In the City school system, evaluations of our students mostly stop at grades and test scores — and we often ignore critical challenges impacting their performance, such as learning disabilities, health care, and trouble at home. If we are going to be truly successful in providing a quality education to all young people, we have to look at the whole child and provide what they need to succeed — inside and outside of the classroom. I will do that by:
- Identifying and supporting students with disabilities and other learning challenges.
- Providing healthy eating options and social services directly in schools.
- Create more culturally-aware classrooms.
De-emphasize testing culture and promote holistic growth of the full child.
The experiences that drive sincere engagement with education are not derived from standardized testing; they come from holistic active learning experiences students have with their classmates and teachers. Students whose sole day-to-day educational life consists of preparing for standardized exams are not learning the depth of the material in their coursework. While the next administration won’t throw away the necessary tool of standardized testing, the DOE should go above and beyond to celebrate innovative approaches to education that create informed young adults prepared to succeed in college and/or career.
With more access to arts and culture, as well as an early appreciation for mindfulness, our children will be healthier and given more freedom to fully develop their personhood within the context of their education. For the first time, students from all backgrounds will be able to see themselves in the literature and educational content they consume in the classroom.
As a long-term mission, the Adams administration will seek to work in partnership with State lawmakers to adapt diploma requirements to better reflect these principles.
Establish a universal program of meditation and mindfulness to begin every school day.
It is estimated that one half to two-thirds of children experience trauma, and children and adolescents in urban environments experience higher rates of exposure to violence. Studies have proved that a child’s reaction to trauma can interfere with brain development, learning, and behavior – all of which have a potential impact on a child’s academic success as well as the overall school environment. Students in the New York City school system are also at risk of trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing social unrest.
A culture of mindfulness in the classroom, including proven stress-management techniques like meditation, can help students faced with structural challenges develop the inner strength and wherewithal to overcome the obstacles stacked against them. Numerous studies have demonstrated that a meaningful positive impact on behavior and learning ability results from practicing meditation and mindfulness, including academic performance, cognitive ability, and social-emotional development.
Mindfulness can be an education equalizer, offering a fresh slate every day to students who come to the classroom in varied states of wellness. We will pursue a universal program that gives every student a start to their school day, whether in-person or remote, with a brief session of meditation and mindfulness. This effort will be able to build positively off the internal infrastructure that made it possible to expand training of social-emotional learning.
Identify students with disabilities to help end the prison pipeline.
Students diagnosed with a disability are more likely to be suspended or expelled, often a first stop to prison. One study found that disabled students were suspended twice as often and 75 percent more likely to be expelled as those without a disability — and that 1 in 7 students suspended or expelled students later had “contact” with the juvenile justice system.
We must recognize that thousands of students with disabilities do not receive their full mandated education by the end of the school year, and we can’t simply accept that status quo. We will do a full audit of students who have not received their education and therapies, and develop a program to provide “makeup” services. We will shift to a real-time tracking system so we know when students with disabilities are not receiving their full education. We need to be able to course correct in the middle of the school year if we are not meeting our obligation to provide education and therapies to a student with disabilities. We must also recognize that our City is not an English-only city and that needs to extend to special education services and classes. Advocates for Children estimated that almost 4,000 students required bilingual special education and almost 70 percent did not receive that. That is astounding and shameful. We will double down on hiring educators and aides who are bilingual.
Make dyslexia screening universal.
Studies show that up to 30-40% of inmates in prisons are dyslexic, indicating that students whose learning challenges are not discovered are also not addressed, leading to avoidable negative outcomes. By making dyslexia screening universal in City schools, we will identify these challenges early and better ensure success for students. Schools must find better alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, increase job training programs, and make dyslexia screening universal to identify these challenges early and ensure better student success.
Improve health and school performance with healthier food.
There is clear evidence that what we eat — especially what children eat — significantly affects mood, attention, and mental and physical health. Yet our schools continue to feed our children empty calories and processed foods that impede their ability to thrive and achieve. Even worse, some foods served in our schools, and the bad lifestyle habits eating them leads to, set children on a path to developing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
We created “Meatless Mondays” in schools — but that did not go nearly far enough. We will completely overhaul the menu, focusing on whole, fresh foods, encouraging consumption that leads to children’s improved health and school performance.
Revamping school nutrition should naturally be linked to an expansion of aquaponic, hydroponic, and other small-scale urban agriculture programming in classrooms, an expansion of the successful Growing Brooklyn’s Future initiative in dozens of schools across the borough. Hands-on education on the journey from soil to plate that is connected to cafeteria, classroom garden experiences, and school kitchens will include curriculum on food systems and nutrition. In addition to growing opportunities on school campuses, we will expand educational urban farming in off-campus locations like Governor’s Island and Roosevelt Island.
Institute a robust program for culturally-aware professional development.
Nearly one-half of all New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home, and families from hundreds of different countries move here every year. Their kids may have different cultural norms that affect how they learn and their ability to succeed in an American classroom. We will create a professional development program for educators to ensure they are culturally responsive to those students.
Teachers will be trained in how to adapt to the cultural perspectives their students may bring to the classroom, ensuring that students from all backgrounds are given an equal opportunity to succeed. The materials that are provided to our students in the classroom will also be more responsive to their full personhood.