partnered with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to produce a gifted and talented report of their own wherein both presidents concluded that the way to save gifted education in the city is to increase access by testing all pre-kindergarten public school students, not just those whose parents opt them in. 

The SDAG argued in their report on screened programs in NYC schools, however, that the test is an exclusionary admissions practice which segregates students by race and socioeconomic status, especially considering that “families who can afford to enroll their four and five year-old children in test prep programs have an important and often consequential advantage in G&T admissions.”

Using data provided by the NYC Department of Education, the SDAG showed that although 65 percent of all NYC public school kindergarteners were black and Latino in the 2016–2017 school year, only 18 percent of the kindergartens offered gifted and talented enrollment were black and Latino, meaning the majority of gifted and talented students were white or Asian.

The opposite is reflected in the Bronx where, during that same year, roughly 64 percent of all Bronx gifted and talented students identified as black or Latino. 

For Thomas Sheppard, a parent of three public school students in District 11, the failure of gifted education in New York is that the programs don’t recognize that demographic distinction. “People have an assumption that all gifted and talented programs are the same and they’re not—just like our schools aren’t the same, just like our communities are not the same,” he said.

Sheppard, who is also a member of the District 11 Community Education Council, which has not officially taken a position on the SDAG report and gifted programs, has his own recommendation for how gifted education could improve.

“These programs need to be much more enriching,” he added. “What they (gifted and talented students in the Bronx) learn should reflect who they are, not just from a culturally responsive place, but from a place that helps them develop what they want to do with their lives.”

Sheppard agrees with the SDAG that gifted programs should be phased out in order to develop equitable curriculums that served each community’s needs.  

Although the recommendation to move away from gifted programs has proved a controversial issue, those involved in making the recommendation don’t view the phasing out of  programs as the end-goal. “The idea is not to just pull the rug out and then say ‘all right figure it out,’” said Matt Gonzales, director of the Integration and Innovation Initiative at NYU Metro Center and a member of the SDAG. Instead the group wants the city to provide funding so that school districts can develop their own alternatives to the current programs, he said. 

“Let’s build in a process that communities can have a stake in and a role in shaping education policy and priorities,” Gonzales said.

As the father of a gifted program student, Hewan Fraser’s priority is that his son doesn’t get left behind. If the gifted programs go, so might he and his family. Fraser would consider moving to his second home in upstate New York, or enrolling both of his children in private school.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, Education, Education, Featured, Front Page0 Comments

Thousands of Young New Yorkers March for Climate Action

Thousands of Young New Yorkers March for Climate Action

Protesters made their way toward lower Manhattan’s Foley Square, chanting “The oceans are rising and so will we!”

An estimated 250,000 New York City students and activists took to the streets of lower Manhattan on Friday, Sept. 20 to demand worldwide climate justice. The march underscored with chants and song was just one of many demonstrations scheduled in 150 countries as part of the Global Climate Strike.

Strikers gathered at Foley Square then marched down Broadway to a rally in Battery Park where they heard from several speakers, including Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden who began the movement to strike school on Fridays known as Fridays For Future.

Thunberg’s Fridays For Future approach echoed throughout the march, with signs reading “WE’D BE IN SCHOOL IF YOU DID YOUR JOB,” and “WE’RE DITCHING SCHOOL BECAUSE YOU’RE DITCHING OUR FUTURE.”

The students missed a day of school to join the strike. The absence was pre-approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced on Thursday, Sept. 12 that the city’s public school students participating in the strike would not be penalized, so long as they received parental consent. Teachers and other school educators, however, were not permitted to attend.

“It’s weird that we have to skip school to save our lives,” said a 13-year-old student from the Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Queens. “I hope politicians listen to us.”

The official Global Climate Strike demand calls for ending the use of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum. Protestors emphasized several other issues, including sea level rise, pollution, the agricultural industry, excessive meat consumption, and corporate corruption.

Carole Yancey, 78, pushed through the crowd of young people on a walker and waited hours for the march to begin. “I am overwhelmed,” she said about witnessing a youth-led climate movement. “I feel like crying.”

Around her, people chanted, “the oceans are rising and so will we.”

While other demonstrations are expected to occur between Sept. 20 and Sept. 27, the NYC strike was purposefully set three days before the Climate Action Summit at the U.N. headquarters so that global leaders could witness the mass mobilization.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments