It’s My Turn
The January 6 meeting with the Department of Education officials was an event that cannot be forgotten. Members of the community, hard working faculty and dedicated students gathered to demand the much needed answers to why the DOE has decided to “phase out” Beach Channel High School. Of course these demands were not met; the officials never answered a single question, and if they did it wasn’t a direct answer. The officials went around the questions being asked, and the only response actually being given on the topic was about the “low graduation rates.” The officials said they were there to “listen” to the community when they were really there to just shut them up. The DOE already had their minds made up, and they were just there to make the people feel like they were doing something.
The DOE practically set BCHS up for failure three years ago when they began to cut the funds needed by the school. Programs such as Cooking, Computers, Dance, Leadership and Cheerleading all had to be cut due to lack of funding. Larger programs like the Virtual Enterprises Business program and the Law Center – in which a classroom was transformed to look like an actual courtroom, so students can hold debates and trials and experience what it is like to be in a court of law – were also cut. Even Oceanography, which was the main focus of BCHS, had to be cut due to lack of funding. They also saw the loss of vital staff such as assistant principals, para’s, security guards and even teachers. “Demographics show that in a period of one year Beach Channel lost a total of 32 teachers due to budget cuts,” says Chris Petrillo, a senior student at BCHS, and the leader in the movement against the closing. During the meeting Petrillo gave a presentation that had the crowd applauding.
The Department of Education’s first victim, Far Rockaway High School, was put on the chopping block back in 2007; this had a crashing effect on Beach Channel. Many of the students that attended or would have attended FRHS were sent to Beach Channel, which, due to lack of teachers, was already an overcrowded school. “Class sizes increased from approximately 25 students in the classroom to 34 …” making the learning process a lot more difficult for the students. BCHS also witnessed an increase in violence; along with the new flock of students, came those who were involved in gang activity and/or have been incarcerated. The limited number of School Safety Guards to control the violence caused BCHS’ reputation to plummet. If the DOE has their way, BCHS will be gone within the next few years, and for the first time in over 115 years Rockaway will no longer have a comprehensive high school to serve the needs of all students on the peninsula. Though the DOE is planning to open a new charter school within Beach Channel, there is no guarantee that students will be academically eligible to attend the school or even want to attend it. Those students who are unable to attend Channel View, Scholars’ Academy or the new magnet school, will have no choice but to travel outside of the peninsula to receive their education. And with the plan to eliminate student metrocards in the coming year, students will be spending more than $30 a month to get to and from school. Those parents who drive their children to school will also have to pay a heavy price when the city re-opens the Cross Bay Bridge toll booth this coming year.
It is evident that a situation like this one needs to be handled rationally by mature adults, but the DOE has proved that they are not mature adults. A mature adult does not neglect the community and the education of the millions of students; a mature adult listens and more importantly takes responsibility for his/her actions. Instead of being the mature adults they should be, the DOE has proved to be nothing more than a bunch of immature teenagers. The DOE does not listen to what we have to say, nor do they care; in their eyes they are right and we are wrong. Their minds are made up and it’s either their way or the highway. In other words, the academic future of millions of NYC kids is in the hands of a group of “adults” with the same maturity level, if not less, of a high school freshman. No one can tell for sure what is to come, but from the looks of the protest signs, angry faces, and comments made that night, it is clear that the Rockaway community won’t give up without a fight.