Jamaica High School deserves more credit, respect from city

I graduated from Jamaica High School in 1994. Leaving George J. Ryan Middle School in Fresh Meadows in 1991, I was warned by classmates that if I went to Jamaica HS, horrible things would happen to me. Thankfully, I ignored their warnings and entered Jamaica HS in 1991. It was the best decision I ever made in my life.

The school’s unsavory reputation was just that: a reputation. The reality was that students were given amazing opportunities to learn, be exposed to people from a myriad of backgrounds and make lasting friendships. I was more than prepared for college thanks to Jamaica HS and had I paid attention to the school’s reputation, I would have missed out on all that.

Many of the wonderful teachers I had are still there and I know from firsthand accounts that Jamaica HS continues to offer students the same opportunities my classmates and I had 15 years ago.

My neighbor currently attends Jamaica HS and is enrolled in the selective Gateway program. No one in her middle school had even told her the program existed. Rather than attend Jamaica HS, her middle school teachers advised her to apply to small schools she would have had to travel nearly an hour to reach. But she chose Jamaica HS instead.

She is glad she did and does not want to attend any other school. She heard all the same sort of stories I had heard years before, but she entered Jamaica HS in spite of her concern the warnings would come true. Since starting at Jamaica HS, she has blossomed into a scholar. She and her family are so impressed with the education she is receiving there that her younger cousin and several younger friends applied to attend Jamaica HS beginning in September.

Contrary to what statistics and the school’s reputation suggest, she is getting a fantastic education and loves going to school — as do her classmates.

Jamaica HS is a special place. The interaction between current students and alumni is one of the things I think makes the school special. How many schools exist where alumni of all ages love their school and embrace each other as family, regardless of what year they graduated? I once saw a 90-plus-year-old nearly leap with excitement when he learned we shared Jamaica HS as our alma mater.

Current and former students alike, along with current and past teachers, celebrated Jamaica HS’s status as a historic landmark last summer. The hundreds of attendees were there to celebrate not just the building, but the school.

Would this love of school exist in a smaller school in that great building? I doubt it. Would students receive a great education in a small school? Possibly. But there are no guarantees and students have been receiving a fantastic education at Jamaica HS for over 100 years. Students are still receiving a fantastic education at Jamaica HS today.

Some students struggle with academics due to learning challenges, others enter the school without mastering skills in lower grades and others simply are challenged by the need to begin learning English as high school students. Regardless, they all receive an education at Jamaica HS. What kind of home will these students find in smaller, more “selective” high schools?

And if the city has the financial resources to launch and fund several new schools in the Jamaica HS building, why hasn’t it allowed Jamaica’s current students to benefit from those resources? In spite of funding cuts, graduation rates and test scores are improving, so to close the school without first dedicating the resources to support the teachers’ efforts is shameful. Instead of providing resources to a school striving to improve itself, the city has reduced the number of teachers in the school and left some classes this year without permanent teachers late in the fall term.

The students, teachers and families most affected by the city’s decision to close the school are right to be infuriated and feel betrayed by the city. Jamaica HS should be kept open to offer all students an education while also providing all the things a large school can offer with proper funding that a small “academy” cannot: a wider variety of athletic teams, varied extracurricular activities, more diversity and a wider range of elective courses.

The school needs the city’s support, not its condemnation.

Kathleen Forrestal


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