Opinion: Bronx Kids Need Access to Quality Charters and G&T Programs


By Leah Binyamin


Whenever I talk to my friends and neighbors about all the change that’s come to the Bronx, I notice a few common refrains. Everyone I know in my home borough is thrilled to see major revitalization efforts taking place, and everyone is eager to see this transformation include more great public school options.


Our Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr., has been a driving force behind the Bronx’s ongoing renaissance, and he’s also on the same page as us when it comes to education. In September, he joined thousands of Bronx families and advocates like me at the #PathToPossible rally in Prospect Park, giving an inspiring speech about the power of a great public education and supporting our effort to grow New York City’s public charter schools to 200,000 students by 2020. And just last week, he joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to launch the Gifted & Talented Education Task Force, a new initiative that will expand the number of gifted and talented programs citywide and put more of our students on the path to future success.


Why is it so important to me that leaders like Borough President Diaz are working to expand Bronx students’ access to high quality public charters and gifted and talented programs? Because, growing up here, I learned that the education you receive as a child and the direction your life ends up taking are often inseparably linked. When I was in school, I saw the same story play out again and again: my peers who were given the resources to excel academically and encouraged to live up to their full potential graduated and went on to colleges and careers, while those who lacked these opportunities and felt ignored by their schools often fell by the wayside. Instead of continuing their education on a college campus, they learned on the streets.


In 2017, this heartbreaking phenomenon in still going on. Through my work with community organizations like the Infinity Bible Church in Soundview and The Bronx Defenders, I speak with a lot of young people from across the borough, and I recognize in them the same dissatisfaction and lack of passion about their education. Because they don’t have access to a learning environment that inspires them to strive for success, I worry that their opportunities down the road will be extremely limited.


The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. When kids in the Bronx have access to great public schools, with inspiring teachers and engaging classes, they go on to do amazing things. I’ve seen it happen up close many times, most recently as an organizer for Families for Excellent Schools. The families I work with in this role, most of whom send their children to public charter schools in the borough, are a real testament to the power of a quality public education. When I ask them what impact attending a high performing public charter school has had on their kids, they’re quick to tell me that their sons and daughters have never been so happy in school, and so invested in their own futures, as they are now.


I want to see this hunger for learning in every child raised in the Bronx. That’s why I think Bronx residents should do everything we can to give our kids better public education options, from bringing more world class public charter schools to our borough to supporting programs like Borough President Diaz’s Gifted & Talented initiative.


Both the #PathToPossible movement for more public charter schools and the Gifted & Talented Task Force are badly needed in our communities. Right now, 12,700 Bronx families are still on waiting lists for seats in public charter schools, and the Bronx has fewer gifted and talented programs than any of the other boroughs, with less than four seats for every 1,000 students.Two of our school districts — District 7 in the South Bronx and District 12 in the central Bronx — don’t have a single gifted and talented program, and together they educate more than 45,000 students. By increasing the number of gifted and talented programs in our neighborhoods and increasing the number of public charter school seats to 200,000 citywide, we can give thousands more kids in the Bronx the chance to participate in a program or attend a school that could change their lives.


I’m grateful to Borough President Diaz for supporting more great public school options in the Bronx, and I know that his investment in our kids is also an investment in our borough’s future. When these kids grow up I hope that, like me, they’ll feel inspired by the education they’ve received, proud of the path they’ve taken, and eager to give back to the community that raised them.

Leah Binyamin is a Bronx native, a third-generation New Yorker, and an organizer for Families for Excellent Schools. 

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