New York City Mayor Eric Adams was joined by several city officials including Schools Chancellor David C. Banks and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell to welcome students back to school in the Bronx.
The first day of the school year began on Sept 8 with over a million public school students making their way back into their NYC classrooms for fully in-person instruction resumed following the COVID-19 pandemic.
At P.S 161 in the South Bronx, Chancellor Banks emphasized how pivotal this moment returning back to school was for young NYC students.
“Back to school is a day that historically [has been] filled with excitement, joy, anxiety, nervousness,” said Banks. “The young people that we saw this morning were coming into school filled with all the emotions that every single one of us has experienced before. If you were on the subways this morning, they were a little fuller. If you were driving, you saw a lot more traffic in the streets. But those are the signs that our school system and our city is back. We come off the melees of the summer and we settle back into a great routine that can only happen if our kids are in school, so we are feeling good about it and we are thrilled to be here today to kick off this wonderful new school year.”
Mayor Adams spoke about his own excitement about the first day of school, but also pointed out how much more work was needed to improve learning experiences for NYC children.
“This is such a significant moment for us,” the mayor said on Thursday. “Today starts the journey. 180 days of shaping the minds of not [just] the future leaders, but the leaders of today. We just have to get out of their way and allow them to lead. This is where students gather, learn, meet new friends, eat, exercise, explore and expand their minds in a real way. So often we go through the traditional phase of opening the school year, ignoring the fact that 65% of Black and Brown children leave that school year not reaching proficiency and we have normalized that. We want every child to have a chance to thrive and grow and prosper no matter their zip code, no matter their ethnicity, no matter how they got here.”
On Wednesday, Chancellor Banks announced a new plan to protect student safety – both physical and emotional – inside school. This included a new app to help parents and guardians receive real–time information about their children, as well as hiring additional school safety agents and other initiatives.
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell was also at P.S 161 to discuss student safety at greater length.
“Today is an exciting day as we welcome more than one million NYC public school children back to school,” Sewell said. “This is the nation’s largest school system and it is our job to keep every student, teacher, administrator and staff member safe. As we have seen tragically across the country, the threats to our schools is very real. But to the over 4,000 school safety agents, we know that we are highly trained, supremely skilled and completely committed to our shared public safety mission. All of us wholly depend on the foundation of security that makes our education system possible. Without that security, this system doesn’t function and we know that we have to get it right every single time, because when millions of families send their children off to NYC schools, they are placing an enormous amount of trust in all of us.”
In the upcoming years as Department of Education (DOE) schools recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be absolutely crucial that school years flow as smoothly as possible as recent information has shown students are trailing behind in skills like critical reading, writing and comprehension.
The main focus of this school year will be returning students back to a higher level of education and learning expectations to keep children back on track. United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Michael Mulgrew spoke to the New York Times about the significance of restoring learning to students after the pandemic.
“The last couple of years were about keeping our school system open and safe,” Mulgrew said. “Now, it’s really about where we want to take our school system educationally, and what are the things we want to really fight for.”
P.S 161 parent Leticia Hargrove, spoke about her own son’s struggles with learning disabilities now to be addressed in the new school year with a new program for dyslexic students at the school.
“I’m very proud that they have this program in the school here because I’ve noticed with my son from when he was small that it was an issue,” Hargove said about the program. “I was just trying to be his advocate and speaking to his teachers, his counselors, social workers and letting them know that it is a problem with my son. Speak for your child, your child can’t speak for themselves until they hear your voice. Once he got to 161, they started doing regular evaluations and now that he is going into the third grade we have a new program that they are going to be implementing which I think is great for my son.”
Mayor Adams, who also struggled with dyslexia when he attended public school, praised Hargrove for advocating for her son and also encouraged more parents to be more involved with their child’s learning.
“Mothers and children have been embarrassed to say ‘I need help’,” said Adams. “This is such a significant and powerful moment for us that this young man is going to have an opportunity that has historically been denied. We just learn differently, that’s all. And because of that skill you grow up from being dyslexic to leading, and you grow up to be mayors.”