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As public school enrollment plummets citywide, hard-hit West Harlem schools work to support students

In the 2020-21 academic year, New York City’s

average decrease in public school enrollment compared

to the 2019-20 academic year was approximately 4 percent.

For every 50 students that were enrolled in the 2019-20 academic year,

two students were not enrolled for the 2020-21 school year.

However, West Harlem’s district saw unenrollment rates

over twice as high as New York City’s average.

For every 50 students in that were enrolled during the 2019-20 academic year in Manhattan’s District 5,

five students were not enrolled for the 2020-21 school year.

But the West Harlem average does not tell the full story.

 

For smaller elementary schools with high numbers of

students in poverty, such as P.S. 154 Harriet Tubman,

approximately 22 percent of students did not

re-enroll for the 2020-21 academic year.

In the 2020-21 academic year, New York City’s

average decrease in public school enrollment compared to

the 2019-20 academic year was approximately 4 percent.

For every 50 students that were enrolled in the

2019-20 academic year,

two students were not enrolled for the 2020-21 school year.

However, West Harlem’s district saw unenrollment rates

over twice as high as New York City’s average.

For every 50 students in that were enrolled during

the 2019-20 academic year in Manhattan’s District 5,

five students were not enrolled for the 2020-21 school year.

But the West Harlem average does not tell the full story.

 

For smaller elementary schools with high numbers of

students in poverty, such as P.S. 154 Harriet Tubman,

approximately 22 percent of students did not

re-enroll for the 2020-21 academic year.

In the 2020-21 academic year,

New York City’s average decrease

in public school enrollment

compared to the 2019-20

academic year was approximately

4 percent.

For every 50 students that

were enrolled in the 2019-20

academic year,

two students were not enrolled

for the 2020-21 school year.

However, West Harlem’s district

saw unenrollment rates

over twice as high as New

York City’s average.

For every 50 students in that

were enrolled during the 2019-20

academic year in Manhattan’s

District 5,

five students were not enrolled

for the 2020-21 school year.

But the West Harlem average

does not tell the full story.

 

For smaller elementary schools

with high numbers of

students in poverty, such as

P.S. 154 Harriet Tubman,

approximately 22 percent

of students did not enroll

re-enroll for the 2020-21

academic year.

As public school enrollment plummets citywide, hard-hit West Harlem schools work to support students

March 12, 2021

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, schools across the nation were forced to reconfigure established modes of education. The choices of New York City’s public schools—the largest school district in the nation—reverberate throughout the lives of over one million students; the effects of these decisions most severely impact traditionally disadvantaged communities.

Enrollment in West Harlem schools has decreased by 9 percent for the 2020-21 school year compared to a citywide average of 4 percent, begging the question of how challenges posed by pandemic-era learning may disproportionately impact students in certain communities over others. In addition, 2,260 public school students across the city have gone unaccounted for despite being enrolled, meaning that they have been missing in attendance from online school for the entire school year.

The educational and pandemic-related inequities in West Harlem schools persist, even among institutions that have not lost students. David Fanning, principal of District 6’s A. Philip Randolph Campus High School, has seen the ways in which online schooling has disproportionately harmed students with greater economic need. According to Fanning, online learning works best for those who thrive in traditional academic environments and or students whose families have the resources to consistently support and monitor them.

“If you’re from a family where people are dealing with a lot of stuff,” he continued, “school is a safe place. For a lot of kids, it’s a place where they don’t have a lot of other responsibilities. They can be a teenager. Those kids are really missing out because they don’t have a safe place to go.”

Though Philip Randolph has actually gained students this year—the school’s enrollment increased by 4.93 percent and it currently has 1,512 students total—the unequal effects of COVID-19 are evident.

Fanning is particularly attuned to the challenges faced by students in temporary housing—many of whom would spend up to 12 hours in school per day prior to the pandemic, arriving at the building when the doors opened and leaving well into the evening.

“My heart bleeds for them daily,” he said. “I cannot imagine how horrible this would be when the only way you got out of the shelter system in a meaningful way was to be in school.”

Due to its size, Philip Randolph has a robust support staff with two faculty members who solely work with the students who are in temporary housing, but many schools do not have access to the same resources. Academic support programs have long served those who require additional attention, enmeshing otherwise inaccessible support into students’ scholastic lives. Support programs, however, are not impervious to the difficulties faced by the students as a result of the pandemic, as they, like schools, have had to adapt their enrollments and services to suit the new educational infrastructure.

One such program is Reading Partners, a one-on-one tutoring service that uses a scripted curriculum to support students whose reading level sits between six months to two and a half years behind their grade level. Typically, Reading Partners operates within 22 schools throughout the city, filling designated classrooms with tutors all day. This year, however, the program has moved entirely online and has decreased its operation to 15 schools.

Reading Partners typically hosted 10 tutoring sessions every 45 minutes, but now only hosts between four and six sessions per hour, as monitoring sessions on Zoom is more energy-consuming than doing so in person. Principals and additional academic support programs refer students to Reading Partners based on a number of factors, including technological access and academic need.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Allison Hoyle, the program director for Reading Partners New York, has not seen an enormous increase in academic need this year, but emphasized that need is great even in non-pandemic years.

“I think that the [back]slide is there. Last summer’s slide is there. Every year we see students behind, so I didn’t see a huge increase in need,” Hoyle said. “I think that principals have expressed that certain grade levels [are struggling]. They can pinpoint classes … but honestly, the need is really great every year.”

Graham Windham, a nonprofit that assists children and families, has also stepped in to alleviate the disproportionate challenges that West Harlem students are facing. Based in the Manhattanville Community Center, Graham Windham’s West Harlem after-school program has partnered with the Department of Education through the DOE’s new Learning Bridges program.

The programs host 30 students every day, ranging from elementary schoolers to eighth graders, and provide them with computers, WiFi, headphones, technical and academic assistance, and a safe and comfortable place to attend online school. Graham Windham staff and high school interns keep track of each student’s schedule, help them with assignments, and ensure that they have comprehensive support.

The structure that Graham Windham offers students also ensures that they are able to engage in online learning. Whatley noted that students of all ages are working hard to adapt despite their circumstances. However, many students in West Harlem struggled even before the onset of COVID-19, and those conditions have only been exacerbated by the switch to online learning.

Bibiana Thomas and Morris Whatley, the director and assistant director of Graham Windham’s Manhattanville Cornerstone Community Center respectively, believe that without their program, most of the students they service would likely have difficulty consistently logging into school.

“If something goes wrong with one device here, we have staff who can troubleshoot or who can technically address the issues right away. … And we are a little more familiar with the content of the curriculum scope than the parents,” Thomas explained.

The challenges of online schooling have not only disproportionately impacted specific students, but also specific schools who do not have infrastructural support programs like Reading Partners and Graham Windham to lean on. Fanning highlighted the benefits of having a large student body right now. Having over 1,500 students enabled the school to invest in the necessary resources like Chromebooks.

The question of buying Chromebooks is symptomatic of a larger issue, one which relates to what Fanning calls “economies of scale.” Economies of scale refers to the ways in which total costs relate to a school’s size—for example, if a school has more students, the cost of hiring an extra faculty member goes down as the salary is spread out across more people.

“I know that [COVID-19] hit the smaller schools a lot worse than it hit the larger schools because we have more economies of scale,” he said. “On this economy of scale issue, if I lose 20 kids, the world doesn’t come crashing to an end. There are some high schools out there that have 200 students. If you lose 10 percent of your student body, that’s not an absorbable loss.”

The Fair Student Funding program funds schools every year in five ways

Funding to specific

schools with specialized

programs, support for

academic-based needs

Base of $225,000 goes

to all schools

Two types of

funds allocations

are directly impacted

by changes in

enrollment

Staff collective bargaining

Need-based allocation

funds schools based on

the number of students

at poverty level

Grade-based allocation is dependent

on number of students

enrolled to each grade-level

$496

per student

Grades K to 5

Grades 6 to 8

Grades 9 to 12

$4,137

per student

$4,469

per student

$4,261

per student

Source: Fair Student Funding & School Budget Resource Guide

The Fair Student Funding program funds

schools every year in five ways

Staff collective

bargaining

Funding to specific

schools with specialized

programs, support for

academic-based needs

Base of

$225,000 goes

to all schools

Two types of

funds allocations

are directly impacted

by changes in

enrollment

Need-based allocation

funds schools based on

the number of students

at poverty level

Grade-based allocation is dependent

on number of students

enrolled to each grade-level

$496

per student

Grades K to 5

Grades 6 to 8

Grades 9 to 12

$4,137

per student

$4,469

per student

$4,261

per student

Source: Fair Student Funding & School Budget Resource Guide

The Fair Student Funding

program funds schools every

year in five ways

Staff collective

bargaining

Base of

$225,000 goes

to all schools

Funding to

specific schools

with specialized

programs,

support for

academic-based

needs

Two types of

funds allocations

are directly

impacted

by changes in

enrollment

Grade-based allocation

is dependent on the

number of students

enrolled in each

grade-level

Need-based allocation

funds schools based on

the number of students

at poverty level

$496

per student

K to 5

6 to 8

9 to 12

$4,469

per student

$4,261

per student

$4,137

per student

Source: Fair Student Funding & School Budget

Resource Guide

Though Reading Partners has not experienced a drop in the number of eligible students, Hoyle has witnessed a higher level of hesitation among principals about paying for the program, suggesting that the question of economies of scale is affecting schools’ abilities to fund supplemental programs. In terms of staffing, curriculum, and volunteer recruitment, Reading Partners costs about $100,000 annually. The organization asks schools to pay between 15 percent to 25 percent of the fee to demonstrate commitment to the program and then independently fundraises the rest.

Hoyle said that this year the fee has “been a concern [for] school principals. If they don’t hit their enrollment numbers, their budget is going to shrink and they don’t know how they’re going to pay for the full fee. I think that principals this year were very hesitant to agree to a fee until they had a better idea of enrollment. And that typically happens, but this year it was more pronounced for sure.”

Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years, Harlem Renaissance High School saw a decrease in enrollment

by 37 students while A. Philip Randolph Campus High School saw an increase in enrollment by 71 students.

 

Based on the differences in school demographics, these changes in enrollment mean that:

$0

Estimated change in funding

Harlem Renaissance High School will lose

approximately $157,657 in allocated funding based on grade

enrollment in the 2020-21 school year...

+$302,531

-$157,657

...while A. Philip Randolph Campus High School

will gain approximately $302,531 in allocated

funding based on grade enrollment for the new

school year.

Harlem Renaissance High School will lose

approximately $15,764 in allocated funding based on the number of

enrolled students in poverty in the 2020-21 school year...

+$30,461

...while A. Philip Randolph Campus High School

will gain approximately $30,461 in allocated

funding based on the number of enrolled students

in poverty for the new school year.

-$15,764

Since Harlem Renaissance High School already had only 11 percent of the population of A. Philip Randolph Campus High

School during the 2019-20 school year, these changes in student enrollment mean that Harlem Renaissance High School

loses 21.5 percent of its 2019-20 allocation from the Fair Student Funding Program, the major source of funding for

schools in New York City.

 

A. Philip Randolph Campus High School’s funding would increase by approximately 4.7 percent in 2020-21

by the same calculation.

4.7 percent increase in funding

from 2019-20 to 2020-21

21.5 percent of

2019-20 funding

lost in 2020-21

2019-2020 funding

from grade enrollment

and number of students

in poverty for A. Philip

Randolph Campus High

School: $7,091,340

2019-2020 funding

from grade enrollment

and number of students

in poverty for Harlem

Renaissance High

School: $806,175

=$35,456

Sources: New York State Education Department, Fair Student Funding & School Budget Resource Guide

Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years,

Harlem Renaissance High School saw a decrease in

enrollment by 37 students while A. Philip Randolph

Campus High School saw an increase in enrollment by

71 students.

 

Based on the differences in school demographics,

these changes in enrollment mean that:

Estimated change in funding

Harlem Renaissance High School will lose

approximately $157,657 in allocated funding

based on grade enrollment in the

2020-21 school year...

+$302,531

-$157,657

...while A. Philip Randolph Campus High School

will gain approximately $302,531 in allocated

funding based on grade enrollment for the new

school year.

Harlem Renaissance High School will lose

approximately $15,764 in allocated funding

based on the number of enrolled students in

poverty in the 2020-21 school year...

+$30,461

-$15,764

...while A. Philip Randolph Campus High School

will gain approximately $30,461 in allocated

funding based on the number of enrolled students

in poverty for the new school year.

Since Harlem Renaissance High School already had only

11 percent of the population of A. Philip Randolph Campus

High School during the 2019-20 school year, these changes

in student enrollment mean that Harlem Renaissance High

School loses 21.5 percent of its 2019-20 allocation from the

Fair Student Funding Program, the major source of funding for

schools in New York City.

 

A. Philip Randolph Campus High School’s funding would

increase by approximately 4.7 percent in 2020-21

by the same calculation.

21.5 percent of

2019-20 funding

lost in 2020-21

4.7 percent increase in funding

from 2019-20 to 2020-21

2019-2020 funding

from grade enrollment

and number of students

in poverty for A. Philip

Randolph Campus High

School: $7,091,340

=$35,456

2019-2020 funding

from grade enrollment

and number of students

in poverty for Harlem

Renaissance High

School: $806,175

Sources: New York State Education Department,

Fair Student Funding & School Budget Resource Guide

Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21

academic years, Harlem Renaissance

High School saw a decrease in

enrollment by 37 students while A.

Philip Randolph Campus High School

saw an increase in enrollment by

71 students.

 

Based on the differences in school

demographics, these changes in

enrollment mean that:

$0

Estimated change in funding

Harlem Renaissance High

School will lose approximately

$157,657 in allocated funding

based on grade enrollment

in the 2020-21 school year...

+$302,531

-$157,657

...while A. Philip Randolph Campus

High School will gain approximately

$302,531 in allocated funding

based on grade enrollment for the

new school year.

Harlem Renaissance High

School will lose approximately

$15,764 in allocated funding

based on the number of

enrolled students in

poverty in the 2020-21

school year...

...while A. Philip Randolph Campus High School

will gain approximately $30,461 in allocated

funding based on the number of enrolled students

in poverty for the new school year.

Since Harlem Renaissance High School

already had only 11 percent of the

population of A. Philip Randolph

Campus High School during the

2019-20 school year, these changes

in student enrollment mean that

Harlem Renaissance High School loses

21.5 percent of its 2019-20 allocation

from the Fair Student Funding Program,

the major source of funding for

schools in New York City.

 

A. Philip Randolph Campus High

School’s funding would increase by

approximately 4.7 percent in 2020-21

by the same calculation.

21.5 percent of

2019-20 funding

lost in 2020-21

4.7 percent increase in funding

from 2019-20 to 2020-21

=$35,456

2019-2020 funding from grade

enrollment and number of students

in poverty for Harlem Renaissance High

School: $806,175

2019-2020 funding from grade

enrollment and number of students

in poverty for A. Philip Randolph

Campus High School: $7,091,340

Sources: New York State Education Department,

Fair Student Funding & School Budget

Resource Guide

Deirdre McIntosh-Brown and Shaneeka Wilson, the co-chairs of the Youth, Education, and Libraries Committee of Community Board 9, noted that while they do not have access to the number of students that have gone unaccounted for in the district, they are aware that school administrators have struggled to keep track of all of the students enrolled in West Harlem public schools. West Harlem educators and school administrators have been in constant contact with parents to ensure that their children are logging on to online school; however, despite families’ most ardent efforts, some students still fall through the computational cracks.

“The educators have been working diligently to connect with parents, to make sure if the child doesn't show up one day that they make sure that they're checking in the next day,” McIntosh-Brown said.

There are many community conditions that may contribute to the large number of students unaccounted for: parents too busy looking for full-time jobs to supervise their children’s learning; WiFi connectivity issues; technical problems with computers and other devices; and parents who do not know how to log their children into online school, among others. Furthermore, children in New York can legally be left alone beginning at age 12, which can lead to a lack of accountability among middle and high schoolers to log into school.

“Going forward, accountability for parents and children has to be a thing, so that the parents can feel genuinely a part of this teamwork. Everyone's trying to find their place in this mess and madness, and so we want to believe that our kids can go ahead and do the work, and they can, but they still need that support,” Wilson said.

McIntosh-Brown also noted that there is a new program in place to help encourage accountability. The DOE launched a system based on daily summaries where parents can see the tasks their child has to complete and whether they attended school that day. The increase in communication between teachers and parents might be one avenue for ensuring that students are accounted for.

Fanning suspects that some students who have left the public school system have either enrolled in private schools or moved away. For others, fluctuating personal lives have made the process of attending online school untenable at times.

“We’re respectful of the fact that these families have a lot to deal with. Sometimes, Joey going to class today is not on Maslow’s list of needs,” Fanning said, referring to the famous ranking of human necessities. Yet he has been “humbled” by the time and energy faculty members have devoted to supporting students, particularly those whose hierarchy of needs has been shaken and destabilized by pandemic schooling.

Hoyle, too, has been struck by the perseverance of students and schools amid such turbulent circumstances. While the impacts of online school are being disproportionately and deeply felt, she sees resilience and fears that recognition of such fortitude has been lost in the sea of difficulty.

“I want to make sure that we’re speaking about our students in a strength-based way,” she said, “and our families and our communities and our schools.”

Staff writer Maya Mitrasinovic can be contacted at maya.mitrasinovic@columbiaspectator.com. Follow her on Twitter @m_mitrasinovic.

Staff writer Alice Tecotzky can be contacted at alice.tecotzky@columbiaspectator.com.

Graphics reporter Jefferson Sheng can be contacted at jefferson.sheng@columbiaspectator.com.

Graphics reporter Ethan Zhang can be contacted at editor@columbiaspectator.com. Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

Public schools, school reopening, West Harlem, COVID-19, enrollment
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