Pols Launch Series to Improve College-Readiness in Upper Manhattan

By Carla Zanoni on February 17, 2012 9:02am 

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Elected officials in Northern Manhattan have launched a series of community events to address the low percentage of black and Latino high school graduates ready for higher education.

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat organized a community meeting Wednesday to unite parents, educators, advocates and community leaders to build a plan to improve performance beginning in pre-K.

Only one in four students graduates from city high schools ready for college, according to the New York State Education Department. In communities of color, that number is closer to one in 10 students, with only 13 percent of black and Latino students graduate high school ready for the next level. 

“I wish I could say we are here to celebrate, but we are not,” Rodriguez said during the meeting held at I.S. 143 on West 182nd Street, which was translated for Spanish-language speakers. “This is a big problem in our community.” 

Robert Espaillat, the newly appointed executive director of Alianza Dominicana, said the uptown nonprofit would work with families to introduce children to a new way of thinking about education. 

“We can help, but this has to start with you,” he said in Spanish.

He recalled his mother’s urging him to go to college when he was a child growing up in Washington Heights, where he attended P.S. 152 on Nagle Avenue.

“She told me I had to go to college,” he said. “There was no question. I just knew I had to do it.”

Alianza Dominicana has been taking children on school trips to visit SUNY colleges in upstate New York to “show them how a student can grow,” Robert Espaillat said.

Sen. Espaillat, meanwhile, said collaboration is the key to overcome school overcrowding, lack of funding for schools in the district and the so-called achievement gap. 

“From securing funding for our schools, to increased parental involvement, to raising performance in the classroom, there’s a role for all of us to play in creating a brighter future for our children,” he said.

For many parents, an opportunity to expose their children to a world beyond Washington Heights sometimes feels out of reach. 

“I work hard and I try my best, but sometimes it feels like I can’t get ahead,” said one parent in Spanish who asked to have her name withheld. “But we can’t do it all ourselves, we need help.” 

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