Justice Fellowship Program

Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville School District, Mt. Vernon City School District, and Yonkers Public Schools offered a fellowship and speaker series for 20 students for rising 11th and 12th grade students and all students at Sarah Lawrence College (5 from each academic institution) in Fall 2020-Spring 2021. Selected students made a commitment to explore together this year’s theme of Justice and Education. This unique opportunity allowed students to engage with peers in a collaborative space outside of the traditional classroom, explore pressing issues related to the current state of education, and develop and create a meaningful intervention to share with our local community.

Fellows were asked to make a commitment to participate in 8 to 10 virtual working sessions over the course of the year.  These sessions consisted of both large and small working groups and were used to establish norms, expectations, and a sense of community across the group.  The smaller working groups were supported in part by Bill Meyer, Mara Gross and the two Mellon Fellows, Yeong Ran Kim and Kishauna Soljour, whose expertise in nonlinear storytelling, community engagement, and multimedia platforms were invaluable in the execution and delivery of the final projects. Students also committed to meet virtually in between these sessions and attend panel presentations related to our theme for the year; Justice and Education. In the spring students shared their work with our community. 


Student Projects

Sydney Tuck and Rosabelle DuBois

UnSpecial

Sydney Tuck speaks with a special education teacher and policy advocator Christina Bosch, a speech pathologist in Westchester County, a Yonkers Public School Special Education teacher, a Bronxville Special Education aid, and a college student at Miami University to discuss the inequities in special education that are tied to funding, societal norms, policy, socioeconomic status, and race.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Anagha Dirisala, Gabby Nanna, Michael Randall

Separate and Unequal: Investigating the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Westchester County

Gabby, Michael, and Anagha speak with Executive Director of the WCA Allison Lake and two Yonkers teachers—Rob Rizzo and Afsi Parandian—to gain insight into how the school-to-prison pipeline operates and how systemic racism impacts students 67 years after school segregation was deemed unconstitutional.

 

Alexa Goldberg, Avery Widen, Emely Carvajal, Manya Tam

Students with Disability Education

For the past seven months, we have been working as a group to explore equity in education in our hometowns. Although they border each other, the school systems of Yonkers and Bronxville are vastly different. The aspect of these differences that we chose to focus on is the quality of education for students with disabilities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students with disabilities were disproportionately affected by the isolation and adversity that was imposed on us all. As a result of this inequality, we decided to interview educators and school employees to delve deeper into how these students were affected by these issues, how their mentors responded to these challenges, and what each school district did to combat these problems.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Isabelle Friedberg, Jamilyn Taylor, John Aden, Maeve Sullivan

The Systemic Inequity of School District Funding and the COVID-19 Pandemic

In this podcast, each of these high school students will discuss their interviews with four educational leaders who address the systemic inequity of school district funding, sources of school funding, and COVID-19's impact on them and how schools address these funding issues.

Transcribed Audio Files

Sydney Tuck and Rosabelle DuBois

Episode 1:

Speaker 1 (00:00):

This is [Un-special 00:00:01], a show about the silent problems in special education.

Christina Bosch (00:10):

I was like, this shit is so crazy. There has to be a better way.

Speaker 1 (00:19):

When the majority of people think about special education, they think about the system that provides an education to kids who the general education system is not meant for.

            My name's Sydney tuck. And on today's episode, I've sat down with longtime educator and special education advocator, Christina Bosch, to tell you how the majority cannot be more wrong.

            Christina has worked in best education for over 12 years now with no original plans to be an educator. It was not until she took a trip to Vietnam that she became interested in the American public school system. So, what was Christina's first introduction to special education?

Christina Bosch (00:56):

Was at an Obama inauguration party in my hometown of Washington DC. And one of my at elementary school friend's dads, who lived in the neighborhood, happened to be a professor of special education, and had started a charter school. This is like in the wake of No Child Left Behind. And the very first kind of charter schools are being opened up. And it's also before the charter schools become these big networks. So, it's an independent public charter school that focuses on kids with learning differences, and using arts integrated approaches to work with them. And I was like, "That sounds awesome because I have always liked the arts." And I was like, "That also sounds like a good mission. And that sounds like why we have public education."

            So I started working there as a TA. And it was like a classroom where the teachers had quit in the middle of the year. The music teacher had been pulled to be the teacher for the classroom, this was a fifth grade classroom. We had about 17 kids in the class, but a majority of them had IEPs. So, the model of the school was that is what some people call reverse inclusion. So, a special educator is the classroom teacher and has a TA. And there's no real pullout except for occupational therapy, counseling, et cetera. So, it was nuts.

            My music teacher, he was an amazing mentor, but he also used a lot of restraints. He was Black, it's a Black majority school. And that factored in, in terms of behavior management, what was considered appropriate and how behavior management happened. But it was just nuts. It was a totally nuts introduction to this is actually what teaching, or working in a school is.

            That school shut down because the founder had been embezzling. We often see that issues of how funds are allocated in schools become a potentially questionable area. So when the school shut down, I mean, that was also just insane. And I can talk more about these experiences because they are what kept me in the field.

Speaker 1 (03:09):

What a crazy introduction to special education. But coming from a school that was manipulated to enhance the wealth of its founder, is there one student or experience that stands out to you the most?

Episode 2:

Speaker 1 (00:00):

This is [I'm Special 00:00:01], a show about the silent problems in special education. On today's episode, I've sat down with Lia Council, a special education teacher in the Yonkers Public Schools. So thank you so much for meeting with me.

Lia Council (00:18):

It is my pleasure.

Speaker 1 (00:21):

So I guess my first question for you is if you could just tell me just a little bit like about your background and your involvement in education.

Lia Council (00:29):

So this is my 21st year of teaching here in Yonkers Public Schools. I'm a certified special education teacher where I have been doing resource room probably for the last 10 years or so. The way that I got into education was basically because I was fed up with how I thought the education system had changed from when I had gone to school. And then I had children and I recognized that my children didn't really have the same experiences.

            And so I have six children, two of which had IEPs. One designated LD, which is learning disabled with just difficulty processing information, and another speech and language impaired. And what I realized is that they had their own set of struggles in terms of having access to curriculum and to different opportunities. As well as my other children who were in Gen Ed classes, they had their own set of issues.

            And my husband got tired of me complaining about it one day. And he said, "Listen, you fight for everything else, fight for this. I don't care what you do as long as you do not increase the amount of bills we have to pay, do you basically." And so I retired from a very lucrative position and I went and got my master's in education. So that was my trajectory into wanting to get into education. I was just fed up as a parent.

            I am certified in common branch which is K-6, as well as special education. I have extension in gifted. I'm certified in ESL and I am also an autism specialist. So the abundance of my work really has been around disenfranchised populations or diverse populations because for me, I think that those are the groups and the students that need the most support.

Speaker 1 (02:52):

So you're currently working in special education?

Lia Council (02:55):

Yes.

Speaker 1 (02:56):

So I think the main things that I'm kind of looking and I've talked to a bunch of different educators is how there's no advocation for kids in special education. How there's a large disconnect between the Gen Ed population, the special education population. So going off through a variety of experience, do you think that, that's a common issue that you've seen too?

Lia Council (03:18):

Yes and no. And the reason I say yes and no is I think it depends really on who the special education teacher is. We play a really important role in trying to make sure that the services and the curriculum that our students should be exposed to, they are being exposed. So if you have a really good focused special educator, then those barriers that are inherently there or are there just because of whatever the local domain has dictated, I think that special education teacher or the IEP teacher is able to penetrate that. So that's just been my experience.

            I think as a whole, there tries to be an alignment between what a Gen Ed curriculum is and then what the modifications for a special education curriculum are. But I think that's what's broken, that there hasn't really been like a clear alignment. So for example, when I went through my teacher training program I was taught about the different laws and the different mandate, and this is why you need special education. And then I took a class in methods and materials.

            But it's a lot more than methods and materials. It's really about a culture, it is about understanding diverse populations and what is requisite within those populations. And then how you take that understand become culturally responsive to those diverse populations and then try to bring in the curriculum. If that makes sense.

Speaker 1 (05:12):

Yeah. So I was looking at how special education is like this community, and how a lot of times it's not really seen as that way. And how currently it's kind of used as a way to segregate students in school typically. And how like there's a lot of inequities and the representation, special education. So from your experience, do you ever see that or can you kind of speak to that in any sort of way?

Lia Council (05:38):

Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's one of the things that I think has really come into the awareness of many people in education, as well as our state education department in New York State, as well as on the federal level. There is a disproportionate number of black and brown children in special education with the preponderance being black males. This is caused for a myriad of reasons, one being that oftentimes materials that are presented are not culturally responsive.

            And I don't necessarily think that students necessarily learn differently because of their race or culture, I just believe that information has to be presented differently to children based on their race and culture. And so I think that's a big problem. I also think that because of the lack of oversight. So we have these laws and federal law, IDEA says, "Okay, listen we have to make sure that students with disabilities or students that learn differently or process differently are given access to a free and appropriate public education that mirrors that of their nondisabled peers."

            And that's great, but then there's really no consistent oversight. And so the federal government allows the states to determine what that looks like. And the states then allow districts to determine what that looks like. And I'm pretty sure that the way that special education is managed, and monitored and implemented in Bronxville, [inaudible 00:07:21] in Yonkers. And one of the main reasons is because oftentimes when you deal with disenfranchised populations, they don't necessarily always know their rights or always exercise their rights. Right?

Speaker 1 (07:37):

Yeah.

Lia Council (07:37):

And [crosstalk 00:07:39] being a primary vehicle to really push for the services of their students, don't necessarily always know what their rights are or are comfortable expressing their rights.

Speaker 1 (07:51):

Like if we look at Bronxville, so the student population is 82% white. And how, if you look at the ethnic makeup of the special education resource rooms, the majority of diversity in Bronxville is in the special education classrooms. Do you think that's coming from the stigma that's been developed among different races? And I kind of look into how typically white parents think that special education's this awful thing. And if their kid is diagnosed with it they're trying to move their kid to a different school where they can be specialized in that, or just there's sort of this shame that comes with special education.

Lia Council (08:28):

Yeah. So that's interesting, because I agree that there is a stigma. But there's this irony attached because there are a lot of parents who are in the position of privilege, white parents, that oftentimes and it has been documented will go to try to get their students classified or diagnosed with having ADD or ADHD, to be able to receive certain services and benefits that are aligned with special education services. And so, in that respect, it's not necessarily seen as a stigma because it's like, "Okay, listen, my child is going to be able to get extended time on the SATs and who would [inaudible 00:09:21] know, or my child is going to be able to get extended time in an AP class."

            And so on the one hand, there are parents that actually go out and seek this. But on the other hand, there is this stigma that, okay this is yet another thing to separate you and to say that you are less than. And I think that you really see that more in the minority communities dealing with the black and brown children, because not only do they have so many other things in our society that points to you being different, now they have this classification.

            And this clarification is quite often done when teachers identify a student as being different or a student as being disruptive. As if having an IEP and having modifications to the curriculum is going to change behavior. Sometimes it'll, but that shouldn't be where we first look.

Speaker 1 (10:24):

Yeah. And so sort of how now special education is manipulated by different wealth groups. And how like in a more wealthy community it's been manipulated to become like this resource, but in underprivileged communities, it's kind of almost like a disservice. Have you ever seen special education been more of a disservice to a student rather than an asset?

Lia Council (10:47):

Oh, absolutely. And I think that, that's one of the things that I kind of struggle with in my position, because I have always looked at special education as an opportunity for students to have differentiated instruction. And that's a term that educators have been using for years. It's how do we look at materials, curriculum, things that are produced, materials, anything. How do we look at those and create those, prepare those, share those for our students so that they can learn in the best way possible. So for me, that what special education does.

            However, it is often characterized and I have seen that this is almost like the Roach Motel, you check in and you don't check out. It's like once you are classified as having a disability, oftentimes it's very difficult for students to come out because it's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If it's noted that the student doesn't read well, then anytime a student has a reading mishap, oh, student, doesn't read well. There's a situation that I'm dealing with right now and for confidentiality reasons, I can't really go into details. But for example, there is a student of mine that was deemed to read below expected grade level.

            And so the teacher of this student, one of the content teachers of the student, went to an administrator and said, "Oh, this student is not reading well, let's put the student in a Title 1 reading class." Even though, the student is a resource student. So rather than saying, "Okay, this is a student that already receives services, let me communicate with the IEP teacher to see what strategies or interventions we can work on together to bring the kid up." It was like, this kid already has an IEP, this kid already is behind. So, you know what? Let's put this kid in this batch.

            It's almost as if once students have of IEPs, they are no longer looked at as individual students with individual unique educational and academic needs and more or less okay, here's yet another thing to add to their list of inabilities.

Speaker 1 (13:33):

Yeah. And I think that's probably very psychologically damaging for the kid to be told that they're diagnosed with some learning disability. And that's kind of become this label that they're stuck with and probably would discourage them from working harder to just their own educational growth and educational paths.

Lia Council (13:53):

Yeah. We have to look at special education as a program and not a placement. Right?

Speaker 1 (14:00):

Yeah.

Lia Council (14:00):

For far too long, it was identified as a placement. Coming out of the horror stories of like Willowbrook, which is way before your time. Where students that were different or had learning disabilities regardless of how severe or not, were not able to be educated with their peers. And so special education was always seen as a placement. Like where I went to high school there was a room, this is where all the special education kids, they went there. But it's not a placement, it's a program like anything else. It is a program like a student that might need braces.

            You have a student that needs braces, you're going to go to a dentist and you are going to be put into some type of dental brace program where you're going to wear them either 12 months or 18 months or 24 months until there is a correction made and the desired outcome is achieved. It's the same thing with special ed, we need to look at it in terms of short-term, which is what the annual review process is supposed to be. Look at it short-term, these are the things that we see are going on, this is what we need to implement to move the student from point A to point B.

            And then of course funding it has been stated that being in special education is financially rewarding because of the cost per pupil. And so I don't know, is there're really such a quick desire to get students out of special ed? Because I can tell you the amount of money that is at allocated per pupil, and I work throughout the state. I have been to very few districts where I could say, "Wow, they're really doing a really good job with their special education program." The materials that students get are often outdated or inappropriate.

            Again, if you look at it through the lens that I do, where it's really individualized and differentiated, then I might not be able to order 15 titles of one book. I might have to get three titles of one book and five titles of another, because this is what the student needs. I might need to spend a little more time with the student in this area and not in this area, but oftentimes the special education budget, like all other line items is just spent with a broad brush and not necessarily very specific and specified or individualized.

Speaker 1 (16:55):

And I think that even how Bronxville is supposed to be viewed as like this very privileged school with a lot of funding. Yet when we look at even where the special education classrooms are in the school, and how they're in the base and typically don't have windows. When the construction was happening, the kids were right against the windows of the construction. It's like, even though we see the school as wealthy, it's like, there's still this large disparity between the Gen Ed population, special education population, just in where their rooms are. And like the type of games and toys that they have.

Lia Council (17:25):

Exactly. Yes.

Speaker 1 (17:28):

So is there one student or experience that you would say that stands out to you the most?

Lia Council (17:33):

In of what, because I have lots?

Speaker 1 (17:40):

I think in terms of special education, just being need of a reform in order to help this student.

Lia Council (17:46):

So years ago before I was a resource teacher, I was a self-contained teacher. And one of the things that's really important, I think about special education again, is really getting to not only know your students, but to know how to approach them. And I think that's really like key in every classroom, but when it comes to special education I think that students need to feel as though they're not different than anyone else. And so sometimes you [inaudible 00:18:17] little more time doing that.

            So long story short, I had a student that was frustrated just because three years behind grade level, not able to really communicate needs and desires, frustrated academically. Had been bounced from school to school, within our district and had become angry. And it was viewed as though this is a student that is learning disabled, that has an emotional disability that is angry. Not that the root cause of the anger is the frustration because of. So the student came and was placed in my class after he was removed from another school.

            And I treat all of my students like my own children. And every day, this student... The first week the student didn't come and I had a conversation, "Listen, if you're going to be in my class, then you're going to come, there's certain expectation. Anybody that's in my class for one day becomes a Council. If you're a Council kid, you're a Council kid for life and there's expectations. Family has expectations, I need you to come." The student started coming, the student started coming early. So the student would meet me at my door every morning, 7:15, 7:20, just to sit, just to sit, just to sit.

            And I started bringing like food, we'd have breakfast together. Like, why are you here so early? Because this is a kid that was not attending school. About two months in, we developed a bond, he began to trust me. And he had a personal event where his mother was placed in custody and he came home, the door had been kicked in and police officers were there to split up the family of six. And so now you have all this stuff going on, he's being placed with a family member that doesn't want him. He comes to school the next day.

            And business as usual for me, let's go, let's eat, blah, blah, blah. What's going on? I see you are a little selling. He explained to me what happened. I knew that then his anxiety and stress level was going to be heightened. And I shared this with administration, let's cut on some slack. Let's give him time to breathe, what they didn't do. And so he had an explosion, I mean, he literally went off. Some student said something to him, he didn't like, he just exploded. Now that's common, if you step back from the situation, that's common.

            People are uptight, they're stressed, they don't know what to do and they don't exude the best coping skills. And this is what happened to him. They shut down the school, they called the trauma team or whatever, they came, they took the kid out. It was horrible. Would not allow him to come back to the building, to the district. Thank goodness, back then we had parent advocates who argued that no, this student by being stopped from coming to school was not getting the appropriate services that he needed.

            And so we have situations like this, where we enforce these zero tolerance policies code of conduct, or safety issues or whatever they are. And I'm not trying to make light of that because there is a place for that. But quite often what happens is when we do what we think is the right thing, we remove the student from the program that they need to attached to get the services they need. So that's one, the second one is completely different student. And that student was a student of color.

            I had another student who was, excuse me, a white student, genius IQ that comes with its own set of issues. So here's a student who did not understand the need or necessity to be bothered with or by anyone else. And I mean, that's okay. I mean, we have strategies for that as well. Like I said, I have advanced gifted extension, we have strategies for that as well. But he was seen as such a threat because he was so intelligent.

            Like we would have conversations like this and he would go into his classrooms, and teachers would ask questions and he would have adult conversations, his vocabulary was superlative. The teachers began to get a little intimidated and didn't want him in their classes. So yet again, here's another student who, on the other end even though like... Yeah, okay. So you have this IEP that just says you have a classification that you are volatile, but that also came from the fact that he was not taught the appropriate coping mechanisms to understand that, listen this world does contain about 6 billion other people besides yourself.

            You know what I mean? So you have to learn how to get along. So because they didn't necessarily like his arrogance, shall I say, they wanted to remove him from the programs that he was eligible for. Because again, special education is not just for those that are profoundly, severely disadvantaged, but also for those that have exceptional abilities.

Speaker 1 (24:13):

From your educational expertise, if you could fix one problem with special education, what do you think that would be?

Lia Council (24:23):

I think it would probably be the identification process. I think that is what has been negotiated, for lack of a better word, since inception. And that's the beginning, that's where it all starts. But I think that's inherently broken, because I think it's different across districts. It's different throughout the state and it's different throughout the country. So I know that there has to be an identification. I just think that needs to be a little more consistent maybe. I think timeline needs to change.

            I know that in the quest to make sure that everything is documented, because look the pendulum swings both ways, water finds its own level. So we have an issue, we have a system that's broken. And so now everybody's scrambling to try to do what they think is right. But I think that sometimes it's prudent to step back and assess information to make a decision. So for example, there's a lot of documentation that is required for students to be classified.

            And paperwork is important but the paperwork we do at Yonkers is going to be different than what you do in Bronxville than what we do at Peekskill, which is my home now or in New York City. And the timelines where there are guidelines, they look differently. So I'm thinking it might need to be just a little more streamlined. I think for me, that's where I see the majority of the issues because I see that students have issues or for whatever reasons, lack of performance or they struggle with homework or they don't understand concepts.

            And it takes at least 10 to 12 weeks to have a meeting. That's way too long, that's too long. Now I understand the need to have interventions and to be able to test those interventions but I'm thinking the process that we use here is you identify the issue or the child, you have a meeting, a team meeting. You talk about interventions, you put those interventions into place, you monitor and measure those interventions. Then you another meeting to do more interventions.

            We're meeting out now. Now we're already in annual reviews because annual reviews start in January. School year, starts in September. And so it's this vicious cycle of making sure everything is well documented, so that the purpose of you documenting is completely forgotten about.

Speaker 1 (27:25):

Thank you, Ms. Council for furthering discussion towards a problem in special education. Tune in next time to hear students perspective.

 Episode 3:

Speaker 1 (00:00):

This is Unspecial, a show about the silent problems in special education. On today's episode, I've sat down with two different individuals from two different districts in Westchester. One of whom is a special education aid and the other, a speech pathologist. The first individual I spoke to works in a very wealthy district in Westchester and has been working in a solely special education classroom for two years now while completing his master's in education. Prior to COVID, I was thankful enough to spend a lot of time in the same classroom that this individual has taught in. And for privacy reasons, we're going to call him "Teacher X." Having my own preconceived notions about the classroom that Teacher X teaches in, I first asked him about his opinions on the level of inclusion that the students experience with the general education population.

Teacher X (00:53):

I think there's a lot of areas though that our students could be included more in the school. Not this year with assemblies and stuff, but last year when we would have assemblies, we would come in last and sit all the way in the back and students wouldn't really know who our kids were. So I think that for some of the older grades, to just be aware of our students and who they are and maybe understand why somebody's screaming all the way in the back of the auditorium during an assembly, instead of just telling them to "sh" you get a little more familiar with them. I do think that the rest of the school could definitely benefit from being more familiarized with our students and a little more participation is being aware. I think that the goal obviously is to have a student in the least restrictive environment and get students in and out would be great. I do think that mainstream is a goal with every student in our classroom as it should be. And we're definitely working to get there. Some, it just takes a little more time, some are ready for it.

Speaker 1 (01:59):

So have you ever seen special education act as a disservice to a student? Or have you ever seen a student who's been misplaced in special education?

Teacher X (02:07):

Not here. I don't think that. I know that we've had students come over from gen ed to our classroom and other teachers who had those students in the past. They're like, "Oh, it's amazing. He or she, they're doing such a great job. It's so nice to see them there." I know obviously in other schools it happens and often it very happens with your English language learners and your students of English or second language. They get misplaced because the schools just aren't giving them the right testing or the schools don't believe in testing in a native language.

            So I know that's very common not here. We don't have any in my classroom. We don't have any students that are English as a second language. And that is tough. I've done a lot of work on that in one of my last courses before I wrapped up with a teacher. My teacher was she's from Vietnam and she was misplaced when she was younger and now she's written all about it and it's very interesting to see that side of the story. Here I don't think anybody in my class is misplaced. I haven't seen it as a disservice but I do know that it's very prevalent in other schools. It's not here though.

Speaker 1 (03:27):

So do you think that has to do with the demographics or wealth of this specific district?

Teacher X (03:35):

Yeah, definitely with the demographic. We only have one student who's from out of district.

Speaker 1 (03:42):

One of my favorite questions to ask people that I've interviewed is, is there one student or experience that stands out to you the most in your career?

Teacher X (03:54):

So this wasn't in a school, this was at day camp. It's worth talking about. I had a camper, so he had a physical disability and he was completely blind in one eye and he was losing sight in another eye and he had multiple bone grafts. They did a lot of work and they thought that he was going to completely lose his sight. And he knew this as a young kid and he had the most positive outlook on life and he was just so happy. And I realized I have so much to be thankful for. And now this guy, he can only see minimally out of one eye. And he was such a bright personality and he wrote music and he's performed at Radio City Music Hall now since he's getting older. And he was just so capable of so many things and he taught me so much about myself, that I really want to work with this on physical, any different disabilities. It was eye-opening.

            Because you see meet people all the time that are down on themselves and everything. But when I worked with him, he showed me so many things about myself, about him and I had him three years in a row. And I remember the fourth year I went back and then he moved up to a different group and I wasn't with him. And I was bummed. I was like, "Wow, I've missed this guy." But it was just that experience just how nobody's incapable of anything. There's no student that's unteachable. There's no reason to limit the kids. Now all of a sudden he's participating in tennis and he's playing mini golf because we figured out all these different things.

Speaker 1 (05:43):

Really telling too how everyone can adapt their own lives to accommodate others and then accommodate everyone. So if there was one problem in special education that you could fix, what would it be?

Teacher X (05:55):

I think it's the way that the special education students are viewed as a population. I feel they're looked down upon and, "Oh, they can't do this." But I've met kids that are smarter than I was at that age. And just kids that are going to go on to do incredible things, just in a different way. I think that there's such a stereotype about special education. Every student has a capability to learn something, just they can be taught differently. And they're just kids, they're just trying to learn. And that's why they're looking to us and all these kids are different, but they all have the same desire to learn, to be taught, to be cared for. You need to be a caring individual and compassionate if you want to be in education.

Speaker 1 (06:47):

So teachers' [inaudible 00:06:48] perspective is very unique and very different. Having really only taught in a very privileged community. So next we transitioned to a long-time speech pathologist, who once again, we are going to keep their name anonymous and refer to them as "Teacher Y." So here's Teacher Y's story. I don't know much about speech therapy. So could you just talk a little bit about what you do?

Teacher Y (07:15):

Yeah. So speech therapy is the technical term for what we do is we're all speech and language pathologists. And the reason why it sort of evolved, it started off as speech therapy and it was mostly in schools or at home. And the service provider would work on sounds and then the connection between sound development and language development sort of solidified over the years. So then we added language to our repertoire because we studied language development.

            So that's when we worked on both speech and language, meaning the acquisition of language, the form of language, and the use of language. So what is the content of the message? What's the delivery of the message and how is the message being used? Those are the pragmatics of it all, the social language. For example, if you're talking to a refrigerator and you're saying, "want milk", that's not true communication because you're not using the language correctly. You're not speaking to another human being. You're speaking to an inanimate object.

Speaker 1 (08:33):

So how many districts have you worked in?

Teacher Y (08:37):

I've worked in quite a few districts. I've worked in the New York City Department of ED. I've worked in Connecticut schools. I've worked in charter schools. I've worked in English schools, I've worked in and I've also done early intervention. And I've also worked in private practice. I've done some work with adults as well. Hospitals. I've worked in a variety of settings maybe.

Speaker 1 (09:07):

The main thing that I'm looking at is just basically the disparities in inequities, in different districts. So coming...

Teacher Y (09:13):

Right.

Speaker 1 (09:13):

Your perspective's really interesting, having worked in so many different places.

Teacher Y (09:19):

So, in terms of the disparity in the way students and special education are spoken about among... Well disparity in the way in special education, I would say significant disparity both in terms of regular and special education. And I think that disparity is primarily around access...

Speaker 1 (09:40):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Teacher Y (09:43):

And I'd say access and I mean access to everything from education about the laws, about the rights that both the parents and the students have to access to funding, to access to support. A lot of parents who do have the means will hire a support person to walk them through what is a very complex system of special education. So, that support person maybe is a parent advocate, maybe it's a parent coordinator. That person can help them navigate a system, which can be very daunting to the most educated parents, let alone maybe somebody who is learning to speak English. Maybe somebody who doesn't speak any English at all, maybe somebody who just doesn't have documentation. It really is I would say access on every level is the disparity or the inequity. That's what I see.

Speaker 1 (11:07):

Do you ever notice a disparity in the way you talked about this, the way that other educators in the school talk about kids who are in special education?

Teacher Y (11:16):

I do and I will keep it brief, I'm sorry I'm talking too much. I do notice the disparity. I work with a lot of minimally verbal students, for example, and even the most educated and in the know consultants, and by consultants I mean we work with a rainbow. We have behavioral consultants known as BCBA board-certified behavior analysts. We have outside psychologists, we have outside speech and language pathologists, OT, PT, parent consultants, the gamut. We have 10 adults running through our room every day. And the way that they speak about our students with the best of intention is very clear they're frequently using verbiage that I wouldn't recommend. One thing they do all the time is call my students non-verbal for example. And I would say that none of my students are non-verbal. I've heard my students refer to "Oh, they're under the spectrum." I've heard them referred to as "window lickers", "short bus riders. You name it, you name it.

Speaker 1 (12:30):

So did you ever notice a student that was misplaced in special education?

Teacher Y (12:35):

Yes, but placement is very hard. Yes, people who belong don't get their place, and people who don't belong stay in forever.

Speaker 1 (12:50):

Do you think that there's a reason why in some ways?

Teacher Y (12:53):

Yes, I do. I think a lot of it is parent involvement, either lack thereof or over-involvement. There's also a lot of denial at home and there is a reluctance for a diagnosis or a stigma.

Speaker 1 (13:21):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Teacher Y (13:21):

A lot of it does come from the home. And conversely, there are others where more attention is better and more is always better. So those are the students who stay in just by really not needing it. That's the kind of thing you see around here, but then you get also in the Department of Ed, you get people who really need the services but the funding's not there and they just don't qualify.

Speaker 1 (13:50):

So one of the things that I looked at was special education is a modern-day way for schools to resegregate students. And...

Teacher Y (13:59):

Yeah, I think a lot of that too has to do with, okay. So BOCES is sort of the motherboard of special education in Westchester. And it used to be back in the day that if you were needy enough, if you needed a lot of support, you wouldn't stay in the public schools, you'd go to BOCES. And BOCES is physically a different building. It's in different places, they're all over the place. So that's what was happening. That would be just practiced across the board, across races, across everything. That's what was happening. That's where you would go. And then over time, some districts Bronxville, Edgemont, they started creating these programs like in Bronxville, the life build firm. And Edgemont it's the ICAP program where a student who would've been at both these, comes back to their home district because we can provide the least restrictive environment for them. That's a huge thing with special ed, it's the least restrictive environment. We can provide them the services that they need at home, which is ideal.

Speaker 1 (15:25):

So have you seen any drastic changes in special education throughout your career?

Teacher Y (15:31):

Yeah, I think bringing the kids out of BOCES and back into their home district, or I guess what you would call a mainstream setting and the integration of these kids into mainstream classes to the best of the school district's ability is a huge shift. So the experience that stands out the most to me as a speech and language pathologist is the first time I used an AAC device with a student, a dynamic display AAC, a high tech AAC device. AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication device. It's what Steven Hawking uses, it's a little computer with the voice.

Speaker 1 (16:16):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Teacher Y (16:17):

Back in the day, they were called dedicated devices and they cost thousands of dollars. And a few different companies made them the main one was Dynavox. This kid had a Dynavox and teaching her how to use the device. Teaching as I was learning was a really, really mind-blowing, amazing experience. So she was minimally verbal. She got this device and then she had access to a voice. It was crazy. So, that was it.

Speaker 1 (16:57):

What's really unique about these two individuals is that they only teach miles apart from one another, yet their experiences as educators are so severely different. So I think it's really important that when we look at special education, we have to look at it through different perspectives and we have to acknowledge all perspectives, even the good ones when clearly a lot of the system is broken. So thank you to Teacher X and Teacher Y and that's it for this time on Unspecial.

 Episode 4

Interviewer (00:00):

This is Unspecial, a show about the silent problems in special education. On today's episode, I sat down with a college senior who herself has gone through the special education system.

Interviewee (00:16):

To start out from the personal aspect, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD when I was the youngest you can be diagnosed. My mother was pretty sure something was up before the age when you could legally be declared, so she kept checking in with friends that were specialists and knew how to do it. And then when I was officially of age, I got diagnosed. It was obvious. It was clear. And realistically, after being in traditional schooling for a bit, it was clear that no resource room or special added environment in a traditional school was capable of providing me the education support that I needed in order to eventually be successful.

            I'm very lucky to have the privilege of both having parents that understood and appreciated and supported me, so acknowledged that I had a learning disability and then didn't think oh, she'll have to figure it out, and took it upon themselves to find new resources. And then also could financially afford finding new resources. So then I attended a school for a few years that specialized in teaching students with learning disabilities, some with cognitive disabilities, certain social and behavioral challenges and disabilities, which was amazing because it laid the foundation and the things that I needed to eventually be successful.

            So after a few years there, I switched back to public school, but this particular public school that I switched to had some of the best special ed special needs education programming in the state. I tend to tell people that I couldn't read until seventh grade. I of course could read somewhat before. However, I classify full literacy as being able to sit down and read a chapter of a chapter book in a reasonable amount of time. Granted, reasonable can be very generous statement. The level to which the chapter book is in its complexity of language can also be generous.

            That being said, I could not fully do that, I kept markers until seventh grade. And the biggest thing I would say is my stories were a success. I've done very well academically. I've done very well life-wise, rooted in the fact that I had the extreme privilege of having an environment and opportunities that allowed me to get the things that I needed to succeed as well as the ability from a young age to articulate what I needed, which is a big thing, which a lot of students aren't always capable of doing and is very difficult to do. I knew how to say no to things that I did not need. And I knew how to ask for things that I did, and that continued when I needed to fight for my accommodations, which happened often.

Interviewer (03:34):

So you said that before you moved to a specialized school, were you just in a normal public school?

Interviewee (03:44):

I was in a public school that switched to private and then we were like, we need to go special. Both experiences were awful. They were. They really, really were. Disability in schools need to go much further. There's still a lot of problems. However, I would say in the last six years you've seen significant improvement, because you've seen significant rise and understanding of disability in general. So this was still the era of you don't have a learning disability, you're dumb, you're stupid, to the point in which teachers would tell you that. So it was a terrible experience because truly, if I was not provided the proper services, I couldn't read, I could barely write. And then I had teachers who could not understand that. They could not understand the reason I could not do these things.

            It wasn't my fault. It wasn't because I did not have the intellect to do it. It's because I was in a system that's teaching something that is not designed for my thinking. And so I needed something that was designed for the way I think, especially in order to transition into a system that I would have to be in for the rest of my life. It's kind of actually unfair. I truly believe in the social model of disability, but that's what you do. But now everyone has that opportunity to make that transition. So it was awful, but what was great was like I said, I was very lucky. I had parents who understood what was going on, and because they saw that I was smart, because there is that connotation that there's misconception that a learning disability means you're not smart, which is not true. So they could see that comprehension-wise I was very high, I was very capable, I was very articulate, but the problem was the traditional things that go with learning disabilities.

Interviewer (05:52):

Since you went to so many different school districts, could you talk a little bit if you saw any inequities between the different districts?

Interviewee (06:00):

Oh, for sure. Especially in need, when it comes to disability and what they're capable to provide. I saw inequity in a number of ways, but that I think what we're really talking about here, and like I said, the very first kind of school system I was in could not provide all. The best that they could do was they thought if they gave me extra flashcards of words and practice sounding out my letters that eventually would click and make things work. With faculty that did not have training with how to do integrated classrooms, who did not understand really, truly what disability was and then therefore would say and do really harmful things.

            So that was my first situation. And then my second situation was specifically designed for me and was amazing, and was with people with similar understanding of what it's like to experience this world. It was a school that had completely embraced the social model and said let's attack it. But that came from a private education and having to pay for it. And yes, there's scholarship and yes, there's funding, but there's not enough. And there's also, it's a small school. There's not enough students attending for a number of reasons. Some that parents don't know, teachers don't know to send them there. And the stigma that comes with that, the stigma of having to take that route. There's a lot of things preventing that, which are all problematic. And then I was lucky to be able to attend a public school that had the services that had the resources, but it was also one that was in a wealthy district that had had the taxpayer funds to support this.

            And it was also a particular school where all the other schools in the district were not capable of doing what it was doing. And you didn't get to transfer, if you were at another school and you had needs, to this school. So it was a specific system of the way the public school is set up. So it really was a luck of the draw, were you lucky enough to attend. And then if you were, then it's amazing. You're going to get the services you need. The majority of the teachers are going to understand and be supportive. That is very, very rare. And it is for a small select few who would just get lucky.

            Then for high school, again, there wasn't a lot of opportunity in the particular high school that I went to, very rarely had someone with a disability, especially one to the extent that I had. So I knew that I wasn't going to be providing any developing services. Granted, at this point I didn't really need them, but I had to continually fight for my accommodations. And then it was a 50 50 draw of whether or not a teacher would understand and be supportive and listen, or a lot of work would have to go into getting them.

            But again, I would tend to usually always get them, but that's because I had the ability to articulate and fight for myself. And that is a very hard thing to do, and that shouldn't be the exception. A child shouldn't be expected, in order to get what they need and really what I think they deserve and is a right to their education, they shouldn't have to fight for it aggressively.

Interviewer (09:29):

So just making a generalization, why do you think that some teachers are so hesitant or not willing to believe a student when they say that they need a service or have some sort of disability?

Interviewee (09:41):

I think it's lack of education and truly misconception and stereotyping. I think it goes back to representation and education. Strictly speaking, I am truly an academic success. Statistically, that's an anomaly for where I could have been and what I could be. But along the way I still, for many professors, had to prove to them and had to convince them that I wasn't some slacker or some cheater when asking for extended time on a test. The fact that that had to be a thing and I had professors, I had one professor, only one, but I've seen adjustment over the years, who had my junior year apologized to me. Because I had him first semester, freshman year, walked into his office and was very polite, very direct, what my accommodations were, if you have any questions, the SDS services had emailed you. Just wanted to touch base, be clear what my needs were. He was very rude, very much tried to intimidate me and pretty much I could tell the assumption was he thinks I'm just some slacker who's trying to use accommodations to make things a little easier for me.

            He'd since apologized because he saw no, after years of classes with him, those were the things I needed in order to be successful in his class. And I was successful in his class. But if I didn't have those things, I would not have been. I think it comes down, at different levels you see different things. I think when you're in elementary school and middle school, a lot of teachers will not necessarily see it. They think you're just developing or at any stage they don't think it's their responsibility as an educator, that it's your responsibility. And this is not speaking for everyone. This is just these particular people. So I think early on, it's just like there's a lack of intervention. There's a lack of belief. There's a lack of oh, is there really a problem here?

            I think later on, it's more of well, what are we going to do? And at this point, you have a history of either doing bad or not turning things in or taking too long. And then there's an assumption about your character and your attitude. And then in college, when you get this new slate to start over again, it's more of are you trying to get out of things? Are you lackadaisical? Are you not as bright as the other students? It's this continuous process of proving no, I deserve to be here and you've created a system that is trying to get rid of me. I'm just trying to level the playing field.

Interviewer (12:26):

So one question that I try to ask everyone I interview is if there was one thing in special education that you could fix, what would it be?

Interviewee (12:34):

Oh, that's tough. Actually, it's what I would do is IDEA, the Individual's Disability Education Act, defines disability based on the medical model. And there is a time and place for the medical model, but also that time and place is rare. It's very specific when that thought process is needed, and it's usually very rare and not needed. I believe if you literally go into that law, and I've written on this before, and you change the definition from medical, basing it disability on medical to social, that will purposely highlight a lot of flaws in the law and a lot of flaws in many education systems. Because again, it turns into the need for a child or student to do it. It's not the fault of the child or the student.

            So I think if I could change one thing, and then with that caveat I mean with policy, you can change one thing and things don't actually change. My thing would be you change that definition, and then because you've changed that definition, you actually have to use it and now apply it, and you have to make the changes that apply to it. And I think you would see if you actually committed to that, really strong changes and ripple effects, more accountability and responsibility. Granted, how does that actually happen? Where does the money come from? Where does the training happen? Tenured people who really won't accept it, what do you do with them? It more complicated than that, but that is what I would say.

Interviewer (14:19):

Do you think that by not loosely defining a disability, but in some ways could cause for manipulation by wealthier people who are just looking to give their kids more resources?

Interviewee (14:31):

Well, that's currently what happens now. That's currently something that happens, I think. You have this balance of issues and you have under diagnosis and under prescription or accommodation or whatever child needs in many environments. And then you move over in many environments, and I've encountered both. I've encountered those people who come from very wealthy families, who I don't believe in denying someone what they have. I am not you, you very likely could have dyslexia, but who really do not have a lot of need based on how they present and don't even identify that way, but their parents got them the accommodations they could because they were able to.

            And then you have people from low income communities who were not able, because testing is very expensive, because still misrepresentation in a lot of those communities of what disability is and the stigma around it. And also support systems in schools, who totally need accommodation, who totally need support, who very clearly something's not of the traditional trajectory and don't get those things. So there's over diagnosis and there's also under diagnosis. Both are an issue. And I do think a lot have to do and not all, but a lot does have to do with wealth and disparity.

Interviewer (16:11):

So once again, we see the special education system in need of reform. And although this student's experience is unique and personal to her, and how she was very privileged and able to obtain the resources that she needed to succeed and will succeed and go far in life, this is not the story of every child. And she is very clear in articulating that. So follow us next time, where we further discuss the inequities in special education.

 

 

 

Anagha Dirisala, Gabby Nanna, Michael Randall

Speaker 1 (00:00):

By 1917, every state in the United States of America had passed laws making it a requirement for all school age children to receive an education. Prior to this, the 14th amendment passed in 1868, made it a constitutional right for the same education to be accessible to all regardless of race. Yet today, students suspended or expelled for discretionary violations are nearly three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year. Data shows that those students are overwhelmingly more likely to be black.

            This system where working class minority students, mainly black males are disproportionately funneled into the criminal justice system, is called the school to prison pipeline. In Westchester County, 14% of children are black. Yet they make up 41% of public school children that receive out of suspensions, 56% of kids in the foster care system, and 62% of juvenile detention populations. 67 years after the US Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, black students are still facing an educational environment that delivers worse educational outcomes than their white counterparts. It is essential that we ask why these disparities exist? Why they persist? And what can be done to initiate palpable reform in our educational institutions?

Speaker 2 (01:40):

We spoke with Allison Lake, executive director of the Westchester Children's Association, who was able to outline for us what the school to prison pipeline looks like here in Westchester.

Allison Lake (01:50):

We know you're in Westchester County that students of color, African American, Hispanic, Latino students are suspended and disciplined at a higher rate than their white counterpart. And Westchester Children's Association developed in 2020 a fact sheet on black children and youth in partnership with the anti-racist Alliance and children's village. They looked at some of those things. So, black children represent 40% percent of children here in Westchester county, and yet they're 41% of the public school children that receive out of school suspensions and 62% of those that end up in juvenile detention centers here in Westchester. So, I think that speak directly to your first question of the kind of school pipeline that people speak about. And it has to do with the disproportionate use of heavier handed discipline if you will, of students of color. We find students of color are often in schools where there is more security or resource offices as they are also called.

            And so, it's sort of when you're in that situation, then not surprisingly shouldn't find them to go disciplined at a harsher level. It's not that [inaudible 00:03:23] of color get into any more trouble than any other students, the white students, but it's just what the action is taken. And we have certainly seen, and there is research that says students of color are often disciplined for the more sort of subjective. You were being disrespectful or you were being insubordinate to a teacher or some other school personnel. And that's very subjective. What may look like an interacting that is disrespectful between two people. And then somebody else can do the exact same thing. And you know, it not rise to that level of being disciplined to that severity. So, I think we have to start, as you said, at kind of the beginning and look at schools and how we can form more supportive and restorative climates in our schools, because not to say that children don't do things that are wrong and need to be disciplined, but it should be done in a restorative pattern.

Speaker 1 (04:36):

The Yonkers public school system consists of over 26,000 pre kindergarten to grade 12 students in district schools, as well as nearly 5,000 attending charter, parochial, or private schools. 73% of those in district schools and out of district programs are economically disadvantaged with 60% being Hispanic and 17% black. Allison describes some of the work being done within the Yonkers public schools to address the school to prison pipeline.

Allison Lake (05:06):

You know, Westchester county has over 40 different school districts and they each have their board of trustees and their codes of conduct. And certainly there are templates that are available, New York state for all public schools, but at the end of the day, every district does have their own code of conduct that they're able to put forward. And you mentioned the Yonkers school district, which I know for the past several years have really looked at their codes of conduct and revised and revised again, to try and limit some of the disproportionality that has happened.

            As I said, with the type of offenses. And then what is the actual punishment and making it out of school suspension should really be the last resource. And as I said, there's a movement throughout the state around statewide legislation, the solutions not suspensions to do just that, to say, first of all, that we cannot use suspensions for our younger students. You know, under grade three for example. Could we all agree that those under seven or eight years old, regardless of what's happening should not be suspended, but the action or behavior should be looked at to understand why a child perhaps is misbehaving and trying to give them services and support. So, that's a big piece of it because it can start better early in a classroom.

Speaker 1 (06:39):

In discussing the school to prison pipeline and how it functions on an institutional and more localized level. It is important to recognize the implicit biases that have harmed black people and black men in particular for centuries. What does it look like when teachers biases make their way into a classroom setting? Allison describes it for us.

Allison Lake (06:56):

We do an annual advocacy [inaudible 00:07:01] where we bring in an outside speaker to help all of us kind of think outside the box and to learn some things. And this was a doctor professor from Yale that spoke a few years ago. Gil was his last name. And he had done a study of early childhood or preschool teachers where he had the teachers observe four students, young four year old preschools who were playing around the table with Legos or something like that. And they were instructed to look at the child who you think is misbehaving or not doing right by their peers. And he actually tracked their eye movement. And soon she said, "Oh, look for maybe a child who's going to do something wrong or misbehave." I forget what ridiculous amount of teacher's eyes went to the black boy.

            It was a black boy, a white boy, a black girl, and a white girl. And automatically their eyes went to the black boy. And we have heard this over and over again, there is research to say that even a young age, black boy are suspended more than any other group. And it turns out that the children, no one was doing anything wrong. They were behaving as four year olds do behave. They were just playing at a table. And so, those kind of input biases that we all have start early and we have to address them early. So, there's the sort of teacher awareness and training piece, there's the codes of conduct that have to be out there. And we have to hold all of our districts accountable. As you said, there are different districts here in Westchester, some more diverse than others, but those that have a diverse population of students, I think have a level of responsibility to make sure that discipline is being [inaudible 00:09:09] out equally amongst their students.

Speaker 1 (09:12):

It is clear that these inherent biases of violence and criminality that society places on black men is reflected in the school to prison pipeline. And in black men's, over representation in the criminal justice system.

Speaker 2 (09:30):

We got the opportunity to speak with Yonkers kindergarten teacher of [inaudible 00:09:34]. We spoke about what she's learned from her years of teaching and why she chooses to approach teaching with empathy.

Speaker 3 (09:39):

Let's say there's two students. And one student is using a cell phone to talk to mother who's like army, the military leave and she hasn't spoken to her in like three days. And then another student is just on the cell phone, what is the infraction that they've done? What are the consequences? And it was really interesting because for me, I just felt like, well, the kid who have talked to his mom, like let talk to his mom. But it has to sort of be equal. So, you have to kind of treat all the kids that get there's a no cell phone rule. They're saying you should follow through all no cell phone rule. My perspective on it is that, listen, we're educators, we have a mind, we can think outside the box and make those decisions based on the situations that occur in our schools or in our classroom.

Speaker 1 (10:30):

[inaudible 00:10:30] also acknowledges that using the same forms of discipline for all of her students does not work. She chooses to approach discipline with an awareness that every child is different.

Speaker 3 (10:38):

[inaudible 00:10:38] Work with the students. But now I need to do this. And I can't just tell the kid okay, time out. Because that's not always going to work for every kid. Someone can, I use, maybe have a compound box and a little kid maybe poetry where the kids who are older can go, just write a little bit and get some of their frustrations out. So, each teacher has to kind of model her classroom in a way that helps the students that are... With her that year and every year could be different. So, one year I used this like red, yellow, green sort of like traffic light behavior system. So, if you are green, you make great choices. If you go to yellow, slow down, maybe made a few mistakes. If you go to red you will have to sit down and think about what happened, talk to the teacher about it, whatever it's right.

            Some years that works with the term, other years, kids are not into it. So, then you have to figure out, okay, what about stickers? What about punch cards? What about, I don't know, there's all these kids teachers have done where they get these little eraser and the kids get the erasers to put on their desk, literally could be a sticker at the end of the day. Whatever you can kind of give your students so they know that you're proud of them. And if they need some help, doesn't mean you're not proud of them. It means they need to work on that.

Speaker 1 (11:51):

[inaudible 00:11:51] shared a touching anecdote from her first year of teaching that has stuck with her throughout her career.

Speaker 3 (11:56):

I have one student in this class whose mom had some drug use issues. And the child definitely was exhibiting some of the thing that come from a parent who use drugs. And she'd beat my teaching age, she would bark at the other kids. She would roll under the table. So, I have no idea what to do. Right. I'm a first year teacher. So, I grabbed her hand. And I held her hand the entire day. And that calmed her down. So, I would be teaching and she would be holding my hand. I would be telling the kids get maybe a snack, have snack and he'd be holding my hand. And that year she learned a lot. And one teacher said to me, you know why... This is the one I was telling you. She said, why are you taking [inaudible 00:12:49] pregnant coming back to school anyway.

            And I remember getting so angry and my face got red. And I told that person. I said, "How dare you say that?" She's starting out. If I don't give her chance, who will? And this particular girl went onto the next year, having another amazing teacher who, same thing was like, just hold her head. She, [inaudible 00:13:13] and I would keep checking in. I would keep going in and checking on this kid. And you know what? She did pretty well. She did well in the sense that she enjoyed coming to school. She said that she cares about us. She was not biting people. She was not kicking and walking in anyone. After sometimes because she learned to trust. And I think I learned that it's not always going to be what you read in the teacher manuals. It's not always going to be when you Google, like how to deal with behavior problem.

            That's not always going to work. They didn't tell you to hold someone's hand. That's just what I tried as someone who had no clue and it worked for this particular child, but it also made a big difference in that child's year. Because I was still able to teach the other 17 kids who were there. They weren't afraid anymore because she wasn't barking at them and rolling under the table. And it made the experience a lot better. So, I think something over all these years that I've learned is just always trying and maybe even taking a risk because you never know how that's going to come across. So, just making sure that whatever you choose to do, you try it if it works fabulous. And if it doesn't, it might not work. The next 30 things you try might not work either. But I think the fact that you keep trying shows that you're an amazing educator because you realize you are always learning.

Speaker 1 (14:35):

Approach to teaching and discipline demonstrates that every teacher has the power to lead with empathy and have a positive impact on their students.

Speaker 2 (14:49):

Rob Rizzo has 24 years of teaching experience. 17 of which has been in the Yonkers Public Schools. He's a current seventh and eighth grade teacher. And has priorly worked as a high school Dean of students. Sitting down with him, we received valuable insight of discipline in one of our county school districts.

Rob Rizzo (15:07):

All teachers are trained to a certain extent regarding discipline, whether it's in the teacher training program while they're in college or graduate school. And then there are always workshops given to teachers that are already in the field to try to improve the use of disciplinary measures. And there's definitely a movement in schools to train teachers to tone down potentially combustible situations with students. For teachers to take a more therapeutic approach to the handling of students rather than a punitive approach. And that's certainly the movement in public schools today. Disciplinary measures in school range from teacher student conversations to teacher reprimanding students privately, teacher reprimanding students in person, teacher referring students to an administrator because of behavior issues. And then that can lead to detentions, suspensions and in severe cases, expulsions.

            In Yonkers, suspensions are not something that we like to do on a regular basis. We really try to hold back on suspending a student unless it's absolutely necessary. We are required by the code of conduct that when there's the commitment of a crime on school property, that there is a mandatory suspension attached with committing a crime. So, for example, students bringing a weapon into the school, students starting a small fire in the bathroom, or something like that, intentionally, it's arson. Those types things are things that happen in school from time to time and would lead to suspensions. And if they're repeated, could potentially lead to expulsions, especially violent crimes.

Speaker 1 (17:50):

Rob then offers his insight into suspensions and expulsions.

Rob Rizzo (17:54):

Unfortunately, I would say that suspensions and expulsions typically do not improve student behavior. Typically, suspensions lead to resentment on the part of the student and their parents. That being said, I do believe that there are times when students need to be suspended. You know that there are times where having certain students in school creates an unsafe environment for the other students. And while that may be problematic for that particular student who's being suspended, in terms of the greater good in protecting the rest of the student body, it's sometimes necessary.

Speaker 1 (18:51):

These stark disparities in educational outcomes are the product of centuries of systemic racial inequality and decades of policies that have disenfranchised black Americans. Therefore, it is essential that policies aimed at closing the school to prison pipeline are a combination of comprehensive reform on federal state and municipal levels. While, there is certainly work that individual teachers can make in their classrooms. Allison Lake reminds us that systemic issues require systemic solutions.

Allison Lake (19:21):

People from communities where perhaps they don't have the racial ethnic groups or breakouts, that's there need to pay attention to what's happening at the state level around our legislation and what kind of second chances that we're giving young people who do find themselves involved in the justice system. And so, the solution not suspensions I mentioned is state legislation. There's a Porter chief justice coalition that are looking at expanding opportunities for that 16 to 25 year old population that finds themselves in the justice system. And that's something that I would hope again, that all of us particularly, the voting public would take note of. And demand better opportunities for young people, even if they don't look like you or come from the community where your children go to school. At the end of the day, it's about supporting all young people in the kind of next generation.

Speaker 1 (20:26):

At the same time, Allison notes that there is a significant opportunity for districts to make changes on a more localized level.

Allison Lake (20:34):

Monitoring your data. The school districts need to know who's being disciplined, who's being suspended. Look at it by race, ethnicity, gender, special ed, not special ed to sort of see where the picture is. And then, they can kind of hone in on those policies that are impacting that. And I know districts, as I said, we spoke about Yonkers. That's what they've done. And they continue to look at their data to make sure it's headed in the right direction. And so, I think it's that local school district level data they need to look at.

            They need to look at their codes of conduct, especially if they haven't kind of pulled them out and vested them off for a few years to see if they are in line with many of the best practices. This is an area that's getting a lot of attention, nationally. I think there are a lot of templates and policies out there that have shown that they mentioned more positive outcomes for kids. And so, every district sort of look and say, okay, what could we perhaps change in our policy levels to get better outcomes for kids? At the end of the day schools are in the business of teaching and educating kids, and seeing that they graduate from high school. So, how do we increase those numbers looking at graduation? Great.

Speaker 1 (21:58):

There is a plethora of opportunity and a great need for restorative work at all levels, but which policies must be prioritized and which levels are most important. Allison says a little bit of everything.

Allison Lake (22:12):

I think there is place at the state level. So, a local level, but then at the state level also to lend guidance and to really change some of the more dangerous sort of policies that have been out there and impacting children of colors. And so, it's like we have to kind of do it at all levels. Michael, I guess would be my answer. We need to do the state, we need to do the county, especially county as diverse as Westchester with our many districts and then at the district level as well. And I think transparency is the biggest piece because when parents, when community members understand what's happening at their schools, and they can work in partnership with school personnel, and board trustees to bring about better outcomes for the kids, it's a win for everyone.

Speaker 1 (23:08):

The school to prison pipeline is rooted in stark disparities and access to resources. Allison speaks on how these inequities work to funnel black and other minority students into the justice system or lack thereof.

Allison Lake (23:21):

Westchester Children's Association was involved with many and led the effort here in Westchester county for the raise the age legislation that happened in the 2017 budget. And that took a lot of people from all walks of life, really working together to say, we could do better and give our children regardless of their background, or zip code, or race, more opportunity. All kids As I said make mistakes and get in trouble, but it's the resources and support in wealthier districts. As you mentioned, it's like children certainly get in trouble, whether it is with drugs or something. So, just discipline, but it's been resources that a family may have, but keeps their child out of state the public system, or will get him or her some supports around alcoholism or something like that. And another child same behavior, but not access to those same kind of services. So, find themselves in the public system. And we know really our goal is to have kids not touch the justice system at all, because once you touch it, you're more likely to get deeper involved in it.

Speaker 1 (24:33):

The pervasive inequality we see in our criminal justice system and the school to prison pipeline here in Westchester requires comprehensive reform on both the macroscopic and microscopic level. Whether it be systemic policy change on a state level, or more localized efforts to reframe disciplinary approaches. The work that needs to be done is important, and it is necessary. In recognizing and working to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, Westchester and the country as a whole can work towards providing students with the opportunities and resources they deserve.

Speaker 7 (25:05):

When you give young people structure, and opportunities, and second chances, the support to deal with anger management or mental health issues, or substance abuse issues and put them in a supportive environment they can really change their lives around. We started to raise the age legislation. We were often quoting brain science that talks about young people's brains farming until 25 years of age. And that last piece that's bundle cortex where understanding to put off, you don't need that immediate kind of gratification.

            You're better able to reason that happens all the way till 25. And so up until that time, I think it's important that we recognize that young people and we give them opportunity to have changes. There's a judge rice out of new [inaudible 00:26:04] who is piloting an opportunity court. In [inaudible 00:26:10] again, to give young people support, and mentors, and help them to really change their trajectory. And it's more programs like that we need everyone to support, to get behind, and to stay at the county level at the state level. We want the dollars and resources to be able to do that. We don't want to throw away any young person. And so, I think that if we can continue to fight, as I said, for these kind of expansions in our legislation and policy, we really are giving young people more opportunity.

 

Alexa Goldberg, Avery Widen, Emely Carvajal, Manya Tam

Episode 1:

Speaker 1 (00:01):

My name is Avery Whidden. And for the past seven months, I have been working in a group with students from Bronxville, Mount Vernon and Yonkers to explore Ed-Equity and education in our hometowns. Although they border each other, the school systems of Yonkers and Bronxville are vastly different. The aspect of these differences that we chose to focus on are the quality of education for students with disabilities, especially during the COVID 19 pandemic. Students with dis disabilities were disproportionately affected by the isolation and adversity that was imposed on us all. As a result of this inequality, we decided to interview educators and school employees to delve deeper into how these students were affected by these issues, how their mentors responded to these challenges, and what each school district did to combat these problems. I interviewed Catherine Gill, an aid at my high school, the Bronxville school.

            It's been almost a year since COVID started. So it's definitely a good time to reflect. I'd say, just to begin, how has virtual schooling affected your job?

Catherine Gill (01:14):

Okay. So come last March, the entire school was for virtually remote and that meant staying home. Of course, as much as we can and going on Zoom. And with my students, zooming was very difficult. It's very difficult for nearly all students, but special needy students. It is decidedly, worse for them, because you need to get them to focus, pay attention and avoid distractions, which they will do in a in-person class, but on a Zoom link, no. So it's hard to reach them. And the only way that I personally could reach my student was in the breakout room. And I couldn't call them into a breakout room too often because they wouldn't like that at all. They wouldn't respond. So I just, kind of, went with the flow with them, like everybody else.

Speaker 1 (02:39):

Yeah. So how would you say the students responded to those changes? A little more in depth. Would you elaborate on that?

Catherine Gill (02:46):

Okay. Yeah. Well, I could tell since I know my student, I'm one on one this year, last year I had two and I've always had different numbers. I can tell when they're not focusing, because they're looking over to the side, quite possibly watching something on TV or on their phone. I could just tell they're not paying attention to class. And once in a while I would speak up and say, are you listening? But I did not do that often as I don't want to single them out ever. Because they do not like that. So I wouldn't do it ever.

Speaker 1 (03:28):

I can imagine. So what would you say some benefits and drawbacks of having only one student this year were?

Catherine Gill (03:36):

Well benefits. I can focus my entire time on them and their subjects and getting them ready for class and making sure everything is done that should be done before we get into class. And we do that usually in resource room.

Speaker 1 (03:55):

Okay.

Catherine Gill (03:55):

And we go over the homework and the expectations. And so that's the benefit? The drawback. Certainly, I was glad Zoom was there. I never even heard of the word Zoom before March. I personally did not. Maybe others have. I was just glad I was there because it meant that were trying to stay connected, which is very important, especially with special needs kids.

Speaker 1 (04:29):

So did the school make any special accommodations for students with disabilities and your students?

Catherine Gill (04:38):

Not really. It was always extra... Well, yeah, there's extra help classes, but that's been there all along. And it was still there. Should they need extra help with their classwork? And so yes, they availed of that.

Speaker 1 (05:01):

Okay.

Catherine Gill (05:01):

And they wanted to.

Speaker 1 (05:02):

That's nice. So this fall hybrid schooling came along. What were some of the challenges you faced with hybrid schooling?

Catherine Gill (05:09):

Well, I personally did not face any because my student was full time all the time since September. As were a lot of special needs students, because everything is better in-person for them. It just is. And so since it was, and since the parents could have them in school in-person every day, that's what a lot of parents opted for the students. So that worked out really well, I think.

Speaker 1 (05:45):

I'm sure. Yeah. I actually did not know that they made those accommodations. So that's great. So a little bit on the technology bit. How did you go about adapting to all of the new technology that you were using?

Catherine Gill (05:57):

Well, I am not by any means technologically savvy. However, Zoom, I didn't find it that hard at all.

Speaker 1 (06:07):

That's nice.

Catherine Gill (06:08):

Once I knew I had that link, I knew where to go than to begin to say, "Oh, what is this?" I had so many different class to go to, but once I got the link down pat, I was fine. And so would students.

Speaker 1 (06:23):

So the students also did not run into too much difficulty with the [crosstalk 00:06:27].

Catherine Gill (06:27):

No, they did not. Thank God for Zoom. That's all I'd say.

Speaker 1 (06:33):

So additionally, what would you say you have learned from the students you work with throughout this?

Catherine Gill (06:41):

Without question, they would much rather be in school than at home. And that's all ages that I've observed throughout the building. Definitely better to be in person. Yeah. I haven't heard one student ever say I'd rather be home. Which was surprising.

Speaker 1 (07:03):

Yeah. I think that might go as well for students without disabilities.

Catherine Gill (07:07):

Yeah.

Speaker 1 (07:08):

Even

Catherine Gill (07:09):

Mainstream kids, we call them.

Speaker 1 (07:12):

So you mentioned students of all ages. Have you ever worked with age groups other than high school?

Catherine Gill (07:17):

Yes. I have never in all 21 years worked in elementary.

Speaker 1 (07:23):

Oh.

Catherine Gill (07:23):

I spent virtually most of my time in middle school and high school for... In high school, that's six years.

Speaker 1 (07:34):

So what informed that decision?

Catherine Gill (07:38):

My boss informed that decision. But I did love middle school because of all the trips.

Speaker 1 (07:47):

Yes.

Catherine Gill (07:48):

I went to Williamsburg about five times with students and Washington, about five or six times. They were great.

Speaker 1 (07:58):

Wow! So, have you worked with some of the same students through, from middle school to high school?

Catherine Gill (08:03):

Yes.

Speaker 1 (08:03):

So you've carried through with that?

Catherine Gill (08:05):

Exactly.

Speaker 1 (08:06):

All right. That's amazing. How would you say the learning experience for students changes between middle school and high school?

Catherine Gill (08:14):

Well, it just, to me, I'm sure it's changing for them, but for me it's not, I still have to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do, doing the homework and all the other expectations that pretty much stays the same for me. But for them, it might be different. They may have to read more and do more work and spend more time on math in the high school, I found.

Speaker 1 (08:49):

Do you ever work with the parents as well, of the students?

Catherine Gill (08:49):

No.

Speaker 1 (08:52):

Okay.

Catherine Gill (08:52):

No. I just work with virtually all the aids in the building. Just work with the resource room teacher. And if anything has to be said to the students' parents, that would be the resource room teacher who will do that.

Speaker 1 (09:10):

All right. Was that line of communication affected at all throughout the pandemic?

Catherine Gill (09:15):

No. Never.

Speaker 1 (09:16):

All right.

Catherine Gill (09:16):

No.

Speaker 1 (09:17):

That's good to hear. What are some takeaways you have professionally after this experience?

Catherine Gill (09:28):

Let's see. Well, professionally, Let's... I have to think on that one. Well, naturally it all depends on the students you are assigned to. And if they're easy to get along with or not. Now, I've the student, I'm presently I've been with for Lord, six years.

Speaker 1 (10:02):

Wow!

Catherine Gill (10:02):

And it's been great. However, in the past, I've had students extremely difficult, who were desperately in need of an aid support, but rejected the aid at every turn. I've seen that happen, not just to me, but to other ages. It's very difficult. They don't want to stand out or look different. Some doesn't bother at all and some it does, it depends on the individual. So for advice on that, I would just say, go with the flow and certainly, never hold over or never nag. That's a definite turn off. You won't gain their confidence if you nag. And I have virtually had mostly boys in my 21 years, I've had two girls. And the boys are easier.

Speaker 1 (11:02):

Really? Wow!

Catherine Gill (11:03):

Yeah.

Speaker 1 (11:04):

What would you say about the boys that makes them easier to work with?

Catherine Gill (11:10):

Well, they don't seem to hold grudges.

Speaker 1 (11:18):

Oh, interesting.

Catherine Gill (11:19):

Yeah. And girls can have very, very definite opinions. Whereas the boys, yes, they may say this today. Tomorrow could be something else. They don't take most stuff as seriously, I think. Anyway, it's girls.

Speaker 1 (11:34):

Interesting.

Catherine Gill (11:35):

Yeah.

Speaker 1 (11:37):

So do you have any choice in who you work with or [crosstalk 00:11:41]?

Catherine Gill (11:41):

No, I do not.

Speaker 1 (11:42):

Okay. So each year you're are just assigned a certain number.

Catherine Gill (11:45):

Yes. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Speaker 1 (11:45):

All right. Do you see any patterns in either the reluctance or students wanting an aid in middle school or high school? Can you [crosstalk 00:11:57].

Catherine Gill (11:56):

Do I see that?

Speaker 1 (11:57):

... Contrast? Yeah. Are students in middle school less inclined to wanting an aid or maybe more inclined?

Catherine Gill (12:04):

No. In high school I would say less inclined.

Speaker 1 (12:06):

Oh, interesting.

Catherine Gill (12:07):

Yeah.

Speaker 1 (12:08):

Okay.

Catherine Gill (12:09):

Yeah. Very definitely.

Speaker 1 (12:11):

All right. Do you think there's a reason for that?

Catherine Gill (12:14):

Well, all I can think of is that they're getting older and friends are important to them and they don't like the idea of having to work with an aid in the classroom. So that's why we have to be really cool in the classroom. Yeah. And I understand that perfectly, also. So that's what I think. Did I answer that fully?

Speaker 1 (12:45):

Yes.

Catherine Gill (12:46):

Okay.

Speaker 1 (12:46):

Of course. Thank you. Also, just quickly about the Bronxville school, would you say the school has done a good job to help you and give you the resources you need throughout the pandemic?

Catherine Gill (12:56):

Absolutely. They even went overboard. I taught-

Speaker 1 (13:02):

Oh, Really?

Catherine Gill (13:02):

Yes. I really do think so that they were very good to us aids. I really do.

Speaker 1 (13:09):

Yes. And how about the students with disabilities?

Catherine Gill (13:12):

Yeah. Yes. I definitely think so. They're also. Yeah, they're very good to the resource from kids. Absolutely. And the health is there. Yeah. The support is there. They just have to reach out or sometimes you have to push them a little in that direction.

Speaker 1 (13:35):

All right. That's very good to hear. Are there any specific things you can think of that the school did or that you asked for, and they were able to provide?

Catherine Gill (13:45):

Not anything in particular. It stayed pretty much as it was pre pandemic.

Speaker 1 (13:54):

Wow!

Catherine Gill (13:55):

So there were supportive then and they're supportive during it. So yes, that's what I think.

Speaker 1 (14:02):

Well, it's almost nearing the cutoff. So I'll try to wrap this up. Are there any important messages you have or either other aids or schools seeking to better their resources or programs for students with disabilities?

Catherine Gill (14:23):

Well, I'd just like to speak of the pandemic. There's no question that in-person learning cannot be duplicated no matter what. Although, we were glad Zoom was there, but you cannot beat in-person. Everyone is happier, they're glad to see each other, even though, as you know, they're not on top of each other, we've seen our disability. Just glad to be back. And in person cannot be beat. I thank God for zoom.

Speaker 1 (14:57):

Yes. Thank God for Zoom. Yes. I definitely agree that schools, especially with programs with students with disabilities should focus on getting those kids back in school.

Catherine Gill (15:07):

Absolutely. And they're glad to be back. They're smiling and happier, I think anyway.

Speaker 1 (15:13):

Yes. I'm sure. Well, that's all for today. Thank you so much.

Catherine Gill (15:17):

Thank you very much.

Speaker 1 (15:21):

My name is Avery Whidden and for the past seven months, I have been working in a group with students from Bronxville, Mount Vernon and Yonkers to explore Ed-Equity and education in our hometowns. Although, they border each other, the school systems of Yonkers and Bronxville are vastly different. The aspect of these differences that we chose to focus on are the quality of education for students with disabilities, especially during the COVID 19 pandemic. Students with dis disabilities were disproportionately affected by the isolation and adversity that was imposed on us all. As a result of this inequality, we decided to interview educators and school employees to delve deeper into how these students were affected by these issues, how their mentors responded to these challenges, and what each school district did to combat these problems. I interviewed Catherine Gill, an aide at my high school, the Bronxville School.

 Episode 2:

Ken Taylor (00:00):

My name is Ken Taylor. I'm a safety officer at Saunders High School.

Speaker 2 (00:05):

Okay. How has COVID affected you?

Ken Taylor (00:09):

Well, a couple of my family members have gotten it, but they have survived. So thank God for that. But just seeing everything going on in the world, we've been on lockdown for a long time. That's always hard on people. And just seeing what individuals are going through throughout the world, that's been a little tough.

Speaker 2 (00:29):

How has COVID affect the people around you?

Ken Taylor (00:34):

Well, it's similar to what I just said. My grandmother, she had COVID and she beat it, thank God. Our family was worried. And then the individuals within the house, they didn't get it, but she did. So she survived. So it's really just being cautious out here and then making sure that we do the right thing. But besides that, everything else has been okay with my family and a lot of my friends though. Some of my friends have gotten it. They also survived as well. So it's just really, it doesn't have any age restriction. It doesn't care who you are, male, female. We just have to do our best to be safe.

Speaker 2 (01:16):

How has COVID affected the education system?

Ken Taylor (01:21):

Well, I think that a lot of our kids are affected due to the fact that some kids are not coming to school. And I understand it for sure. They want to be safe, but on another hand, I also know that these young kids, they need to socialize and be outside and they need to be around their friends. So hopefully we get back to that point where everything is okay.

Speaker 2 (01:48):

What group of students do you think was affected the most?

Ken Taylor (01:53):

The students who I think that were affected the most are individuals who were probably at home and they haven't seen [inaudible 00:02:06] know about, and that could stem from anybody. It could be somebody with a 4.0 GPA to somebody on a sports team. It doesn't matter who, what, when, where, or how, if coming to school was your outlet from getting away from gangs or the street life, this was where you came from to feel safe. And sometimes you came from here because it may not be the safest place.

Speaker 2 (02:33):

Okay. Do you think they could do better with the education system now? Or are you satisfied with what they have done so far?

Ken Taylor (02:39):

I don't think you could ever be satisfied with anything in life, but I do know they're doing the best that they can to make sure they're helping every kid. And that's tough to do because you have to not only focus about the kids in school, but now you have to focus at the kids at home. So you can't plan, but we see the office public schools doing their best to get everybody a laptop that doesn't have one. And those things are essential to the young students who want to learn from home. So I do think that they're doing their best in making sure all students are being served.

Speaker 2 (03:16):

All right. Is there something that you would change in the education system?

Ken Taylor (03:20):

To be honest with you, I don't know if it's per se the education system that is bad, or is it just that now in the times of COVID it has changed the way we have to do certain things? When you look at teachers, teachers have to teach in two different places at one time. They have to teach students in class, as well as students that are online. And sometimes that could be extremely difficult, especially if a kid needs a little bit more attention at home, or if a kid may need a little bit more attention in the classroom, you have to kind of pick and choose on what you're going to do.

Speaker 2 (04:00):

Okay. Do you want to leave a message before we leave?

Ken Taylor (04:00):

For who?

Speaker 2 (04:05):

Would you like to leave a message before we finish the interview?

Ken Taylor (04:07):

The one thing I would say is everyone stay safe. For my students at Saunders High School, I can't wait to see you guys. And for my senior class, I love you guys. I love everybody else and I can't wait to see you guys both at the finish line.

Speaker 2 (04:19):

All right. Thank you.

 Episode 3:

Speaker 1 (00:00):

By 1917, every state in the United States of America had passed laws making it a requirement for all school age children to receive an education. Prior to this, the 14th amendment passed in 1868, made it a constitutional right for the same education to be accessible to all regardless of race. Yet today, students suspended or expelled for discretionary violations are nearly three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year. Data shows that those students are overwhelmingly more likely to be black.

            This system where working class minority students, mainly black males are disproportionately funneled into the criminal justice system, is called the school to prison pipeline. In Westchester County, 14% of children are black. Yet they make up 41% of public school children that receive out of suspensions, 56% of kids in the foster care system, and 62% of juvenile detention populations. 67 years after the US Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, black students are still facing an educational environment that delivers worse educational outcomes than their white counterparts. It is essential that we ask why these disparities exist? Why they persist? And what can be done to initiate palpable reform in our educational institutions?

Speaker 2 (01:40):

We spoke with Allison Lake, executive director of the Westchester Children's Association, who was able to outline for us what the school to prison pipeline looks like here in Westchester.

Allison Lake (01:50):

We know you're in Westchester County that students of color, African American, Hispanic, Latino students are suspended and disciplined at a higher rate than their white counterpart. And Westchester Children's Association developed in 2020 a fact sheet on black children and youth in partnership with the anti-racist Alliance and children's village. They looked at some of those things. So, black children represent 40% percent of children here in Westchester county, and yet they're 41% of the public school children that receive out of school suspensions and 62% of those that end up in juvenile detention centers here in Westchester. So, I think that speak directly to your first question of the kind of school pipeline that people speak about. And it has to do with the disproportionate use of heavier handed discipline if you will, of students of color. We find students of color are often in schools where there is more security or resource offices as they are also called.

            And so, it's sort of when you're in that situation, then not surprisingly shouldn't find them to go disciplined at a harsher level. It's not that [inaudible 00:03:23] of color get into any more trouble than any other students, the white students, but it's just what the action is taken. And we have certainly seen, and there is research that says students of color are often disciplined for the more sort of subjective. You were being disrespectful or you were being insubordinate to a teacher or some other school personnel. And that's very subjective. What may look like an interacting that is disrespectful between two people. And then somebody else can do the exact same thing. And you know, it not rise to that level of being disciplined to that severity. So, I think we have to start, as you said, at kind of the beginning and look at schools and how we can form more supportive and restorative climates in our schools, because not to say that children don't do things that are wrong and need to be disciplined, but it should be done in a restorative pattern.

Speaker 1 (04:36):

The Yonkers public school system consists of over 26,000 pre kindergarten to grade 12 students in district schools, as well as nearly 5,000 attending charter, parochial, or private schools. 73% of those in district schools and out of district programs are economically disadvantaged with 60% being Hispanic and 17% black. Allison describes some of the work being done within the Yonkers public schools to address the school to prison pipeline.

Allison Lake (05:06):

You know, Westchester county has over 40 different school districts and they each have their board of trustees and their codes of conduct. And certainly there are templates that are available, New York state for all public schools, but at the end of the day, every district does have their own code of conduct that they're able to put forward. And you mentioned the Yonkers school district, which I know for the past several years have really looked at their codes of conduct and revised and revised again, to try and limit some of the disproportionality that has happened.

            As I said, with the type of offenses. And then what is the actual punishment and making it out of school suspension should really be the last resource. And as I said, there's a movement throughout the state around statewide legislation, the solutions not suspensions to do just that, to say, first of all, that we cannot use suspensions for our younger students. You know, under grade three for example. Could we all agree that those under seven or eight years old, regardless of what's happening should not be suspended, but the action or behavior should be looked at to understand why a child perhaps is misbehaving and trying to give them services and support. So, that's a big piece of it because it can start better early in a classroom.

Speaker 1 (06:39):

In discussing the school to prison pipeline and how it functions on an institutional and more localized level. It is important to recognize the implicit biases that have harmed black people and black men in particular for centuries. What does it look like when teachers biases make their way into a classroom setting? Allison describes it for us.

Allison Lake (06:56):

We do an annual advocacy [inaudible 00:07:01] where we bring in an outside speaker to help all of us kind of think outside the box and to learn some things. And this was a doctor professor from Yale that spoke a few years ago. Gil was his last name. And he had done a study of early childhood or preschool teachers where he had the teachers observe four students, young four year old preschools who were playing around the table with Legos or something like that. And they were instructed to look at the child who you think is misbehaving or not doing right by their peers. And he actually tracked their eye movement. And soon she said, "Oh, look for maybe a child who's going to do something wrong or misbehave." I forget what ridiculous amount of teacher's eyes went to the black boy.

            It was a black boy, a white boy, a black girl, and a white girl. And automatically their eyes went to the black boy. And we have heard this over and over again, there is research to say that even a young age, black boy are suspended more than any other group. And it turns out that the children, no one was doing anything wrong. They were behaving as four year olds do behave. They were just playing at a table. And so, those kind of input biases that we all have start early and we have to address them early. So, there's the sort of teacher awareness and training piece, there's the codes of conduct that have to be out there. And we have to hold all of our districts accountable. As you said, there are different districts here in Westchester, some more diverse than others, but those that have a diverse population of students, I think have a level of responsibility to make sure that discipline is being [inaudible 00:09:09] out equally amongst their students.

Speaker 1 (09:12):

It is clear that these inherent biases of violence and criminality that society places on black men is reflected in the school to prison pipeline. And in black men's, over representation in the criminal justice system.

Speaker 2 (09:30):

We got the opportunity to speak with Yonkers kindergarten teacher of [inaudible 00:09:34]. We spoke about what she's learned from her years of teaching and why she chooses to approach teaching with empathy.

Speaker 3 (09:39):

Let's say there's two students. And one student is using a cell phone to talk to mother who's like army, the military leave and she hasn't spoken to her in like three days. And then another student is just on the cell phone, what is the infraction that they've done? What are the consequences? And it was really interesting because for me, I just felt like, well, the kid who have talked to his mom, like let talk to his mom. But it has to sort of be equal. So, you have to kind of treat all the kids that get there's a no cell phone rule. They're saying you should follow through all no cell phone rule. My perspective on it is that, listen, we're educators, we have a mind, we can think outside the box and make those decisions based on the situations that occur in our schools or in our classroom.

Speaker 1 (10:30):

[inaudible 00:10:30] also acknowledges that using the same forms of discipline for all of her students does not work. She chooses to approach discipline with an awareness that every child is different.

Speaker 3 (10:38):

[inaudible 00:10:38] Work with the students. But now I need to do this. And I can't just tell the kid okay, time out. Because that's not always going to work for every kid. Someone can, I use, maybe have a compound box and a little kid maybe poetry where the kids who are older can go, just write a little bit and get some of their frustrations out. So, each teacher has to kind of model her classroom in a way that helps the students that are... With her that year and every year could be different. So, one year I used this like red, yellow, green sort of like traffic light behavior system. So, if you are green, you make great choices. If you go to yellow, slow down, maybe made a few mistakes. If you go to red you will have to sit down and think about what happened, talk to the teacher about it, whatever it's right.

            Some years that works with the term, other years, kids are not into it. So, then you have to figure out, okay, what about stickers? What about punch cards? What about, I don't know, there's all these kids teachers have done where they get these little eraser and the kids get the erasers to put on their desk, literally could be a sticker at the end of the day. Whatever you can kind of give your students so they know that you're proud of them. And if they need some help, doesn't mean you're not proud of them. It means they need to work on that.

Speaker 1 (11:51):

[inaudible 00:11:51] shared a touching anecdote from her first year of teaching that has stuck with her throughout her career.

Speaker 3 (11:56):

I have one student in this class whose mom had some drug use issues. And the child definitely was exhibiting some of the thing that come from a parent who use drugs. And she'd beat my teaching age, she would bark at the other kids. She would roll under the table. So, I have no idea what to do. Right. I'm a first year teacher. So, I grabbed her hand. And I held her hand the entire day. And that calmed her down. So, I would be teaching and she would be holding my hand. I would be telling the kids get maybe a snack, have snack and he'd be holding my hand. And that year she learned a lot. And one teacher said to me, you know why... This is the one I was telling you. She said, why are you taking [inaudible 00:12:49] pregnant coming back to school anyway.

            And I remember getting so angry and my face got red. And I told that person. I said, "How dare you say that?" She's starting out. If I don't give her chance, who will? And this particular girl went onto the next year, having another amazing teacher who, same thing was like, just hold her head. She, [inaudible 00:13:13] and I would keep checking in. I would keep going in and checking on this kid. And you know what? She did pretty well. She did well in the sense that she enjoyed coming to school. She said that she cares about us. She was not biting people. She was not kicking and walking in anyone. After sometimes because she learned to trust. And I think I learned that it's not always going to be what you read in the teacher manuals. It's not always going to be when you Google, like how to deal with behavior problem.

            That's not always going to work. They didn't tell you to hold someone's hand. That's just what I tried as someone who had no clue and it worked for this particular child, but it also made a big difference in that child's year. Because I was still able to teach the other 17 kids who were there. They weren't afraid anymore because she wasn't barking at them and rolling under the table. And it made the experience a lot better. So, I think something over all these years that I've learned is just always trying and maybe even taking a risk because you never know how that's going to come across. So, just making sure that whatever you choose to do, you try it if it works fabulous. And if it doesn't, it might not work. The next 30 things you try might not work either. But I think the fact that you keep trying shows that you're an amazing educator because you realize you are always learning.

Speaker 1 (14:35):

Approach to teaching and discipline demonstrates that every teacher has the power to lead with empathy and have a positive impact on their students.

Speaker 2 (14:49):

Rob Rizzo has 24 years of teaching experience. 17 of which has been in the Yonkers Public Schools. He's a current seventh and eighth grade teacher. And has priorly worked as a high school Dean of students. Sitting down with him, we received valuable insight of discipline in one of our county school districts.

Rob Rizzo (15:07):

All teachers are trained to a certain extent regarding discipline, whether it's in the teacher training program while they're in college or graduate school. And then there are always workshops given to teachers that are already in the field to try to improve the use of disciplinary measures. And there's definitely a movement in schools to train teachers to tone down potentially combustible situations with students. For teachers to take a more therapeutic approach to the handling of students rather than a punitive approach. And that's certainly the movement in public schools today. Disciplinary measures in school range from teacher student conversations to teacher reprimanding students privately, teacher reprimanding students in person, teacher referring students to an administrator because of behavior issues. And then that can lead to detentions, suspensions and in severe cases, expulsions.

            In Yonkers, suspensions are not something that we like to do on a regular basis. We really try to hold back on suspending a student unless it's absolutely necessary. We are required by the code of conduct that when there's the commitment of a crime on school property, that there is a mandatory suspension attached with committing a crime. So, for example, students bringing a weapon into the school, students starting a small fire in the bathroom, or something like that, intentionally, it's arson. Those types things are things that happen in school from time to time and would lead to suspensions. And if they're repeated, could potentially lead to expulsions, especially violent crimes.

Speaker 1 (17:50):

Rob then offers his insight into suspensions and expulsions.

Rob Rizzo (17:54):

Unfortunately, I would say that suspensions and expulsions typically do not improve student behavior. Typically, suspensions lead to resentment on the part of the student and their parents. That being said, I do believe that there are times when students need to be suspended. You know that there are times where having certain students in school creates an unsafe environment for the other students. And while that may be problematic for that particular student who's being suspended, in terms of the greater good in protecting the rest of the student body, it's sometimes necessary.

Speaker 1 (18:51):

These stark disparities in educational outcomes are the product of centuries of systemic racial inequality and decades of policies that have disenfranchised black Americans. Therefore, it is essential that policies aimed at closing the school to prison pipeline are a combination of comprehensive reform on federal state and municipal levels. While, there is certainly work that individual teachers can make in their classrooms. Allison Lake reminds us that systemic issues require systemic solutions.

Allison Lake (19:21):

People from communities where perhaps they don't have the racial ethnic groups or breakouts, that's there need to pay attention to what's happening at the state level around our legislation and what kind of second chances that we're giving young people who do find themselves involved in the justice system. And so, the solution not suspensions I mentioned is state legislation. There's a Porter chief justice coalition that are looking at expanding opportunities for that 16 to 25 year old population that finds themselves in the justice system. And that's something that I would hope again, that all of us particularly, the voting public would take note of. And demand better opportunities for young people, even if they don't look like you or come from the community where your children go to school. At the end of the day, it's about supporting all young people in the kind of next generation.

Speaker 1 (20:26):

At the same time, Allison notes that there is a significant opportunity for districts to make changes on a more localized level.

Allison Lake (20:34):

Monitoring your data. The school districts need to know who's being disciplined, who's being suspended. Look at it by race, ethnicity, gender, special ed, not special ed to sort of see where the picture is. And then, they can kind of hone in on those policies that are impacting that. And I know districts, as I said, we spoke about Yonkers. That's what they've done. And they continue to look at their data to make sure it's headed in the right direction. And so, I think it's that local school district level data they need to look at.

            They need to look at their codes of conduct, especially if they haven't kind of pulled them out and vested them off for a few years to see if they are in line with many of the best practices. This is an area that's getting a lot of attention, nationally. I think there are a lot of templates and policies out there that have shown that they mentioned more positive outcomes for kids. And so, every district sort of look and say, okay, what could we perhaps change in our policy levels to get better outcomes for kids? At the end of the day schools are in the business of teaching and educating kids, and seeing that they graduate from high school. So, how do we increase those numbers looking at graduation? Great.

Speaker 1 (21:58):

There is a plethora of opportunity and a great need for restorative work at all levels, but which policies must be prioritized and which levels are most important. Allison says a little bit of everything.

Allison Lake (22:12):

I think there is place at the state level. So, a local level, but then at the state level also to lend guidance and to really change some of the more dangerous sort of policies that have been out there and impacting children of colors. And so, it's like we have to kind of do it at all levels. Michael, I guess would be my answer. We need to do the state, we need to do the county, especially county as diverse as Westchester with our many districts and then at the district level as well. And I think transparency is the biggest piece because when parents, when community members understand what's happening at their schools, and they can work in partnership with school personnel, and board trustees to bring about better outcomes for the kids, it's a win for everyone.

Speaker 1 (23:08):

The school to prison pipeline is rooted in stark disparities and access to resources. Allison speaks on how these inequities work to funnel black and other minority students into the justice system or lack thereof.

Allison Lake (23:21):

Westchester Children's Association was involved with many and led the effort here in Westchester county for the raise the age legislation that happened in the 2017 budget. And that took a lot of people from all walks of life, really working together to say, we could do better and give our children regardless of their background, or zip code, or race, more opportunity. All kids As I said make mistakes and get in trouble, but it's the resources and support in wealthier districts. As you mentioned, it's like children certainly get in trouble, whether it is with drugs or something. So, just discipline, but it's been resources that a family may have, but keeps their child out of state the public system, or will get him or her some supports around alcoholism or something like that. And another child same behavior, but not access to those same kind of services. So, find themselves in the public system. And we know really our goal is to have kids not touch the justice system at all, because once you touch it, you're more likely to get deeper involved in it.

Speaker 1 (24:33):

The pervasive inequality we see in our criminal justice system and the school to prison pipeline here in Westchester requires comprehensive reform on both the macroscopic and microscopic level. Whether it be systemic policy change on a state level, or more localized efforts to reframe disciplinary approaches. The work that needs to be done is important, and it is necessary. In recognizing and working to dismantle the school to prison pipeline, Westchester and the country as a whole can work towards providing students with the opportunities and resources they deserve.

Speaker 7 (25:05):

When you give young people structure, and opportunities, and second chances, the support to deal with anger management or mental health issues, or substance abuse issues and put them in a supportive environment they can really change their lives around. We started to raise the age legislation. We were often quoting brain science that talks about young people's brains farming until 25 years of age. And that last piece that's bundle cortex where understanding to put off, you don't need that immediate kind of gratification.

            You're better able to reason that happens all the way till 25. And so up until that time, I think it's important that we recognize that young people and we give them opportunity to have changes. There's a judge rice out of new [inaudible 00:26:04] who is piloting an opportunity court. In [inaudible 00:26:10] again, to give young people support, and mentors, and help them to really change their trajectory. And it's more programs like that we need everyone to support, to get behind, and to stay at the county level at the state level. We want the dollars and resources to be able to do that. We don't want to throw away any young person. And so, I think that if we can continue to fight, as I said, for these kind of expansions in our legislation and policy, we really are giving young people more opportunity.

 Conclusion:

Speaker 1: I would like to thank Katherine Gill, Ken Taylor, and Evan again for taking the time to speak on their experiences as educators during the pandemic, especially with a student population that desperately needed continuity and security. If you would like to explore the topic of equity and access and education further, feel free to listen to other podcast series on various issues impacting local educational systems through the Sarah Lawrence Justice Fellowship. Thank you again for listening, and have a great day.

Isabelle Friedberg, Jamilyn Taylor, John Aden, Maeve Sullivan

Jamie Lynn (00:00):
Hi, my name is Jamie Lynn and I am a senior at Sarah Lawrence College located in Westchester County, New York in the town of Bronxville. I worked with a group of high school students as part of Sarah Lawrence's justice fellowship to create this podcast, which will be about school funding. These are my group members.

Maeve (00:20):
My name is Maeve Sullivan, and I'm a senior at Bronxville High School.

Isabelle (00:23):
My name is Isabelle. I'm a high school junior, and I go to Bronxville High School.

Johnny (00:28):
Hello. My name is Johnny N. Harvey, and I'm a junior in high school at the Denzel Washington School of the Arts.

Jamie Lynn (00:34):
In this podcast, each of these high school students will discuss their interviews with four educational leaders who address the systemic inequity of school district funding, sources of school funding, and COVID-19's impact on them and how schools address these funding issues.
We will look at the large scale issues of school funding generally in the United States. We will also have specific examples of how fundings functions in two different school districts here in Westchester County, the Bronxville school district and the Mount Vernon school district.

Speaker 5 (01:06):
In our exploration of the inequities of school funding, I was able to interview professor Michael Rebell of Columbia university. He put in context the reason impacts of funding as it relates to schools in the last decade.

Michael Rebell (01:19):
So if you had asked me this question in 2007, I would've been on top of the world. I would've told you we solved the whole problem. Look at this new formula. All the poor districts who get literally billions of dollars, the state committed to increasing funding throughout New York State by $7 billion a year for every year. And the poor districts are going to get most of that money. And they did for the first couple of years. But then as I say, when the recession hit, the state first froze any further increases and then they started cutting.

Maeve (01:57):
But since 2020, these financial issues have become even more heightened with the pandemic. Looking at two districts within the same five miles reveals striking differences. In an interview with the head of budgeting at Bronxville school, Dan Carlin unravels the fascinating role of a private foundation that serves to meet the unmet financial needs of the school.
So I guess following that would be obviously with COVID. How is that impacted this year, with the like the... Glass of... Or not glass, the plastic Plexiglas shields, and then how do you see it impacting future years?

Dan Carlin (02:31):
With us? The foundation helped us out a lot. The Bronxville School Foundation, they privately raised money to supplement kind of innovation in the district. And this year they gave us a few hundred thousand dollars. I think it was somewhere between two and $300,000 to help purchase a lot of that Plexiglas stuff.
But we spent, I think to date... I just got this email today. We spent over 500,000 for just PPE, that kind of stuff, extra cleaning, COVID-related expenses. And that was split between what the foundation gave us and our own maintenance budget. For instance, we're spending a lot less on lining fields because the sports seasons are collapsed and stuff like that, and a lot of that has gone to COVID. We're spending less on buses for athletics, that kind of stuff. And all of that has gone to those COVID-related expenses.

Maeve (03:43):
However, these resources aren't available in every area, as highlighted by Mount Vernon superintendent.

Johnny (03:49):
For the next part, I would like to introduce my interviewee, Dr. Kenneth Hamilton, superintendent of the Mount Vernon city school district, while interviewing the superintendent, I asked about the financial effects COVID-19 has had on the school district's budget. He said that they were saving money due to the fact that students weren't in the buildings and that subtracts across utilities. However, a large amount of the money was taken out of the budget for general operating costs in order to pay for technology and PPE for the entire district, leaving the district in a very unfavorable situation and scrambling for a solution. These were his words.

Dr. Kenneth Hamilton (04:24):
So I had a little experience with what it took to move to a digital platform pretty quickly. So I think that worked in our advantage. But those costs really came out of nowhere. Just the computers, the face masks, the hand sanitizers, and most recently the partitions that are now in classrooms. So we've just had to take that out of our general operating budget.

Maeve (04:53):
Fortunately, the recent stimulus package is able to meet the needs of districts that the financial stress isn't too large going into the next year.

Dan Carlin (05:00):
And we thought we were going to get a cut in our state aid, because last year the governor told everybody to expect a 20% cut in state aid.

Maeve (05:10):
Oh wow.

Dan Carlin (05:10):
But the federal stimulus is going to make that up.

Maeve (05:13):
Okay.

Dan Carlin (05:14):
So we're not expecting a cut.

Maeve (05:16):
However, we recognize the pandemic is only a small piece of the puzzle and there's a lot that goes into a child's education. And as a professor from Harvard School of Education noted.

Speaker 10 (05:25):
I think we've got to eliminate child poverty in the United States. So I mean, that's one thing. Universal healthcare, universal early childhood education, entitlement to all children to have summer learning and summer enrichment, dental care. We've got to deal with the mental health problems, which are huge. All these things are critically important. And we can't rely on schools to do all those things. It's a community issue. This is an issue that's bigger than just schools.
Schools are having enough trouble trying to achieve world class standards with the limited resources they have in the academic subjects. If you ask them at the same time to solve food and nutrition problems, which they work on, but it's a bandaid to solve health problems, which they work on, but they only can do so much. Childhood safety. Well, they can't really do anything once the kid leaves the school. So on and so forth.
They have limitations. We have to recognize those limitations. And if we're serious as a society in achieving policy objectives, like No Child Left Behind, or Every Student Succeeds, which the name of our federal policies in this domain, then we're going to have to do more. We're going to have to create a platform that enables young people to be ready for success.

Speaker 5 (06:49):
While this project only examines the budgets of two districts, it highlights the inequities that still exist within the system. A deeper exploring of these inequities is needed on a national level. And hopefully with the commitment of young people in these areas of reform, we will see a shift in the way in which we fund schools.