In case it has escaped you so far, here is a link to the 5 articles in the New York Times about Dasani.
Dasani and her family were documented by Investigative Journalist Andrea Miller over the course of two years, and both photographed and videotaped by photographer Ruth Fremson. Starting on December 9th, the Times published 5 consecutive reports which have shocked and galvanized at least a portion of the City’s population, not least our new Public Advocate, Letitia James, who invited her to her inauguration.
Dasani’s surname was withheld to protect her privacy, but that seems moot when you can read every detail of her life, her address, her school and see photos of her entire family. Leaving this aside, the series is an absolute must-read for anyone who cares about or is baffled by the inability of the richest city in the world to provide for its children and their families.
Other vital insights for the teacher in me come from the profound evidence of the importance of the school community – Dasani finds a safe haven at the Susan S. McKinney Secondary School for the Arts – and the influence of role models who can truly relate to the children’s experience. Ms Faith Hester, a product of the Projects during some of the lowest points of their history, shares her alternative vision to work her way to a secure, meaningful career path out of that fate. Without denigrating the value of ‘outsider’ teachers, or ‘Teach for America’ idealists, it's undeniable that Ms Hester makes a huge impression on her students.
Next, the unspeakable disgrace of the continued existence of the Auburn Houses, in Brooklyn, leaps out. Despite endless litanies of documented abuses, both in the behavior of staff, the condition of the accommodations, and the unacceptable health hazards present – as well as an influx of $10 million in supposed support and remediation – this blight on humanity was not even questioned until the mysterious death of a tiny, premature, asthmatic infant drew official attention and some rudimentary changes. A Social Worker friend of mine simply refused to believe such a place could exist, having worked in many shelters and being suspicious of the exaggerated tales of the homeless… but if the Times can publish it, along with photos and constant documentation, there is no use denying it!
I also found the explanation for another event which caused a family that I met through a school tutoring program to lose their home without warning. In late 2010, Mayor Bloomberg concluded that getting rent support for recently homeless families was creating a new dependency. His solution? To terminate the program forthwith, sending that family and thousands of others out into the shelter system again. Until reading this report, I could never fathom why, having rehoused my friends successfully and allowing a little continuity for the three boys still in middle and high school, they suddenly found themselves back in a shelter in an entirely new neighborhood and in another new school. It made no sense, it still doesn't, but now I know who to thank for this mindless catastrophe.
When we talk of school reform, and when administrators want to transform schools with some new theoretical notion, please, please, please never let them forget that every single child, every single school, every single life path, requires a different solution, and that everything is connected. In my own limited way, I have seen every one of these issues, from the stable, affluent middle class schools to those serving the most at-risk children, and one size DOES NOT fit all. Allowing schools to develop their own best solutions to their own local conditions does not mean that high standards and expectations will be lost. It means that a variety of intelligent, compassionate methods can be employed where they are most effective. Debra Meier and Albert Shankar would be among the first to approve!
Take a look at the suggested reading below for more connections to this report. Please comment and subscribe to my articles. A Happy New Year to all!