A Working Class Parent’s Dilemma: Gifted & Talented Programs Few And Far Between

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Whether it’s at the State Legislature in Albany, at a teacher rally in Lower Manhattan, or at home with friends and neighbors, I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about a cause that’s very important to me: making sure families from every New York City community have access to great public schools.

In Coney Island, where I live with my 14-year-old son, Pheron, this is a real concern. The district school that Pheron used to attend, and that many kids in our neighborhood still attend, wasn’t preparing him well enough for his future, but for years it was my only option for his education. Then, Pheron won a spot at our local public charter school, Coney Island Prep, and everything changed. He became more excited about his classes, and more confident about his future after high school.

I’m relieved to see my son thriving in school, but I’m also troubled to see thousands of his peers still struggling without the education they deserve. So, as a parent activist, I’ve decided to speak out, and support solutions that will bring better schools to Coney Island, the South Bronx, Harlem, and beyond. Right now, the two initiatives doing the most critical work to reach this goal are the plan to bring more gifted and talented programs to our communities, and the Path to Possible movement to grow our city’s public charter schools to 200,000 students by 2020.

Last week, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. announced a joint task force to study the creation of more gifted and talented programs across the city. This is life changing news for over 63,000 children in the Bronx and Brooklyn, who live in school districts where there are no gifted and talented options at all. The new gifted and talented programs will reflect the city’s diversity better than the current set of programs, which enroll far more affluent white and Asian students than low-income Black and Hispanic students.

Borough Presidents Adams and Diaz clearly understand the importance of giving kids from every zip code equal opportunities for success. They know that there are gifted, talented, brilliant, and ambitious children in neighborhoods like mine, and they’re using their voices as public figures to advocate for these children’s futures. I’m proud to have Borough President Adams as my elected representative, and I’m grateful to Borough President Diaz Jr. as well.

As the gifted and talented task force takes shape, thousands of families are pushing towards another crucial goal: doubling the size of New York City’s public charter schools to 200,000 students by 2020. This is the Path to Possible movement, and I was inspired to join it by the need for more high quality public schools in communities like Coney Island.

Though Pheron was able to attend a public charter school in Coney Island, many of his peers and my neighbors’ children don’t have this option. Because there simply aren’t enough seats at charter schools, these students remain stuck in failing district schools, passed through a system that doesn’t help them or encourage them to reach their full potential. Fortunately, things don’t have to be this way: if public charter schools can fulfill the Path to Possible vision and double their size, twice as many students can attend schools like Coney Island Prep. Charter schools will be able to cut the size of their waitlists from 44,000 to zero, and parents in neighborhoods like mine will be able to breathe easier knowing their kids are getting a great education.

For this movement to succeed, New York City’s charter schools need the backing of city and state leaders, who can provide them with the funding and public space they require to grow. If the Path to Possible is going to become a reality, more elected officials must show the same commitment to education equality as my Congressman, Hakeem Jeffries, who marched alongside charter families in Prospect Park, or as my Borough President, Eric Adams, with his gifted and talented initiative.

Whether they’re considering supporting a program like the gifted and talented task force or joining the Path to Possible movement, I ask elected officials in the five boroughs and Albany to put themselves in the shoes of parents like me. They need to think about how they would feel if they had no choice but to send their kids to low performing district schools, and how thrilled they would be to find out that there were other options available. Then, they need to take action.

In the meantime, I’ll keep making my voice heard on behalf of my son, our neighbors in Coney Island, and every child in the city who’s still waiting for a great public education.

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