Elders Speak Up for Harlem Schools

Harlem Council of Elders members volunteer to read to students. (Photo by Council of Elders/Joe Rogers, Jr. via Chalkbeat)

“You want to see the children get what they deserve and what they need. If you can do anything and be helpful in any way, you need to do so — no matter what the age,” Lottie Raukx tells Chalkbeat’s Christina Veiga. The 93-year-old belongs to the Harlem Council of Elders, a group of some 20 seniors who advocate for quality education with a goal of “confronting and overcoming racism and classism,” explains Galen Kirkland, who founded the Council more than two decades ago. The members serve as role models for Harlem students and speak about their own experiences as well as organize educational events.

“Older folks have an insight and an awareness about challenges and how to overcome them in this society that young folks just don’t understand,” he said. We can “guide young people about how you maneuver and succeed in a society that is often very hostile and not helpful.”

With dismantling school inequities as their primary concern, the Council has been taking on a campaign they see as crucial to improving the students’ reading and writing skills – calling on the Department of Education to staff Harlem schools with librarians.

(…) With 87 percent of Harlem schools without librarians — compared with the overall city average of 50 percent, according to the latest available figures, from 2013 — the elders saw a cause that they could fight for.

Almost 10,000 students, the majority of whom are black and Hispanic, are in Harlem schools that don’t have librarians, according to the council. That is despite a state law that calls for middle and high schools to be staffed with librarians part-time in schools with fewer than 700 students, and full-time employees in larger schools.

Go to Chalkbeat to learn how the group’s outspokenness “has helped keep the matter alive” and more about the Council itself, including what motivates the seniors to keep fighting, and the activists and officials who have been a part of the group.

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