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A tale of two schools: How summer reveals a growing divide

Toward the end of June, I asked one of the students at the school where I am an assistant principal – a public elementary school located in Manhattan’s Chinatown where 95 percent of students are poor enough to qualify for free lunch – whether she was looking forward to summer vacation. “No,” was her response. “Why not?” I asked. “Because I’m not doing anything,” she replied. Such is the reality for many of New York City’s 1.1 million schoolchildren, who recently started summer vacation.

One year ago, I stood in a very different place. I was a teacher at a sought-after public elementary school in brownstone Brooklyn where students attend pricey summer camps filled with enriching activities and then go off to vacations overseas, to the beach, or the mountains—anywhere but the sweltering August streets.

This year has been a journey through New York City’s very divided populace; I have borne witness to what Mayor de Blasio called “the tale of two cities.” Along the way, I have become convinced that there are ways that all of us can turn our attention to schools and communities where the need is greatest.

The students at my current school are truly remarkable. Many of them are recent immigrants to the United States; they live in cramped tenements in Chinatown, sharing one room with grandparents and siblings, and renting out additional rooms in their apartments to complete strangers. Their parents work long hours, sometimes out of state. Other students live in the city’s Catherine Street homeless shelter, and despite promises by the mayor to convert this to an adults-only shelter because the conditions are unfit for children, we enrolled students through mid-June whose families had just been placed there by the Department of Homeless Services. Others live in the public housing projects directly adjacent to our school. Parents share stories of their struggles – to find work, to keep their children out of trouble, and to pay for necessary, but not always covered, medical care.

Read the full story on Chalkbeat NY.

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