By Galen D. Kirkland
I attended Harlem public schools and obtained an effective education at PS 197 and JHS 139 in the 1960’s.
I became an attorney after getting a scholarship to Dartmouth College and graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. I know from experience that Harlem public schools can work. Yet all these years later, thousands of young people attending Harlem public schools are not receiving the sound education to which they are entitled. This destructive situation can be reversed with a serious working partnership between parents of students, schools, and the larger community.
This essential cooperative triad can establish a progressive focus upon central issues like class size, adequate school staff, appropriate instructional materials, and the creation of a culture of love for learning. Although many public school parents actively support the schools that their children attend, the sad truth is that parent involvement is woefully inadequate. There is much work that must be done to engage parents who are indispensable to educational success. Community-based organizations, churches, and other non-governmental organizations can help by volunteering their support for Harlem’s public schools in various ways that will make a difference in the experience of students.
For example, the Harlem Council of Elders, Inc. (HCE) has volunteered its support for PS 175, PS 197, and Junior High School 43 with a series of classroom presentations by people in various professions, assembly presentations, field trips, and after-school programs. For seven years, HCE sponsored “Men Reading to Children” at PS 175 where men from various walks of life would read to elementary school students and answer their questions. Doctors from Harlem Hospital taught anatomy after school with students who were interested in science at the same elementary school.
Community-based organizations can also advocate for education justice for Harlem public schools. Over the past seven years, HCE advocacy has focused primarily on the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) noncompliance with New York State Education Commissioner’s Regulations that require schools to provide adequate access to school Librarian Media Specialists in public middle and high schools. In 2015, the DOE verified that over 77 percent of Harlem secondary schools across Districts 3, 4, 5 and 6 were denying their students access to Librarian Media Specialists. HCE’s more recent analysis of available pre-pandemic data indicates that close to 90 percent of Harlem schools serving one or more grades 7-12 continue to violate the school librarian rights of close to 10,000 Harlem students.
We all have the opportunity to fight to make sound, effective education available to Harlem public school students. Those who choose to be passive observers to the failure of public education in Harlem turn their back on young people who deserve our help. (* Galen D. Kirkland is President of the Harlem Council of Elders, Inc. and former Commissioner of the New York Division of Human Rights.)
Galen Kirkland. Commissioner at NYS Division of Human Rights. NYS Division of Human Rights. Bronx, New York. Among other roles, Kirkland also acted as an Assistant NYS Attorney General, a Tenant Representative on the NYC Rent Guidelines Board, Executive Director of the NYC Civil Rights Coalition, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York, and Vice President and General Counsel of the West Harlem Community Organization. https://www.linkedin.com/in/galen-kirkland-70567218
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Photo credit: Tito_Puente, PS117 In Harlem, NY.