The recent events at Intermediate School 117 in the Bronx sparked me to write this post. My heart goes out to the teachers of I.S. 117 because I know first hand about the death of a student to street violence.
I was born and raised in East Harlem. Growing up in East Harlem in the Late 1970’s and Early 1980’s meant one thing street violence was commonplace. In 1984, my best friend was murdered at 17. It was his death that led me to the become an educator.
In 2004, one of my students was shot and killed in a school yard on East 109th street in East Harlem (I actually taught in my neighborhood in hopes of giving back). The morning after the student’s murder, the then principal of Manhattan Center had pulled us into her office and explained what happened.
As I sat there and listened to her tell three of my colleagues and I about this child’s death, one thought raced through my mind “Did I do enough to save this child?” I know the teachers at IS 117 are asking themselves the same question.
For each of those teachers the answer will come in time.
For me personally, I went to that child’s funeral and paid my respect to his parents. I took the book receipt that he signed and I put in on the bulletin board in my office and looked at it every morning before I started class. It reminded why I was a teacher.
Meanwhile the question. ” Did I do enough to save this child?” Still resonate in my mind, but my answer is this I did the best I could with the tools that were provided to me. I know the world is a cruel and dangerous place and we never know when it our turn, but I do this job because the kids are our future and I hope that the things they learn from me can help them navigate through life.
While this answer and TIME have helped me to make sense of a tragedy the one thing that never goes away is the last image you have of that child. It is part of you forever and in my case it is what drives me the minute I walk through the school’s doors in the morning.
While the hurt eventually subsides the question will always be how can we prevent this from happening again?
The answers to this question are not as simple as some would like, but here are some of my opinions.
1) School must stop unreporting incidents. I know from my experience as a dean at Manhattan Center some violent incidents were not reported.
2) If we are going to have zero tolerance for bullying it has to be uniformed across the board. The reality is teachers and staff members are bullied by principals every day. (In my 3020a hearing Arbitrator Lisa Brogan wrote that Mr. Silvers is physically bigger then Mr. Jimenez so I couldn’t understand how Mr. Silvers felt bullied by Mr. Jimenez. As usual the mental aspect of Jimenez’s bullying was left out. Constant frivolous write ups and threatening my job are forms of bullying.)
3)Bullying begins at home. Children are not born to be racist or bullies these are learned behaviors. The truth is students spend six hours and twenty minutes a day in school the rest is spent at home or on the street. Parents also need to be educated about the affects of Bullying and the warning signs of Bullying.
4)In 1954, Brown Vs Board of Education ended segregation in Public Schools the reality is segregation still exist. Walk into any school cafeteria notice the self imposed segregation that is occurring. It’s is this behavior that breeds the Gang Mentality.
5) The is no magic wand that is going to end bullying. The reality is there have always been bullies. (When I was a kid my parents would tell me “if some one bullies you punch them in the mouth.”) Today, we tell our kids to talk it out, but our society is extremely competitive and if you want something you have to fight hard for it. (Look at the battle to get into the elite 8 high school in NYC or in sports where coaches don’t accept weakness. Because weakness breeds losers and strength makes winners.) It is this contradiction that confuses many children.
6) Common Sense: Basic Common Sense tells us that if you corner and constantly threaten a timid animal it is eventually going to go into survival mode and attack.The object is to difuse the situation before it escalate. The best way to do this is by watching and listening. (In the case of IS 117 Noel Estevez exhibited many of the signs of being bullied. Common Sense tells you if a students misses school for a three month period and thier parents asking for a safety transfer then their an issue.)
7) The Safety Transfer the DOE provides safety transfer to students who are threatened or who are being bullied. As a former dean I have seen a number of good students get safety transfers, meanwhile the agressor is allowed to continue their behavior within the same school and many times they will target other students. Reality is that the agressor should be transferred and New York City should issue a three strike policy against bullying behavior.
Could the senseless tragedy at IS 117 been prevented. In all likelihood yes. Meanwhile, two sets of parents grieve for the children and wonder about what could have been and a group of teachers wonder about how they could have prevented this tragedy and if they still want to remain teachers.