Tiffani Torres and Sophie Mode

In my 4 years of high school I will have taken over 720 hours of supplemental education in english and math. 720 hours after school, during my summers, on my weekends, that I spent making up for the education that was stolen from me.
— Tiffani
Opportunities were something we were given, not something we needed to earn. Our schools presented us with extra programs in everything from computer science to basketball to musical theater. We never needed to search for these, they were right in our hands.
— Sophie
Tiffani Torres (left) and Sophie Mode (right) perform this piece at the Brooklyn Central Library December 3, 2018.

Tiffani Torres (left) and Sophie Mode (right) perform this piece at the Brooklyn Central Library December 3, 2018.

Sophie: I’m from the Brooklyn of brownstones, bagel shops, bike lanes, and grassy parks

Tiffani: Parks in my neighborhood are dangerous after 5. There is no studying in the grass under the shining light of the afternoon sun with textbooks that cost a dollar a page, a dollar a page that could be spent on funding teachers who know what they’re talking about. When it comes to school, people in my neighborhood think it’s all the same – you’ll get a decent education wherever you go.

Sophie: Go to P.S. 8. It’s one of the best schools in the city. That’s what my parents were told. That’s why so many parents decided to move to Brooklyn Heights. And it paid off. P.S. 8 had it all: parent-funded art classes, electives galore, advanced classes, etc. But still I heard parents complain that it wasn’t enough. They wanted more teachers with more degrees, smaller classes, bigger budgets, better resources.

Tiffani: Resources were always scarce. “I got my degree, I don't need to be here”, said the teachers who couldn't understand our frustration, or whose frustrations overtook them, reminding us of that truth that they didn’t need to be there. So why were they?

In my middle school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy, we received our one minute of fame after being discovered by Humans of New York, where we were 99% black and hispanic, we were constantly told that we were brilliant. That if we worked hard, we could do anything. That the possibilities were endless. That we were more than where we lived. That we were what we made ourselves to be. Our discovery was a blessing. Cameras flashing, reporters asking, and money and donations and TED talks from our principal, a conversation being started about Brownsville and Brilliance a conversation being started about low-income schools and resources a conversation being started that wasn’t happening before but then… the cameras left. The conversation ceased. The people who opened up their pockets felt good until they forgot about why they opened them in the first place. 

Sophie: I have always been in a school with resources, a school with privilege. But many in our community complained that it still wasn’t enough: all they could see was what their child didn’t have.  They seemed to have no idea what the New York City public school system is really like for most of its underserved students. 

Tiffani: Parents in my school did not know about the achievement gap. They did not have the knowledge nor the time to focus on what math books their children were getting, what their children’s drama teachers were doing -- or if there were drama teachers. Instead, they had to focus on what they were going to feed their children, and what time they were going to take off of work to pick them up. I went to a middle school where parents entrusted the public school system to fill the gaps that they weren't given the resources to fill. 

Sophie: When it came time for middle school, I was excited to go to the school connected to my elementary school, but just beyond the confines of my brownstone Brooklyn neighborhood into Downtown Brooklyn. But many parents had problems with it. 

They used veiled phrases.

“It’s not in a good neighborhood”

“I would rather send my kids to school on Long Island”

“The other students in the building don’t care about school and get in a lot of trouble.” 

“There are other high schools in the building, which is scary for my young child.” 

What were the real reasons? Was it because the other schools in the building enrolled close to 100 percent students of color? Was it because many of those students were economically disadvantaged?

Tiffani: In my 9th grade year, I was introduced to a program that helps low-income students to and through college. I read the flyer: “SEO Scholars creates a more equitable society by closing the academic and opportunity gap for motivated young people...” Before my freshman year, I had never heard the phrase “Opportunity Gap.” 

Sophie: Opportunities were something we were given, not something we needed to earn. Our schools presented us with extra programs in everything from computer science to basketball to musical theater. We never needed to search for these, they were right in our hands. 

Tiffani: I have been exposed to the truth. The truth about our education system. The truth about education inequality. The truth about who benefits, and the truth about who doesn’t. In my 4 years of high school I will have taken over 720 hours of supplemental education in english and math. 720 hours after school, during my summers, on my weekends, that I spent making up for the education that was stolen from me. 

Sophie: New York, a supposed city for all. A melting pot, where anyone can rise up and accomplish their dreams. But how can someone have an equal chance of accomplishing their dreams when they are left behind before they turn five years old? When the system segregates students by race, class, and academic performance? And then there are those who are privileged in this system. They will grow up without the benefits of the beautiful diversity this city has to offer. Without understanding the privileges their skin color, first language, and zip code have afforded them.

Tiffani: Schools dot NYC dot Gov: “The DOE works hard to ensure that students in every borough, district, neighborhood, and school have the tools they need to achieve their dreams. We know that excellence is more than a goal, it is the birthright of every child in our city.”

Sophie and Tiffani: It is the birthright of every child in our city. It is the birthright of every child in our city.

Tiffani: Is it... the birthright of every child in our city?