A Failing Bronx School Reborn, As Seen Through the Eyes Of a Student
For the past five years, my Bronx, N.Y. high school DeWitt Clinton has struggled to keep its doors open. We received two consecutive "F" grades from the NYC Department of Education. We were pegged as having NYC's "most heavily armed study body" in 2012. We were threatened with the possibility of closure. We were frustrated by an institutional stamp of failure which we felt was unjust, and humiliated by this public display of ineptitude.
During the 2012-13 school year, DWC waged war on the DOE. Fervent alums, parents, teachers, school aides, and students gathered together during two school forums to prove to the DOE that our school should not be closed down. Even Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio joined in the fight for DeWitt Clinton, citing Clinton as an example of where reform (rather than closure) is the most promising path to success for a struggling school.
While DWC escaped the educational guillotine at the end of the school year, the fight over its future was far from over. This spring, students received a memo from the city stating our school would be downsized. The memo stated that beginning in fall 2013, Clinton would accept a fraction of the freshmen it did in previous years, and would have to eliminate teachers on a "last-in, first-out" basis. Moreover, two new schools would be added to the building's third floor.
My school was demoralized and infuriated by the news. The impending changes filled everyone with bitterness and hostility towards the incoming students and staff, as well as anxiety for our own futures. This had been our school. Would it still be the school we knew? Why should we share our hallways, our space? Was the city trying to help us by downsizing? Or was it doing this to slowly, laboriously shut us down?
For me, the worst part was saying goodbye to dedicated and loving teachers whose lives revolved around helping others. On the last day of school, I held on to my favorite Spanish teacher as she cried.
When the 2013-2014 school year began, the DWC community entered the familiar school doors to witness brand new sights. A charismatic new principal (and plasma TVs in the scanning room and school's front entrance) greeted students. The new TVs, which display the scores from the latest school sporting events and feature information about the school's many famous famous alumni (including fashion designer Ralph Lauren), were the first of many efforts aimed at strengthening our school community amidst the innumerable, sudden changes.
As we have begun to settle into this new school year, two big questions remain: Has Clinton truly changed for the better? If so, what does this reveal about the future of one of NYC's biggest schools, a school which has been the target of the Bloomberg administration's merciless scrutiny for years?
It's too soon to say if our school will make it. But less than one month into the school year, there has been a glimmer of hope for Clinton lying in the hearts of the students, a glimmer which has been absent for the past few years.
Our new principal Santiago Taveras organized a pep rally to celebrate Clinton and boost school spirit. Despite it being 9th period on a Friday, the auditorium was packed with sport teams and Clinton students. The energy in the auditorium skyrocketed. The step team blew everyone away with their power stomps; the cheerleaders showed off their new skills; the sports teams marched to the stage with pride. The auditorium was decorated with the red and black pom-poms held by students. Every five seconds, the audience rose for a standing ovation.
The sight was beautiful. I almost shed a tear when the crowd erupted in the school's anthem. I thought that that no one knew the song, but when the announcer sang "DeWitt C-L-I-N-T-O-N, BOOM!," the hundreds of students in attendance sang it in unison, smiles on their faces. The sing-a-long was a symbol of DeWitt Clinton's triumph, of students' love, pride, and commitment to their school.
Even after years of tumult, it is clear that the community still wholeheartedly embraces our school as our home. We believe it will never fall again.