The city’s public schools are in the grip of a suicide epidemic.
Ten students have taken their own lives in the past seven weeks, according to remarks made Saturday by Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
“As chancellor, I’ve been on the job seven weeks, and there have already been 10 reported suicides. We cannot allow those,” she told 250 new principals at Stuyvesant HS during a private meeting.
“I get those e-mails all the time. And it makes me heartsick.”
The tragic statistic — which amounts to more than one suicide per week — has not been released publicly. The Post obtained a recording of Fariña’s address.
None of the suicides occurred on school property, Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said later Saturday. She could not immediately provide the ages or schools of the children.
Chancellor Farina is responding to this epidemic of suicides:
In her remarks, Fariña implored principals to identify lonely and troubled kids. She related how, as a principal, she’d single out such students for Principal for a Day activities, taking them on her Friday rounds and giving them individual encouragement.
“The DOE is taking this very seriously and has provided information recently to principals and networks to help prepare and support school communities for these traumatic times, in addition to training provided each school year,” Feinberg said.
A spokeswoman for the city’s principals union said the outbreak was a shock to her.
“I’m surprised,” said Chiara Coletti, of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators. “If I heard of one or two in the last couple of years, that would be a lot. [Ten] sounds like a lot to me.”
City Health Department stats show youth suicides are rising, with suicide the third leading cause of death for New Yorkers ages 15 to 24. In 2010, 58 people in that age group took their lives. In 2011, the toll was up to 64, and in 2012 it reached 66.
The stresses on children these days have hit pressure cooker levels.
Many NYC school children come from families still struggling mightily with the effects of the recession and the economy and all the problems that come with that struggle.
It's a dog eat dog economy out there, with many people being tossed by the wayside and left there for good.
When children come to school, there is no change from the dog eat dog world - it's all Common Core rigor and assessments and argumentative writing and the like all the day long, with children being told over and over that in order to be "college and career ready" they must get their test scores as high as they can go.
The message at school in the Era Of Education Reform is "You Are Your Data Points" - in some cases, this is the subtle message, but when kids have their test scores placed on data walls in the classrooms or school hallways, it's as overt a message as can be.
In the best of times, children can be mean to each other, but you add the pressure cooker stresses of a bad economy with high stakes schooling and you can bet half a dozen foreclosed mortgages that children are going to act out in response.
This means more instances of bullying, cyber bullying, and fighting when they're acting out against each other.
It means more problems with alcohol or drug use, eating disorders, cutting (physical harm) when they're acting out on themselves.
Many children are starving from a lack of physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment and one of the very places where they should be getting that nourishment - school - has turned into a toxic environment of rote Common Core learning and high stakes assessment for students, teachers and the school itself.
And don't kid yourself about how much damage education reform is doing to children - when they no longer do art in art class or no longer do physical activity in gym because school administrations are enforcing "Common Core rigor" in those classes and kids are spending the time reading informational texts and writing argumentative essays even in art and gym class, there is damage being done.
In English class, there is no more text-to-self writing or discussion. The NYSED ELA modules do not allow for any of that sort of learning - everything is rote text-to-text learning, rote close reading exercises, rote assessments after every lesson.
Children are expressing despair over the direction schools have gone in the past few years (with Internet memes of children crying over their Common Core homework making the rounds all the time), but there is little that school staff can do to mitigate the problems.
Many counselors no longer have time to counsel students on anything except academics and grades. Many teachers no longer have time to spend talking with children outside of class because of the extra compliance work associated with Governor Cuomo's APPR teacher evaluation system. With all the extra meetings, obsessive lesson planning, curriculum mapping, focus groups, professional learning community meetings, Common Core professional development and artifact collecting, there is no time to just talk to kids and find out what's going on with them.
APPR has done damage beyond the taking of time from teachers that could be spent working with students - it has added more testing and more high stakes to the school year, with added performance assessments coming in fall and spring and the stresses of those assessments falling onto students as they know if they don't do well, their teachers might get fired by the "student lobbyist" in Albany.
So given all of this insanity going on these days, it is not a surprise to me that more and more children are suffering from depression and a lack of physical, emotional and spiritual nourishment.
It would be nice to say that Chancellor Farina's directive that administrators scrutinize students in their schools in order to catch those who are falling prey to depression and despair, but the truth is, there are so many that I have seen over the past few years that I'm not sure how principals, teachers and counselors address the epidemic given how poisoned the school system is with high stakes so-called rigor and reform.
Until the insanity of the high stakes around testing is ended, until the rote learning of the Common Core is replaced with individual-centered learning that allows for personal growth, until the obsession with argumentative writing and close reading of complex texts is replaced with a broad arts, humanities and science curriculum that allows for children to express themselves in many different ways, the despair and depression that is now rife in the school system is not going to end.
There isn't much educators can do about the economy at large that causes stress on children.
But there is something we can do about the education reforms that are harming millions of children around this state and a million+ in this city.
Let us take back our education system from the emotionally-stunted misanthropic education reformers who tell us that no one gives a shit what children think and feel and return it to people who know that children are whole beings who must be nourished physically, emotionally and spiritually with a rich, broad, diverse curriculum in a school environment that is welcoming and nurturing.