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large part on work done at Middle
College High School, a total of $40
million was awarded to a number of
foundations, which will distribute
the money to community schools
doing similar work throughout
the United States. The grant aims
to replicate a secondary education
model pioneered at LaGuardia. At
Middle College, students at risk
of dropping out of high school are
placed in smaller classes within
smaller schools and challenged to
do college work. Instead of merely
finishing high school, students
are expected to earn an associate’s
degree within a five-year span.
LaGuardia has grown by
expanding adult and continuing
education from 19,000 enrollments
in 1996 to more than 28,000 in 2000.
The heart of the growth strategy is
figuring out what services the public
needs. The school was among the first to train taxi drivers; it
has developed a program to help deaf adults transition from
high school to college; and it has become a leader in training
paramedics and emergency medical technicians. Enrollment
in the ESL program grew by 25 percent between 1996
and 2000, topping 2,000 registrants that year. Participants
ranged in age from 16 to more than 60. Spurred mostly by
immigration to Queens, the English language program has
also become an inexpensive option for free spirits like Kazu
Miyoshi, 33, an architect from Japan who quit his corporate
job to become a sculptor. He wants to learn English before
traveling the world to look at art. “Friends in Japan told me
to come here,” he said.
And when the student
cannot come to LaGuardia, the
community college comes to
the student. LaGuardia receives
$1.3 million from the New York
City Department of Corrections
each year to teach high school
equivalency courses in jail.
The program serves a highly
transient population, given that
most city inmates are awaiting
trial, and no convicted criminal
serves a sentence longer than
one year in a city facility. “We
have to set short-term goals,”
said Linda Gilberto, the head of Continuing and Adult
Education at LaGuardia. “But we sometimes have a lasting
effect.”
LaGuardia is the kind of community that challenges
assumptions, whether about the way to teach a diverse
group, or the goals appropriate for at-risk high school
students. As an institution, it has enjoyed great successes,
but it does not have all of the answers, as Gail Mellow readily
admits. It does view its greatest challenge as its greatest
opportunity: The same mind-boggling diversity that makes
simple communication an adventure guarantees a fresh
point of view every day. “We don’t really know what’s next,”
Mellow said. “Sometimes we have to say, Let’s just learn our
way through this.”
u
Ron Feemster has been a freelance writer based in Germany
and New York. He currently teaches at the Indian Institute of
Journalism & NewMedia in Bangalore, India.
Dhruba Saha (left), a native of Bangladesh, was a student of Bill Mazza at LaGuardia’s
writing center, key to the college’s remedial programs.
The school hoped for
additional funding from
the city. But faced with
a budget deficit of $4.8
million Mayor Michael
Bloomberg has been forced
to call for cuts across
nearly all city agencies.