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While there are many different causes of racism, it is no coincidences that racial tensions in Rochester New York have increased during the decline of the city school district. While watching city schools become less successful, I cannot help but notice the effect it has on the students and the neighborhoods they live in. Due to a dramatic drop in graduation rates among city students and a decreasing amount of support for the school district, the stage is being set for the issues at hand to become far worse.
“With an undereducated and impoverished population we lack a highly involved and informed citizenry” (Vargas). While combating racism is no easy task for a city like Rochester, it becomes nearly impossible when the affected population isn’t educated enough to take a stand against the problems they face. So when standing up to the issue of racism in Rochester, the voices of those who are undereducated are being seen as inferior to the voices of those with a completed education.
While you don’t need a masters or doctorates degree to fight racism in Rochester, it does require a community that is willing and educated enough to fight this problem in a peaceful and effective manner.
In this paper, I will use research from multiple sources, databases and journals to show the correlation between an undereducated inner city and a struggle with racism. With an interview of Rochester city school district superintendent Bolgen Vargas, I will offer the perspective of the man in charge of fighting the problem, along with his theory of how to find a solution.
This will allow the reader to gain a full picture of the ways in which the decline of city schools have influenced the racial tensions between the inner city and the suburban populations. Proving why I feel racism in Rochester is perpetuated by the lack of equal educational opportunities for city school students.
With Rochester’s city student population increasing from 7,500 in 1954 to just under 35,000 by1964, the city school district took on a new role (Schwartz 10). Responsible for nearly five times as many students, the role of the Rochester city schools played in the development of the city was greater than ever. Even though an influx of minorities into the city of Rochester occurred in the 1960’s, minorities only made up 33% of the student population in city schools by 1970 (Baum-Snow 4). Although some may think of that as progress, the diversification of a city and its schools means nothing if new residents and students aren’t treated equally within their communities. Instead of providing a platform for future growth, the influx of minority students and their families in Rochester simply enabled the beginning of our present day struggles.
Although city school students are given an education just like students in suburban schools, it would not be fair to assume that students also have equal experiences in the classroom. Even though city and suburban school students attend school for eight hours five days a week and are taught the same core curriculum, suburban schools were always seen as superior. Vargas identifies an “opportunity gap” between city schools and suburban schools. This is primarily due to the fact that higher suburban taxes lead to greater funding, suburban schools were able to offer more classes, hire more teachers, and provide students with greater amounts of athletic opportunities (Chudacoff 19). This not only created a divide between city and suburban schools, it created the illusion that city schools offer an inferior education. This gap was further increased due to the fact that by 1970, there were less than a combined 100 black students in the suburban schools of Rochester (Baum-Snow 55). Once the heavily white populated suburban schools began to draw more support from the public, people began to lose faith in city schools. With the connection minorities have to the city and its schools, there was room for this loss of faith to be perceived as a lack of faith in their community.
With the problem spreading beyond the classroom, students were no longer the only ones being affected by the lack of equality and support. The unequal educational opportunities were now beginning to take a toll on the surrounding neighborhoods. With graduation rates dropping from roughly 85% in 2001 to just about 50% in 2014, the lives of 16,000 students are about to become very limited (Campbell 7). With a growing volume of residents in the city without a high school diploma or (GED), employment opportunities become very limiting. In a 2012 article by Clare Ansberry in The Wall Street Journal, it is said that “Less than 40% of the 25 million Americans over age 25 who lack a high-school diploma are employed.” Without a diploma, the job pool is even smaller and causes dropouts to earn on average nearly 11,000 dollars less than someone who completed high school (Ansberry). Showing that dropping out of high school is not only economically debilitating, it also poisonous to the surrounding youth.
With increased amounts of unemployed adults or low income families in Rochester’s inner city, the ramifications are being felt within the classroom. The steady decline of the city schools over the past few decades can be characterized by the current economic state of the current students. According to Dr. Vargas, around 90 percent of the current k-12 student body in Rochester city school district lives below the poverty level. With such a majority of the student population living in poverty, living in other conditions would seem foreign to many children. It is because of this that Dr. Vargas worries whether the intense concentration of poverty doesn’t allow our youth to become exposed to alternative life choices or experiences. It is because of this that the idea of city students becoming a product of their environment offers s many concerns to those around them.
By struggling to find support and funding for these city schools, it becomes easy for citizens of Rochester to forget how these shortcomings can cause students to feel rejected. The line between those who believe in the city school district, and those who refuse to support the direction city schools only cause more divide. With local private and suburban schools graduating much greater percentages of their students, many feel as though city schools are not productive enough to continue to receive their allotted funding. Instead many suburban families and school board officials feel as though more finds should be given to the continuously successful suburban schools. This idea of abandoning the youths of inner city Rochester because poor performance is reason for the animosity city residents have towards neighboring suburbia. When those with greater amounts of money and resources abandon inner city students, they make it harder for those kids to break out of their environments. On the flip side, when suburban youth watch as their towns and schools have been put on a pedestal, we enable them to feel a sense of superiority over city students. It is the lack of understanding about the difference between the lives of a city school student and a suburban school student that will continue to facilitate the separation of the people of Rochester.
It is because of the lack of education that city students will continue to drop out and lose the opportunities given to those who graduate high school. “Racism exists as demonstrated by the concentration of poverty and housing segregation, which has an adverse impact on Black and Latino students more than on White children” (Vargas). Dr. Vargas and I also agree on the idea that “there is a large opportunity gap between urban and suburban schools, that racism is affected by city schools.” Although schools are required to be segregated, the actions of the heavily white suburbia suggest their discomfort with the segregation of Rochester’s neighborhoods. By attempting to disassociate themselves from the declining inner city and its youth, suburban residents reveal their racial discomfort, and justify the racial frustration of inner city residents.
In talks with Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas, it is apparent that his greatest fear revolves around the idea that city school students aren’t receiving enough support. This lack of support can be attributed to the student’s family, and the community that the family lives in. With nine out of ten students living in poverty, I am sure that most families find it hard to prioritize and education above finding ways to support your family monetarily. According to Dr. Vargas, “explosions in the incarceration of rate, particularly of Black and Latino men led to children growing up without a father… increasing their chances of dropping out.” With this becoming the new trend of the city, it is hard for suburban students to understand the struggles that many city students face. It is because of this lack of understanding that students of both the city and the suburbs decline from venturing out of their environments, and instead rest in the comfort of their own homes.
I feel that this increased separation between the districts causes people to lose sight of the problem at hand. A huge problem develops when citizens of a city begin to see children as a cost and no longer see them for their potential. Instead of having their hopes and dreams encouraged in the classroom, stereotypes and a lack of faith keep many students from achieving everything they are capable of. Many city students are lead to follow suit with half of their classmates and drop out. Although these issues may seem largely confined to the inner city, the ramifications of our negligence will be felt in the next generation of students all across Rochester.
It is this lack of education that keeps the inner city population from having their voices and opinions respected. Yet it is the collective lack of educational degrees that prevent city residents from being seen as able to fight for their cause. By not understanding the lives and the struggles of inner city youths, our predetermined judgements cause greater amounts of racial tensions. In order to end this trend and bring a new respect for city residents, Dr. Vargas and I both agree that it begins with Rochester’s youth and their participation in education.
The way in which we retain the success of city schools does not begin with upperclassmen, instead it begins with the cities primary education. By reaching our youth at a young age and exposing them to a community that supports education, we begin to open new doors. “Improved attendance will also indicate family priority” (Vargas). Once families and communities offer their support, the environments these children live in will begin to shift towards becoming supportive of their growth. This will help push students through their years of primary education and into high school. Once students graduate and are able to receive higher paying jobs, families and communities will be able to understand the monetary benefits. Regardless of whether money should be the motivation behind graduating high school, it serves as a way for the inner city community to further support friends and family throughout their education.
If inner city students are able to complete their education and fight for equal opportunities within the classroom, then the future of this city will no longer look as grim. No longer will students lack the encouragement needed to succeed, but instead will feel a sense of motivation to graduate. With a decline in the amount of drop outs, the image of city schooling in Rochester will begin to be repaired. A newly educated inner city will be able to use their strong voice and stand up to the racially insensitive suburbs in a proactive manner. Soon Rochester city schools could see levels of achievement and acceptance unlike any before. However, we cannot forget that this path towards developing a new Rochester, one without its racial struggles, begins with equal opportunity schooling for all city students.
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