Advocating for Education: Community’s efforts lead to a new school
Since the 1960s, the neighborhood of Highbridge in the Bronx, New York, has been without a middle school. That changed when Highbridge Community Church and its pastor, Cora Taitt, joined with other churches and organizations in the neighborhood to convince New York City’s Board of Education of the need for a new school.
Middle school students have had long commutes to school, sometimes involving multiple bus changes or subway transit. Parents were worried about their kids’ safety as they traveled so far every day by themselves. That changed last fall with the opening of Highbridge Green School, a 390-seat school for sixth through eighth graders. In September, 130 sixth graders started at the new school. The school will add one grade each year until it reaches its capacity during the 2015-2016 school year.
Parents had been asking the Board of Education for a new school in Highbridge for years, but it wasn’t until they joined with local community organizations and churches that they began to gain ground.
The local parents’ association, United Parents of Highbridge, began to lobby for support in the community. “They started out by going to every community organization, getting them to sign petitions, come to rallies, and get involved in trying to get a middle school in the Highbridge area,” says Cora Taitt.
“They first came to church here to give us an introduction, and we got involved. Soon afterwards a clergy association for the Highbridge area was recreated, and I was one of the first members. I became part of a coalition that was able to get involved in the petition.”
The clergy association is interfaith, with about 12 Christian and Muslim leaders representing faith communities in the Highbridge area. They are active with other advocacy efforts in addition to the middle school, including work on behalf of dislocated tenants in Highbridge.
“That is the vision and the goal of the clergy coalition, to not only keep abreast of what’s going on but to let the community know who we are, that they can call on us.”
Taitt says she is seeing other positive changes in Highbridge, including the newly renovated public library that opened in 2010. “I think there’s an excitement in the community that Highbridge is changing again for the best.
The church’s vision
“For Highbridge Community Church, we feel that God has called us into this community. One of the reasons we put ‘community’ in our name is because we want very much to be a part of the community, of improving the life and of the people within this community as we present the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to be a part of the transformation we believe is taking place in this community.
“Being a part of the clergy association and other associations within the community has given us the opportunity to see and hear and get involved in the solution to some of the ills in our community.”
Taitt attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new school on November 20, an event she says was filled with excitement and promise. During the ceremony, the chancellor of the city’s Department of Education shared the thoughts of several Highbridge Green students on their new school. “He lifted up words like ‘fabulous,’ ‘outstanding,’ ‘great.’ They all seem to be so excited and happy about this.”
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