Last week, the New York Post published two articles and two editorials about a child who had complaints about the school she attended, Paul Robeson High School.
The Post quoted 15-year-old Alisha Strawder as saying if she “could burn down this school and get away with it,” she would. Alisha readily admitted she hardly goes to class. Alisha’s chief complaints seem to be adolescent in nature: lurid tales of sex and drugs in the hallways.
School and community members are expressing concern about how the Post reporter was able to talk to the teen. According to a source within the school, on or about the morning of April 9, Alisha and another teen were approached by the Post reporter as the girls were making their way into school. The reporter was able to lure the girls away from the school to a McDonald’s restaurant on Fulton Street, some 6 blocks away. It was in that McDonald’s where the girls were encouraged to give lurid descriptions of their school. Alisha gave the reporter what she was looking for, in exchange for a meal. The other teen had positive things to say about Robeson, which the reporter ignored.
One of the articles quoted someone named Kasyra Strawder, who is supposed to be Alisha’s mother. In fact, Kasyra Strawder is Alisha’s step-mother who lives with the teens father in the Albany projects. Alisha’s birth mother, an alumni of Robeson, was not quoted in the paper. In fact she was very upset at having her daughter used in such a crude manner by the Post. When asked if the Post had obtained a signed release giving permission to talk to Alisha, reporters seemed “blase,” stating they did not need one to talk to a student outside of school grounds.
Since the Post articles, morale at the school was said to be bad; the school community felt as though they were “hit below the belt,” especially after the recent hard fought court case to keep the school open. Students were upset about the articles. Many said Alisha engages in the activities she was talking about. Others wondered why she aired “dirty laundry.”
Educating urban children is never easy. Exactly two years ago, Our Time Press covered the story when Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz came to Paul Robeson High School to present Special Citations to 3 heroes who saved the life of Robeson honors student Kyle Owens. Kyle was stabbed inside Paul Robeson H.S. on March 28. Todd Myles, Physical Education teacher and Basketball Coach, and Vivian Gardner, Nurse Practitioner, revived Kyle by performing CPR and chest compressions. School Safety Agent Sheila Nesbit stopped the bleeding by placing pressure on Kyle’s stab wounds.
In the Post article, Alisha characterized Robeson staff as “uncaring.” A Robeson staff member who spoke to OTP on condition of anonymity said Alisha had only been in Robeson during her sophomore year; she had transferred from another school. After exhibiting some behaviors common to adolescents, several Robeson adults began “working closely with her,” including “a couple of assistant principals, the choir director, and school counselors.”
Some of Alisha’s concerns regarding social conditions among students are founded, but in contrast to her characterization of an uncaring school community, Robeson has interventions in place to assist students. Divine Divas is a rights of passage program for Robeson students and girls from the surrounding community. African Voices Exhalting is a manhood-training initiative run by Carlos Walton, from Medgar Evers College. The school has a daycare center for 13 babies – not all the offspring of Robeson students. Robeson’s Life Center is said to be a “life saver” for students; “it keeps them in school,” by providing parenting and other services.
There are those within the school as well as in the community who are “of the mindset that the school is being set up” and wonder if “allegiance is to Klein and Bloomberg or education.” Robeson is seen as “a victim of the whole process of closing large schools.”
NYS Senator Eric Adams stated, “The Department of Education of the City of New York has a responsibility to its students, families, and communities to be thoughtful and methodical in any decision to close a school. The State Legislature established a protocol last year, and the process clearly was not followed. It requires individual site hearings and consultations, and the unprecedented outcry from neighborhoods affected by the school closures is ample evidence of the DOE’s lack of respect for this law.
“No one is concocting excuses for struggling schools; everyone agrees that they must successfully educate our young people. The issue is whether these schools deserve immediate closure or an opportunity to improve – and whether they have been given appropriate support prior to the decision to shut them down.
“The enthusiasm for rejuvenating Paul Robeson shown by its community, its staff, and its students betokens an initial step in the revitalization of this high school. It is most appropriate to harness this positive energy in support of a redevelopment effort.”
Just last year, Paul Robeson High School was one of the schools OTP highlighted in our annual recognition of local schools that send graduates to college. Among the eclectic group of Robeson graduates were 10 Citi scholarship recipients, and students who received the Brooklyn Old Timers Scholarship, Guardian Achievement Scholarship from the NYPD, the Albert Shanker Scholarship, and the Brooklyn Girl Friends Scholarship. One student won second place in the prestigious Random House Creative Writing Scholarship Competition.
From that article: “Paul Robeson has a wide variety of academic programs geared to prepare students for college and professional careers via internships or career-based experiences. The 20-year Robeson/Citi partnership with Citi (originally with Solomon Brothers) includes a mentor/mentee program, state-of-the-art technology, scholarships, college trips, support with Career/College Day, and internships for students. An op-ed school focused on business and technology, Robeson is home to 2 Virtual Enterprises, an international program that trains students to run a business. Robeson’s student-run businesses are Generation Design, a web design company, and Extravaganza Planning, an event planning company. Two of Robeson’s four Academies or Small Learning Communities are part of the National Academy Foundation: the Academy of Finance and the Academy of Information Technology offer advanced curriculum in Virtual enterprise and Cisco Networking Certification, with students taking part in college classes and participate in enrichment activities like Toast Masters.”
Councilman Vann stood with the school during this time of crisis and is “supportive of the school and their efforts to improve.”
School and community members are expressing concern about how the Post reporter was able to talk to the teen. According to a source within the school, on or about the morning of April 9, Alisha and another teen were approached by the Post reporter as the girls were making their way into school. The reporter was able to lure the girls away from the school to a McDonald’s restaurant on Fulton Street, some 6 blocks away. It was in that McDonald’s where the girls were encouraged to give lurid descriptions of their school. Alisha gave the reporter what she was looking for, in exchange for a meal. The other teen had positive things to say about Robeson, which the reporter ignored. While sitting in McDonald’s, Alisha was pumped for her negative opinion of Robeson, paid for with the price of a meal. The Post reporter had no problem encouraging Alisha to miss valuable classroom time.