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September 2012 Archives

"History is not everything" John Henrik Clarke once wrote, "but it is the starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be."
As educators we know what must happen to change history. And one by one we try in our classrooms. However, the failure of local and state governments to provide funding to economically poor citizens will compromise our efforts and the future of this great nation. "Recently, more economists are drawing the conclusions that a good education is one of the gateways to wealth creation for individuals as well as for nations," writes Education Trust. Yet, benign neglect seems to be the mantra of many in political office who turn their backs on the ones who need quality education the most.
If the Governor balances the budgets on the backs of our needy students, freezing funding to inner city schools, our New York State and New York City Legislators cannot do enough to ensure that adequate funding to NYC Public Schools becomes a day to day reality in our public schools. And as educators, we know that the resources needed to implement new programs designed by the city are already inadequate. Thus, we should not be surprised to learn that "New York also stands out for neglecting to fairly fund poor and minority school districts. In 2005 we learned that New York was spending $2,280 less per student in its poorest districts than it was spending on students educated in its wealthiest school districts. Even after New York was ordered to deal with these funding gaps, policy makers have failed to take action." (Education Trust Report 2005)
Educators are aware that economic poverty does not have to mean intellectual poverty. There are gifted and talented students among the economically poor and minority students. Therefore, many resourceful educators continue to teach without adequate funding. They use their own personal resources to compensate this deficit in spending. And these truly dedicated educators have seen miracles happen daily for years as their students' dreams are realized. Fortunately, this is not a new phenomenon throughout the nation. Good teachers have always made a difference in the lives of their students. Case in point:
Directly after the Emancipation Proclamation "the exceptionally gifted rose above the staggering obstacle of quasi-freedom," said Martin Luther King at the UFT Spring Conference in 1964. "It is precisely because education is a road to equality and citizenship that it has been made more elusive for Negroes than many other rights. The warding off of Negroes from equal education is part of the historical design to submerge him in second-class status." And today we can see this happening as the rich-poor gap is allowed to widen in NYC, New Orleans, Alabama, Mississippi, and even Washington, D.C., the nation's capital.
King reminded UFTers in 1964 that: "education for all Americans, white and black, has always been inadequate. The richest nation on earth has never allocated enough of its abundant resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige their work justifies." Therefore, when we read the report "Rich-Poor Gap Widens not only for individuals but for schools in general," we cannot be surprised.
Yes, history is a clock. It tells us where we are, but more importantly, what we must be. If we are a union of professionals, we must continue to fight for equity for all. We must press on to City Hall, Albany and Washington, D.C. in a quest to secure public schools that reflect a democratic nation. Because the children are waiting. They are waiting for a chance to be the best that they can be, and a good education combined with an ethic of hard work are the keys to their quest.
The closing of the Hoe Avenue Tennis Center in 1994 placed the South Bronx community at a disadvantage. This once bustling hub of hope offered kids a chance to "Get into the Game." From 1994 to 2009, the courts were closed and littered with debris.
As a teacher in this community, I witnessed the value of tennis for the students of P.S. 75X.  In former years the students participated in rallies and tournaments. They received prizes and awards as well as a sense of pride in knowing they could compete and win. The Hoe Avenue Tennis Center served as an inspiration for me to bring free tennis to minority children in White Plains, NY in 1994 through the present. And with the support of the Eastern United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the White Plains Parks and Recreation Department, this dream was realized.
In 1998, we were pleased to learn that Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. was able to secure funding for the New York Junior Tennis League (NYJTL) to repair the Hoe Avenue Tennis Courts. These courts served as a beacon of hope for youngsters in a troubled and economically depressed neighborhood. However, we later learned that Governor George Pataki's line-item veto power eliminated these funds.
As an educator and taxpayer, I wrote to Governor Pataki and asked him to kindly restore these funds. The students of P.S. 75X were urgently in need of a recreational facility which was adequately maintained. The cracks and potholes on the courts jeopardized the safety and well-being of our students.
In addition to the aforementioned, there were other concerns: the vetoed budget measures eroded Teacher Support Aid, construction aid, new teacher mentoring, and teacher centers. For the safety of our students, I urged Governor Pataki to work with the legislature (before the session ended) to fully fund these important initiatives. For years, nothing seemed to happen.
Immediately after the tennis courts were closed, Larry Hartfield, United States Professional Tennis Registry pro, visited P.S. 75X and stressed the need for the kids to stay in school. He recounted the benefits of the game of tennis as well as the benefits of physical and academic fitness. Unfortunately, there are no operating Junior Tennis League programs in the school community which will ensure minority participation.  This places our students at a disadvantage. First, our students will lose out on a source of recreation their peers receive nationwide. Second, they will lose out on thousands of dollars in scholarships and prizes. Finally, they will not be able to compete on any level of the game. 
The NYC Board of Education mandates approximately 220 minutes of physical education per week for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. It has to be built into the school program. Certainly, this would forestall some of the childhood obesity ills of the 21st century. Children need a more rigorous academic program as well as a rigorous physical education program. Our students need to see the outdoors and play in the free fresh air as much as possible.
Today, after years of waiting for funding, there are playgrounds on this site. However, the Hoe Avenue Center is still sorely missed. In the 1992 Pyramid of NYJTL Programs, Hoe Ave Tennis Center and Mullaly Park served 1,700 children (a part of the new Yankee Stadium was built on the Mullaly site). The NYJTL provided a total of $903,720 in scholarships borough-wide.
Working in the South Bronx affords one with many opportunities to affect change with kids in tow. This is one of many projects that children were involved in with civic leaders. Writing letters to legislators is one facet of the endless equation for change. Hence, whether one wants to change the school landscape or school environment, it is necessary to write to the mayor of the city of New York as well as the representatives in Albany. We wrote to Ruben Diaz Jr. from 1997-2009. He responds on many levels.
I have found that the power of the pen and perseverance always outweighs the act of doing nothing. Because doing nothing is doing something that hurts communities and kids.
The bell now tolls for all concerned individuals to assist the community in an effort to provide safe recreation havens for our youth in the South Bronx today...because the children are waiting.
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