Taylor Raynor is an Assemblywoman for NYS 18th AD. Taylor devoted her life to the field of psychology before running to represent the people of her district. Tired of hearing complaints about crumbling infrastructure, inadequate schools, and poor quality of life falling on deaf ears, Taylor decided to take action and run for her first political office.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” But what happens when the quality of education that you receive is not sufficient enough to even change your own community?
Look no further than parts of the New York State Assembly’s 18th District that I represent – specially, but not limited to, Hempstead. Plagued by decades of stagnant advocacy and selfish bad actors, the Hempstead School District is in peril. Less than one in five third through eighth graders in Hempstead rate as “proficient” on the English and Math statewide tests. Hempstead High School posts a paltry graduation rate of 37 percent. These numbers are indicative of a major gap; a gap of information, collaboration, and understanding – and in order to bridge that gap, we must meet our students where they are.
Our children are failing in school, because our schools are failing our children. Many kids leave the school system with no marketable skills, no college prospects, no way to support themselves. In this day and age, when even a college degree does not guarantee you a job, the quality of education these students receive robs them of a financially secure future. The issue has been building for years, and as a result, there is no quick or easy fix for it.
When I am faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, I remember a quote by 13th century Poet, Rumi: “As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.” I believe the first step on the way to reviving the Hempstead School District is getting these students to school.
As it stands currently, a student must live outside of a three-mile radius to get a bus to the high school, and a twp-mile radius for the middle school, per state-wide rules. If students can’t rely on a ride to school from a parent or guardian, and without cab fare, they are forced to walk in weather ranging from sweltering heat to unbearable cold, in torrential rain, and even heavy snow. That alone is enough of a challenge to keep even the most ambitious, motivated students at home.
However, there is a remedy to that. By declaring the Hempstead School District a “Child Safety Zone” the three mile rule would no longer apply. A “Child Safety Zone” can be declared when a child’s path to school is considered hazardous – considering the inclement weather, the recent uptick in shootings and violence, and entrance to the high school requiring the crossing of a major street, there’s no reason this district would not qualify.
Once the students have arrived at school, the challenge shifts to successfully educating them. A reorganization of students and curriculums may be necessary to bridge the massive gaps that exist. You cannot teach eigth grade math to a student who’s understanding is capped at a fifth grade level. Additionally, we need more teachers that speak the primary languages of our students that have immigrated here from Latin America and the Caribbean Islands, Spanish and Haitian Creole are among the most prevalent in this district.
A traditional education is not the route for every student, and to meet them where they are, I will work diligently to incorporate labor union apprenticeship program options into our schools. Taking students who, for one reason or another, have bleak college prospects and giving them motivation to continue on in school is already a small victory. Factor in the chance they have to earn a living while they are being trained in a trade, and I believe we give more students a fighting chance.
We are at a pivotal time in this district, not just in Hempstead, but also in Roosevelt, and to a lesser but still concerning extent, Uniondale. If we do not begin to bridge these gaps immediately, it is unlikely our children will even have the means to invest back in the community that invested in them. That means fewer local businesses, more zombie houses, and an even steeper decline in quality of life.
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” — Malcom X.