We speak with Soledad Hiciano, executive director of Community Association of Progressive Dominicans (ACDP), a multi-service community organization in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. She describes the challenges of supporting children who may have experienced multiple traumas, including homelessness and the deportation of close relatives.
*Overview and transcript below.
Photo by Bruce Warrington
01:19-06:16 Impact of immigration and deportation policies on young people and families
06:17-07:45 Capacity of schools and after-school programs to deal with trauma’s effects
07:46-15:11 ACDP programs
15:12-20:17 Segregation in NYC schools and its impact on students
20:18-27:45 Teachers and communities; charter schools and public schools; collaborations between charters and Dept of Ed (DOE) schools
27:46-31:13 English language learners and their needs
31:14-35:59 UPK, salary differences between DOE and community-based programs
36:00-39:53 Department of Youth and Community Development—NYC out-of-school-time programs
39:54-48:06 Professionalizing after-school youth work
48:07-51:26 ACDP and Acacia Network
51:27-53:54 Immigrant communities responding to the current challenges
Jon M: 00:15 Hi, I’m Jon Moscow.
Amy H-L: 00:17 And I’m Amy Halpern-Laff. Welcome to Ethical Schools, where we discuss strategies for creating equitable schools and youth programs that help students to develop commitment and capacity to build ethical institutions.
Jon M: 00:33 Our guest today is Soledad Hiciano, Executive Director of the Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, more generally known as ACDP for its Spanish initials, a multi-service community organization in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Ms. Hiciano is also Vice President for Education and Community Service of Acacia Network, with which ACDP is affiliated. Prior to working at ACDP, Soledad had, in addition to other positions, worked as a political organizer and as an early childhood teacher, a childcare provider, and as parent coordinator at PS/MS210 in Community School District 6 in Washington Heights. Welcome, Soledad.
Soledad H: 01:17 Hi everybody.
Jon M: 01:19 Washington Heights and the Bronx are heavily immigrant communities. ACDP and Acacia Network provide a range of youth development and mental health programs to children and adolescents. What impact are government immigration and deportation policies having on the young people you work with and their families?
Soledad H: 01:38 Hi, Jon. It is a tremendous impact that is being taken on by agencies such like us who really do provide mental health and youth development within our community at this moment. This impact of immigration that is happening in this country has the impact of really affecting families within the mental health spectrum because we have students within our programs that their families have been separated, have been deported, especially the breadwinner, and these youth or these young children are staying with other relatives. Sometimes it’s very difficult unless the family comes forward to really divulge that information to us, for us to be able to help them as best as we can. But we do see the impact within all of the communities that are facing all of this deportation. I’ll give you a little synapse of something that happened to us last year. So we have a community school within the Morris Heights area of the South Bronx. We have a youth that was graduating from the eighth grade and this is one of the things that happened within the public school system, but it’s very common. The majority, of our youth that are English language learners are well-behaved, don’t show any symptoms of having any academic problems other than the difficulty with language. They maintain themselves under the radar because there’s very little problems other than their learning and their learning pace. So this particular child was graduating from the eighth grade. Eighth grade within that community has a graduation in one of the universities in the community and they are asked to contribute to their cap and gown and there is a prom. There are all kinds of festivities that happen. This child went under the radar, did not bring any money for his cap and gown, and he decided that he was, he was not able to go to the graduation. No one really knew what was happening with this child because no parents came forth. The child never spoke about it. So the child showed up the day of graduation with his shorts and his flip flops. He came to school and he was placed in a seventh grade classroom. When the teachers started to investigate and ask him that, why wasn’t he going to graduation, he started to explain to the teacher that he did not pay for the cap and gown because he didn’t have any money and he was not able to go because he did not have clothing also to wear. The teacher decided to speak to the guidance counselor, where the guidance counselor kind of pulled him to the side and had a more intense conversation with the child. When they finished their conversation, what was disclosed was, that this particular child, who at this moment was 12 years old, his mother and father were deported two months ago, where they were dragged out of their home. He had to maintain himself with the grandparents. That was the one that was in the home legally. The grandfather a week ago had had heart surgery, so he was at home in recovery and the child felt that he didn’t have, he couldn’t ask the grandfather, or no one was going to come to his graduation. This story is common to us. Of course, needless to say, we took on that task. We took him home, we got him dressed, we bought him pants, we got him a tie and we got him a cap and gown and he was able to graduate. Then some staff took him out to lunch as if it was his own and we celebrated this child. That story that I’m telling you is more common than what we want to know. This happens constantly within our communities. Needless to say that this child was going through a traumatic event because this is a child that’s quiet, hardly speaks, that doesn’t really interface with anybody, goes under the radar all of the time. So we find that, not only in junior high school, and this is a junior high school child, we find that in elementary, we find that in daycare, we find this situation constantly because even some of the family members who are lucky, that are living with other family members that are legally in this country, are able to leave their children behind when they are picked up. And these children go through dramatic changes psychologically because of the disconnect of their parents being in their life.
Amy H-L: 06:17 And what’s the capacity of schools and after school programs to support students who’ve experienced these sorts of traumas?
Soledad H: 06:27 It’s minimum, I can tell you. It’s minimum. Because the system is set up for you to do a referral process. So if we don’t know the problem, if we don’t dig, if the professionals that are doing the services within these schools do not really dig about which are the children that might be going through this, we never find out what’s going on in the home. First and foremost, because parents who are, you know, moving from place to place because they’re trying to hide their status will never come forth to speak to us for help. And parents and family members that have gone through this trauma but have this stigma of mental health or a stigma of being disclosed will not come forth and say, you know, this is what we’re going through, this is the kind of stuff that we need, this is the kind of help. Unless there’s a problem where the family member is brought into the school because the child is acting out and the school now has identified that there is a problem and the dialogue begins, we really don’t know. So there’s lots of children that I’m sure that go under the radar because they’re well-behaved. They’re learning as best as they can because they’re very smart kids and we never really have an understanding of what’s going on within those family components.
Jon M: 07:46 You know, as you were answering that, I was thinking about a lot of the programs that ACDP has, which perhaps you can also mention some of what you’re doing in general because clearly a lot of the young people you work with have traumas of various kinds, not only immigration status related. And I know for example that you have Beacon programs, you have Cornerstone programs in Housing Authority developments, you have a Saturday Night Lights program. What are some of the things that you do and how, just in the normal course of what you do, how does this help kids who may be experiencing trauma or who are just going through the normal issues of growing up?
Soledad H: 08:39 Well, let me explain to you a little bit about what ACDP with Acacia, what we do within the community. So, so you did mention some of my programs and let me elaborate a little bit about our programming. So let’s take the Beacons, for instance. This initiative began under the Dinkins administration, when he was the mayor of New York City because there were what we call latchkey kids, kids that were in school and their parents were working and they were walking around with their keys because they had no place else to go. And at the time lots of gang activity was happening and these kids were being recruited. So this program really opened a junior high school setting program. There’s 90 of them in the City of New York throughout the five boroughs that are opening their doors to the community and to the children in the community for safety from three o’clock in the afternoon to 10 o’clock at night just in case a kid needs to stay within that realm to be able to be protected and parents can pick them up there. So within those, and that’s Monday through Friday and then Saturdays we have 10 to five. So we still have a safe haven space for children to be at. And in the summer, at this moment, we are open seven days a week till 11 o’clock at night from eight in the morning till 11 o’clock at night. So these programs are really a hub for all kinds of youth and children to have a safe haven to be. Needless to say, within those facilities, we run all kinds of clubs. We run a summer camp, which is from eight to six o’clock in the afternoon. We run basketball leagues. We have providers from the community that come into the community and are able to bring in their yoga classes for free, their tai chi, whatever they would like to bring, and they need a designated space to do it for free. We offer that to the community as providers. So these kinds of programs and activities really help children just to be engaged. So we have two of those. We have one in the Bronx and we have one in Manhattan. We also have the Cornerstone programs, which are the centers of several NYCHA buildings. We have two in the Bronx that we work with. NYCHA is the Housing Authority, which is more affordable housing within the New York City area. And within those centers, and those are very difficult complex because within those complex you have very high crime. One of our centers, which is the Sedgwick Center in the Bronx, close to University Avenue, has a memorial every single summer. The memorial really is about remembering the 36 youth, no older than 23 years of age, that have been killed within the complex. So we have within that center, it’s a very challenging center, but also again, it’s a safe haven for the children of that community because I cannot begin to tell you how many shootouts we have had that we have had running programs that are running within the center at the time, and everybody has to hit the ground, because we don’t know what’s going on, and then evacuate. Even though we have police authority within those facilities, what we have tried to do, and I think we’ve been very successful within those complex, is really build a sense of community and being able to bring youth together who are youth that are at risk, youth that are completely disconnected from the education system because they’re dropouts, are not able to get jobs because they are lacking in skills. We bring them into the center and offer them the opportunity to grow on those skills. So we do, for example, resume building, we have interview building, we try to bring in providers and partnerships with providers that can offer them a suit so they can go onto an interview. We give them computer skills for them to be able to see what they can get even within the community to see if they can get a part time job and start [inaudible]. and really tried to get them out of that mentality that if I don’t join this family that is called the gang, I’m not able to move forward. So we tried to bring in then the parents of those kids to cooking classes, to zumba classes. Being able to give the community a different light. And as I stated before, in both of these complexes that we have in the Bronx, we honor the actual community members that have fallen, but at the same time we also honor those who are with us and try to give them a more positive and enlightenment within their lives for them to choose a different pathway. So that’s our Cornerstones. We run also within the city many after school programs. And after school programs are more tutor, academic enhancement, activities of recreation and activities of arts and crafts or other different skills. We have a great reputation for having a fashion club that is second to none where, you know, we’ve been highlighted in community newspapers because of the great work that we do. We have many different basketball leagues or, as you mentioned, the Saturday Night Lights. This program, which we just concluded this program, but it was a program that opened our schools on Saturday to be open to kids to play basketball. And when I say play basketball, meaning we brought in different leagues with curriculum that would talk about discipline and honoring players and being able to play basketball the way it should be played and having tournaments and other kinds of skills. For that youth that is completely disconnected, so we were opening our schools and our programs just to do this from five o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday till 11 o’clock and then we would walk kids home with groups. So kids had an opportunity to be able to have a place where they, if they wanted to play basketball, they can come to us instead of having to go to the corner park and get themselves in trouble because somebody else wanted the court. So those kinds of programs that ACDP has are programs that, you know, are really able, and our mission is really to give options to our youth and to develop them to have better skills and to develop them to make better choices. Because when you know better, you do better. And that is one of the things that is happening with our youth. They are not knowledgeable enough to be able to make the right decisions because what is being modeled to them is not correct and they have no idea that is not until we give them those options.
Jon M: 15:12 Wow. According to UCLA Civil Rights Project, New York State has the most segregated education system in the country with New York City being a big part of the problem. What’s been your experience of segregation in the schools and its impact on students?
Soledad H: 15:28 100%. That statement is 100% correct and I have to be honest with you, I’m really proud of the mayor’s administration and the chancellor that he selected for the department of education because he’s trying to make an impact on this particular subject. You know, we don’t want to talk about segregation, we don’t want to look at it. We think it’s not existing, but when you look at the big picture and you see that community of color, their school systems are failing their students. They are the ones that have the highest level of dropouts in high school. They are the ones that have the highest level of truancy when it comes to junior high school. When you see that the highest level of learning disabilities as per the Department of Education, and these children continue with their IEP throughout their entire life, including high school, then you see that the resources are completely different than in other communities within the City of New York where you have all kinds of, where children get the best education that you can possibly buy. The best teachers come into those schools and are those schools are able to flourish. So we ask ourselves, what is the situation? What is the problem? The biggest problem here, I think, is you have selections of communities that have segregated their schools. Schools are zoned to be from this block to this block. If you do not belong in this address to this address, you are not able to come into our school. You have to prove to everybody that you are able to walk into our schools because you belong here. So you have schools, even within District 6 where the schools, you know, are very segregated because the population that they’re dealing with is not the population of a community, it’s just the population of schools. And then those schools receive many different other resources than others schools because other parents fundraise. There’s a different dynamic that goes on. So when you look at the high school population that you say to yourself, well how can that be at the high school population when there’s a selection for high schools and there’s so many of them in New York City and you are able to select whatever high school you want? They give you this tremendous document and there’s this lottery where you can select the the schools that you want and there’s 12 that you select and then all of a sudden you get placed in schools with children that are all the same demographics, are from your community, and there’s no understanding to that. But when you look at these specialized high schools, you also see the same demographics and they’re not brown. Very little of them are. They’re not black. Very little of them are. But there are many of them that are Caucasian and many of them that are Asian descent. And you ask yourself, why do these schools look so different than every other school and why is it that this is happening? I don’t think it has anything to do with skill. We have many of our kids who are very intelligent and very bright who are embarking and want to do better, but they don’t have the monies to prep actually for the SATs. They don’t have money to prep for the specialized high school exam. So they are left out of the population because they don’t have those options to do it. This is the change that I think is happening and I’m hoping that this chancellor can do it quicker because I think there’s a tremendous need and what I continue to tell people, when you look at our English language learners, they have come with some education from other countries. The education that they have that is most brilliant is math. Math is a universal language. Math, in this state, has become all about reading. Because I read the whole entire map says it’s more about reading than anything else. But when these kids start to do computation of something that they need? They score very, very high, a tremendous amount of great scores, and that is overlooked in time that these kids can be, you know, great members of these specialized high schools that can really make a difference. So absolutely something has to be done for us to be able to really integrate and really start to give children, these youth, the opportunity to walk into schools that can offer more. Because also what happens within these schools is that the selection of teachers is greater. There are teachers with better skills or more skills or more experience that want to work in these schools, but they don’t want to work in other communities because they don’t feel safe. So all of this takes into effect for us to have all of the segregation.
Jon M: 20:18 You know, it’s interesting you mentioned because teachers don’t feel safe. A lot of it is also, you know, my son Lev teaches at Beacon. And one of the realities also is that it is much easier to teach students who come with lots and lots of resources from home and who are on track to go to whatever colleges they want to go to no matter what. And so it can also just be, hey, I’ve got seniority and it’s easier to commute to Midtown Manhattan and I’ve got a class of kids where sort of whatever I do, the kids are going to be quote successful. So that’s just sometimes another factor as well.
Soledad H: 21:01 Yeah, and and I agree with you there, Jon. I think also the [inaudible] spectrum, that there are teachers who really get into this job to be able to take on a difficult population. I think also the system bogs them down. It really does bog them down because you look at the Bloomberg administration and what happened to the Department of Education where you still have that culture where people who are leaders, meaning principals. I’ve been in the school system for a mighty long time. I always say to myself that, you know, I’m a teacher at heart before anything else, before an administrator. That’s why I get throwbacks. In September, I have to walk into Staples and buy all kinds of pens and pencils because the teacher in me is screaming. Um, what happens is you have now leaders that are leading the schools that are in tremendous need. And not all of them. I have to be honest with you, I have partnered with principals that are outstanding, um, that walk into these communities have no idea, not even how to talk to the community, nor do they want to. They walk into that building and then they walk out and never understand, not even the person who has the bodega in the corner or introduce themselves to make a partnership with that person. Okay. And I’m not really good at leading a school. So teachers, sometimes hands are tied because the administration is not giving them the tools that they mean to be able to flourish these kids. So you also encounter that. I think you have to look at it. So it’s a very big, huge problem. But it you have to take it by phases to be able to fix it because there are places where we can fix it. I think our kids and our parents are hungry for success. No parent wants their kid to fail. I’ve never seen that in my life. I’ve never heard of that in my life. I just think there are parents who don’t have the resources to give to their kids that other parents have, but that should not take away from getting the best education possible. One of the biggest problems you’re having now, even within New York City, you have so many charter schools, they have taken over the community and now you have public schools that are losing a lot of their population and are suffering for it because they don’t have enough kids to populate their entire facility and you’ll have to ask yourself, why is that? You know, I am a proponent for public school, but I am also a proponent for the charters who are organically created and are about parents’ choice because that’s what the charter world was created for. But at this moment we’re encountering that this has come full steam ahead and that’s a conversations also that needs to be had about how do we separate that divide and really come together to partner and as you know, I’m the chairperson for our charter school that was created by organizations almost 20 years ago and we partner with our entire local public school system. We do projects with our kids together. We have community events together because we want children to understand and the leaders have to understand the better we communicate with each other, there are things that we can back and forth a filter on that you can do better or I can do better. Again, it’s learning from each other but you find that that divide now is happening within our communities more than ever. I’ve had plenty of complaints from public school principals that they’re suffering because but but also my conversation is what are you bringing to the table that are able to give these parents that you have, to say to them, we are just as good. We are bringing out the best in your child. We are creating the best environment educationally for your child, for us to be able to move your child forward. You know, we, those are conversations that really need to happen.
Amy H-L: 24:54 Isn’t that rare though, a collaboration between district schools and charters?
Soledad H: 25:03 Absolutely. It’s rare. It’s rare because we bought into the rhetoric that we are supposed to be separate. You are the enemy. You know, we are not the enemy, you are, but I have to also say that is because there’s some of us within charter networks that have not been doing their job organically to be able to build partners, but it’s about territory and taking over communities. That’s not what the charter world was created for. It was created to give parents a choice. I want this school or I want that school. Because of the segregation that has been happening within our community, parents did not feel, I do not want to send my child to the corner school because I’m zoned to that school because I’ve seen the results of that school and that school has nothing to offer my kid. This is why I want to select a charter school. Not that you have placement because it’s all a lottery, right, but I think that that’s why it hasn’t. But yeah, you’re absolutely right. There is very lack of partnership even within buildings because you know that the charter world now has taken on public school buildings. Even within those public school buildings, which I have programs in many of them, and I partner with both schools and sometimes I’m criticized for it, but even within those realms, those people don’t talk and when they talk, the animosity in the room can be cut with a knife and there’s no need. You’re servicing this community, you’re servicing the same families in this community. You have to come to the table and have conversations. If we work together, there’s a better product that we can come up with for the better of our community and the better of our schools so our teachers can feel that they are all making a difference. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that we bought into the minutia of the conversation, which has no space when it comes to teaching. I always tell people we have 10 months and it’s not even 10 months. It’s less than that. For us to make a difference into a child’s life and be able to grow that child to the next level, that’s pressing. You have to feel that heartbeat all the time as a teacher in a classroom and sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t and again, if we partner better, we are able to bring in better programs. But you’re absolutely right. It is a very rare thing, but we try to do the best that we can. We were, when we, when ACDP walks into a school to put a program, we let everybody know that this is a team effort and we’re here to help everybody. We also bring in mental health components within our schools that we’re able to refer them to a clinic and our clinics deal with children, deal with adults, deal with medication management. We do grouping therapy, we do parent and child therapy and we’re able to bring in those things within our schools.
Amy H-L: 27:46 We haven’t spoken about language. In 2016-17, which I think is the most recent year for which we have data, there were about 160,000 students in New York City schools who were officially classified as English learners. So English is not their first language and they’re not proficient in English. How well are the schools meeting the needs of these English learners?
Soledad H: 28:15 I mean there’s some schools that really do a great job because their bilingual department as they call it, for lack of a better word, have great professionals that have really come up with great strategies to be able to help those children, move them forward. Also, the way that they identify them, they identify them not only as English language learners, but what skills do these children have that we’re able to flourish. So there’s some principals that really look at that. And then there’s some schools that really have no clue. And when you find that I am an English language learner, I came to this country, I was eight years old, did not know one single word of English. I came here in 1973. There was no bilingual education program. I remember coming into a monolingual class with a monolingual teacher that actually assigned me a Puerto Rican friend because she was the only one who was able to say to the teacher, I would say to her I need to go to the bathroom and she would translate. Of course. needless to say, I learned English and [inaudible] in three years. I was completely immersed, but I also had a very caring teacher that kind of partnered me with other teachers that knew my language and was able to help me with the language, not having any curriculum or any premise for the conversation. When it came to direction of the Department of Education, she, because she was so caring, really decided that this is what she was going to do for me and she wanted me to flourish and I did. You have those all the time. Even now with having curriculums and being able to really help these children move forward, but you always have, and this is what happens within the classroom. You always have these walls that come close, so there are provisions for the English language exam and also the math exam from the state of New York that the ELLs have to take without even knowing language and they’re given extended amount of time, but they also have to take these exams and these exams are counted towards whatever the statistics. They come within their portfolio. I think that it’s a give and take. I think we have communities that do this very, very well. We have communities that have no clue because the people are not invested in English language learners within the community, that they’re able to go outside of the community and find resources, really have conversations with parents to see what the skills are for the students, because they don’t have that interaction. And as I said, I’m supposed to do this from eight to three. I walk into this building and then I walk out at three and then I’ll do it again tomorrow. But, and that’s the disconnect within communities, but you don’t really have an understanding of where these English language learners are coming from and how we can best help them. When we know their culture, I think we’re able to help them a little bit better.
Jon M: 31:14 Mayor de Blasio introduced universal preK for four year olds several years ago, is now rolling out 3K for all for three-year-olds. One of the biggest criticism of these programs is the huge salary difference between Department of Education classroom teachers and those teaching in community based organizations. How has this affected your early childhood programs, and I understand you were just saying earlier, before we started talking, that there may be some big changes coming in terms of the salary differentials. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Soledad H: 31:47 Absolutely. So we received last week great news from the mayor’s office because at this point, just to give you a little bit of of background information, all of the daycares within the five boroughs of New York City were manded by New York City’s ACS, forgive me,I don’t have the acronym
Jon M: 32:07 Agency for Children’s Services.
Soledad H: 32:09 Yes. Thank you so much, Jon. They were the ones who were the regulators and they were the ones who were manding all early childhood daycare, Head Start programs of the entire city. So given that they have had many challenges with their other portfolio, which is really protecting children, I think the mayor made a decision to bring those programs onto the Department of Education. So the Department of Education now is manding birth all the way to high school, the education of these children from beginning to high school. And now what they have done is they have put out there an RFP that agencies like ours, like Promesa and Acacia are able to go for it, these contracts of the entire city and are able to go for them and be able to bring in those services within our communities again, but under the premise of being funded by the Department of Education. So our biggest concern as we received this RFP was…
Jon M: 33:12 An RFP is a request for proposal.
Soledad H: 33:15 The request for proposals, I’m sorry, the request for proposals for these centers and for these programs, they come together and we had conversations about the pricing that we were putting in within these proposals were really not adequate. And then we were shy to say as a provider is we cannot ask you for more money than what you’re giving the Department of Education even though when we really calculate it, cause remember the, these requests for proposals run for five years. When you get the contract you get the contract. If it’s $100 you get the contract for $100 for five years. Sometimes they give you an allocation increase. If they see fit, it’s not guaranteed and if they don’t have any money you, you probably even have to close the contract.
Speaker 4: 34:06 So our conversations with them were about what, what happens to our teachers, which cannot compete with teachers with the Department of Education. Plus they have the same degrees, they have the same licenses, they have to go through the same process. We lose them at the end when they really acquire everything because first they get a higher salary through the UFT, United Federation for Teachers, they get a higher salary through that union. Our union are not able to allocate that much money for them or fight for that much money for them and we lose them. So this is our biggest challenge and we’re going to start at zero with the Department of Education. Then let’s have the real conversation and I think we pressed everybody to have the conversation. So last week we received news that moving forward we’re going to have the same compatible salaries for our teachers, given their expertise and given their degrees and licenses as the Department of Education. Now what’s the difference? Of course, the difference is our teachers do not have the summers off. They have to work throughout the summer because we have to work 260 days. But also it’s a smaller population. The classrooms are smaller. You have more help within the classroom because for every 15 kids you have to have a teacher and an assistant teacher in the room. And there’s some teachers who really just want to do zero, which is birth all the way to four years of age. They really just want to work for that population. So that’s the population that we try to attract, given the negotiations of this mayor, to be able to do that and be able to sustain them within our organizations and we offer them a way of life that they can really, you know, be able to make a difference for their family, which we have not been able to propose that to them because we didn’t have the funding.
Amy H-L: 36:00 Soledad, city-funded programs in New York compete for resources through applications to the Department of Youth and Community Development, DYCD.
Soledad H: 36:16 I’m a proponent of DYCD. I have to tell you in general, the DYCD, in my experience, have been very level headed and the majority of the leaders within DYCD were youth in their communities themselves. So they get it. They completely understand the needs. So they’re very adequate when it comes to giving out resources. Now, and I don’t think this is them, I think it’s just the premise of just when, when proposals come out and what they have to look at in terms of community. And the great thing about DYCD is as I said to you before, they listen. So when providers come to them and say, the premise for this, a proposal that you’re putting out really doesn’t serve us as well. And I’ll give you an example. So about probably five, six years ago, maybe seven, there were proposals for after school programs within our communities and what they were looking at, they gave us a list. These are the zip codes that you can go into and you can go into the schools and ask principals that you want to partner with them and bring in after school programs. So when we looked at the zip codes, the zip codes were not taking into account to affect pockets of poverty. So we have a school, and see if this makes sense to anybody. We have a school where the population within the 700 kids that are in that school, that population giving the poverty income, 95% of them have free lunches, which means the poverty income, 95% are for families that can hardly make ends meet, in these schools. The data that the Department of Education has acquired, giving income, giving family size, to the schools. So when you look at their data and then you look at these proposals and those schools did not qualify to be on the list for these proposals because that school was designated as a middle class school. Not really having an understanding that the kids that were filtering in there, even though they were probably from an outer zip code, were poverty children. So that didn’t make any sense to me. If you’re asking us to walk in and partner as a provider to different schools, you have to look at the population within those schools. Really look at the data that the Department of Education, which is another city agency. So I’m sure that it’s accessible. Looking at that data to see where is the biggest need, where are the greatest needs within that population that those children really need the enhancement of an after school program. So when it comes to dividing that I think absolutely right, there’s a better way of doing it. When you look at data that others are providing instead of you looking at either the census or looking at other data that really do not give you the full pictures of our community. And in Washington Heights, we find that all the time. There’s lots of segregation that is happening in Washington Heights. There’s lots of new programs that are coming in that are for middle class families and are designated for that and those are taking into effect and sometimes they shadow the population that is already within that schools that really do need those resources. So I think in conversations with DYCD, I think now they really get it and they understand within the past, as I said, five years, I really have seen their RFP come out that’s a little bit more comprehensive to what we’re looking at on the ground in terms of being providers in the community.
Jon M: 39:54 So as a last question, because just listening to you is amazing, but frontline after school or out of school time program staff are mostly part time hourly workers, they often work 15 to 20 hours a week during the school year. How could out of school time work be made more professional to make it easier for staff to make longterm careers in the field?
Soledad H: 40:21 This is a challenge for us, right. I think this falls on the provider and it really is, it’s a challenge for us because we’re trying to find the best quality, either activities special or group leaders who really want to work with kids. We try to recruit from the colleges around or the universities around our community that have educational programs. So the first people that we go out to say we have to, it’s $15 an hour cause now that’s the minimum wage. And a lot of these contracts [inaudible] themselves be able to do that. If we pay more than that, we have at this moment contracts that are running for four years, they will be up next year and we’re really struggling and suffering because the minimum wage went up, but the contracts did not, so you know, the monies that we had to buy extra basketballs or take them to a Broadway show have been limited because now we have to give those funds to the salaries of the workers because legally we have to comply with the law. So at this moment in time, it’s sometimes difficult to be able to get the best person for the job because versus minimum wage. In fact, we’ve been creative in looking for college students that want to be teachers because this could be their first opportunity of being in front of a classroom, of getting professional development from organization like ours that the majority of our development is education. And we have educational leaders that have been principals and assistant principals that are under our arsenal in terms of our consultants and our trainers. So we know this is the way that we sell it to them. So with us, not only are they getting a college education, but at the same time they’re getting the experience of being in front of a classroom. So they are able to really make an impact. But it’s very, very difficult to acquire that because you know, if this is the population that we’re going for, a lot of college students are doing other things and they really cannot take on another responsibility. So it’s always challenging to be able to find that that youth that wants to work. One of the things that we also do in [inaudible] of being creative, one of the things that we didn’t talk about, which is running at this moment, is our summer youth program. We have 1050 youth that is from 14 years of age all the way to 24 that for seven weeks in the summer, the city pays them to be in our organization and we place them in a job, and we have 150 providers. So we have education programs, we have summer camps, we have the hospital, we have banks, we have all of these partners and contracts where these kids are placed to get a job, whole experience. Many of our youth come into our educational program to work for us in the summer and are able to stay with us. They become part of our staff throughout the whole year and they’re the ones that really provide, actually we have a very successful way where, I want to say about probably 55% of our directors that have been with us for more than 15 years really came from their summer youth employment and they stayed with us through their college studies, through through their master’s program and now our, our directors that mand our programs, they completely understand the population that they’re dealing with because they were one of them. They also like to enhance that population to be able to give them opportunities and you know, like to flourish them and move them up. So we’re quite proud of that. But you’re absolutely right. Sometimes it’s very, very difficult to find that kind of professional that is able to walk into our programs and be able to give more.
Jon M: 44:06 So let me ask you a quick follow-up. So you’re describing what the situation looks like from your point of view as a provider and how you manage to make it work as well as can be done given the fiscal constraints. What do you think on a global scale, how do you think the city, or the state, or the the country could decide to look at out of school work and say, we’re going to make this a profession where people have career ladders without having to sort of, you know, make it work in any kind of possible way that it could possibly work. Do you see that as a possibility?
Soledad H: 44:46 So it’s always going to draw down to funding. We were able to receive a little bit more money in the last round, that was four years ago, of the out of school time, which now in the city is called COMPASS or SONIC. I think that there’s a lot of leeway of really making an impact. People have to understand, and I think we’re still in the mentality, that after school program is not a babysitting service. It is a service of activity and it’s a service of enhancement. We are here to enhance the lives of students. We are not the school, so we cannot run a program as if the school was running and just do test preparation. It is about taking the skills and the imagination of our youth after school for them to be able to do things that they cannot do at school because there’s no time to do it or there’s no funding. So our arts program, our recreational program, our science labs, all of that that we do are things that others that are not being able to be provided within the school system, the 8 to 3, because there’s no time or they don’t have the resources. I think we really need to look at it holistically and how do we start making an impact. Because if we bring in professionals, and again, Jon, it has to do with funding. If we really look at this as an extension, which is what is should be, and we could bring in teachers with different expertise. I am dying to bring in a designer, a real clothing designer, to my fashion program that can really motivate and have conversations with my youth to be able to say, if you’re really into fashion, this is the way that you can do it. If you really, and then taking on some of our kids to be able to do mentorship and be able to [inaudible]. But all of that or being able to bring in teachers that are artists and sometimes, you know, even within the arts, more within the arts than anything else, I mean with music, we never have enough money to really able to bring in the expertise for our kids to have the best capable experience. So we bring in students that this is what they do and then we kind of train them with different people. But really having an impact, there has to be, it has to be seamless within the school system for us to be able to do this, for everybody to buy in – the principal, the agencies and say, this is the amount of money, this is the qualifications that you need to bring in of these people and DYCD has done some of that, but still we can do better. I’m not sure how others are doing in another state, but I know in New York City, they give us a little bit more money and they are asking questions. What are the professionals that you really bringing in? Because I think this was part of the discussion at the beginning, but we’re not there yet. I think that the whole out-of-school time and concept has to be one of unity and seamlessness when it comes to school, not a separate program that we bring in 3 to 6, and that it’s that organization that’s babysitting those kids and we have nothing to do with it. It has to be a partnership even within the Department of Education, not just as a contract, but also meaningful conversation.
Amy H-L: 48:07 That makes a lot of sense. So that just the fact that the Acacia Network is an intergenerational organization gives you some advantages.
Soledad H: 48:16 Absolutely. I don’t think I said that we were a very small organization that in 2008 was dying. We had, we came within hours of closing our doors because we were not able to sustain the economic impact that happened in 2008. And many organizations that were like ACDP are gone, are no longer in existence, who were actually offering amazing programs within different communities. Our partnership with Acacia was the best decision we could ever make. Now, don’t ask me that at the beginning cause I was hesitant, but now I see it and I can tell you that without them we wouldn’t have been able to survive. Organizations like Acacia. Acacia Network is the second in the nation Hispanic organization. They bring to the table housing, they bring to the table mental health, health, they have many different clinics, they bring to the table education, which is the arm that I bring. They are now embarking in bringing in organizations that can do work development. They are all around. They, they’ve taken on other organizations under their umbrella, like [inaudible], that are nationwide. They have centers in Tennessee and different states in this wonderful nation. So they bring a lot to the table. And what they did for us was they were able to take us under their umbrella and take away the burden of the administration, because of all the functions that we needed to pay for it to be able to function. What they do is they take all of us together and all of us kind of separate that cost for receiving the same services and those services for an organization such as mine is financial, HR, compliance, all of that, that I did not have the money to pay, that was draining us, but we needed to have them to be in complete compliance. They take on that under their hub and they give us the opportunity of growing the program. So Acacia organization to ACDP has been a godsend and it really took us three years of conversation to come to that conclusion, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the numbers. And when the numbers aren’t up there, you really have to have a conversation about how do we continue to survive to be able to bring in, to be able to continue to give the services to this community and organizations like Acacia know how to respect the community and be able to keep those resources and those organizations. So ACDP continues, even though we’re under the umbrella of Acacia Network, we continue to be Community Association of Progressive Dominicans in a community that is majority Dominican and needs representation. So we continue to be that for them and they have always applauded that and have supported that. Any organization that we walk in, they don’t want us to change our image of who we are. They just want to enhance us. And I think that has been the biggest blessing for us of coming into the Acacia Network.
Amy H-L: 51:27 This has just been fascinating. Is there anything else our listeners should know about what makes your organization so impactful in your community?
Soledad H: 51:36 I’ll talk in general in terms of community based organizations. I tend to, I go away to conventions in the summer where we kind of all come together from everywhere in the state. And the challenges that we’re encountering now are bigger than ever. Our immigration population is suffering. We heard this weekend of all the stuff that was happening and, but it’s also been a godsend. And let me explain a little bit about why it’s been a godsend. We’ve never come together as close as we are now. We are protecting each other. I was very proud because I have a nephew this weekend that on Instagram, who is not political, he has a sense of community, but the services, you know, as much as he can, but not 100%. And I was so proud to see an Instagram posting of him warning people that ISIS was in the mall and they were checking people’s ID. And he kind of told everybody, please watch out. They’re in this mall and be careful everybody. And you see that all over. And for our organizations such as ACDP, what we’ve done is we started real dialogue about protecting our communities and our people to be able to, fair is fair. We’re not saying, you know, if you can be in this country and you’re not here legally, that we should keep you no matter what. What we’re saying is we need due process, we’re asking for due process. Everybody wants to be in this country legally. The immigration community is a community that works hard, that wants to contribute, wants to be a part of something, and the something that they want to be a part of is that great American dream that we are all taking advantage of. That’s all that they want from the beginning of time. Everybody who came here, that’s all that they wanted. That’s what this population, but not to be thrown in the garbage can, not to be abused, not to be separated, not to be treated, you know, without any dignity. And that’s what organizations such as my own are fighting. So we have a great challenge ahead of us, but I think we’re up to the task. We’ve never been closer than what we are now, and that has been a godsend and we will continue to be that until we will find real reform in terms of immigration in this country.
Jon M: 53:55 On that note, thank you Soledad Hiciano for joining us and thank you listeners for joining us. For more information about Soledad Hiciano and her work, you can check out the Acacia Network’s website at acacianetwork.org. Our website, with articles and podcast episodes is ethicalschools.org. We’re on Facebook, Twitter @ethicalschools and Instagram. Till next week.