Chauncy Young is from Minnesota and lives in the neighbourhood of Highbridge The Bronx. He comes into the office and I hear him first; calling to others saying ‘yeah we’ve got to get that parks commissioner we need a date! tell him Monday Wednesday Thursday or Friday!
He looks busy and he tells me he’s working on a few different things. Chauncy is a parent organiser for the a small group called United Parents of Highbridge and works with all the schools in the area. He is also Director of Organisation Department for the Highbridge Community Life Centre part of the NYC Coalition. The United Parents of Highbridge is a parent-led group, being part of creating pilot programs to improve schools throughout New York City – Coalition for Education Justice. They initiated the ‘lead teacher program’ which involves parents members of the community and teachers to assign to be involved with hiring staff. Highbridge is recognised as being one of the most neediest areas in education, underperforming with the worst results. They qualify for ‘Teach for America’ program which is a fellowship for teachers and is great, but causes a high turnover in staff. The families who move to the area are usually illiterate in their own language so support is key in this area (25 different languages – sounds very familiar) Having a master teacher provides consistency and support to this families. The initiative was successful and ran city wide, however, Mayor Bloomberg took out the Parent component. Chauncy says despite this they are still very active in this respect and have increased engagement with now ten schools in the area.
He talks about the different schools in the area. Public, Private, Charter, Faith Based schools – Charter schools are similar to our academies meaning different criteria of entry, being a Charter school, you don’t need to have a union. Then there’s catchment areas, they are strict depending on your geographical location. Then there’s middle schools, there was not until recently any middle schools so children had to be transported to other districts.
His mission – every child has the opp to have a right to a decent education, to prepare to go onto college, go to a high performing high school and prepared for the world of work.
We start walking and talking, he has about 500 photocopied sheets of A4 leaflets and needs to get them out to schools. It is the 4th Annual Harlem River Festival run facebook.com/harlemriver
on the 5th October by the Harlem River Working Group. They have a group from the Mississippi River to let children canoe on the river. First he has to pin down the principal at a local middle school to make sure the kids can do it. As we walk he’s telling me the how the voice of the parent group meets the needs of the local neighbourhood. He says that group has ‘thrown out their fare share of principals!’ in the past because of their failure to engage with community effectively.
We pass an elementary school, that was campaigned for in the 1960’s. Moving closer to the present day is the brand new Highbridge Green School – http://www.highbridgegreen.com/
campaigned for again by the group. It is newly opened and is the first Middle School in NYC to be environmentally friendly, the uniform is even green AND it’s only for children in the neighbourhood and very popular in the area now. They’re still waiting on the green roof and basket ball court. All the children look really happy to be here, all look enthusiastic as they move through the corridors. I spy a guy talking animatedly in an adjoining room to the children. He looks very involved as though he’s giving out instructions for an afterschool club, being a play leader.
We walk into the office area with lots of administrators asking if we’re okay. Chauncy waves the leaflets about saying he’s coming to see Kyle. Kyle walks in the same man I saw, he looks like he’s 19 and he’s the principal! Chauncy says he won over the panel and was the best choice for principal. Kyle is animated, young and very visible within the school, having being a science teacher, he loves science and will be adapting that part of the curriculum into the green ethos of the school. But Kyle has bad news, they won’t let the children take part in the canoeing trip. It’s too soon for a principal in his first year to let the children go out on the river. We’d just call that Health and Safety. I can feel Chauncy’s disappointment and afterwards tells me how gutted he is about it.
But knowing Chauncy for the last 30 minutes he does’t look like it going to get the better of him, i’m sure he’s got some tricks up his sleeve to work around it. I’m still getting used to all the coalitions and affiliations but these are fundamental to the likes of these projects. Chauncy says you have to involve everyone, religious leaders, businesses, with the right people, passion and determination you can make anything happen.