The tale of two cities: Manhattan & the Bronx

Mathew Pulley




The 2 New Yorks: These are pictures of two different NYC High School entrances. One  is of a well known school on the affluent Upper East Side of Manhattan (right) and the second (left) is of an under performing school in the Bronx : they symbolize the disparities of the two    roads/”doors” the population of NYC takes and the subsequent road that lies ahead.

NYC is one of the most unique cities in the world. No where else will you find two cities within a city: one filled with extensive wealth and the other struck by immense poverty and inequitable opportunities. The tale of these two cities is especially transparent in regards to the public educational segregation that has plagued this city for decades.

Through our very own classes at the NYC iSchool (specifically, Public Housing and Segregation), it has extensively informed the Assistant Principal, Michelle Leimsider, that the lack of diversity that exists in schools, despite diversity in NYC as a whole, can be pointed back to almost a century ago:

“The segregated neighborhoods in NYC were very thoughtfully done and it happened in the 1930s in order to create neighborhoods where poor, especially black people, would live.” It can be inferred that this segregation wasn’t a coincidence: it was intentional. As this segregation becomes more transparent, the inequitable education the children of NYC receive mirror the social constructs and societal issues that have taken root.

Frankly put, Ms. Leimsider sums up this dilemma in one sentence: “I think that problems that exist in our public education are problems that exist in our society as a whole and were just a part of that in a really sad way.”

She is right. According to a study conducted by Educational Molloy College Professor Allison Roda (and published on FOX News) “NYC has the third most segregated school system in the country.” This can all be depicted through the idiosyncratic layout of NYC.

NYC is split up into 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. In each borough, there are obvious discrepancies of families with income, of different ethnicities, and most importantly the quality of schools. Samantha Lucien, a junior at the iSchool, reflects on her own educational experiences of growing up in the low-income Albany housing projects in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

I went to my zone school [Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School], but I did not go to my zone high school [Boys and Girls] because the schools in my neighborhood do not meet my standards as the education and community are sub-par: The school is under-performing, underfunded, and has a history of student-led violence”

Another student at the iSchool, junior Aaliyah Peralta, faced similar circumstances as she grew up in the mostly black and Latino low-income area of the Bronx:

“I didn’t go to my zone middle school or high school because my mother lied about where we lived and I had the opportunity to go to any school in Manhattan.”

The fact that her mother had to lie in order for Aaliyah to receive somewhat of a decent education depicts the struggle that thousands of kids face: low ranked schools with minorities who lack English proficiency and are susceptible to drop out because the needed support systems to overcome such obstacles are scarce.

When asked if they believed whether the NYC iSchool and other schools in NYC are diverse, Aaliyah blatantly stated:  “The schools in NYC are definitely segregated. There are more experienced teachers, resources, and educational programs in predominantly white and privileged schools.”

The educational segregation that exists in NYC has detrimental effects as Samantha has observed: “many minorities end up attending under-performing, underfunded, and generally underwhelming schools. As such they do not feel good enough to make it in college, much less apply.”

While witnessing the disparity among college graduates that derives from such differences in educational endeavors, former President Obama released the 2014 educational outreach plan “Increasing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students.” This report underscored how low-income and minority students often lack “the guidance and support they need to prepare for college, apply to the best-fit schools, apply for financial aid, enroll and persist in their studies, and ultimately graduate. “

The gaps that exist involving income, education, and overall resources are what separates the college graduate from the high school dropout because when a student is given resources and support, they succeed. Just as if one leaves a wilted or freshly planted flower in the dark, it will never bloom.

Both Lucien and Peralta passionately disagreed with the notion that NYC is doing everything they can to increase diversity in schools and college readiness for underrepresented groups. Data from a 2017 NYC graduation rate study (“Projection of Highschool Graduates”) conducted by the DOE headquarters in Albany, NY, reflect their own beliefs as Black and Hispanic high school graduation rates remain in the 68-70 percentile while White and Asian students’ rates have increased to 83 and 87 percent.

What are we not doing? In the day and age of Pell Grants, scholarships, and unprecedented rates of minorities and low-income attending college, why do only 1 in 10 students from low-income backgrounds earn a Bachelor’s degree by their 25th birthday? It is 6 times higher for white students. How can we increase diversity in schools? How can we open the gates that will allow education to be tangible for all? In a country like America, that was built on the foundation of achieving the “American dream” in the “land of opportunity,” there shouldn’t be a reason why as many students aren’t receiving  higher education.

Three years ago, with the arrival of the class of 2020, Ms. Leimsider noticed a stark difference in the school population: “we went from 40% Latino to 40% white in the matter of one year and then the White population has moved from 40% to 45% to 49%. Which is still sadly considered ‘diverse.’” The fact that there isn’t diversity everywhere “genuinely makes her sad” because it’s not only about the missed opportunities others receive: the importance stems far greater. Diversity in one’s environment fosters diversity in thought, leading to a holistic understanding of the world we live in. In this day and age, it is vital to gain multiple perspectives from those who live completely different lives as it balances out the population of the ignorant and uninformed.

To combat this issue, Ms. Colon [the school guidance counselor] and Ms. Leimsider have worked endlessly to reach out towards schools with highly dense low-income/minority schools. Last year, the school also applied to a NYC pilot program called the Diversity in Public Schools Initiative (DPSI).  Upon being accepted, it will mean that the incoming class of 2023 will have 60% of the students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.

Still, this is not enough. While other schools attempt to increase the number of students who apply and attend college, the iSchool executes this mission in a really unique way: “Between student Advisory, Ms. Beck [the iSchool college guidance director], her interns, financial aid nights, essay workshops, smaller junior workshops, first-generation college workshops, and bringing in college application experts.” the staff at the iSchool tries really hard to provide support for each individual student.

This attempt seems to be helping as the iSchool maintains a 100% college acceptance rate among all students in consecutive years since its opening in 2008. Yet, not all schools have the benefits of having such funds or being in a smaller setting. It prompts the question of what can the government and educators do to increase the number of college applicants despite the segregation issue in NYC.

In the same report released in 2014, Obama pinpointed four major needs in order to grant access to underrepresented groups: “Connecting more low-income students to colleges where they can succeed and encouraging completion once they arrive on campus, increasing the pool of students preparing for college, reducing inequalities in college advising and test preparation, and seeking breakthroughs in remedial education”

As there is no clear cut-and-paste solution to this problem, Ms. Leimsider believes that communication can go so far to accomplish all these goals as it leads to a trusted dynamic for a student to feel comfortable enough to express their interests, worries, or inability to decide what they want to do: “I think it’s all about conversations. I think it’s about , and while this is  luxury that we have at the iSchool because it’s such a small school, knowing your kids and sort of knowing what makes sense for who.”

From a student perspective, it has also been recommended that the government should increase outreach programs like the Diversity in Public Schools Initiative to diffuse a mixture of minority and low income students to schools across NYC. Even more radically, both Lucien and Peralta expressed that they should even consider “taking away zoned schools” so that access is not so restricted for others and so schools in NYC actually represents the heterogeneous individuals that this city is notorious for.

Whether it’s hiring more guidance counselors, holding school workshops, or applying to more outreach programs like DPSI, schools and governments in the US must do something to support the students that have the potential to learn, but are immersed in the issues that White, privileged, and/or affluent individuals will simply never understand.