COCO RHUM, 17, is a senior at the prestigious Beacon School and a leader of Policy for Integrate NYC and Teens Take Charge, two student groups fighting for educational equality citywide. Here, she tells The Post why NYC’s education system is broken . . .
When I was born, my single mother, who held a doctor’s degree in psychoanalysis, moved to a Park Slope apartment with the intention of getting me into one of the city’s most coveted elementary schools: PS 321.
The Seventh Avenue school was filled with books, support staff and a huge range of classroom supplies — from tools to dissect a cow’s eye to packs of new markers for art projects. My teachers fostered my curiosity and love of learning.
When I attended in 2006 to 2011, my elementary school was over 75 percent white — five times the city average — with less than 10 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch as opposed to the nearly 75 percent of low-income students citywide. Its demographics today are similar.
The high concentration of privileged students at PS 321 led to the many extras we enjoyed, particularly through the PTA’s fundraising efforts. All this translated into remarkable results: Last year, 87 percent of students passed the state math exam, and 85 percent passed the English exam compared with the 49 percent and 48 percent averages citywide.
The privilege of attending PS 321 paved my way into one of the city’s most coveted public middle schools, MS 51, also in Park Slope and attended by Mayor de Blasio’s children, Dante and Chiara. To gain entrance, students were subjected to “screens” for test scores and grades. I also had to complete a one-on-one interview with a faculty member.
We enjoyed robust arts programs in dance, drama, chorus, photography and visual arts and challenging Regents courses in science and math. At the time, MS 51 was almost 60 percent white, with less than 20 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.
Next came high school. NYC’s high-school application process is notoriously complex, letting students apply to as many as 12 schools, in order of preference, many with various criteria. But for me, it was smooth sailing. I had always known the “good” schools to apply to, and I put those schools at the top of my application list. My family purchased a prep book for the SHSAT, the exam to get into the eight elite high schools, and took me to practice tests. I aced the test with a score of 561 — enough to get accepted to Brooklyn Technical HS, my first choice among the elites.
I have had the best of what the New York City public school system has to offer. My experience is not the norm, though. At each of the three schools I’ve attended, less than 30 percent of students were low-income and more than half white in a system where just 15 percent of all kids are white. The schools I’ve attended and the experiences I’ve had are proof of the city system’s de facto segregation and inequity.
For a city that prides itself on its diversity….it has failed the many students who get left behind.
Those who suffer the most are students of color in low-performing schools. Over 17,000 black and Latino students do not have a single PSAL sports team at their schools. In the 2017-18 school year, black students made up 51.5 percent of all students receiving a superintendent’s suspension, while they make up just 26 percent of the overall student population. In the specialized high schools, black and Latino students are heavily under-represented.
The system is unjust and unacceptable. For a city that prides itself on its diversity, and a public-school system that claims to provide equality, it has failed the many students who get left behind. Those students have had life experiences vastly different from mine, without racial or socioeconomic privilege.
As a junior, I co-founded Integrate NYC Beacon, a group that fights for school equality. Partly due to our advocacy, Chancellor Richard Carranza has eliminated the admission screens at all District 15 middle schools, including MS 51 and other popular junior highs. I fully support this change because everyone should have the same shot at a high-quality education. For the same reason. I also support the proposal to ditch the SHSAT, the specialized entrance test.
I also helped revamp two student advisory boards, which previously had little impact. We focus on resource allocation, disciplinary practices, racially representative teaching staff, and culturally inclusive curricula. Currently, only 15-20 percent of high schools participate, but we’re aiming to give all students an opportunity to express their views and make real change. We recently asked for the creation of a DOE Student Voice Director, and Carranza has begun the hiring process.
The system must be vastly reformed so that all students, not just a favored few, can receive the quality education that I did, and enjoy it in classrooms that reflect the city’s full diversity.
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