PROVIDENCE YOUTH AT PERIL FROM THE JUMP (Published in Providence Journal 8/23/19)
Providence, our Renaissance City, has suffered another black eye with the August 16th assaults and harassment of innocent bystanders by nearly 100 local juveniles. Many of these youngsters were riding stolen Jump rental bikes. Incidents on South Water and Killington Streets plus at India Point included physical assaults, intimidation and retail store shop lifting.
Are we surprised?
We shouldn’t be.
Anyone who took the time to read the recent scathing John Hopkins Institute’s report on the condition of the Providence Public School System could have predicted this type of behavior in our capital city.
Consider these two excerpts from the report:
“ There is widespread agreement that bullying, demeaning, and even physical violence are occurring within the school walls at very high levels, particularly at the middle and high school levels.”
“In a large number of classrooms, teachers did not press students to become engaged with the mathematics instructions, resulting in a variety of student off-task behavior: chatting with peers, checking phones, staring into space, or, in some cases, taking phone calls and watching YouTube videos. In some classrooms, this activity was loud enough to disrupt the learning of other students and, in some cases, led to student arguments that left the team concerned for student safety.”
This is the environment where Providence’s children spend approximately 6 hours of their time for 180 days of the year!
The biblical phrase, “As you sow so shall you reap.”, never seemed so sadly applicable.
If high school and middle school children see such lax discipline and disregard for decorum in one of the primary places which are supposed to help shape their future it takes a momentous amount of willpower to navigate unscathed. Statistics show only a heartbreakingly small percentage of Providence public school students move on to higher education.
I am not excusing the horrible actions of the young perpetrators. They chose to organize these near riots using social media, they chose to cut the locks and steal the Jump bikes, they chose to injure people and they chose to commit theft. They should be identified, properly disciplined and then given any available counseling.
My point is simply that the link between the deplorable conditions of the education process (including building conditions) and youthful criminal activity is both obvious and infuriating.
Many of our young students, unfortunately, have impediments to success before they even enter the first grade; generational poverty, family dysfunction, gnawing hunger and lack of good role models. Schools, along with churches, should be beacons of hope and inspiration not further causes of anxiety and fear. I know, and the Hopkins’ report agrees, that many individual heroic teachers and administrators strive daily to provide the best education possible despite the obstacles. However, the appalling statistical student failures across the board shown in the report call for draconian actions. Past incremental changes such as new superintendents, classroom restructuring and tweaked curriculums have not stemmed the continual erosion of the system.
New State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante – Green has embarked upon an intensive listening campaign as she gathers information from teachers, students, parents and administrators. On August 8th Infante – Green issued the initial order to begin the process of a state take over of the Providence Public School System for a minimum of three years. While pledging to work with the educational unions, she has allowed that the current contracts need appraising.
These actions have spawned the usual hand wringing and fear mongering from various entities. Upsetting the status quo is often lonely, precarious work.
While state take overs of schools have had varied successes and failures across the nation, Providence’s dire situation warrants a full and complete reset from the decades of decline we have all witnessed.
I not only wish Commissioner Infante – Green and our educators success, but also, fervently hope Providence’s next generation of students will be able to thrive and get a jump start towards happy, productive lives.
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Jim Raftus is a retired marketing executive from Cumberland.