Education & Industrialization

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José De Diego, Public School 84. Located at 250 Berry Street. [3]

     We begin discussing an average day for the two friends spent at José De Diego, Public School 84. I start my questions with the intention of receiving simply general background information about a typical day like class times, teachers, and subjects, but Adrienne almost immediately addresses the larger differences between current students’ experiences in school and her own, merely a decade ago. Charter schools like Williamsburg Collegiate popped up around 2005, attracting students and as a consequence, pulling apart neighbors and friends from a united center of education. José De Diego has seen seen drastic program cuts despite a budget increase from $5,225,639 [4] for the fiscal year of 2006 to $8,505,655 [5] for the fiscal year of 2016 (as of March 17th). According to Adrienne, organizations like the Beacon Program, an after-school initiative to keep children off the streets by providing a place to do homework and relax, have been cut drastically, if not entirely. She cited her younger nephew as an example, whose public school has entirely cut the Beacon Program from its system of education. Although certain programs have been shut down, P.S. 84 received better educational markings for the 2012-2013 school year as compared to its markings for the 2006-2007 school year. According to an article authored by the New York Times in 2008, P.S. 84 received a D rating in its 2006-2007 city progress report. Of its its fourth graders, only 27 percent met state reading levels and 56 percent in math, versus 62 and 74 percent citywide. [6] Fast forward to the 2012-2013 school year, when José De Diego received a C rating, earning a 2.3 on state exams, comparing almost equally with the 2.53 citywide average score. [7] This increase suggests that although fiscal budget dispersion has been restructured, academically, students are scoring higher. Though it is certainly diffiult to measure objectively, perhaps this data links better education with the influx of new residents into Williamsburg and the higher standards for education forced upon the public school system by the growing city.     

     Though the educational system may have gained some academic standing within the past decade, Denise explains that the social structure of the academic system has changed. “People stuck together. Way back when we were younger everybody knew everybody, like, the kids were allowed to go to school together in groups because the whole neighborhood knew each other. It was like, ok you guys can go together, but, we want to know when you get there and stuff! Just, you know, we were all close. It was a close-knit neighborhood way back when we were little.” [8] It was more dangerous, yes, children were more subject to potential scuffles, but the interconnectness among neighborhood families kept everyone in check. "We always had to learn how to watch each other’s back," Denise recalls. The comrady that between friends existed just as it typically does between family members; "everybody knew everybody,"she would repeat often. [9]

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Domino Sugar Factory, Kent Avenue & South 1st Street. [10]

     Growing up, both women note that education was largely propagated in their households, yet this push for intellectual achievement through higher education wasn’t always the case generationally. Regarding the past physical structure of South Williamsburg, particularly on the waterfront, Adrienne reflects, “At one point it used to be all warehouses by the pier, it used to be warehouses where people could find employment, and it was easier because mostly our parents from that generation, people didn’t really focus on a college education. They just worried about now and, ‘We got to get money now, and we need it now.’” [11] Williamsburg was home to several major industrial employers that left the area due to rising labor costs, congested traffic routes, and overseas competition, [12] leaving manual laborers, many without higher education, with few sources of employment and little time to develop other marketable skills. In addition to factories like the Schaefer brewery and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Domino Sugar Factory was situated in Williamsburg for 198 years, employing 5,000 workers at its peak before leaving the area in 2004. [13] Though strikes for better working conditions were common, the refinery’s unionized jobs allowed workers to take paid vacation time, but more importantly, it gave its workers the ability to raise their children in the area, despite its elevated prices. These days, a college education is important because without one, there’s little employment in the form of manual labor to fall back on. [14] Instead, the neighborhood sees a proliferation of white-collar employment opportunities. Denise explains, “So the 18-year-olds have to struggle between looking for a job, going to school, doing all the work that they have to do in school and the work at work.” This tiresome cycle is often defeating; pursuing an education in hopes for a sucessful future devours up leisure time that could be spent working for money, presenting a tough opportunity cost to be undertaken by the younger generation. [15]