Updated 01/19/2010 12:00 AM
The Last Lesson: Students Feel Responsible For School's Struggles
It's named for a legendary African-American singer, actor and human rights activist. But Paul Robeson High School is one of 20 schools the city wants to close. With a vote scheduled next week and no plans to replace it, NY1 Education reporter Lindsey Christ goes inside for a special week-long look at the Brooklyn school, which has more than 1,000 students and 1,001 issues to deal with.
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Cutting out early on a recent afternoon, some students at Paul Robeson High School said why not? They weren't going to be learning anything anyway in their last three classes that day.
Low expectations, low attendance rates, and low graduation rates are all reasons the Department of Education cites for why it wants to close the high school.
But many of the students at Robeson say they blame themselves, and their peers, for the school’s fate.
“It's our fault why it’s like that,” said student Willie Richardson. “The students is bad, so it's our fault.”
In the DOE's annual school survey, students report their classmates do not treat teachers with respect, do not help or care for each other, engage in gang activity, illegal drugs and alcohol, frequent bullying, and physical fights – all in the school building.
“The school doesn't make it bad,” said Wendy Craigwell, another student. “It’s the kids who make it bad.”
But many say the Department of Education has fueled the school’s decline. In recent years, it's closed other big schools in Brooklyn, like South Shore, Canarsie, and Tilden. But instead of being dispersed to smaller schools, many of those neediest students ended up at Robeson, where graduation rates plummeted and violent incidents rose, as members of rival gangs were suddenly pushed into the same hallways and classrooms.
“If you have students coming in from Rikers Island or you have students coming in from high schools that already closed and you said they have failed, or you have students that are over-aged and under-credited. What do you expect?” asked student Felicia Henry.
“You have too many students with challenges with too little resources. You have to bring the resources and say, ‘you know what, we see your problems and we are going to help you,'" continued Henry. "Not say, ‘you know what, you are failing, we are phasing you out and then we are going to shift all these kids to other schools and phase them out, too.’”
This week, NY1 will bring viewers inside Paul Robeson High School – looking at the stories behind the statistics. Leading up to the vote on whether the school will be closed, the station will focus on the challenges students face, from the top students applying to college to the teenage parents who rely on the school's daycare center to those at risk of dropping out.