On a recent Wednesday afternoon, about fifteen high school students from the International Community High School (ICHS) in the South Bronx stood at the gates of City Hall, where they plan to stand every Wednesday until their demands are met: sports at their school, and all small schools in New York City.
“Chancellor Fariña, you did not read our research. If you did, you would be standing with us and not against us!” belted senior Sory Konate. Other students chanted “Civil rights matter!” to the rhythm of four students drumming on bright orange Home Depot buckets. They stood behind a bright white banner embossed with the image of a clasped black fist and their movement’s social media tag, #civilrightsmatter.
Standing by, distributing fliers and keeping an eagle eye out for councilmembers, was David Garcia-Rosen, the man who had been their school dean until March, when he was removed from the school following another action calling for expanded access to sports.
Ironically, when he was hired as dean of the school in 2010, Garcia-Rosen made promises to combat problems that plagued the school—gang violence and high dropout rates—by building a sports program. To be admitted to the International Community High School, a public school, students need to have been in America for four years or fewer. The students are from a wide range of countries, many with volatile political scenes such as Togo and Yemen. Ninety-four percent of students were English language-learners last school year, and 99 percent of students were people of color. Just 40 percent of ICHS students graduate within four years, and statistics show that sports could make a difference. A recent study from the University of Kansas found that high school athletes are more likely to graduate: “When a student has to earn the right to play a sport by performing in the classroom, that is a very strong factor in keeping adolescents in school,” one of the researchers told The Atlantic.
During his first year on the job Garcia-Rosen tried—and failed—to secure funding directly from the Public School Athletic League (PSAL), the division of the NYC Department of Education (DOE) that administers sports programming for public school students. Like many small schools, ICHS did not meet certain PSAL standards for funding, including, “the perceived level of interest at the school, availability of coaches, and enough students who could satisfy the league’s academic eligibility rules,” according to the New York Times. “They made it pretty clear we shouldn’t even bother applying,” Garcia-Rosen says.