New Kids on the Block

Immigrant families try to wade through the school system bureaucracy

But some parents say the problem isn't just with enrolling their children in the small schools. Teófilo Manón, an immigrant parent from the Dominican Republic, says a major problem was parental involvement.

Manón's son Miguel first went to Liberty High School in Manhattan, one of the eight city high schools responsible for improving English language skills. But when students pass language proficiency tests, they have to transfer. When it came time for Miguel to transfer, Manón wasn't sure how to choose a high school for his son. He says he was disappointed when he attended department of education meetings on high school options and only 15 to 20 parents showed up.

On the other hand, he also knew that when he did show up to school meetings, nothing would be translated. "The meeting would be in English, of course," Manón says. "But the notes were also in English. Nothing was translated."

Gutmacher: "America absolutely saved my life."
photo: Mark Hartman
Gutmacher: "America absolutely saved my life."

As a result, Manón never had a sense of the choices he and his wife had about where to send their son to high school. So Miguel went to Bushwick High, a large school in Brooklyn. Miguel finished high school last June as part of the last class to graduate from the school, which closed last year because of poor academic performance. Four small high schools currently occupy the Bushwick building, and Miguel now lives at home with his parents. He isn't working, but his father says he will go to college.

Though his son is no longer in the city's public schools, Manón still feels involved in the New York school system. He says he hopes to see a major overhaul when it comes to the schools and immigrant families. "I know small schools are better," he says. "But that's not a solution. The problem is so much bigger than that."

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