High School Runaround for a New Haiti Arrrival
Chesna Gelin arrived in the U.S. on January 26, 2010, a survivor of the earthquake that wracked Haiti two weeks before. She is 17 years old and may have braced herself for the cold weather and strangeness of her newly adopted city. But the more vexing challenge was her search for a school to attend. It was an ordeal that she says brought her to tears.
She went to a Department of Education (DOE) placement center on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. On the first visit she was flatly turned away. The next time she was sent on a wild goose chase to Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School in Manhattan. When she got there they said she couldn’t get in until June.
Her father contacted Flambwayan, a Haitian literacy center in the Flatbush neighborhood and a youth organizer, Josmene Guerrier responded, doing what she has been doing for several families every month and escorted the girl and her father for the rest of their tour of school offices. Eventually Chesna landed in the Emma Lazarus High School for English Language Learners in Chinatown. She began attending on February 22, after the winter break.
According to Flambwayan’s director, Darnell Benoit, the process of helping families find schools began to require four to six weeks during the final months of last year. Prospective students need their parents to take off from work to be with them, and Benoit says it is not unusual for immigrants newly arriving in mid-year to simply give up and wait for the next school year.
NY News 12 coverage of Chesna Gelin’s story drew a response from a DOE official that who claimed, “the city has enough space to meet the demand” and referred to programs at Clara Barton and Midwood high schools. Both of the large schools named have been dealing with overcrowding for years, and according to Benoit neither were offering seats at this point in the year.
Chesna’s commute from Crown Heights to Chinatown and the mind-boggling admissions gauntlet that prevents some new arrivals (“over the counter” students in DOE parlance) from enrolling at all are the product of eight years of Gates Foundation-funded “high school reform” policies. The result of these privately-funded policies since 2002 has been the wholesale closing of neighborhood schools, the exclusion of English Language Learners from many of newly opened small schools and their segregation in a few of them.
The small schools that the students find themselves in use an English-immersion model exclusively. Bilingual education programs that Brooklyn neighborhood high schools once offered to large numbers of Haitian, Chinese and Latino students are now just part of the rubble of demolished school communities and no earthquake can be blamed for that.
Submitted by Redrooster