Editor’s Note: The following story was originally published in Bronx Youth Heard, a publication of the Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative, a free journalism program for Bronx high school students run by the Norwood News. We are currently accepting applications for our spring semester. To find out more about the program and how to apply, click here. The Bronx Youth Journalism Initiative is supported by the North Star Fund, the Johnson Family Foundation Fund, and City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, and is run in collaboration with CUNY’s College Now program at Hostos Community College.
By Anthony Caldwell
This year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg invested $127 million into a new Young Men’s Initiative to address the city’s racial achievement gap. Black and Latino male students in New York City are three times more likely to be in special education classrooms than their white counterparts, and are less likely to graduate from high school, according to a report from the program.
On television, on the radio and in the news, young people often hear that Hispanic and African-American teens don’t do as well in school, or in life. But for many Bronx youth, this data only motivates them.
“Us black people should try not to be another statistic,” said Richard Bennett, a senior at Urban Assembly for Careers in Sports, who says he often sees these statistics play out in his neighborhood.
Willy Reyes, another Urban Assembly senior, is one of the school’s higher performing students — he holds a 91 average and ranks fourth in his class. He said hearing negative things can drive students to perform better out of a sense of competitiveness.
“A person is always looked at how they perform in closing situations,” he said.
Educators say that many of the teens who have a difficult time achieving academically are dealing with issues within the family, such as a lack of support or financial instability.
Bronx State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who has taught as an adjunct professor at Pace University and Hunter College, said he made an extra effort to work with high-needs students or those who struggled in his class.
“It was my job to give them a way to catch up because I knew they did not have the experience,” Rivera said.
But not all students can rely on their teachers, and must make the extra effort themselves.
“To succeed in college, students have to be more independent,” said Sadie Mahoney, director of Teen Center at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.
Melissa Morales, a college advisor at Urban Assembly, said it’s important that students hear positive encouragement.
“They don’t need to hear negative stereotypes,” she said. “They need to be empowered and supported throughout their educational endeavors.”