Since the release of the blistering Johns Hopkins report on the Providence Public Schools, the new state education commissioner, Angélica Infante Green, and the city’s Mayor, Jorge Elorza, have hosted nine open community forums in different schools around the city. Today marked the last two forums—one in English, one in Spanish. One of the speakers during the English forum was an 11-year-old student named Naiem.
After Naiem gave his testimony, I asked him and his mother if I could publish what he said and both enthusiastically said yes—they agreed to email me an electronic copy when they got home from the forum. Below is Naiem’s testimony precisely as it appeared on the paper he read from today.
I am so grateful to both of them for allowing me to share his message with those from Providence who were unable to attend today, and with others who may not live in Providence—or even live in Rhode Island— but care deeply about what he has to say.
My name is Naiem. I am 11 years old. I have read the report, and I want to say that if these schools were a home, a restaurant or even a prison there would have been a public outcry many years ago and things would have immediately changed. We don’t even let animals live in the conditions that are present in our schools. Have you ever had to sit in a room and work when all you can smell is the odor of a dead rat somewhere? I have! We are in school for 6 hours a day and our teachers even longer. It should be as safe as our own homes.
Why do we not have art programs in our schools? I was lucky to attend an elementary school that had an art program, and I was a pretty good artist. I enjoyed it, and it relaxed me both in and out of school. I had even thought about careers in which I would be able to use my skills. But now there are no arts. Maybe we should look at working with RISD (RI School of Design). They may be able to use internships or service projects to help bring art back to the next generation of artists.
This report talks a lot about kids fooling around in class or not coming to school. Most of us want to be in school, want to be learning and want to be successful. But when we see that our teachers don’t push us to be better and work harder, then why should we? If we don’t think anyone believes in us, then how can we believe in ourselves? And when we see that our teachers are not in school then why should we be?
Our parents come here for a better life, as my father did, but if we can not learn, we can never achieve it. To this day, I am working out of a third grade workbook to teach myself cursive. If I don’t teach myself this, then what should I do when I get a license or have to sign a paper? Just print my name?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, but expecting different results. This is what the people in charge have been doing. Let’s work together and change it.
The students, teachers, principals and parents should not have to beg for a good education or a safe place to work and learn. But we are begging. I hope you will work with us for true change and not dismiss us or forget us and move on.
Everyone always says the children are the future, but what future do we have if we have no education?
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...