I usually take delight in my fifth graders’ boundless curiosity and questions, but in the three weeks since Mayor de Blasio decided their futures don’t matter, I’ve struggled with how to respond to:
“Mrs. Sanchez, will we have a school next year?”
“Are we going to have to stay remote next year?”
“Am I going to see you again?”
As a teacher, my instinct is to comfort them, but this time I don’t have answers.
Like students across New York City, these kids have weathered so much this year. They’ve sheltered in for more than a year, staying safe from COVID-19 and making the best of their situation. They miss being in school, seeing each other in person, sharing all the ordinary moments we all took for granted until the pandemic hit. But unlike other city kids, they won’t have a school to return to next year. This time it has nothing to with COVID-19, or CDC guidelines — its because Mayor de Blasio has failed to provide our 250 public charter students with a permanent school building — effectively evicting them from their temporary colocation at IS 238 in Queens.
Despite the existence of four buildings in the area, each with more than 500 open seats, the Mayor has yet to find them a permanent educational home. Speaking to my students about the situation has been gut-wrenching. As middle schoolers, they’re very perceptive; they pick up on what’s being said in the news and in their homes, and ask lots of questions.
Seeing how resilient my students have been in response to a full year of art class through a screen has been nothing short of inspiring. They have remained eager to learn despite the obvious limitations of being without access to our classroom, its art supplies, and the student-teacher connections that can only be made in person. But, “In crisis, artists still find a way to create!” I tell them. They’ve turned kitchen spices into paints, made their own clay, and used household items as different mediums. They continue to show up to class proudly displaying different materials like paper towel rolls, newspapers, magazines, and hair dryers and bring their vision to life.
For more than four years, Success Academy Queens parents and students have been battling Mayor de Blasio for a permanent middle school home for their children. They’ve rallied on the steps of city hall and in the fields of Roy Wilkins Park, they’ve made thousands of calls and sent thousands of emails to elected officials, and even in the face of a pandemic, the Mayor still hasn’t made good on his promise to give them a school. Mr. Mayor, it’s time.