Interviewer: You’re on the live stream for Occupy Wall Street, streaming out to about 2000 people.
Marcelle: Hi all 2000 people out there!
I: I guess a couple of questions. What was your background?...you can look at me.
M: Yes that’s better.
I: Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you here.
M: My name is Marcelle Good and I am a high school maths teacher at The International High School of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. I’m here because ...Well, I’m here for a lot of reasons. I think what is exciting about Occupy Wall Street is that it seems like it set a...It got them a lot of momentum going. And so I started going to grade-ins at Occupy Wall Street last Sunday. And I’ve been going...I knew people in NYCOR which is the New York Coalition for Radical Education who’ve been doing a lot of work around these issues for years, but this feels like a really important time.
I: What is a grade-in? Can you tell us...
M: A grade-in...well, to be honest, grade-ins started turning into meetings to organize this. Initially we were sitting at the corner across the street from Zuccotti Park and we were grading papers on Sunday afternoon from one until three. And it was really, really pleasant.
I: How did you find out about Occupy Wall Street and what are your feelings on it?
M: I’m not particularly involved in Occupy Wall Street. My brother who is sort of conservative and came to visit from Dearborn, Michigan and said, “Can we go to Wall Street and check out the protests?” and I said, "Sure, let’s go.” And that was a month ago, towards the beginning, and he was really excited and I found it really moving and I was looking for an excuse to go and the grade-ins were my excuse and sort of my entry point. So I sat, I graded and I was very happy and it’s a really nice place to be a spectator even though I don’t feel like...you know...I’m not camping
I: What’s the background on tonight? What’s different about tonight versus other meetings like this?
M: So, I’ve never been to a PEP meeting before. This is the Panel for Education Policy and I think that’s really significant because I think like when there were school closings people who were directly affected by that, parents, and students, and teachers at schools that were closing would speak out and flood meetings. What’s happening now is that it’s not a specific issue — which I think people at Occupy Wall Street will get — This isn’t a specific issue; it’s that there’s so much wrong and it’s so clear right now that everything’s going wrong with education, the budget cuts, the way they’re denying teachers tenure, class sizes, you name it...like...there’s so many different things going on and it feels like instead of talking about one school closing we’ve got a lot of bigger ideas that we need to talk about.
I: To go into more specifics, I was moved by what you were saying when you got up and spoke. Tell us a little bit...just recap a bit in case people who weren’t watching earlier...heard what you said in the auditorium
M: Sure. My students are new immigrants. What that means is that to get into my school you need to be no more than an intermidiate speaker of English. My students have been here for three years or less, here in the United States. They come from all over the world. Some of them were in refugee camps. Some of them have never been to school. Some of them were in Koranic schools in West Africa where their home language is Fula; their language at school is...they memorize the Koran in Arabic. They get dropped, at the age of sixteen, into New York City and they have four years to graduate from high school in English. Kids who do that, and many do, deserve a medal. Our four year graduation rate is 60% which I think is amazing. They also have to pass five very difficult, high-stakes, New York State Regents’ Exams in English though in some cases there is language support. What’s happening is that if you don’t have a solid [??] education, if your literacy level is low, if you’re struggling with reading in any language, learning to read in English is really challenging. And on top of that many of my students were separated from their parents for a very long time because their parents came here to get established. Suddenly my students are living with somebody that is their mom, but that they don’t really know, that they haven’t seen since they were three. And they are in Brooklyn, instead of in Ecuador, instead of in Nepal, instead of in Guinea and they’re poor and they probably weren’t that poor in their native country. That makes things really challenging. On top of that so many of them are undocumented so I need to tell them that not only do they have to work hard like all high school students, they have to work way more hard because their entire lives were not about being prepared to be in the US; they were spending their lives being prepared to be in Nepal, being prepared to be in Uzbekistan. And so then to suddenly shift gears makes it challenging for them and when you are undocumented in particular, there’s not a [??] way out for you. I felt when I was a student that there was a pretty clear [??] way out for me. I was going to be fine. Middle class and white. I’m fine. My students don’t feel that way. So when I said, “High school! This is boring. This stinks, ” I still could sort of... [??] My students are being asked to work in the evening. They are being asked to go home to parents that they don’t really know. They’re being asked to do so much and they’re being asked to do it in something that is not their native language. And they have to work extra hard. On top of that even my best students...one of my best, best, best students, Carolina, is undocumented, a Mexican, and I think she’s brilliant. She read The Number Devil in a weekend. She stayed after school until six o’clock doing math with me. We talk about infinite sums together. She is in an amazing program that is probably going to get her a 4-I [??] to college. When she finishes college, she’s still going to be undocumented. And she manages to come to school every day and stay motivated because hope springs eternal. Most people, most mere mortals, in those situations would not feel that way. And that’s what we’re up against. And that’s what they’re up against. And I think that it’s huge and I wish that the New York City Department of Education would give my students six years if they need six years to graduate high school because maybe if you can’t read when you’re fourteen, you need six years to learn how to read, and write a critical lens [??] essay, and do algebra.
I: What’s next?
M: General Assembly — which is very exciting. And I’ve got a back pack full of papers to grade and I’m going to go to school tomorrow and we are going to have a maths talk. And that’s ...[??]