Friday, June 25, 2004

My First Year In The NYC Public School System

Today on the last day of school for NYC public school students, I reflect back on what I've learned during this first year of having my daughter as a student in a city school.

My sister and my cousin both went to same public school that my 6 year old does. I was sent to a nearby Catholic school, not because I was a "bad" kid but rather because I was deemed "smart" and worthy of spending money on to educate. Now me being the political one in the familia, I believe every kid is smart and deserves to have money spent on their education, through the public school system.

Lesson #1: Work the system (or lie lie lie)

Sometimes this means forging a medical document, sometimes it means "moving in" with a relative who lives across the street because you want your kid to be zoned to a different school. I made the mistake of not lying about what languages were spoken in my home naively thinking that in the big apple they school system would be all about promoting diversity. Because I admitted that we live in a bilingual household my daughter was tested on her English ability and because on entering first grade she couldn't read ( I don't know a ton of first graders, bilingual or not who can) she was placed in English as a Second Language. This meant that at least two periods a day she was pulled out of her regular class. I wasn't made aware of this till months later when the MapucheRican was theatened with failing first grade. With the city's ESL program the only way to get out is to test out. I ended up really liking the stuff the ESL teacher did with my daughter (like poetry writing which the MapucheRican seems to be really good at) but I still hope that she passed the ESL test so she won't be pulled out for services she doesn't need. That seat that she took in ESL class could have been better utilized by a student who really needed those services.

Lesson #2: Work the System (be involved)

I was lucky that I work from home which allowed me to be in the school often. I was active in the Parent's Association, I volunteered at school events, I was a Learning Leader working on a volunteer basis with students. I translated at meetings for Spanish dominant parents, I translated documents for the school. I realize that most parents do not have the privilege that I had. Even if it means writing a note to your child's teacher to find out what's up, keep the lines of communication with your child's school open. Do not let language be a barrier. Insist, hell demand, that you be given information in your language. My daughter's school has very much of an open door policy. As long as I had identification I could get in and pop my head in the principals office and my daughter's class. It's your right as a parent to know what's going down. Plus, it sends a positive message to children when they see their parent's involved.

Lesson #3 Work the System (fight fight fight)

Fight to get services in your language. Fight to get documents translated in your language. Fight to get you child into a program or out of one. Fight for smaller class size. Fight for your child's equal share of state education funding. Fighting takes on many forms. I wrote letters, went to protest marches and meetings, and of course yelled.


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