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In New York, Zip Code Defines the Education Our Children Receive

In this city, language is not the biggest barrier for immigrant families who are seeking a good school for their child. It’s their zip code.

I learned this lesson two years ago, when I went to enroll my daughter in kindergarten. At the time, I didn’t know much English and was nervous that getting Yohana into a school would be a problem.

When I gave my address in the Bronx, I was told she would have to attend an elementary school in our neighborhood. I looked up the school online (using a dictionary to help me translate what I didn’t understand) and discovered it’s one of the lowest-achieving schools in the city. It turns out my nephew was a student at the school. He was in second grade but couldn’t do basic math like addition or subtraction. He complained that his teacher was chronically absent.

No parent should ever have to send a child to a school like that. I was determined to get my daughter into a good school, so I did what other parents in my situation have done before: I gave a friend’s address. It was the only way I could get my daughter into another school.

Yohana finished kindergarten knowing how to read and write. But when school officials found out that I had used my friend’s address, they refused to let Yohana stay. It was a blow to our family. I feared history repeating itself. My siblings and I had made the long journey from Puebla, Mexico, to New York in 2006, leaving behind everything we knew so our children could have a better life here, including access to good schools.

I couldn’t stomach the thought of my daughter not getting an education or going back to the school we thought we had escaped. Like other immigrants in New York, I had faith in the public schools, especially after Mayor Bill de Blasio ’s promise to make this city more equal for families like mine. After my daughter was turned away from her school, my faith in the mayor and the city’s public schools crumbled. Zip code should not determine where children receive an education, especially if the only options are failing schools.

That’s why, on Oct. 7, my family is going to the Rally for School Equality.

On that day, I will stand with thousands of other families outside City Hall and remind the mayor of his promise to us. If he is serious about ending inequality in our city, he must address the inequality in our schools. Too many low-income, minority children, including those from immigrant families, are trapped in schools where they are not learning. It’s time for this cycle to stop. It’s time for all children to get the same high-quality education.

My daughter, now 7, attends an excellent charter school. She is a second grader at Success Academy Bronx 4, where she is at the top of her class. Success Academy operates 33 other charter schools in the city. The schools are free and open to all children in grades K-4 through a lottery. English language learners get preference in the lottery.

Yohana reads and writes fluently in English. At school, she also takes chess and dance classes. She is mature beyond her years and helps her cousin in the fifth grade with his math homework. He is still trapped in a failing school because of where he lives. It shouldn’t be that way — zip code should not matter.

Ms. Avila’s op-ed appeared in El Diarío in Spanish.

Written by Adriana Avila October 8, 2015

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