Neighborhood schools: now more than ever 2

The morning scene at PS/IS 49 in Middle Village.

A few years ago I wrote an op-ed for this publication that sought to make people aware of how impactful the consistency of neighborhood schooling is on children. Students who attend school with the same groups of children over long periods of time benefit in a myriad of ways, from forming long-lasting friendships to learning environments that enable them to take risks and feel free from peer ridicule or judgment.

My belief in the importance of continuity within New York City schools is born from my own children’s experiences. Personally, I changed schools in first, second, eighth and 10th grade. Looking back, I can definitely recall instances when I stifled my voice or was afraid to participate simply because I was new.

My own children have the luxury of growing up in the Hicksville School District. Within our district, all students from seven elementary schools eventually end up in our middle school. This is where they meet new friends and still get to continue old friendships. This is something that is not afforded my students in NYC, and it most definitely has an impact on them.

In NYC, we ask children to switch schools at some of the most challenging ages to make those changes. Losing whole groups of friends and having to start over at 11 years old is a traumatic experience for many students, and one that could wholly be avoided with investment into schools and neighborhoods themselves. Instead, after allowing them to gain some sort of comfort with their peers, we usher them to high school to start the whole process over again. It is unfair and unjust, and perhaps the greatest example of inequity in our school system. There is a reason that top private schools and charter schools prioritize keeping students together for their entire educational experience, and that reason is increased success in the classroom and out.

The problem we see today stems from laziness. It was much easier to create a system to place students in middle and high schools based on standardized test scores than it was to invest in communities that are most hard hit by lack of educational opportunities. Aside from pitting neighbor against neighbor and school against school, it created an environment where learning has become a luxury instead of a right. Every single child in NYC deserves and is entitled to a high-quality K-12 education close to home. For the vast majority of our students, that is not an option.

All middle and high school students are not currently learning in their school buildings. School choice is the reason. Elementary schools are in session because young children go to school locally. The NYC Department of Education starts moving students around the city in sixth grade, meaning it becomes unsafe to open buildings because students are travelling from all over the city.

Creating connectivity and continuity amongst elementary, middle and high schools would enable students by having them use the same educational programs without interruption. The challenges for principals would be to create stronger, more in-depth curricula that take into account the consistency that can be offered to our city students. Consistency is the key, and is a huge benefit in education.

Every single student in NYC has an opportunity to apply to any school he or she wants to. But not every single student in NYC is provided with the skills to seize that opportunity. Based on the evidence that exists in counties surrounding the five boroughs, it is obvious that organized neighborhood schools pay huge dividends. My question is, when will city students be afforded that privilege?

Christopher Rasidakis is a 20-year city schoolteacher, in his 16th year in South Queens and now at IS 238, The Susan B. Anthony School, in Hollis.

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