Dec. 14, 2003 – While most kids were munching Christmas goodies or out shopping Saturday, 11 Addelita Cancryn Junior High School students sat with serious faces in front of their school, some holding umbrellas against the intermittent rain. They were staging a hunger strike.
Under a banner, "Striking for parental involvement," the students held placards – "Invest in our future – get involved!," "Fasting 4 parental support" and "Parents – get involved." The students explained their plight. It's a plea for help from adults who they see as not caring.
"We are fasting so we can get the parents involved," said 7th-grader Tazima Patrick.
"We don't have a gym, the cafeteria is too small, the classroom are too hot," Tabienne Connor said, "and the parents don't seem to care." Patrick and Connor and the other nine students said their own parents participate in school concerns, but the greater number of parents do not.
The students hadn't eaten for the day. They weren't planning to break their fast until 3 p.m., and they showed no signs of not holding out. "It's ok," Connor said, "it's more important to let people know what's going on."
Lone teacher Wendy Diaz stood with the group. The young geography teacher looked more like a student, herself. "We have to get the parents involved in their children's welfare," she said. "We have 900 to 1,000 students in the school, and about 20 parents show up for PTA meetings. The students need to feel good about themselves. They feel neglected."
Diaz said she didn't want to "put it all on the backs of the parents, but we can have no success without their support." She said the physical condition of the school is in need of a major overhaul. The air conditioning doesn't work in many of the rooms, so the students have to study in the heat. If it rains, there is no place for the students to take physical education, to play games, Diaz said.
The Cancryn gym was destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, as was the gym at Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School. While BCB's gym has been rebuilt with air-conditioning, Cancryn's remains nonexistent. (See " A-C flooring remain issue for BCB gym.".)
And then there are the pigeons. "The pigeons come into the classrooms, and they drop in the hallways and in the classrooms — it's so unsanitary, it's disgusting," Diaz said.
No students are anxious to attend Cancryn when "BCB is so much better equipped," she said.
Another teacher said her husband constructed wooden frames in her classroom to keep the pigeons out, and he also installed tops on some of the classroom desks, which the teacher paid for out of her own pocket. Teachers buying classroom supplies is, territory-wide, a chronic problem that has come up endless times in Senate meetings, but still exists.
"Quite a few people stopped by to ask what they could do to help," Diaz said. "I told them, 'Tell your senator'."
Sen. Carlton Dowe may have some good news for the school. In the 24th Legislature, Dowe was co-sponsor of a bill that set aside $12 million for school improvements, including rebuilding of the Cancryn cafeteria and gym, but the funding from bonds was never forthcoming.
Dowe said Saturday afternoon that he had just heard from a "high-ranking government source" that the bonds had been restructured. "In fact," he said, "all the bonds were sold, which is good news." He said he was meeting with Kenneth Mapp, Public Finance Authority director of administration and finance, next week. "I will follow through these school projects to the end," he said.
Dowe also successfully passed legislation this year designating 25 percent of lottery proceeds to education. He said the Finance Department, as mandated, sends him copies of the disbursements to the schools. He said the lottery money had been dispersed to the four high schools — $7,500 each — and now the junior high schools would be in line for funding. It is a recurring revenue source.
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