I am currently an 11th grader at Herbert H. Lehman High School. From the moment I stepped foot into this school, the threat of closure has loomed over this institution, consuming everyone with apprehension as to what will happen to them the year after, and leading many to give up on their work. The school offers plenty in terms of student diversity, a wide array of courses for honors students, a plethora of programs, a strong music department (Lehman Idol, Coffeehouse), and of course and always, a dedicated teaching staff who put up with the DOE’s constant threats and bad media hype on a daily basis so that they can be with the students they love. Obviously Lehman has been faltering in its graduation rates and Regents passing rate in the past few years, but these problems have not been spurred on by Lehman itself but rather by the same city educational department that’s supposed to help out schools rather than bully them and shutter them for good. So to avoid writing long essays such as this and bore everyone, I woke up one Sunday morning and decided to draw out my frustrations.
To start off I drew our mascot, the Lehman Lion, shackled in chains to a wall and on its legs, restraining it from roaming around. In essence the school no longer has the right to freely establish its own identity and standards without interference from the DOE. The school can try and venture as far as it wants to but it will eventually be tugged back into the reins of the DOE, which aims to limit the school and only focus on the graduation rates and standardized test scores. The truck labeled “High-Needs Kids” represent struggling or special education students who were unable to qualify for the small specialized schools and thus had no choice but to come to zoned schools like Lehman, which is one of the few last remaining neighborhood schools able to cater to these certain students. 4000 students enter Lehman every day (well above capacity), and more than 20% of them are classified as ELL or Special Education. It’s a colossal task to handle such a massive population of struggling kids while dealing with painful budget cuts and shortage of much needed staff, forcing the school to pare back extras and certain programs.
Lehman, entering the transformation model, received a new principal who instilled positive values and changes for the school, as well as $1.8 million from a federal grant, enabling the school to revive long-lost programs and establishing a stronger presence of tutoring and PM schools to help students catch up. However this year, the proposal of the Turnaround model was announced for Lehman. The clock in the picture is set to sound the alarm for April 26, so the DOE elf can proceed to do his duties under “King Bloomberg”, who has taken a huge bite out of the teachers’ apple. He sits proudly in front of his trophy case, which consists of mascots of former Bronx schools that were once part of the foundations of their community. The only remnants of their legacy are their mascots and their buildings. The New Visions was included because I personally believe in the long-term, a charter will await to fill in the extensive real estate of Lehman. The common people, as their size shows in the picture, are simply broken records as their voices merely bounce off of the DOE.
Finally, even though Lehman is facing brutality in a time of school closures and pro-charter school mania, you can notice that the bolt the chain is attached to is cracking, which signifies that Lehman has a chance of pulling out of its troubles and setting an example for other schools in similar distress. I feel that in order to turn the tides against the injustice brought on by the DOE, it has to start in Lehman so that if — I’m sorry, WHEN — we break free from this, we will show other schools that all hope is not lost and in the end, the communities will once again take back the schools they built with their own hands. The resilience of the Lion is what represents our school community, because despite any obstacle in our way, we will never go down without a fight. As per the long-forgotten Lehman High School motto, people will “catch the spirit, and hear the roar”.
Ubayed Muhith is a student at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx. This article was originally published by EdVox.