Students at Ann Arbor’s Roberto Clemente high school organize to fight the impending closure of their school

    I’ve been receiving letters for the past several weeks, asking me to post something about the situation at Ann Arbor’s Roberto Clemente Student Development Center. Not being terribly knowledgeable about what’s going on, and not knowing what I could possibly add to the conversation, I’ve been reluctant to jump into the fray. But, this morning, I was sent a letter by a sophomore at the school, along with a request that I share it with my readers. Here, however, before I share the letter, is a little background from Terry Carpenter, a teacher at the school that I was able to reach this evening for comment.

    A very brief update for your readers: Roberto Clemente is an alternative school servicing mostly black and mostly poor students. It is a part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS). AAPS, like many (if not all) districts in
    Michigan, is really struggling financially. AAPS has a decent “savings account” but, in an effort to balance the budget, has proposed several cuts. One of the those proposed cuts was to move or dismantle Clemente. We at Clemente feel we are quite successful with a population that has not shown success elsewhere in AAPS. A student-led effort has gotten “the word” of the AAPS Board that we are “off the chopping block” for a year. However, I continue to encourage people to attend the board meetings. The next one is tomorrow (June 13th) at 7:00 PM, on the top floor of the Ann Arbor District Library. It has been truly an honor to work with these amazing students.

    And, here’s the letter that I received this morning from a Clemente student by the name of Tia Jones.

    Hello, my name is Tia Jones and I am a sophmore at Roberto Clemente Student Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Roberto Clemente has been on the chopping block of the Ann Arbor School Board of Education since mid-April of this year. Once the school staff and students heard that Clemente was going to be closed down, and/or
    consolidated, our hearts broke.

    The struggle to keep our school where it is has been really hard because the board members don’t seem to be understanding nor listening. Roberto Clemente has been in the Ann Arbor community since 1974.

    The Ann Arbor School District has failed many of the students at Roberto Clemente. The schools stop teaching us because we are either “black”, “bad”, “disrespectful”, or everything in between. We, the students, have been ignored since elementary, and we are still fighting to have our voices heard.

    Ever since the “Roberto Clemente Family” has been on the cutting block, we have fought hard. We have written testimonies of our experiences in Ann Arbor Public Schools, and we feel that no board members expressed that they cared about what we had to say. The many things we spoke about were extremely heartfelt and honest. It hurt many of my peers to just be ignored time after time.

    It has been a long tough fight, and they have given us another year only to make the choice about consolidating us with our comprehensive high schools that have failed us from the beginning. Most of the board members have not taken the time to actually come to the school to see how it is run, and yet they jump right to Roberto when budget cuts are
    proposed. They are really strangers to us, and it shouldn’t be that way, because they work for us, as a community. We all have dreams we want to reach, and we all, as students, and community members, need Roberto, as it has saved many of our lives. We have no board that reflects on the community. The board attacks African Americans, and poor students first. They are supposed to be educators, but they don’t seem to care about every student’s future. We, as students, are being forced to walk down a dark road with no sidewalks, both literally and figuratively. “Exceptional” is what is on the school’s website, but this district and board has not truly learned the meaning of exceptional. Roberto Clemente is what you call Exceptional.

    Thanks for your time,
    Tia Jones

    I don’t know how legitimate the analogy is, but, based on what she says, it sounds very similar to what happened at Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit.

    Tia also shared the following links, for those who would like more background.

    Here is a link about our Mission & Philosophy.

    This link has all of the board members who have failed to look into our school community, and our programs that heal and shelter children.

    These are are a few links with information about meetings that we, the students, have attended. (I, II, III, IV)

    We have also started an online petition. Here is the link.

    Lastly, here is a link is the letter that I have written to Rachel Maddow, along with the signatures of each student.

    [note: The accompanying image comes from the public website of the Roberto Clemente Student Development Center.]

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      35 Comments

      1. Edward
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        Sadly, I think there are some in the audience, would you rather these difficult-to-reach kids be shuttled directly into for-profit juvenile corrections facilities, or, worse yet, be put to work in factories.

      2. Knox
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        It’s bad that this is happening, and I wish the kids of Clemente well. On the positive side, though, regardless of what happens, I have to think that engaging is this struggle is making them more politically aware and more engaged with the community.

      3. anonymous
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Sadly, I think the decision to keep RC open this year had less to do with the welfare of these students, and more to do with the desire of other Ann Arbor families to keep these students away from the own children.

      4. Greg Pratt
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        anon 740am

        what evidence do you have for the above claim?

      5. j
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        Greg,

        It’s Ann Arbor. A2 might have a reputation for liberalism, but the true driving force is always NIMBY bullshit.

      6. Dan
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        side note: I’m wondering why this is an AAPS, when it is located in Ypsi Township. AAPS is one of the last holdouts for School of Choice, so why do they bus kids from the Huron or Pioneer districts all the way down to Ypsi Twp?

        that certainly does stink of “NIMBY bullshit”

      7. Posted June 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

        The decision to close the school is likely a matter of convenience, just as it was with Catherine Ferguson. It’s easy to close a school filled with poor and disadvantaged kids. That’s not just true of Ann Arbor, it’s obviously true of Detroit and the State of Michigan as a whole.

        I really doubt, however, that the school held on this long so that these kids could be kept away from anybody.

        That’s just a ludicrous assumption.

        If you have a video of that City Council meeting, I’d love to see it.

      8. Greg Pratt
        Posted June 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I agree the NIMBY analysis is way off track.

        The school is out there because Joe Dulin fought for it and the location. The school works with students who need individualized attention to support their learning. Kinda like private school for people who can’t afford private school.

        Some of the “Ann Arbor liberals” of which you write above would have preferred the school be closed to save money on the budget.

      9. Greg Pratt
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 5:26 am | Permalink

        Mark: thanks for supporting these students and publishing this.

        Students, while talked about and negotiated over, rarely get a megaphone in these situations.

      10. school teacher
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        Thanks for posting this mark!

      11. Billy
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Not to be a dolt, but what is “NIMBY”? Thanks.

      12. Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Billy, “not in my backyard”. Basically, folks will love to talk about how much they love homeless shelters, day treatment centers, alternative schools…until you want to put one in their neighborhood and then they trip out.

      13. Posted June 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Really? We’re not talking about building a new school, but rather closing one in a period of tight budgets all around.

      14. Dan
        Posted June 14, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        I really dont understand why a school district that refuses to accept students from outside of their jurisdiction, is sending their troubled students to a school that is outside of their jurisdiction. Geographically speaking, anyhow.

        it’s essentially like Arizona saying they dont want any Mexican citizens to work in their state, but then they ship all of the minorities to Mexico everyday to work there. It’s quintessential NIMBYism.

        How can it make financial sense to cart students 7 miles from Huron High, and 8.5 miles from Pioneer High, each way?

        I’m sure that cost is a major reason for it being a target to be shutdown, but why was it started in the first place?

      15. Greg Pratt
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

        Dan thanks for your thoughtful question

        Roberto Clemente was started as an alternative program within the existing AAPS High School structure. I believe (someone more knowledgable reading this feel free to correct me) that, at first in the 70s and 80s when the program had just begun, students were relegated to trailers with poor HVAC and leaky roofs.

        Over a period of years, Joe Dulin (Original pgm director and school principal) fought for and finally won a building of their own in 1994. The location was origianlly chosen for two reasons that I am aware of:
        1) They were going to use some of the land adjacent to the new school building for a RC community garden.

        2) The building is remote from bus lines, other centers of cultural activity so students focus on what is happening IN school and not outside the building

        Question for Dan and others who are similarly thoughful: What are the reasons families send their kids to private schools?

        Thanks for reading.

      16. Maria
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        To play devil’s advocate, there is another alternative school in town, A2Tech, and it’s not filled to capacity, it’s in town, and won’t require a long ride to get there, and it’s on the public bus line too and the idea was to put the two together. It seems ,at first blush, a good idea. But the argument goes, that it’s a different crowd that attends this alternative school.
        Now, I don’t know anything about the logistics of merging two alternative schools,but I’m suspicious of the argument that it’s actually two different populations by need. I always hate the we’re us and they are them argument. That’s sounds like people holding down their own bunker mentality. A big problem I see, is that these are very vulnerable children, who often have not been dealt a kind hand in life or done right by the school district, and those feelings have been on display. The principal at RC seems particularly committed and competent, and maybe the real solution is for him to run the one new alternative school, and run the melding of the two. It’s an idea, and it would likely take away the angst of the kids.

      17. Dan
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Greg,

        I’m not questioning the school. I understand it’s value and think it should stay open.

        I was just wondering why it was located in Ypsi Township. Doesnt really make logistical sense, and if one had a conspiracy theory-ish mind, they might think it was started outside of AA, on purpose.

        But thanks for the history on it.

        And to answer you question, I think most parents send their kids to private school to get more student-teacher interaction and accountability.

      18. Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Dulin is still alive to my knowledge, Dan.

        You might ask him why the school was located in Ypsi township.

      19. EOS
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        C’mon – who wouldn’t want to be located in Ypsilanti Township? Doh.

      20. Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        I guess it should be a relief that the RC school day ends at 3 since the sun is still up.

      21. anonymous
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Peter is referring, of course, to EOS’s suggestion some time ago that the Township enforce a curfew against young black men, thereby lessening the need for expensive police officers, and allowing his taxes to stay low.

        As for my comment earlier concerning the possibility that RC is staying open because parents elsewhere in the district don’t want those kids to be transferred into the schools that their children attend, I don’t have any evidence that’s the case. I suspect, however, it could have factored into the decision to keep RC open.

      22. EOS
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        If you repeat it enough times, you might fool some people, but I never suggested a curfew. It was a rhetorical question that I never imagined anyone would seriously consider. … over 200 people were in the middle of the street in the middle of the night… what are you going to do, impose a curfew for adults??? It’s interesting how the retelling of this thread keeps evolving.

      23. Dan
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        a quick search produces this:

        “…Crime is regularly reported in this neighborhood, with an active neighborhood watch program that has strong ties with the Sheriff department. What can police do in this situation? Can they impose curfews for adults in this neighborhood? How can they crack down harder on this neighborhood and avoid accusations of racial bias? More money, more police, and more midnight basketball games don’t do anything to address the root cause of crime…”

        sounds rhetorical to me

      24. Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Bigots often deny that they are, in fact, bigots.

        The idea of a curfew for black people is something that would never come to mind for me, yet it does for you.

        That’s interesting, really.

      25. Dan
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Careful Peter. EOS didnt mention that black people should be put on a curfew in the original post. You assumed he meant that. He said adults. In fact, the very next comment in the original thread was this, from you.

        “Are you saying that the root cause of crime is black people? Cause that’s what I think you’re saying.”

        What made you think he was blaming crime on black people?

      26. Posted June 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Dan,

        I would recommend that you read the post a little more carefully:

        “How can they crack down harder on this neighborhood and avoid accusations of racial bias? More money, more police, and more midnight basketball games don’t do anything to address the root cause of crime.”

      27. EOS
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        Dan,

        Thanks. Peter is always the first person to bring up race, and yet, he doesn’t think he is a bigot.

      28. Anonymous Mike
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Sounds like we’ve got a little George Zimmerman in the making.

      29. Posted June 15, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        I don’t understand your pointing out your (our anyone elses) bigotry makes me a racist. This is a common line amongst right wingers these days, and just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

        So, am I sexist because I call the current crop of Republicans in Michigan anti-woman? Am I an Islamophobe because I went and hung out at a mosque in Dearborn to protest the arrival of a bigoted preacher from Florida?

        This line just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at all.

        But, yes, I admit, I am bigoted.

        I harbor incredible animosity towards racists and homophobes like yourself.

      30. Dan
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

        Peter,

        I don’t think you’re a bigot, but if you want to use the logic that anyone that even thought of posing a rhetorical question of enacting a curfew for blacks must be a bigot, then you cant ignore the fact that you read something about a poor neighborhood, and immediately considered it a black issue.

        EOS never once asked for “the Township enforce a curfew against young black men” as the common misrepresentation for years has portrayed him to. Making the jump from what he said to what you guys claim he said, shows more bigotry, imo.

        Like i said, the name calling and BS here is really weird to me. I could twist any one of any of your posts and make it sound just as bad as the way you guys twist EOS’s posts. Whats the point in that nonsense?

      31. Posted June 15, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know. I read it, and its pretty clear to me.

        “How can they crack down harder on this neighborhood and avoid accusations of racial bias? More money, more police, and more midnight basketball games don’t do anything to address the root cause of crime.”

        “Racial bias”

        “The root cause of crime.” WOW, what could that possibly be?

        I don’t know if you’re new, Dan, but EOS has a pretty lengthy history here.

        I’m glad to see that EOS has at least one friend, though.

      32. EOS
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        Peter’s interpretation of what is written is what exemplifies his racist, bigoted thought process. He reads a racist ideology from innocuous comments. As Dan discovered by reading the old posts, Peter is the only person who suggested black people are the root cause of crime. My response at the time:

        Peter,

        Criminal activity is not the direct result of poverty, race, or disadvantage. People commit crimes because they are hopeless. They’ve lost all hope that they will ever achieve the “good life” without the advantage that the crime will afford them. The root cause? They don’t know Jesus.

        “ Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD.” Jeremiah 17:6-8

        “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
        Romans 15:12-14

        Peter’s stumbling block appears to be Jesus Christ. He is antagonist and intolerant of anyone who believes the truth of the Bible. Most people who don’t believe just ignore someone who quotes scripture. That Peter has such an emotional response is indicative of an ongoing conflict within his own mind. I believe it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is working on Peter’s conscious. I’ll keep praying for him and hopefully we’ll be friends in eternity and maybe even sooner.

        I do have a lengthy history on this blog and ample documented evidence of having never made a single racist statement.

      33. Dan
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, no offense but I don’t give a rip about the God stuff. I fall much more in line with the maynardians on that subject.

        But im starting to see why everyone immediately calls EOS a troll. People are afraid to engage in actual discourse with opposing opinions. Much easier to bully someone to try to belittle them.

        Shameful

      34. Dan
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

        Peter and EOS

        Why don’t both of you describe what you think was the “root cause of crime” in that statement

      35. mark k
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        Glad to see peter getting called out, long over due.

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