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Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant: Before the Bell …

By 9:00 am, classes have begun in most New York City public schools. That world of students, teachers, administrators, counselors is on its way. Parents are about their work and their day.

This past Monday, learning began much sooner for a few dozen children, and two mothers proved the important role of including conscious parents in decisions made for their children and on every team involved in the process of educating and raising their children. After all, it takes a village.
Here’s the report for that morning.. before the bell:

One mother, JW, oversees the drop off of her first-grader at a public school on Lewis Avenue. Another mother is walking with her daughter from Kosciuszko Street and Nostrand to another school 10 blocks away. Within 15 minutes, their lives will intersect on a corner where a mini-drama will play out: cop cars, weary law officers, frustrated educators, curious – not so scared—kids seeing life playing out before the day has begun like prime nighttime Law and Order.

As JW approaches the corner, she spots her niece with some friends. JW asks the inevitable. The response: we must wait out here until they let us in.

You came early and you can’t go inside? JW asks incredulously. All of us, responds the niece, gesturing to the 20 or so other young people talking and doing what young people do, as their other friends approach.
Frustrated, she tells a bystander: “Haven’t they read the newspapers lately”. She learns there’s only one traffic guard, and due to cutbacks, the safety officer’s on the other corner. JW speeds off to find a school official, not for a confrontation, just to make a query: Why can’t the students wait in the auditorium. They can even do homework or something constructive.


While she’s gone, one of the niece’s friends is overheard whispering, more like awe and curiosity than fear and apprehension: I think he’s looking at me. It’s not clear who “he” is. A car slowly rolls by. A “bad boy” saunters past. The feeling is this has happened before.

JW returns after a talk with the lobby desk safety officer. She waves her niece to go closer to the front of the school, and then bypasses the corner bodega heading for the less-crowded store across the street for a newspaper. Anything could happen with these kids on the corner, she comments, frustrated, realizing there may be some policy in place that says early-risers can wait outside. Or there may not.

As she exits the store, JW exclaims what did I tell you? There are two cop cars on the corner, just across the street from where her niece stood with her friends. She quickly finds out what happened in that space of time: a young man allegedly put his hand in or near the jacket pocket of a student – hoping to “see” her i-Pod. He didn’t know the fifth-grader’s mother, MB, was nearby, and the father was biking up. It was the second incident MB had faced in about as many weeks. The last time: some girls brought scissors to school and chopped off my daughter’s hair (more than six inches). And now they have the whole thing on Facebook with pictures.
More in an upcoming Our Time Press.

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