Jamaica High students succeed despite trials
Jamaica High School seniors Courtney Perkins, left, Gerard Henry and Sharmin Piancca said they are pleased a lawsuit has been filed to keep open the school.

   Jamaica High School senior Doreen Mohammed has known for as long as she can remember that she wanted nothing more than to be a doctor.

   Mohammed, who is graduating second in her class, grew up with her grandfather’s stories of being a doctor in Bangladesh, where he would give free care to his impoverished neighbors who could not afford health care.

   “He helped so many people, and I was really inspired by that,” Mohammed said.

   Now, after years of making her way up the academic ladder — spending countless hours on school essays and studying for advanced placement tests, she has landed a full scholarship to Columbia University in the fall.

   Such an accomplishment is no easy feat for any student, and Doreen, her colleagues and teachers emphasized she and other students faced especially daunting challenges because of limited resources at Jamaica High School, which the city plans to close. The city Panel for Educational Policy voted earlier this year to phase out the century-old institution beginning next fall, but the United Federation of Teachers, the NAACP and a number of legislators filed a lawsuit last week that aims to stop the closure of Jamaica and 21 other schools throughout the city.

   This move thrilled students like Doreen, who said Jamaica has prepared them to go on to top-tier colleges and universities despite the fact that, because of city budget cuts, the school has limited resources, including few AP courses, no music class this year and few opportunities for students to access science labs.

   “I took all honors courses and whatever AP courses were available,” Mohammed said. “I took AP biology, but we couldn’t do any lab experiments because of budgetary restrictions, but I still got a three on the exam. If I had had lab time, I probably could’ve gotten a four or five.”

   The highest score students can get on the AP test is a five, and a three still allows students to receive college credit.

   “The lawsuit proves we were deprived of a lot,” Doreen said. “We need music to graduate, but we can’t take it because we have no money for a music teacher, so we have to take double period art. The city is depriving us of things others get, and yet they’re calling us failures.”

   Doreen is not alone when it comes to being successful at Jamaica, which students predominantly credit with support from teachers and family.

   Gerard Henry, who is graduating eighth in his class, is going to study law at Columbia University this fall.

   “There are so many students doing well here,” Henry said. “We’re here with inadequate supplies. I’m using textbooks older than I am, most of which are coming from Townsend Harris. It’s not right, but what matters is we get help from our teachers.”

   Nujhat Choudhury, Nuria Nusrat and Tonmoy Kabiraj all arrived at Jamaica High School three years ago from Bangladesh and spoke little English. Now, Choudhury is on her way to study civil engineering at Canada University of Alberta, Nusrat will attend City College to major in math, and Kabiraj is graduating third in his class and plans to attend St. John’s University to become a doctor.

   Frances Uwechue moved from her home city of Lagos, Nigeria to Springfield Gardens this year, and she said she immediately landed the academic support she needed. She was especially elated to receive a 2090 on her SATs — a score that got her into SUNY Albany, where she plans to study to become a doctor.

   “The teachers do nothing but good things for you here,” said Sharmin Piancca, of Hollis, who is graduating 11th in her class and will attend Hunter College. “Mr. Eterno stayed after school for three hours a day to help me prepare for AP tests.”

   James Eterno is a social studies teacher.

   Courtney Perkins, of Laurelton, said the “unfair” conditions she saw at Jamaica High inspired her to want to study documentary filmmaking.

   “I’d love to do a documentary on this whole experience,” she said. “I have to show the world what’s happening here.”





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