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Road Closed Due to Injustice

by Mahalia Cummings
When Willie White speaks to Dave the truck driver on Friday, November 17th, with horns blaring around them, there is a moment of stillness. In contrast to the confrontational nature of the halted trucker at last month’s action, Dave tells Willie that he understands why he's being stopped. There is no quick flash of anger, but compassion.
For the news cameras, this result might have seemed anti-climactic. But it’s the buildup of awareness and open dialogue that will impact change.
Over the past month members of AVillage and the surrounding community have gathered to protest environmental injustice at Ezra Prentice Homes. Members gather at 625 South Pearl St., meeting those from groups such as Citizen Action, students from The Free School, Democratic Socialists of Albany, and Environmental Advocates of New York.   There has been great strength in small numbers, but we hope to continue to grow this movement, to be so loud that people can’t help but to join us.
AVillage advocates for people who have been exhausted by a system that overlooks and exploits them. For some, that means standing and holding signs. For others, that means standing in the road and refusing to move. Either way, AVillage seeks to elevate the voices of those who have been silenced. The residents of Ezra Prentice Homes deserve advocates who are willing to be unmoved.
In the minutes leading up to the conversation, Willie was gathered with other protesters as they blocked the southbound lane of South Pearl Street. While the traffic was blocked, other demonstrators handed out literature to those in their stopped cars. All the while, Dave and Willie engaged in a civil discourse about the toxic environmental impact that diesel truck fumes have on the neighborhood.
Willie echoes some of the  “Dear Trucker” letter passed out to all halted truck drivers who will accept them. To members of AVillage and many residents of Ezra Prentice, it is clear as day. Traffic stoppage is controversial. But the residents have no other tool or leverage to get their voices heard. What is a minor inconvenience for those on their evening commute is part of a larger picture for those who are fighting for their lives.
And at this particular action, it was met with a dialogue that continues to grow. Willie reports that he has received a number of phone calls from Truckers who read the letter and want to talk about how to resolve this issue. They tell Willie they understand the issue and why it’s necessary to take direct action, but also why other routes are difficult right now. One company that has found another route, according to its driver. Willie passes on the information from the truckers to those who have the ability to take action.
Tomorrow, Dave and people like him could be the impetus to the further closing of the gap between the needs of the people and the pressures of the transportation system.
Willie is known for shouting “no more” at protests, a two-word declaration that invokes the true nature of not only AVillage’s activism, but the voices of the oft-silenced Ezra Prentice residents. Enough is Enough. Everyone felt that spirit at the November 17th action, felt that the purpose stretching beyond one singular individual, but embodying the type of resistance that really takes A Village.
Will you join us? If you’d like to participate, please send us your phone number so we can text you about future actions.

The Campaign for Better Health at Ezra Prentice

by Elizabeth DeSantis

From conducting health surveys to installing monitors counting trucks to tracking the air quality at the Ezra Prentice Homes, the journey toward relief is not quite over for the residents who live there. But certainly concerns surrounding the damage to the health of this community have grown more widespread in the last two years.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is spending $500,000 over the next year to conduct an intensive study of air quality in the neighborhood, using new and sophisticated air monitoring equipment with two stationary sites and hand held monitors as well . 
This plan is a year-long study to look into the main contributing sources to air pollution in the South End, which the DEC will assess:
  • How much particulate matter comes from motor vehicles versus Port activities?
  • How far does particulate matter travel from the road into the neighborhood?
  • How much benzene comes from sources in the Port versus vehicles on local roadways?
  • What approaches can the DEC take to help the community understand air quality?
The study began only this fall, so the discoveries are not yet in-depth. However, Kyle Frazier, a representative for the DEC, stated,
“Instrumentation has been installed and is up and running.  The portable monitoring portion of the study has been underway for a few months.  To assist our data interpretation, the New York State Department of Transportation has agreed to install a traffic counter on South Pearl St.  DEC plans to compare the car and truck counts to our monitoring data.  We’ve also learned that we need to work better on translating technical information for the community”.
The goal of these air monitors overall is for the DEC to gain a greater understanding about the primary sources of some air pollutants, such as particulate matter and chemical gases that are emitted into the air from motor vehicles, road dust, and loading crude oil from one container to another. There is a monitor that remains constant outside of the Ezra Prentice Homes that tracks Benzene, the most common chemical gas that is created from gasoline fumes, asphalt, and moving crude oil.
A second, smaller monitor has been installed near the Creighton Storey Homes on Third Avenue, almost a mile away from the Port and much further up the hill so data between the two can be compared.
AVillage and the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association have hosted four DEC presentations on the air quality project in the past year to explain the air quality project. Another information session is being planned  for January.
In the meantime, a study conducted this summer by the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) designed to count the diesel trucks and track their origins and destinations is still not complete, but results are expected soon.
AVillage’s Resident Outreach Workers have facilitated health surveys at 107 households at Ezra Prentice This information is invaluable both to make the case that the air quality is affecting people’s health, and also in allowing us to work with CDPHP, the Albany County Health Department and other providers to make sure people get connected with good information about their health issues, and find appropriate services if needed. 
Working with Trinity Alliance and the Radix Center, we will be expanding our surveys and outreach to other parts of the South End starting in January. If you are interested in becoming a Resident Outreach Worker (ROW) to help conduct these surveys, contact Willie White at avillage5@aol.com.


Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams Speaks On Community Schools

What does education mean to you? The one-word answers from community residents attending the November 9 AVillage meeting included these: “opportunity, equity, freedom, awakening, and access.“

AVillage was honored to welcome Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams as our featured speaker for the weekly Thursday meeting. Approximately forty people attended last week - members of AVillage who gathered in the name of getting a clearer idea of “community schools,” which now include Giffen Memorial Elementary School in the South End. Click here for video of the meeting, which included poignant questions and open discussion.

Education is nuanced and different for every parent and student, and the Community School concept is equally nuanced. On Thursday we got both the general concept and specific examples of what the Albany School District wants to achieve.  Every students’ needs fluctuates around variables such as home environment, health disparities, social issues, and more. Too often, those variables become barriers to learning. 

The goal of the community school model is to break down those barriers by supporting student enrichment, engagement, and academic participation through a symbiotic relationship between community organizations, parents, students, and teachers.  This is going to look different for every school, but the hope is to that schools become a consortium of sorts, so that each institution can learn from one another about what works better for them.
Superintendent Adams previously served as the school associate superintendent of Nevada’s Clark County School District, the fifth largest school district in the nation. She is no stranger to urban settings. Throughout the meeting parents and concerned community members discussed how to tackle the issues that are unique to Albany. With her were other school officials including Community Engagement Coordinator Cathy Edmondson, who is a key link between the school, parents, and community members. From Giffen Memorial Elementary School were Principal Jasmine Brown, and Community Site Coordinator, Amanda Boyd. Together, they formed a picture of the type of collaboration the community school model is meant to foster.

Superintendent Adams spoke of the significance of measuring progress through the lenses of academic achievement and enrichment. It’s not just one or the other, but a balance of increasing the quality of both. She also takes note of the power of language. “Success is how we define it. We can’t put our children in a box to always define what success looks like. We want them to have the opportunities and the possibilities to determine what that success looks like for them with our guidance and with our support.”

Each school will conduct a needs assessment among parents and families that evaluates how the schools can get from where they are to where they hope to be. It also helps them direct where the fiscal pieces fit, and informs the budget. Former school Board President Kenny Bruce asked about the concrete implications of community schools. He knows that this model is an ongoing evaluative process, and that the needs assessment is a key piece, but he wanted to know more about specifics, not the abstract. “...obviously you want the student to learn more,” he said. “But how does the community school model translate into results?”

Superintendent Adams’s response was centered on the real-life examples that proved that community schools work. “...This is a model that we have explored in New York City and throughout the country. So, tutoring examples: what does that tutoring look like. Is it targeted specifically on what I need as a student? If I need phonemic awareness does the tutoring address that? Within community schools there may be a mentoring program that’s at the school where the community supports the school.” According to Adams, this is an example that has already seen success at Arbor Hill. There, the community school program helps to align tutoring with what the student’s academic needs are.

Community organizations can also fill the gap in extracurricular programs. Superintendent Adams uses sports as a hypothetical example. “Who knew that students that may be interested in lacrosse? Then you know what? We have a community organization that is primed and ready to bring that to the school,” she said.

As far as how community schools fit into the ongoing workings of the school system? “We want to address the whole child - social and emotional well being of our students to make sure that if there are things that are happening in their life, they are emotionally and socially able to address that. That may be a social worker, that may be a counselor. As a school we only have so many resources available, but the community schools grant can help us fund those additional resources to bring them in to take care of our kids.”

Still, there are concrete progress markers that the school will use to measure the success of community schools. “We are going to look at our academics, ELA, mathematics. We are gonna look at discipline referrals, how many students are being referred to the office or referred to the principal’s office for discipline measures. “ The superintendent went on to describe other signifiers of change. She said that the school district hopes the community school model will bring a decrease in aggressive behaviors and apathy, and contribute to an uptick in how many students turning in homework on time, and reading proficiency.

Community schools are a piece of the larger equation when it comes to the success of our students. First, the school district aims to identify the needs of the students. Then, how does the community work to fill the gaps to fulfill those needs? How much does perception have to do with that, and how do we shape that perception through decisive action? 

Superintendent Adams poses a rhetorical question to the room, meeting the eyes of everyone there.“Who are we when we are outside of our schools, and what does our community think about us? We have to work really hard with our students and we really have to help them understand that they’re a part of something greater than what they even see. And that’s gonna take a minute. And language is absolutely a part of it.”

Would you like to find out more about sitting on a community school advisory board? Contact Cathy Edmondson, Community Engagement Coordinator at 518-475-6067.