Math and English Classes Restored at Bronx High School

By Patrick Wall on February 11, 2013 2:36pm 

CLAREMONT — The Bronx High School for Medical Science, which did not offer math or English to some juniors last semester, is now providing those subjects to all 11th-graders after a group of students lobbied the administration and went to DNAinfo.com New York about the missing classes.

The school has hired two additional English teachers and revamped some juniors’ schedules to ensure they take those basic subjects, according to students and the Department of Education.

“It’s a full day of school now,” said junior Kavoy Mayne, one of three students who fought for the classes. “And we’re actually learning now.”  

Last semester, juniors who were not in the school’s honors program took science, history, Spanish, music and physical education classes — but not math or English.

They were told they would eventually earn at least the minimum number of credits needed in those core subjects to graduate.

But the students feared that while they waited to take those essential classes, their skills would slip, their SAT scores would suffer and their transcripts would develop embarrassing blank spots — all sinking their odds of admission into a competitive college.

“I feel like this school is just setting you up for a two-year college,” Mayne said last semester.

When students voiced their concerns and asked administrators and teachers for the classes, they were told the school was short-staffed, students and teachers said in November.

The principal, William Quintana, told one parent that the school was meeting its legal requirements and that the juniors would earn enough credits to graduate, even if they had to wait until the following semester or senior year to take math or English, according to Mariela Torres, whose daughter is a junior.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry about her. She has another year to get the credits,’” Torres said.

But “if she doesn’t have no English, no math,” Torres wondered last semester, “how do you expect that she’s going to do well in college?”

A DOE spokeswoman said at the time that the school’s roster of teachers was “adequate to meet the needs of students” and that the “DOE will work with the school to ensure all students are meeting graduation requirements.”

Several students were not satisfied with that answer.

Torres’ daughter, Marcela Pinos, worked with Mayne and another junior, Eddie Duarte, to push for the classes. They asked an electives teacher if she could also teach reading and writing; Duarte asked his wrestling coach if he could tutor him in trigonometry.

Finally, they took their story to DNAinfo.com New York, which publicized their plight in November.

News of the juniors’ dilemma spread quickly.

“The article was all over the school,” Pinos said. “A lot of people were commenting on it.”

Shortly afterward, the principal visited a general-education junior class to discuss the situation.

Quintana mentioned the article, then said the school had done nothing wrong — students would eventually earn all the credits necessary to graduate, according to several people at the meeting.

He described the required credits as “needs” and the desire for math and English classes every semester as “wants,” according to people who attended the meeting.

To illustrate the distinction, he drew a diagram on the board with two points and said the school would ensure students got from “point A to B,” but added that some students seemed to want a “Ferrari” for their educational journeys, according to people in the room.

Quintana did not respond to phone or email messages. The DOE did not respond to a question about the meeting.

After the meeting, the students persisted in their demands, even forming a group, called Academics for All, to lobby for classes and resources they believe are their right.

Group members pored over the school budget and DOE documents, including ones that describe the services guidance counselors are expected to offer, which students feel have been lacking.

Then, when the spring semester began Jan. 29, general-ed juniors suddenly found two math and two English periods on their daily schedules.

Quintana had hired an additional full-time English teacher and another English sub, according to DOE spokeswoman Stephanie Browne.

The new hires mean that the general-ed juniors, who share the same schedule, now get English, trigonometry, Spanish, science, history and physical education every day.

“We’re going to be more prepared for the SATs, definitely,” said Duarte, adding that his college transcript will look more impressive, too.

“I’m just glad I won’t have to take any remedial classes in college,” Mayne said.

Browne did not explain why the teachers were hired and the classes added.

In answer to that question, she wrote in an email, apparently referring to the honors students who have had English classes all year: “Since most students are accelerated, these two [English Language Arts] teachers will continue with accelerated courses to keep the students engaged in the subject matter.”

She added that, “All students will take the required classes as per New York State graduation regulations.”

The only class the DOE requires high school students to take each year is physical education.

It does mandate that students earn a certain number of credits in the other subjects in order to meet the state’s graduation guidelines, but schools have some leeway in scheduling when students will meet those requirements.

Torres, Pinos’ mother, said she was relieved to learn her daughter will now be taught these basic subjects, but felt the situation was handled poorly.

“I’m happy now, but not satisfied,” she said, noting that the school could drop these classes again next semester. “Now they’re giving math and English — but no explanations.”

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