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Walking Out to Stay in School

June 14, 2010

By Jaritza Geigel

I am proud to be one of the dozens of youth leaders in the Urban Youth Collaborative who planned last Friday’s walk out. Thank you to the City Council members that supported us in this endeavor and to the adults at the Urban Youth Collaborative and the Annenberg Institute who, along with other allies, ensured our safety.  By showing their support, they show that they care about our education and are not interested in playing with students’ futures.

Mayor Bloomberg said on his radio show that we should have been targeting our action and demands at the state, and suggested that we were misinformed about who is responsible for funding student MetroCards. We students are fully aware of who provides funding for our MetroCards and organized ourselves to say that we will no longer continue to be a part of any political game.

Since 1994, the city and state have each paid $45 million for student MetroCards, with the MTA paying the rest.  Since then, the city and the state have kept that figure at $45 million. Over the years the cost has gone up, and the MTA can no longer fund the program because of their own deficit.  Mayor Bloomberg says he has not cut student MetroCards in his budget, which allocates $45 million.  But because the MTA will no longer pay, the city needs to increase its share—not to mention that they haven’t raised funding one dollar since 1994.

Now, while politicians play their political game of pointing fingers the students of NYC decided that it was time to take matters into our own hands. We fought for what is rightfully ours: transportation to get to school. About 600,000 students use MetroCards to get to school. Students that come from large families in poor and working class communities cannot afford to pay $1000 per year per child.  We talk about how education is a right and yet education has continued to be placed on the back burner and students that are black, brown, Latino, and other ethnic backgrounds are taking it the hardest.

The UYC began by focusing on the MTA: we held rallies, mobilized for all of the MTA hearings; and ultimately got a meeting with Jay Walder, the Chairman of the MTA.  Then, as students began to understand more about this issue our next target was the Senate and Assembly. The president of the Senate, Senator John Sampson proposed $65 million for student MetroCards and NYC students thanked him and his fellow Senators, and urged them to vote no on a budget with less than $65 million for MetroCards.  We also met with many Assembly members and urged them to raise their proposed allocation from $35 million (less than in 1994!!) to $65 million.  Upset that our “education” Mayor has not publicly worked on this issue, and agree to share the cost that the city, state, and MTA agreed to before, the students thought it was about time he was in the hot seat.  Shame on our BILLION DOLLAR “education” mayor who relies on cuts as a solution.

NYC students — the future voters of this city — are not playing around anymore.  We are done having Mayor Bloomberg close down schools, which only increase over-crowding; we are done having funds removed overnight from our schools; we are done seeing valuable teachers laid off; we are done being treated like criminals; and we will not tolerate the mayor’s silence on this issue. NYC students are becoming more PROactive everyday and the numbers of students involved is rising everyday.  It is time that the State, the MTA, and Bloomberg stop playing their political game and fund student MetroCards. The fight isn’t over, and we will not be silenced, or intimidated into submission. This is only the beginning, leaders are being born and growing everyday and soon NYC will see just what we are capable of, and how organized we can be.

Jaritza Geigel is a youth leader at Make the Road New York and the Urban Youth Collaborative

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By Norm Fruchter

On Friday, over 1,000 high school students from 22 high schools across the city walked out of school and rallied at City Hall to save their student MetroCards from budget cuts. These students risked harassment and disciplinary action to fight for the government support for transportation that would allow them to continue and complete their education. Students called on Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson to pay $65 million each to cover student MetroCards.

This free transportation is more essential than ever under the education policies of Mayor Bloomberg. Given the proliferation of new high schools across the city and the policy of school choice, many more students than in the past depend on free public transportation to attend high school. Denying that free transportation threatens the high school careers, and thus college and career prospects, of thousands of the city’s students.

Predictably, the protest attracted some criticisms that students were just playing hooky. But this complaint is ignorant of the rich and important history of student and youth protest in movements for social justice in this country. Student participation in the sit-ins, freedom rides and marches of the civil rights struggle made a crucial contribution to the movement’s success. Student participation in the movement against the Viet-Nam war helped move the conscience of the nation and contributed to ending that war. Learning how to be an effective citizen requires understanding and exercising the right to protest against unjust government action. It is the responsibility of educators to not only help students understand the shaping role of protest in our history, but also to help them consider when it becomes necessary to protest destructive policies that may shape their lives.

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By Diana Barrientos

I am one of the many students who helped to organize last Friday’s walk out and rally at City Hall Park demanding full city funding for student MetroCards. Right before the rally, Mayor Bloomberg said on his radio show that students were skipping classes “to be cute and be out there and picketing,” and that the students were missing out on valuable learning in the classroom.  Well, he drove us to this—even though he’s constantly talking about better education for NYC students, he hasn’t done enough to ensure that we will have the transportation necessary to get a better education. The UYC demands that Mayor Bloomberg and the state allocate $65 million for our student MetroCards to keep running! If Mayor Bloomberg personally has $3 billion why doesn’t he help us? What is he doing with all that money? I ask myself if he is such an influential person here in New York why can’t stand up for us to get a good education?

Diana Barrientos is a youth leader at Sistas and Brothas United and the Urban Youth Collaborative


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