Though it still feels like summer outside in New York City — with temperatures Thursday rising above 90 degrees Fahrenheit – more than a million public school students packed up their backpacks after the long break and headed back to class for the first day of school on Sept. 7.
In Brooklyn, where more than 200,000 students settled in for the new academic year, feelings were mixed. While some learners couldn’t wait to get back to their classmates and teachers, others were a little bit nervous for a brand-new start. For parents, a new academic year brings old fears for their children’s safety and new concerns about the rising costs of school supplies and other necessities.
Excitement bubbles over despite high temps
As school let out at EBC High School for Public Service in Bushwick, the excitement was palpable, despite the late-summer heat.
“I was nervous because I always get nervous before school starts,” said Marisol, an EBC student. “I am always excited to see my friends and see what teachers I have but having homework can be hard. I already have some and it’s like, too hot to do that right now.”
A passing classmate agreed as they started to make their way home.
“I’m so excited to go home, I have been cooking all day,”said the student, who did not give their name. “I did the Summer Youth Employment this year for the first time so I didn’t have like a total break this summer, but it’s definitely different than school. I’m excited for fall time for sure.”
Over at P.S. 274 Kosciusko, also in Bushwick, parents eagerly awaited the bell to ring to pick up their children.
“I get so anxious waiting here, I don’t know what it is,” said one mother, Gloria. “The kids always run out and then want like an ice cream and I just want to know if they liked their teachers or if they had fun during lunch, but they’re too busy asking mom for ice cream.”
As Kelly Thurnste waited for her fourth-grader to emerge from P.S. 138 in Crown Heights, she said she was feeling optimistic about the new year — especially after a few pandemic-scarred school years.
“Most kids are just naturally excited about the start of school,” Thurnste said. “They love seeing their friends and having a new classroom and a new teacher. These are the days when they are the most motivated to come and I think that, from how things have gone in the last couple of years, this is definitely going to be the best we’ve had in a while. I feel positive.”
Parents worry about inflation, school staffing
While the pandemic-related difficulties students faced in 2020 and 2021 have eased, some parents said the 2023-24 school year has brought a whole new set of issues.
“This has been the most stressful return to classes, more so than when the covid vaccines had rolled out and school resumed,” said Olive Ristter, who also has a fourth-grader at P.S. 138. “Inflation has its foot on our throats, COVID cases are on the rise again, there is a general shortage of teachers throughout the country and we all know that those who’ve stayed around are underpaid.”
While New York City hasn’t faced the devastating teacher shortages reported in many states, thousands of teachers have left the field in the last few years, according to Chalkbeat, leaving the Department of Education with 2,000 fewer teachers than last year.
City funding for public schools for the 2023 Fiscal Year remained on par with the 2022 budget, which was slashed dramatically — forcing schools top drop staff and end certain programs. But officials have said mid-year cuts are still possible.
“The school warned us of budget cuts from the city, but because we can’t have that, the responsibility of raising money to keep things afloat, not to lose the programs and activities we want our kids to have, that falls on us who already have jobs and burdens of our own,” said Blake Aston, mother of a sixth-grade student at P.S. 138.
Terry McGleen, who has two students — a fifth-grader and a seventh-grader — at P.S. 138, said she doesn’t want her kids to worry about money or other issues at school.
“I just want my kids to focus on learning,” she said. “The financial problems and the safety problems should not be the kids’ problems. I just want my kids to excel academically.”
Bed-Stuy students return to school a day after shooting just a block away
The first day of school came just a day after four people were injured in a shooting on the same black as P.S. 59 in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Parents collecting their children Thursday afternoon had mixed reactions to the bloody incident, but most felt their children were safe at the school.
One local parent, Aisha Castro, told Brooklyn Paper that she was concerned about sending her six-year-old back to school after the previous day’s incident, saying it was “too close to home” and that a greater police presence in the area would help to dissipate her worries.
“I think they need to have some more police officers in this area, particularly with a school here. I wouldn’t see the police as much these days, but now that the shooting has happened they’re roaming around,” said Castro. “If something happens police presence goes up, but then it drops again until the next thing.”
Despite her concerns on the street, she feels her kids are safe inside the school as “they lockdown real quick.”
Authorities said the gunman targeted three young men as they crossed Marcus Garvey Boulevard on the afternoon of Sept. 6. The shooter struck all three men and a fourth victim who was not believed to have been an intended target.
Three people were arrested and a fourth was still on the loose as of Thursday afternoon. All three men were hospitalized after the shooting — two in critical condition — while the woman was treated on the scene.
NYPD Assistant Chief Scott Henderson said yesterday there was a “strong possibility” that the shooting was gang-related, and that an investigation is ongoing.
One grandfather waiting on his eight-year-old grandson said his family is always concerned about gun violence and they “try to avoid it the best we can.”
Another parent, Laquisha Baker, said she would be less concerned about her family’s safety if the cops were able to get all the guns off the street: “The kids’ safety is more important than anything else.”
Earlier this week, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon introduced new legislation to reduce the number of annual lockdown drills from four to one and to alter drills to ensure that they are age appropriate and trauma-informed. The bill would also introduce statewide, standardized drill training.
All of the parents Brooklyn Paper spoke with outside P.S. 59 said they would be in favor of the lockdown drill reforms, but noted that the school is very communicative with parents.
“They have done a lot to communicate with parents during school hours, like texts and pictures of your kids. If they were going to do more to expand that, that would be great all around,” said Felix Madero, the parent of a nine-year-old student.
Madero said he regularly talks with his son about safety “because of the neighborhood we’re in.”
“I’m trying to teach my son about being safe and being aware of his surroundings so that he’s less afraid when something does happen, his mind will go to protecting himself,” said Madero.