- Contested Terrain
- Neighborhood Center
- Future of Roosevelt Ave.
Why Study Education?
One component of this neighborhood study is broadly examining the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Corona and its’ people. But, you may ask, why study education? Why is education integral to understanding a neighborhood?
There are many answers to that question. One key answer is that educational institutions provide a basic platform for a community’s members to be involved as stakeholders in communal institutions, local schools. All family members and parents are stakeholders in a child’s education. In other words, the dynamics of a community’s involvement in their local educational institutions shed light on the community’s dynamics at the most basic organizational level. In many cases, especially in the areas of Corona and Jackson Heights which are densely populated by citizens, resident’s involvement in their local PTA or education board may be their first experience of communal participation and advocacy in America.
It is also essential to keep in mind that the demographics of a neighborhood’s schools reflects the demographics of that neighborhood. If the utilization rate of a school rises (meaning the percentage of the school’s capacity that is being filled) then this reflects both a rise in the neighborhood’s population as well as a specific rise in the number of school age residents. So, by studying the demographics and dynamics of a Public School Districts, we are studying those of the neighborhoods contained by that district.
In addition, studying the issues a neighborhood’s schools face is an essential first step in formulating policies to resolve those issues. Education is essential to our future generation’s success as both citizens and individuals. The effectiveness of schools, by extension, is essential to promoting the growth and vitality of local neighborhoods.
I.Context of Schools in Corona and Jackson Heights:
Queens is divided into 7 Public School Districts, numbers 24 through 30. The neighborhoods of Corona and Jackson Heights are encompassed by District #24 which is based in Corona. District #24 contains 42 schools, second only to District #27 which is based in Ozone Park.
According to New York Times Projects, District #24 contains 49,525 students who are largely, 61% and 19% respectively, Hispanic and Asian. 66% of students are categorized as “Poor”.
The District as a whole has received a fair amount of media attention regarding one main issue: overcrowding, which will be covered in the second section. Another issue, which will be covered in the third section in evaluating education in Corona and Jackson Heights is that of access to official documentation about local public schools to immigrant parents, specifically those without native English speaking proficiency.
And finally, the fourth section contains a profile of several locally based advocacy groups that deal with educational issues and in the Corona and Jackson Heights Areas.
II. Overcrowding in Corona and Jackson Heights Public Schools
Overcrowding , is by far the most prevalent, pressing, and media covered issue facing District #24 and in particular, the schools of Corona and Jackson Heights. Many media outlets including the New York Times, New York Daily News, Queens Courier, and CBS News.
According to Robert Gebeloff of the New York Times, since 2006, due to an influx of immigrant families into Corona, overcrowding in District #24 has spiked up 12%. In response to a spike in the school age population, the city added new seats to the school district without adding any new schools our buildings, further exacerbating the issue. Gebeloff traces the issue of overcrowding in Corona back to the 70s during which over one-hundred schools were dissolved in response to plummeting enrollment, caused by a severe financial crisis. Since then however, despite a sharp rebound in the school age population, no major measures have been take to alleviate the overcrowding. According to the QCUA, “21 out of 34 middle sand elementary schools in School District 24 are overcrowded” and “10 out of 14 schools in Corona/Elmhurst are severely overcrowded”.
Parents, immigrant parents in particular, have been active and essential in drawing the media’s attention towards their plight. They have orchestrated protests holding at more than 100 people. They have actively courted and given interviews to media outlets detailing what they problems are and how they think they should be fixed.
What exactly are the negative effects of overcrowding? First and most pressing is safety. Having so many children, young and old, in a building is simply not safe. Parents have cited concerns that if an emergency were to happen schools would not be able to properly handle it. A second issue is hygiene. A common complaint of parents is that bathroom facilities are so limited relative to the size of schools that children have simply come to expect to not use them at all. Another just as commonly cited complaint is that students are forced to eat lunch in shifts meaning that some students are forced to eat lunch, yes lunch, not breakfast, at 9:30 in the morning. Overcrowding has also led schools to drastically cut or to eliminate all together arts, athletic, and gifted programs because those spaces are required for already bursting regular classes. Another dire consequence of overcrowding is large class sizes. The average class in Corona and Jackson Heights has been cited as large as 27 students per class. Students in classes this large can simply not receive the individual attention they need to succeed.
The widespread media attention to this issue has already pushed the city to promise to add around 4,500 new seats for District #24, in new buildings. Local council members, such as Daniel Dromm (Jackson Heights) have also dedicated themselves to the issue, pledging to advocate for more educational resources. While these measures are definitely improvements, more immediate action must be taken. It is all fine and well to say that overcrowding will be fixed alter but there are students who need properly functioning school now and not later.
III. Immigrants and Access to Education Advocacy
As has been said before, immigrants have been key in advocating for improved school environments in Corona and Jackson Heights. One key factor sustaining this activism is the willingness of New York City’s Department of Education to insure that key documents pertaining to a school’s academic record and budget are available to the public in multiple languages. For example, individual school progress reports are available online in 9 languages including Arabic, Russian, and Spanish. This insures that non-English speaking parents can comfortably read about and understand what is going on with their child’s education.
While educational institutions have ensured greater access to non-English proficient parents, they have been less successful with students who have limited English proficiency. To understand this issue, let’s take the example of a typical District #24 school: P.S. 019, located on Roosevelt Avenue. In 2010 to 2011 60% of students were categorized as being Limited English Proficient. P.S. 019, like the rest of District #24 had Limited English Proficient students labeled as unsatisfactory in English Language Arts and Math at the High School level. This is clearly an issue because it means that P.S. 019, and schools like it (and there are many of them) are not properly educated a majority of their students. Schools must create and implement policies that are aimed at helping immigrant children with English language difficulties.
III. Non-Profits Advocating for Educational Reforms
In addition to parents and media sources, non-profits based in and around the Corona and Jackson Heights areas have been essential in addressing overcrowding and other educational issues. Two of the most important of these organizations are Make the Road New York and Queens Congregations United for Action.
Local Office: Jackson Heights
What they do: While Make the Road New York works in a number of areas including civil rights, health, housing, and workplace justice, they also focus on improving public education. There are two components to their advocacy work: “Promoting Full Participation by Immigrant Parents”, which includes advocating for better translation and interpreting services, and “Advocating for Better Schools and an Expanding Parents’ Role in Their Child’s Education”. This second component is subdivided into advocating for measures that: “redesign the school data and add more time for learning”, “turn the lowest performing middle grade schools into professional learning schools that attract and keep the strongest teachers and principals”, and “provide the academic, social, and emotional supports necessary for students to be successful”. Make the Road New York has successfully directed media attention to this area and has clearly made a list of possible solutions in a number of the organization’s publications .
Queens Congregations United
Local Office: Corona
What they do: QCUA, which is a member of the PICO National Network is “an interfaith, multicultural federation of 8 congregations representing over 11,400 families in northern Queens.” QCUA is committed to train the members of their congregations to form grassroots movements that advocate for public policy change in the following two areas: Economic Opportunities for All and School Overcrowding. QCUA not only provides critical information about the extent of the overcrowding crisis but also trains parents to advocate for education reform.