No App for That

Legacy HS students use theater to reflect on school closure

Students from M.S. 363 in the Bronx perform a skit about the choice to stand up to bullies as part of the ENACT showcase.

Students weren’t able to stop the city from closing Legacy High School for Integrated Studies. But they have been able to turn their protests into a learning experience.

Last night, students from Legacy performed a skit on the difficulty of making choices. In the skit, the students had access to “Make a Choice 3000,” an app that showed them the outcome of possible decisions.

The skit was performed as part of “Show Up,” an annual event showcasing of original performances written by students as part of ENACT, a dropout prevention program that operates in 150 city schools with high dropout rates.

The choice the kids in the skit were confronted with? Whether to fight against the city’s closure of the fictional Regency High School, even if they knew their efforts would most likely be fruitless.

The skit also delved into students’ feelings after their efforts failed.

“I feel embarrassed,” one student in the skit said. “We fought so hard.”

The Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out Legacy in February, despite student-led efforts in opposition to the turnaround, including a student walk-out to a rally at Union Square and phone drive. Legacy students were at the forefront of the protests, which involved several high schools.

But the skit concluded with a positive message.

“Sometimes you don’t have a say,” a student actor said. “But you always have a voice.”

ENACT strives to use theater to help students take ownership of their behavior and choices, and holds workshops at the schools throughout the year, focusing especially on the ninth grade. The performances last night were the result of ENACT’s afterschool program at four schools, including Legacy.

“We ask students what it is that they want to share with an audience in a way that be heard, that can help bridge gaps between the community and the schools,” said Diana Feldman, the founder and head of the program.

“In this particular school, clearly this was on their mind,” she said. “Some of the had a sense of hopelessness, and we worked with them in helping them realize they learned a lot, that there was a lesson in standing up for themselves.”

Harry Rivas, a freshman at Legacy and actor in the skits, said the students chose to set the piece at a fictional high school in order to depoliticize it.

“We didn’t want anybody to feel blamed,” he said. “It feels great to just give them our perspective of being in a school that’s being phased out.”

The other skits, performed by students from the High School of Hospitality Management in Manhattan, M.S. 363 in the Bronx, and the School for Legal Studies in Brooklyn, also focused on the importance of choice.

DaShannon Bryant, a sophomore at the School for Legal Studies, said ENACT helps her make a choice every day— to show up for school.

Bryant said she was recommended to participate in the ENACT afterschool program after she racked up absences her freshman year.

“I had a lot of absences, so a teacher recommended I get involved so I would come to school, so I could learn and stuff,” she said.

Erica Burkett, a freshman at Legacy and aspiring actress, signed up for the after school program as soon as she heard about it. She said ENACT was also one of her favorite parts of school.

“I just love it so much,” she said.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede