September/October 2020 Issue
August 22, 2020

Without funding, Yonkers kids pay the price

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Laid-off music teacher Colette Hebert tells supporters that cutting music is detrimental to the overall education of Yonkers students. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

In the last assignment of the 2019–20 school year, the music teachers who were laid off in Yonkers asked students to respond to a statement: “Imagine Your Life Without Music.”

The students didn’t know their mentors were about to lose their jobs, but their answers were heartbreaking.

“Music is what makes us enjoy life.

Life without music is not life at all,” said one.

“Life without music is like a morning without chirping, nights without earphones, traffic without horns, and dancing without beats,” wrote another. “It connects us to ourselves.

Music completes us.”

Unfortunately, music was one of the first programs sacrificed as the city schools faced more than 160 job cuts including dozens of teachers and teaching assistants to deal with the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Yonkers Federation of Teachers, led by Samantha Rosado- Ciriello, gathered educators, administrators, pols and labor leaders at Lincoln High School one day last June to seek support for the federal HEROES Act, a COVID-19 fiscal relief bill that is still held up in the U.S Senate.

Music is a crucial part of a child’s education, said Colette Hebert, who has raised funds and written grants to help fund keyboards, strings and band instruments.

“Music lessons significantly enhance children’s cognitive abilities, including language-based reasoning, short-term memory and planning, all of which lead to improved academic performance,” she said.

“Cutting this program is detrimental to their overall growth and learning experience.”

In Yonkers, 79 percent of students come from low-income families. The city has been severely affected by the pandemic, in terms of physical and mental health as well as the economy.

Erin Giacinto, another laid-off teacher, said students need more support, not less structure, during this stressful, uncertain time. Music fills that void.

“Our students deserve music,” said Brian Doherty, another YFT member who got a layoff notice.

“They deserve to be part of a school that can educate them socially and emotionally, as well as academically.”

Rosado-Ciriello said the struggle continues as the district prepares toreopen.

With no progress on federal funding bills and reduced state aid, the staff members are still laid off.

Reopening will be problematic, at best.

“The district’s plan calls for a hybrid model,” she said. “We are trying to get them to start out remotely and gradually phase in.” In addition to staffing, the facilities are not up to par.

“We still have classrooms without windows, others where windows don’t open, HVAC units that have not been upgraded and no isolation room,” Rosado-Ciriello said. “We have inadequate staffing, we very much need training, and the teachers do not feel comfortable.

“Many other districts are feeling the same way. In fact, more than 50 presidents from Westchester, Putnam, Orange and Rockland counties signed onto a letter highlighting the need for additional funding in order to open schools safely. This is a time for more support for schools and students, not less!” As NYSUT United went to press, the district agreed to a fully remote start to the school year.