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“Phased-Out”: Voices from Students on the Inside

April 14, 2011

Since the year 2000, the New York City Department of Education has closed 21 high schools serving 33,000 students. A recent report by the Urban Youth Collaborative demonstrated the destructive impact that these closings has had on graduation and dropout rates of students in those schools. These statistics represent actual students, who have experienced these shocks first-hand, but all too often their voices have not been heard. Below are the voices of three students speaking about how being in a phase-out school has affected them and their school.


Wilvin Lopez, Samuel Gompers High School

I attend Samuel Gompers High School and I’m a leader at Sistas and Brothas United. The schools currently being targeted on the closing and PLA list (Persistently Lowest-Achieving schools) have high percentages of Black and Latino students, low-income students, English Language Learners, students with special needs, overage students and students who entered high school below grade level. New York State Education Department reviews of 17 PLA schools report that in 14 PLA schools, the DOE has not provided the assistance and support necessary for improvement.

In my opinion, the DOE doesn’t really give us the opportunity to show them what we have. They just close our schools down based on what they want to see. They don’t want to pay attention to all those students who are constantly fighting and working hard to keep their schools open. As part of a PLA school, I see how this situation is affecting us. Now, students know that the school is endangered of closing, which makes them want to give up on learning and feel less motivated, bringing the school’s grade down. This should not be happening. Is this how you want to solve the problem? By scaring our students? We should be given the resources we deserve to keep our school open and make it the way it used to be. Students with special needs should be given more attention so they can excel towards a better future. You say my school is not performing well? What’s stopping you from helping it out? We need resources and support from you. How else do you expect us to proceed? Support our schools, don’t close them!


Nijel Hill, Paul Robeson High School
April 10 Testimony at Urban Youth Collaborative Press Conference

April 10, 2011. Nijel Hill giving his Testimony at the Urban Youth Collaborative Press Conference Releasing "No Closer to College"

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to thank you for being here this afternoon –  and the Urban Youth Collaborative as well. I am a senior and current President of Paul Robeson H.S.. Paul Robeson H.S. is one of the schools decided by the DOE to be phased out. Last year the DOE and Mayor Bloomberg tried to phase out my school and did not succeed. From the experience of being in a school that’s supposed to be phased out, it is not a good situation.

The morale of the students is hit hard. Some of the students start to feel that they are not good enough and why should they even try. Bonds between students and teachers are broken. The teachers would love to stay and fight for their school but they have to financially think about their families. Some teachers wind up leaving the school to go to another one, some students also follow the same decision.

My school also has lost some partnerships and extracurricular activities. My school had to lose our Debate team, Chess team, Robotics club, Choir, Mentor and Internship program with Citigroup, which I am apart of and many others. The majority of these programs are safe havens for students in our community. Students had somewhere to hangout and learn instead of being in the streets. Why would Mayor Bloomberg want to take that away? Our school has already been hurt from last year’s proposed phase-out, and I would not want the student body to go through this same experience again or any school for that matter. That’s why I feel the DOE and the Mayor should fix our schools and not close them.

I wonder to myself if the DOE and the Mayor see that closing our schools in not helping the problem. Shouldn’t they try another approach? Since the year 2000, the DOE has closed 21 high schools serving 33,000 students. Dropout rates at the schools averaged 25% compared to the 16% citywide. At these schools the population was majority Black and Latino students. Another fact I would like to point out is that, according to the Schott Report, NYC only graduates 28% African-American and Latino students. My school graduates 50% of the students last year and 70% in a six year period. We are not proud of this statistic, but what can you do when you get many students who don’t know English as a first language, over age and under credited while being under resourced. We have graduated 42% over the city’s average in five years. Most of our schools that the Mayor wants to shutdown is actually helping the city.

Our school and other schools need more resources and help from the DOE. We shouldn’t have to fight for what we need …. In the end it should always be about the students.


Gaston Ovando, Bushwich Community High School

I’m a member of the Youth Power Project and a graduating senior at Bushwick Community High school. My academic experience before attending Bushwick Community High School was negative. I attended a school that had an unsafe environment with fights on a regular day basis this impacted my ability to learn tremendously. Some students had failed that school, along with myself. But the school also FAILED US.

At the age of 18, I wasn’t sure if high school was for me. Initially, when I came to the Bushwick Community High School I was quickly embraced by the staff with love. They let me know at a daily basis that they had high expectations for me. With love and accountability I was set on the right track. An example of the love expressed by the staff for the students is how my social science teacher every day reminds me of every man we ever hope to be.

April 10, 2011. Jorell Moore giving a testimony at the UYC Press Conference Releasing "No Closer to College"

He tells me to be good and stay out of trouble – which some of our own parents haven’t done for us.

Bushwick Community High School has taught me about my identity, the injustices in our community and the education system, the history of my people and the pride that comes along with being Latino and African American for many of my peers. Today, I am now a better student, a better person, a better man. I am thankful that I had a second chance to get my high school diploma. This school got me to realize that I am college material. I am now ready for college.

This June, many of my friends, some I am honored enough to evencall brothers, will be graduating – all after getting a second chance like me. But sadly, we are now engaged in a battle to save my school after it was added to the list of Persistently Lowest Achieving schools, because most students do not graduate in four years or less.

BUT, how can a transfer school, that consists of mostly over-aged, under-credited students, be held to the same standards as other average high schools?

I am a prime example why Bushwick Community High school should remain open, and why a transfer school like Bushwick Community High school should be evaluated differently. At the age of 18, I came into the school as a failing drop out with no direction or expectations of graduating, or in life, today at the age of 19 I stand here as a new person, a new leader, hoping many others will have the same luck and find themselves welcomed by this school’s warm embrace for a better tomorrow.

And that’s why we are asking the Department of Education to evaluate transfer schools like Bushwick Community High School differently.


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