The past week was both challenging and exceedingly sad for the Greenburgh-North Castle Union Free School District community. It began with the inter-District basketball game that featured Kenneth Clark Academy vs. Greenburgh Academy. This pairing was part of the District’s initiative to encouraging pro-social behavior (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports – PBIS). The game, hosted by Greenburgh Academy, was competitive and well played until the final 31 seconds. The day’s events featured pep rallies, an uplifting presentation at halftime by the District’s “Marching Cobras”, passionate fan support, enthusiastic cheerleaders and of course the Greenburgh Academy mascot, “The Crusader”. We all had great expectations for this event.
In a matter of seconds the positive, unifying nature of the inter-District basketball game came to a halt. After a foul at the 31 second mark, two players exchanged words then blows and a fight began that included several players from both teams and numerous students. The Clark Academy and Greenburgh Academy staff quickly and effectively responded to this situation with great skill and acumen. As a result, there were no injuries, just a great deal of disappointment and heartache.
As students and staff reflected upon ways to rekindle the Spirit de Corps of our District, twenty-four hours later, another heart wrenching incident was reported. A Kenneth Clark Academy alumni was murdered in Harlem; this was a young man who was beloved by many District students and staff.
These two events represent the growing violent responses of our youth to seemingly everyday situations. The media has recently highlighted the growing violent nature of youth and many of these youth have several variables in common. These youth tend to be born into poverty and experience a subpar education with very little expectations. They receive an education that is very different from that offered in typical suburban school districts throughout our State, an education that does not provide these youth with a “Bridge to Adulthood”. For most they will never have the opportunity to attend college, gain full and satisfying employment, own a home, provide for a family and live a productive interdependent life; the life we cherish and embrace. The “American Dream” for many of these youth is out of reach.
The key to functioning well and contributing to society is an education that not only meets and exceeds the New York State Education Department’s Standards, but an education that addresses social skills, vocational training and life skill competencies. These include, but are not limited to decision making, time management, conflict resolution, communication and civility. Claude Fisher, Sociology Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, agrees that a comprehensive education is the key to lifting these youth from the deadly grasp of violence. He writes, “Equality in the American context is not equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity, treatment and freedom”.
Our opportunity at Greenburgh North Castle UFSD is here. The above seemingly debilitating events will be a stimulus for our District staff to continue building a “Bridge to Adulthood” and teach our students pro-social skills. Abraham Lincoln called America the “exceptional society” in his speech at Gettysburg. Many Americans have focused on the flaws of our country; they have lost sight of our exceptionality. I encourage you to become part of the “exceptional society” and it begins in our classrooms.