Teens Take Charge is a coalition of high school students pushing to have a say in how their public schools are run, and how the system could be more equitable. They organize school groups, stage protests, testify at hearings. They even make a podcast. Starting this Monday, they’re launching a string of Monday morning protests to call attention to the challenges of school choice and how some admissions “screens" foster segregation. It’s a topic of much debate and something Mayor Bill de Blasio has said is a priority, although he has yet to propose policy responses to the two sets of recommendations made by his own School Diversity task force.
Every morning we walk through different doors into the same school building and make our way to different floors.
The bottom two floors are Chelsea Career and Technical Education. The top two floors are NYC iSchool. Both schools have around 450 students, but they look very different. NYC iSchool is 41% white. Chelsea CTE is 4% white.
About two in five iSchool students qualify for free or reduced lunch, compared with four out of five Chelsea CTE students.
About nine in ten iSchool students passed middle school state tests, compared to about three out of ten Chelsea CTE students.
How is this so? The NYC Department of Education allows NYC iSchool to “screen” applicants using its own formula. The school evaluates applicants on a rubric that includes GPA, state test scores, attendance, lateness, and an “online admissions activity” that poses a clear barrier for students with limited or no internet access.
Chelsea CTE, while not fully unscreened, is far more open to students of all academic levels.
Our two schools represent the segregated high school system as a whole, which Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza have done nothing to address.
Even though we go to schools separated by a flight of stairs, we had never met, much less had the opportunity to meet, until we joined Teens Take Charge, a student-led organization that fights for educational equity.
Segregation has defined our experiences throughout high school.
CHRIS GONZALEZ, Chelsea CTE
From the day I stepped foot in Chelsea CTE, I have experienced nothing but disappointment. From being lied to about not being able to graduate early to lack of extracurricular activities.
I always used to be jealous of all the resources that iSchool has such as a wider variety of extracurricular activities and bigger classrooms.
My friends and I used to blame Chelsea for all of the misfortune we have experienced throughout our high school career. Last year's chemistry students had to watch videos of other students doing the work they were supposed to be doing due to lack of resources. However, we were blaming the wrong people. Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education doomed us all from the start.
The admissions screens in high schools are a biased set of requirements that the DOE places in certain schools to weed out certain students — students like me who are judged based on their address, grades, and test scores. An image was made of me before I could make it for myself. I don’t want to be another statistic. I want to be something more in life than what my ancestors were. But it’s not exactly easy when the system is against you from the day that you are born. At the very least, I want the next generations to be able to start at the same point.
In this building, we (both schools) are at the forefront of educational inequities. We see the achievement gap, wealth gap, and opportunity gap every single day. The staircase separating our schools is a visual reminder of these gaps.
The system of separate-and-unequal that was deemed unconstitutional in 1954 exists right here in New York City, and no one seems to care.
LEOR PRUSAK, NYC iSchool:
It makes me very angry that in NYC, one of the most “progressive” cities in the country, we have the most segregated school system. I see this up close every day.
I’ve taken the initiative to educate myself on the injustices both iSchoolers and Chelsea CTE students are facing in this screwed up system that segregates us from such a young age. The whole situation is so upsetting, especially the fact that it took me so long to understand that this was an issue — one that impacts all of us.
iSchool and Chelsea students have close to zero opportunities to interact with one another during our school day. Our classes start and end at different times of the day. Even our lunch periods are typically at different times. Because iSchool and Chelsea students have to go out of their way to interact with one another, a very toxic culture of “otherness” has developed.
Before I met Chris and several of his classmates at a Teens Take Charge meeting, I had never interacted with a Chelsea student. This unnatural separation of students harms all of us. For me, Teens Take Charge has recently brought me closer to some students from Chelsea, and it makes me wonder how many more people I would get the chance of meeting and knowing if I had more opportunities to interact with Chelsea students. This is why I am fighting for integration.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have integrated, equitable high schools for all. The problem is that our adult leaders have failed us. Every day that we and thousands of other students across the city walk into segregated schools represents not just a political failure but a moral one.
Because Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza have done nothing to address this crisis, we, the students, decided to take matters into our own hands.
On Monday morning, we helped lead a “strike for integration” outside of our building for 1800 seconds, one for every public school in the city. We encourage our fellow students around the city to lead strikes at their own schools every Monday morning until our adult leaders give us the integrated and equitable education they love to talk about, but which we have never seen.
Leor Prusak is a sophomore at NYC iSchool and Chris Gonzalez a senior at Chelsea Career and Technical Education. They are members of the student-led organization Teens Take Charge.