Public School Students Take Break From Winter Break to Criticize Mayor

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Sam Levin
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez alongside students from Urban Youth Collaborative.
Public school students from across the city rallied this afternoon inside a room in a New York University building -- calling on the mayor and the Department of Education to do a better job of preparing minority and low-income students for college.

When Runnin' Scared first showed up to the rally, we wondered how all these students -- around 50 or so from elementary to high school ages -- were able to take a break from class and be activists for the day.

But then we realized it wasn't a break from school -- it was actually a break from winter break! For a cause that electeds and students in attendance said is crucial to the future of the city and the public school system.

Spearheaded by the Urban Youth Collaborative, the event marked the official launch of a student-led campaign called "Get Us To College," centered on the troubling statistic that just 13 percent of black and Latino New York City students are prepared for college. One in four throughout the system finish high school college-ready.

This campaign is pressuring the city to disclose what supports it provides schools to prepare students for college, increase support where necessary, and follow through with outgoing seniors to make sure their college careers start smoothly. More specifically, students at the event called for legislation that would require the DOE to ensure that every high school has at least one well-trained college counselor for every 100 seniors.

Crystal Goodwin, an 18-year-old senior at University Heights High School in the Bronx, expressed her frustrations with the lack of counseling resources at her school.

"I was often shot down with, 'Well, you're unprepared,' or, 'I have 20 other students, so you're going to have to come back.' Everyday I felt like I was getting nothing done and as of today, I still have applications...and still need the support of my guidance counselor," she said. "Although I would like to blame my guidance counselor, I know that I can't, because she has to cater to 102 other seniors and has other responsibilities in my school."

"The college process may be a struggle for me now, but if more guidance counselors were given to students in each school, the college process wouldn't have to be a struggle for anyone," she added.

Wilvin Lopez, a senior at Samuel Gompers High School -- which is slated for closure through the mayor's policy of shutting down failing schools -- said he feels that the DOE is not supporting him or his school.

"The students have been left behind, especially when it comes to getting support through the college process," said Lopez, 17. "As a senior, I have been left alone and helpless. Throughout the whole college process, I have been working on my own and helping my fellow classmates with college applications and financial aid."

"It's not right that we low-income students are left helpless," he added.

City Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council's Higher Education committee, and Robert Jackson, chair of the Council's Education Committee, stopped by the event to support the effort. Both shared personal stories about their upbringing and criticized the current administration as one that has failed its students.

"This is not a forum -- this is a teach-in. It's about teaching you as young people how important it is to receive a college education," said Jackson, who is likely to run for Manhattan borough president. "You should not have to be demanding for it. It should be there. And in fact, I'm glad that you're doing it, because you're putting pressure on Ydanis. You're putting pressure on me and the system to do more for you as students."

"This is a crime," Rodriguez said in his speech. "We, the adults, at all levels...have failed...We are not providing a good quality education, and it's not because of a lack of resources."

"I'm here to support you. Politicians like me--it is very easy to come and say, 'Take a picture,' and we look good," Rodriguez said, standing next to students with signs, as a few in the audience snapped shots and filmed the speech. "When we shake hands with a child, we get the picture and we look good. We are not here because of the media, we are here because this is your future."

Runnin' Scared reached out to the DOE after the event for a response and have not yet heard back. But previously, officials have defended the city's policies and cited progress for minority students. When we wrote about a report criticizing the city's school closure policy, a DOE spokesman at the time said that black and Hispanic students have seen historic increases in graduation, college-readiness, and college enrollment rates since 2002. At a contentious hearing last month, city officials said that preparing students for college has only recently been a priority and added that the city is building "common core standards" that will involve more rigorous math and reading assessments. The DOE in the past has also pointed us to these reports, which show the city's improvements in graduation rates.

[SamTLevin / @SamTLevin]

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