The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has just released some startling numbers: five students are arrested on average each day in NYC public schools. In the three month period covered (October through December 2011), 93 percent of those arrested were black or Latino and 75 percent were male. While these numbers by themselves are disturbing, they mask the full extent of the challenge that we as a city face.
We all know children are complex, and they don't leave these complexities behind at the school door. This is true for all children, including those from impoverished backgrounds. For example, a child who is chronically absent because of untreated asthma will have great difficulty succeeding even in a world-class school. A young woman who has been in six foster homes in the last five years and is a mom herself may have trouble connecting with classmates or teachers. A teenage boy who does not have enough to eat may be unable to pay attention or become irritable during the school day.
Young men from at-risk neighborhoods have the odds stacked against them. The only way to ensure they get through school and stay out of trouble is through a truly holistic approach to education. We need to focus on a school's and a neighborhood's culture and climate, in addition to what's happening in the classroom. We can't throw our hands up because children face challenges. We must work to remove the barriers that stand in the way of their education.
NYC schools need better strategies to help deal with these challenges. We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. Criminalizing kids won't make schools better schools; it will only increase the populations of our jails and ensure fewer children of color are on the path to success. We need to connect youth to reliable and quality health care. We need to engage families and make schools welcoming places to visit. We need to integrate mental health services in schools so children living stressful lives have the support they need. We need to create safe engaging after-school and summer programs. Often, these strategies are best materialized through long-term partnerships with community organizations that serve these populations every day.
This fall, the Children's Aid Society will be opening its first community charter school in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx. We believe the model at Children's Aid College Prep, based on 20 years of experience working with schools in NYC and across the country, will help combat the issues that lead to students making bad choices. This school will be a full-service community school, which means that it takes a holistic approach and provides medical, mental health and dental services; expanded learning opportunities, such as after-school and summer programs; and family engagement activities. Its mission is to prepare elementary school students for success in middle school, high school, college and life by providing them with a rigorous instructional experience; addressing their physical, emotional and social needs; fostering a sense of pride and hope; and serving as a safe and engaging community hub. And, to put it bluntly, make sure that when they become teenagers, they won't get arrested at school or anywhere else.
Unfortunately, Children's Aid College Prep will not be able to accommodate all New York City children. However, all schools in NYC should be community schools -- they need the highest quality teaching and supports and opportunities for children and youth that will intervene long before any arrest happens. Children's Aid is eager to work with the City to make every school a community school and to reach our most at-risk kids at school and beyond.
Arrests don't occur in a vacuum, they are a reflection of rising violence throughout our city and the fact that young people feel under siege. We need to engage parents, families and communities so that our children feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods. As violence decreases, children will grow up to be successful members of the same communities that fostered them, perpetuating a positive cycle not only of decreased violence, but of engaged parents and safe, nurturing communities for our children.