February 2, 2012
Dozens of city students walked out of at least five high schools in three boroughs Wednesday to protest the city’s school closure plans. Amid the crowd of protesters in Union Square, I spoke to several students about what inspired them to take to the streets and what they think the city will lose by shuttering struggling high schools.
Here’s what they told me:
The city decided to phase out Leguillou’s Brooklyn school last year. Now that the school has started to shrink, Leguillou said student morale is low. “Students feel like they’re not doing what they should be,” she said. She tried to persuade friends to join her at the protest, but said, “They said, ‘No, thanks, there’s nothing more we can do.’ It’s sad to see that they’ve given up.” Leguillou said she wanted to show her support to other schools in hopes that they could avoid the same fate. “It may be a lost cause for us, but we can still fight.”
“What happened to the policy, No Child Left Behind? The mayor wants to be the person who changed education for the better, and that’s just not how it is right now. In fact, it’s worse,” Rivas told me. He helped organize the walkout at Legacy that took place 50 minutes before the end of the school day. Earlier this year, he led a phone bank in the school cafeteria, where students spent two hours dialing city officials to urge them not to close Legacy.
Sophomore at Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School
“I want people to know that Gompers is not a bad school. Closing the school will leave current students abandoned,” Duarte said. Duarte, a member of the Urban Youth Collaborative, organized Gompers students to protest city plans to close the school last year. He left the Bronx school early to come to the protest, but only a handful of students joined him.
Gabriel De lo Santos
Sophomore at Herbert Lehman High School
De lo Santos said he is trying to carry on the spirit of the protests held at Lehman last week, when city officials told students and families that the school would be closed under the “turnaround” school improvement model. He said students used to habitually cut classes at Lehman, but the new principal has cracked down on attendance and made other positive changes this school year. “Don’t close our school, don’t kick out our teachers,” he said at the rally. “They made a bond with us. They’re like our mothers and fathers.”
Chantilou said he heard about the protest from a teacher at the end of the school day and walked the two blocks from the Irving Place school to Union Square minutes later. Dozens of students attended Irving’s closure hearing earlier this week, but he was one of only a handful of students to make the trek Wednesday. “Irving really is a school making progress, and I came to support that,” he said. “The closing needs to be rethought. At least keep it open for a few more years.” His biggest concern, he said, is that the closure would prompt the departure of the school’s best teachers.