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Wednesday, 26 June 2013 04:07

Spread the word! Free summer meals

As a former food stamp recipient and a mom who uses great savvy to feed my three kids, I was encouraged and empowered at this week’s Hunger Crisis Forum to hear Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank for New York City say: “No one should feel shame just because they don’t have enough money [to adequately feed their family].” The Hunger Crisis Forum took place the same week that the annual Free Summer Meals Program [PDF] kicks off.

An all-female panel of CEO’s discussed rising food prices and the increasing number of parents struggling to feed their families. In fact, they said, many educated and middle class families find themselves using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the first time.

At least 80% of students in NYC public school qualify for free lunch. In response to the growing need, the United States Department of Agriculture is spending $400 million on the Summer Meals Program which starts in New York City on June 27. Yet only 16 percent of eligible children are expected to participate. Why? According to speakers at the forum, that "stigma" and "embarrassment" often keep people from taking advantage of the services.

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If you've got a 7th grader finishing up the school year now, it's time for you to start thinking about high school. Here's what you and your rising 8th-grader can do over the summer.

Schools are handing out the 2013-2014 directory of high schools (now online) before summer vacation. If your child doesn't bring one home. you can pick one up at the nearest enrollment office. You'll will find information about every high school in the city including: what it takes to get in, what time school starts for freshman, whether there is a dress code, and the number of students who applied and were accepted last year. You can also see the school's graduation rate.

To introduce middle school families to the admissions process, the Department of Education enrollment office is offering evening workshops, two in every borough between July 16 and Aug. 1.  The first five workshops will  offer an overview of the application process and the types of high school programs; the last five will be about the nine specialized high schools, eight of which require an exam for admissions while the ninth requires an audition.

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Monday, 17 June 2013 18:09

29 new dual language programs to open

The city plans to open 29 new dual language programs in elementary, middle and high schools in September, according to a list of new programs released by the Department of Education. New York City's public school students speak over 185 languages at home, as reported in the city's recent Internal Budget Office audit of city schools, and there are dual language programs in at least a half-dozen of those languages.

Dual language programs offer English speakers the opportunity to learn a second language alongside native speakers of another language who become proficient in both English and their native tongue. Ten percent of the city's more than 150,000 English language learners were in dual language programs in 2011, according to the IBO. 

Spanish is the second-most common language spoken at home -- nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are native Spanish speakers -- and many of the city's new and established dual language programs are in Spanish.  But the programs opening this fall will expand the city's dual language offerings to include three languages not offered previously in elementary school. The Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn will get a Polish dual language program at PS 34 Oliver H. PerryPS 214 in East New York will open a Bengali program; and PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Bay Ridge will start an Arabic program. A handful of new Chinese programs are in the works for the fall, as well. 

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Dear Judy,

We plan to move to NYC from South America this summer. Can we still register our 5-year-old in kindergarten?

DT

Dear DT,

Yes, of course. New York City has a kindergarten place for every child who applies, as long as you can present proof of residence in NYC and of your child's age.  Most districts have zoned elementary schools. You may register at your zoned school once school opens in September. If you already know your address, call 311, or from outside New York, 212-new york to find your zoned school. You may also enter your address in the search box on the Department of Education's website  to find the zoned school for that address. There may be other school options but you are guaranteed a place in your zoned school or one that is nearby, in case the neighborhood school is overcrowded.

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Tuesday, 11 June 2013 10:00

Middle school rankings rankle parents

Many New York City families who send their children to neighborhood elementary schools are in for a rude awakening when their child reaches 5th grade and they learn that choosing a middle school is not so straightforward. Applying to middle school can be just as nerve-wracking and time consuming as applying to college.

“Kind of feels like you’re going to see Oz behind the curtain,” said a Cobble Hill dad in District 15, whose 5th grader didn't get accepted by any of the schools he applied to. “Who is making these decisions? The DOE? The middle schools?”

The answer? It depends on where you live.

Unlike high school admissions – a mostly uniform, citywide process – the middle school process is decentralized and different rules apply in different districts.

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Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wants every New York City high school to have a direct link to colleges, apprenticeship programs and businesses, he said in a speech this morning at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. As he gears up for a mayoral run this fall, de Blasio criticized Mayor Bloomberg for policies that he says have deepened the rift between rich and poor in New York City; de Blasio proposed educational improvements to shrink the gap. 

Part of de Blasio's plan to improve the quality of life for half of the New Yorkers that he said currently live near or below the poverty line is to expand career training to create a direct link between city high schools and CUNY to solid middle class jobs in fields like technology, health and building maintenance. Right now, de Blasio said, living wage jobs in those fields are "dominated" by people who come from outside of New York. "Let's set a goal that within eight years, the majority of skilled technology sector jobs in this city will be filled by those educated in New York City schools," de Blasio said.

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On Wednesday, a 12-year-old middle school student in Queens hanged herself, leaving behind a note saying she had been harassed by classmates at school and bullied online. What can be done to prevent tragedies in the future? One issue may be that teachers are unaware when students are being bullied, especially when there is cyber-bullying. According to the Learning Environment Survey at IS 109, the school Gabrielle Molina attended, 80 percent of the students said there was bullying; but only 15 percent of teachers said students were bullied.

About 30 percent of IS 109's students said they felt unsafe at the school, although all the teachers reported feeling safe.

The tragedy occured just two days after Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in asking schools to step up antii-bullying efforts before the end of the school year.

Walcott mentioned the latest anti-bullying initiative at a Town Hall meeting in Bedford Stuyvesant on Monday night, telling parents that bullying was still "very prevalent" in city schools. Just two days later, according to the Daily News, he was comforting the family of Gabrielle Molina, a student at IS 109 Jean Nuzzi Middle School, who was found dead that afternoon.

"Any child that takes his life or her life is something that deeply concerns me and hurts me as a parent and not just as a chancellor,” Walcott told the Daily News on Thursday. "Bullying is something that I feel very strongly about. We are always looking at new ways to work on the issue."

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A group of 15 principals from across the city announced this week they will no longer be using results from a controversial new state test as part of their middle and high school admissions criteria.

In a letter to parents, students and school communities, the principals — from Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx — explained their dissatisfaction with the Common Core, which they said did not live up to their expectations.

"Inauthentic tests and test prep are taking away time for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing," the letter stated.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 10:57

Parents win victory in PCB removal

The Department of Education's announcement yesterday that it will accelerate the removal of light fixtures that may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from more than 730 school buildings by December 2016 is an important victory for New York City school children and their families.

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by parent and advocacy groups, the city agreed to halve the timeline for the PCB removal from flourescent lights.The clean-up was supposed to be done by 2021 but the city will expedite the process to be completed in the next 3.5 years.

The renegotiated timeline is a result of more than two years of litigation brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) on behalf of New York Communities for Change. The advocacy groups sued the DOE in 2011 over its intentions to remove the PCB contaminated fixtures over a ten year period. In March, a federal judge ruled against the city's motion to dismiss the suit, admonishing the city for its "foot-dragging" and "spurious" arguments over the clean-up of school buildings. In a stinging decision, the judge said that he was troubled over the city's dismissive attitude to potential health risks faced by children in schools with PCB-contaminated light fixtures. The settlement will require the DOE to provide semi-annual progress reports and the NYLPI and the court will continue to monitor the city's work until the last light fixture is removed. 

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Fifth-graders around the city should find out today or tomorrow where they have been accepted to middle school. That's several days earlier than the May 20 date posted on the Department of Education's calendar.

Public elementary schools are picking up the letters at the enrollment offices on Thursday and will distribute them to children.  If you don't get a letter today or tomorrow, contact your parent coordinator. Private school students should get their school assignments in the mail; if you don't receive a letter, go to the nearest enrollment office for help.

Unlilke the citywide high school application process, middle school admission varies by district. Some districts have zoned schools where children are assigned to middle school based on their address. Other districts have school choice and no zoned schools. A few, such as District 2, offer both zoned and unzoned schools. All students are guaranteed a seat at a school in their district. Those who apply to citywide, charter or other non-district choice schools may be accepted at several schools.

If you're not happy with the school to which you have been matched, you can appeal. Public school students should ask their elementary school guidance counselor for an appeal form; private school students may get one at the enrollment center. Wednesday, May 29 is the deadline to appeal.

Insideschools would like to hear from families who have appealed their middle school assignments in the past. Parents would like to know how the process works and whether appeals are generally successful. This is information that the Department of Education does not make public...at least they have not done so in the past.

 

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