Under the shadow of the imposing Jamaica High School building, the afternoon sunlight bouncing off massive arched doors that once welcomed students to one of the city’s most highly reputable educational institutions, pupils, teachers and legislators this week slammed the mayor and chancellor for brushing them what they said amounted to educational “crumbs” while giving others fine dining.
While city officials promised resources and support for Jamaica High School as it phases out the institution over the next several years, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), teachers and students — who rallied outside the school on Monday — said the city has instead slashed the number of teachers by about half this year, completely eliminated all honors and advanced placement courses, and left the entire school with one guidance counselor. Teachers have to buy basic supplies like chalk and paper with their own money, many of the computers are out of date — some don’t turn on or connect to the Internet — and the library is “basically empty,” according to social studies teacher James Eterno.
“This is a disgrace by the mayor and chancellor,” Avella, who organized the rally, said of Bloomberg and schools chief Dennis Walcott. “It’s like these students are a lost generation the city doesn’t care about.”
A spokesman for the city Department of Education said students will be able to take classes required for graduation. Officials conceded that schools declining in enrollment receive less funding per pupil, but noted that Jamaica was also given grant money for technology.
“Every student at Jamaica High School will have the courses needed for graduation,” said Thomas Francis, a DOE spokesman. “In addition, we work to support all of our schools, including those in phaseout, and Jamaica received $50,000 in additional grant money to help fund their technology needs.”
The city Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out 119-year-old Jamaica High School last February, and the school is expected to be completely closed by 2014. The city Department of Education has said it is closing Jamaica because of the school’s low graduation rates and test scores — data which has been refuted by teachers and legislators.
Four smaller schools are operating within the landmarked Jamaica High building, which dates from 1925 —Queens Collegiate, Hillside Arts & Letters Academy, the High School for Community Leadership and Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences, all of which students and teachers said receive far more resources than Jamaica High.
“I go to Gateway, but I think what they’re doing to Jamaica is really wrong,” said Galen Williams, a senior who attended JHS through his junior year. “At Gateway, we have so much paper to waste, and Jamaica doesn’t even have enough paper.”
Williams noted that he wanted to remain at Jamaica for his senior year, but ultimately decided to apply to Gateway because he feared that Jamaica’s limited course offerings would infringe on his ability to get accepted by a good college.
“I would have liked to take honors and AP classes, but Jamaica doesn’t offer those anymore,” said Raymond Almonte, a JHS senior. “Our teachers don’t have enough paper, enough chalk. To graduate from high school, you need art or music. I would’ve loved to take music, but there’s no music anymore … They are phasing out our school and throwing us out. And we’re not gonna take it.”
Kymberley Walcott, a senior at Jamaica and no relation to the chancellor, said she wanted to continue to take French this year but couldn’t because the school no longer offers it.
“The other schools are given meals, and we at Jamaica are given crumbs,” she said. “They treat us like we don’t matter, and we do matter.”
Jahan Ferdous said her parents brought her family to the United States in part because they wanted her to receive a better education — which she said is impossible at Jamaica.
“I feel I should be given the opportunity to take classes like chemistry and physics; I love science,” said Ferdous, a junior. “We deserve these classes. We deserve the same privileges as students in other schools.
Be sure not to miss this week’s hard-hitting editorial, “City crushes hope at Jamaica HS,” in the Opinion section.