top of page

Middle School Re-openings Leave Students Behind - Reneé Roden

CATHARINE SMITH, HOST: This morning, New York City middle school students will be back in class for the first time since November. But about 70% of the district’s nearly quarter million middle schoolers will stay at home. And a disproportionate number of those students are from lower-income families. Renée Roden talks to experts who say school administrators need to work with communities at the grassroots level to reopen schools more effectively.

RENÉE RODEN, BYLINE: Diamond is 14 and an eighth grader at West Prep Academy on the Upper West Side. It’s her first day back at school since November. But she says it doesn’t feel special.

DIAMOND: On regular first day of schools, more people will come. It's mostly

crowded. But now it's just fewer people and the energy feels low.

RODEN: But Diamond’s classmate, thirteen-year-old Rosie, is glad for the change of scenery. Even so, she has mixed feelings about returning to the school’s social scene.

ROSIE: I don't know. It's like a lot of snakes in here.

RODEN: “Snakes” is what Rosie says when people are being “fake.” You’ll notice both of these students focused on the same thing: not academics, not COVID-19, but how returning to school affects their social life.

Ernestine Briggs-King is a professor at Duke University and the director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. She says in-person social interaction is vital for middle school students.

BRIGGS-KING: That's such a critical part of their developmental trajectory. And so we want to think about how we meet their needs for, you know, social, emotional engagement with their peers and with their teachers and things of that nature.

RODEN: But, she says, many of the students who need the structure and resources of school the most are staying home as the schools reopen. Out of almost a quarter million middle school students, only about 60,000 are expected to return. Briggs-King says students going back to school are disproportionately white, and from more affluent districts.

BRIGGS-KING: The inequities that COVID has exposed, and for many of our families, exacerbated, is just you know: not being in the school system means a lot more to children of color.

RODEN: In neighborhoods hit particularly hard by the pandemic, parents are especially concerned their children could get sick, or bring the virus home to vulnerable family members. To address those fears and get the kids back to school, Fabienne Doucet, an urban education professor at NYU, says the DOE needs to communicate better with parents throughout the city.

DOUCET: Rather than having kind of like a generalized response, that's going to be a one size fits all, it's really about thinking more community based and then your role as the administrators is to ensure that equity is at the center of all those community responses.

RODEN: Ernestine Briggs-King sees this as a moment of potential.

BRIGGS-KING: I think it's a great opportunity for schools to think about how they can reimagine what school looks like for kids and how they can re-imagine how they address issues of mental health, trauma. And even racial equity.

RODEN: Doucet and Briggs-King say in order to get more of New York City’s vulnerable students back in school, the DOE must do more to listen to these families.

Renée Roden, Columbia Radio News.


bottom of page