Involving the entire Harlem community is the only way to advance the education system, residents said at a forum Monday night.
About a dozen or so public school parents, nonprofit organization leaders, and community board members gathered to discuss the state of education in Harlem and make recommendations about how to improve the local school system to policy makers.
Audience members focused on need for local youth development and after-school programs, and encouraged local businesses and parents to make a renewed commitment to reinforcing information about education in the neighborhood.
“We want to use this forum and this series of education forums in Harlem to bring us back to … the essential elements of teaching and learning, drawing on your experience … to move forward a progressive, forward-thinking public education agenda,” said Joe Rogers, one of the organizers of the event and a Teachers College graduate.
Jonathan Escoffery, a West Harlem resident and founder of the youth development organization Building Young Minds, said that in his experience connecting youths in his neighborhood with after-school activities, he found that young people simply didn’t know “how easy it was to participate … how to get access,” even though he said they were very interested in pursuing new activities.
Participants suggested using social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to increase the visibility of available education programs. Making every community member feel “a vested interest in developing education” so that they would be more likely to contribute to education improvement efforts is a larger goal for these forums, Rogers said.
But audience members were frustrated when it came to difficulties in language barriers in schools, local poverty, and apathy towards education. Miriam Aristy-Farer, a member of the local Community Board 9 and co-president of the parent-teacher association at PS 153, said she had invited all of the 1,000-plus parents at her school to the forum, but only three besides herself showed up. “Everyone in public education is held accountable to someone except parents,” she said. “Only parents get off scot-free.”
As the meeting wound down, attendees tried to form plans to work more extensively with the community board, and formed smaller committees to spearhead local initiatives. Some suggested organizing an information fair that would showcase the different community groups involved in educational work. Audience members leaving the meetings seemed optimistic about ideas that came out of the forum, despite the fact that turnout was lower than expected. Rogers said that may have been because it was publicized at the last minute, and locals might also be experiencing fatigue over the recent “the acrimonious debates over charter schools.”
Althea Jack, another TC graduate, one of the organizers of the event and a representative from local civic engagement group Organizing for Harlem, was encouraged by attendees’ level of contribution. She felt participants left the forum feeling they could “go now with knowledge to do something.”
“It’s like the beginning of a movement,” she said.