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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

What low-income parents want: Get my kids to a safe, orderly school

Lower-income families in New York City think their neighborhood schools tolerate bullying, expect little from students and don't provide promised help for special needs, writes Alina Adams on The 74. Their top priorities are busing (not public transit) to safe, orderly schools that provide after-school care, real help for students with special needs and teachers who know how to prevent bullying and who respect children's abilities.


Photo: Emma Bauso/Pexels

Adams has been advising parents for years on how to apply to traditional public, public charter, religious and private schools in the city. Her site is NYCSchoolSecrets and she also writes at New York School Talk. This school year, she consulted with "families who demographically were an exact match for the NYC school system, which is 72% economically disadvantaged, 21% students with disabilities, 14% English learners, 41% percent Hispanic and 24% Black."


Above all, they wanted a safe way to get their kids to safe schools, she writes. Since most were working, they needed no-cost after-school care.

About 20 percent had children with special needs who were supposed to be receiving help from special-ed aides in the classroom and/or speech, occupational or physical therapy services, she writes. "They wanted to know if the school really offered them or just paid lip service to it, like so many schools they’d already experienced."

Academics "came up only after" the other issues were covered, Adams writes.

What I heard over and over again from low-income, English learner and/or parents of color was: We want a school that doesn’t underestimate our child. We want a school that assumes our child can learn, despite their perceived disadvantages. One mother complained of a teacher who, after her son had read all the appropriate level books in the classroom library and wanted more challenging ones, told them, “I have nothing more to offer him.” A dad lamented that his daughter was told to help other children who were struggling if she had finished all her work, instead of being given learning materials appropriate to her level.

Adams asked parents about the importance of school diversity, which is considered a priority by educators and think tankers in New York City. "Every single parent replied that while it would be nice for their child to not be 'the only' one at their school, that wasn’t nearly as important as everything they’d already listed."


When she asked a Spanish-speaking mother if she’d be interested in a dual-language program for her son, she said, “He already speaks Spanish. I want him to learn English.”


In low-income California neighborhoods, parents worry their sons will be recruited by gangs, the neighborhood-to-prison pipeline. Finding a school that does not tolerate fighting or gang wannabe behavior can be a life-or-death issue.

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