I was worried about what society had in store for a girl like myself, based on that color divide in such an ordinary context. But my point of view really changed when I arrived at the Baccalaureate School for Global Education.
At this school, which is rated fifth best in the state and 28 nationally, the principal is a black woman with long dreadlocks. Ms. Johnson revolutionized my way of thinking, and she allowed me to envision a position of authority unbound by the color of my skin.
Baccalaureate is an IB World School, which means that is follows an international program designed to be rigorous, so as to prepare students well for college. The program in of itself is very expensive to implement and maintain, so when we hear of budget cuts and intentional underfunding from Governor Andrew Cuomo, you can imagine the apprehension felt by the faculty and the students.
I have grown accustomed to the quirks of my school, such as the cramped, narrow hallways and the “cafegymatorium,” which as the name suggests is a cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium combined into one room.
The school is small, and it is packed with about 470 students. Luckily, the faculty is creative and manages to make do with what is available. But there is a limit to how much a school has to sacrifice in order to function at its greatest potential.
For example, due to systemic underfunding, there is officially no physics department in my school, which is actually a really important requirement for students entering college with an interest in a STEM field.
This underfunding limits after school activities—not only does my softball team not have a gym to practice in, but we are often not allowed to stay in the building for long, because the DOE no longer pays for schools to keep their doors open after official school time ends. Instead, the school must pay.
My school simply does not have the means to provide an abundance of academic options nor a range of after-school clubs for students.
This all is not to say that I have not received a quality education. It is ultimately the spectacular, highly dedicated teachers at my school that have driven me in the pursuit of higher education. Teachers like the ones I have met in elementary, middle and high school deserve higher compensation for their hard work.
And while I will soon be saying goodbye to public schooling and moving on to college, those who remain at my school, and all NYC public school students and students across the state, should receive the support they deserve and need.
That is why I am asking Governor Cuomo to finally fully fund our public schools. With a multi-billion surplus, the state can finally afford to fulfill the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE). Based on the CFE court ruling, Baccalaureate is owed more than a $1 million. That means $2,164 is owed to students there, including me.
The money could be used to move to a bigger space where there is an adequate lunchroom, gymnasium and auditorium. They could create a physics department and have a full range of after-school programs, including sports, robotics and community services. They could even hire a full-time librarian, create a community garden and help pay the costly annual IB exam fees.
Baccalaureate is a great school. But it needs the support of our governor, who should want to invest in the future of all young New Yorkers. Our future is his future too.
Rakia Islam is a senior at Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Astoria.