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When Students Are Seen and Known—and Not Lost in a System

If you’ve never felt caught in a system, it’s hard to imagine the heartbreak that can come from watching your children get caught in it too—or the exhilaration that can come when the opposite happens: when you and your children are truly seen.

That’s what a recent Partnership mom helped us to see even more clearly. Joskatery’s two daughters go to Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary in East Harlem, and she was kind enough to let us know her perspective on her family’s experience at the school.

Repeatedly in the conversation, she returned to one phrase—”lost in the system”—as the opposite of what her family experiences at MCHR. In her words:

Your kids are not lost in a system. Everyone knows my kids on a first name, last name basis. And there’s a sense of family in the school—like you feel connected to everyone. 

A friendly wave in the MCHR cafeteria.

About her older daughter, now in eighth grade:

She was really, really, really, really shy.

Coming into the school, she was able to break out of her shell. Every step of the way, starting from her Pre-K teacher, who broke the ice. Then down from kindergarten, that teacher took her under her wings. And not that she was a teacher’s pet, because everyone has the same treatment, but they know that, “okay, this child does this a particular way.”

So they get to know your children. And now, she’s quiet, but she’s not as shy. She will speak up. She evolved without any issues, without me having to take her for [counseling, thinking], “Oh my God, this girl is anti-social, or this girl didn’t make it. Or this girl is having issues, this girl is closing up more because she felt lost in a system.” 

She’s a functioning teen I would say. An extremely functioning teen at this point.

MCHR Middle school students take a break outside this winter.

About her younger daughter, now in Kindergarten:

She’s happy-go-lucky. She talks too much. And she wants to just talk to everyone, and everyone understands that. Everyone just loves all the kids. I don’t see favoritism, which I love. I’ve never felt that any one of them were left out or picked on—or if there was an issue and I called, it was addressed automatically. 

So my kids are entirely different, night and day, but the school works just as great for both of them.

MCHR Pre-K students at play.

About the decision to send her daughters to a school where each family pays a portion of the tuition:

People just don’t understand how I could have the choice of having my child go to the [tuition-free] school across the street [and not take it]. I have a friend whose child goes to that school. And the poor thing is lost in the system, has gotten left back twice. And my oldest is thriving, and being exposed to an amazing curriculum, and opportunities coming her way. It’s just an amazing thing to have in our community.

Systems are crucial, and Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary, like all our schools, has plenty—for everything from maintaining a joyful, orderly school climate to communicating with parents to enrolling new students. And all institutions, both big and small, public and private, can too easily prioritize systems over the people they are meant to serve, to the point where kids or families’ needs and individuality gets “lost” in them.

But Joskatery underscores for us how crucial it is—and how profoundly gratifying it can be—when a school like Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary never loses sight of individuals amid the tasks and routines of education.

This week, new research emerged on one of the most pernicious systemic traps in American life: red lining. Lines drawn around Black and immigrant neighborhoods in the late 1930s to identify supposed mortgage lending risks continue to have devastating effects on everything from education to physical health. The research only reinforces calls that those like educational advocate Derrell Bradford have been making for years about the racist implications of assigning students to schools geographically, particularly in neighborhoods like Joskatery’s East Harlem home, well within a section of New York redlined in the 1930s.

When systems are so entrenched and so insidious, a mom’s ability to walk across the street and enroll her daughters in a school that sees and knows them for who they are isn’t just a triumph of the individual in the face of monolithic forces; it is an urgent alliance between parents and educators to affirm our children’s unique humanity—and our own.