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Educating with Compassion, Empathy and High Standards

“Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.”
– John Dewey, School & Society, SUNY Oswego

There is an all-too-common trend to magnify ailments that often impact public education in many cities throughout the U.S.A. Rather than counterbalance those negative perceptions by spotlighting areas of success, which are also happening around us, detractors of public education insist on piling on. Hence, we resist! Public schools continue to fulfill the valiant role of combating inequality by delivering services and offering opportunities to all children in our communities.

Rochester city schools have been at the forefront of one such positive initiative for the past few months. Since the devastation caused by recent hurricanes which ravaged the Caribbean, Rochester Schools have opened their doors to the children of hundreds of families who were displaced from their homes and their towns and who are now arriving in our communities. Almost 400 students have already completed the application, language assessment, and enrollment processes and are continuing their education at one of Rochester’s public schools.

Upon arrival, these families with children ranging from first grade age through twelfth grade, contact relatives or friends in Rochester or seek assistance directly from community agencies such as Ibero-American Action League or the Catholic Family, among others. Consequently, these families and their school age children are referred to the school district to begin enrollment. The process of normalcy for the children begins with the welcoming staff of the Rochester City School District’s (RCSD) Equity and Placement Department. RCSD teachers, social workers, counselors, and office staff join forces to provide professional assistance to the families until the students are finally enrolled in a school. The placement in schools or programs is far from arbitrary. In keeping with New York State instructional standards and to maximize opportunities for continuity and success, the children take the New York State Identification Test for English Language Learners (NYSITELL). This assessment measures levels of language proficiency, giving guidance to assist in the process of appropriate grade level placement or program of instruction selection for each student.

Similarly to the assistance provided by the RCSD, educators who are members of AFT (American Federation of Teachers) are lending a hand to assist teachers living in hurricane ravaged areas, who, like their students, saw their homes destroyed or damaged by the potency of the weather events. The American Federation of Teachers, along with AFL-CIO and other labor organizations, are working in the charitable initiative named “Operation Agua.” They are purchasing water filters and traveling to Puerto Rico to bring water purification methods to families in communities in need of clean safe water.  Public education is the thread that connects these acts of selfless solidarity.

We can all be inspired by the words of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t give up because you are paralyzed by insecurity or overwhelmed by the odds. Understand that failure is a process in life, that only in trying can you enrich yourself and have the possibility of moving forward. The greatest obstacle in life is fear and giving up because of it.” (AZ Quotes)

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