Op-Ed: Girls Prep Changes Lives — Zarida Teel

Last week, I spoke to thousands of families from across New York City who came together to demand an end to separate and unequal education in the city we love. I spoke up for my daughter Aliza, but also for the neighborhood that I call home.


Because I know what happens when the schools in your neighborhood are failing. I’ve seen the boys I grew up with turn into young men on the corner, and older men coming home from time in prison. Kids from our neighborhoods have their potential snatched away from them the moment they step inside the doors of a failing school.


I saw this first hand growing up in Brooklyn. When I was growing up, the only school available was my zone school.  It was the worst school in Flatbush. Every day, kids would bully each other and get into fights.  I saw too many shootings to remember. The school was on Parkside Avenue. We called it Darkside, Parkside. 


It got worse from there.  My elementary school fed into the worst local middle school. Then we were all pushed into Prospect Heights High School, a failure factory.


Gangs got bigger. Fights got worse.  Metal detectors and hand cuffs every day. The school exposed children to the idea of prison when it should have been exposing them to idea of college.


So, when it was time for my daughter Aliza to go to kindergarten, I was determined to give her better than what I received.


We got lucky. We got into Girls Prep Bronx, a public charter school.  It’s the school I always dreamed she would go to. When Aliza was in Kindergarten she started visiting colleges! 


Aliza is lucky because she got into Girls Prep. But what would have happened if she hadn’t gotten in? What about the kids who didn’t get in? What about families who have given up, who try year after year, but can’t find a good school for their child?


This is the reality faced by hundreds of thousands of New York families. And we can’t sweep the fact that almost all of these children are Black or Latino under the rug. It’s a fact.


Here’s what that means for children from my community:


It means they are far less likely to graduate high school or go to college.


It means they’re going to struggle to find a job that gives them a ticket to the middle class.


It means another generation of children will grow up in poverty.


A great school changes lives. It changes entire neighborhoods. But until our city’s leaders – particularly Mayor de Blasio — are willing to do what it takes to give all kids access to great schools right now, kids who look like my daughter will continue to be systematically discriminated against by our public school system.  

Zarida Teel is a parent and the mother of a second grader at Girls Prep Charter School in the Bronx.


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