Gentrification and Hillcrest:
What will happen to Our School as Jamaica becomes the "New Williamsburg?"
Inquiry by karen sacta, Editor-in-Chief and Beatriz Gomez de castro, '17
With Jamaica gentrifying, will Hillcrest's demographics change?
Photos by Laura Valencia, Photography Editor
Graphics by Maya Venkersammy, Layout Editor
Photos by Laura Valencia, Photography Editor
Graphics by Maya Venkersammy, Layout Editor
When tourists visit New York City, it’s usually with the intent of visiting the hectic streets of Manhattan or the artistic neighborhoods Brooklyn has to offer. With this in mind, it's reasonable that the prices to live in these areas are often off the charts. With an estimated population of over 9 million people, most New Yorkers don’t have the funds to pay for a $4,500 apartment on rent alone each month. As a consequence, neighborhoods with low prices on rent often find themselves becoming the best new neighborhood to go to.
According to a recent Gothamist article entitled “The Next Hottest Neighborhood in NYC is … Jamaica, Queens?”, Jamaica may well become the “new Williamsburg” and is very likely to experience a demographic shift in the near future. Not only does Jamaica have a plethora of transportation to both the subway and the Long Island Railroad, but the cost to live here is exceptionally low when compared to other major boroughs. “Now it appears the city's HOTTEST BOROUGH houses the HOTTEST NEW 'HOOD, which is...Jamaica. Yes, Jamaica, Queens”.
Jamaica may undergo what was seen in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, once known as a growing community for African Americans in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Their population of low income residents fell as wealthy figures arrived and raised neighborhood prices. “The demographics of the neighborhood are indeed changing: according to census data, the number of white residents have increased from 2.4 to 15 percent between 2000 and 2010. And prices are rising, too: the median price for Bed-Stuy homes jumped from $575,000 in 2013 to $890,000 in 2015 according to StreetEasy.”
The changes seen is known as gentrification, which can be understood as the result of having upper-income individuals settling in a predominantly lower-income neighborhood. Their presence not only leads to the renovation and new opinion of the community as a whole but also raises the price to live in these areas and ultimately starts affecting local schools. A local school that is in the heart of Jamaica is our own Hillcrest High school, and it will be a school that will be impacted by gentrification in the years to come.
Students arriving to commonly unfavorable communities often believe a school’s location has a direct correlation to its quality of education. School ratings, however, are actually determined based upon the safety, learning environment, and programs. With wealthy students attending these schools, not only will it create a balance between students with financial disadvantages and high-income students, but it will also leave equal opportunity for both classes to keep afloat new and existing programs. If programs succeed, a better school reputation will be established, therefore attracting parents attention to send their kids to these schools.
Satellite West Middle School, located on the border of Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, is an example of this. A recent Chalk Beat NY article outlined the struggling school in Brooklyn is undergoing a radical change as gentrification took hold of the area and “more middle-class families [chose] to settle in the district.” Not only did the school change its name and shift towards a trendy STEAM model, but it is getting a brand new school building and are now allowed to screen its students, which is its grant or decline admissions. This is in part, because many of these middle-class families moving into the area did not want to send their children to a struggling school. According to Chalkbeat, “Come September, Satellite West will have disappeared. The troubled school will be moved...and even go by a new name.”
Along with an increase in school ratings, schools with middle-class or high-income students often have a higher learning advantage. With the mixture of both social classes, low income students will be challenged to work at the same academic level so higher income students have a better chance at higher college readiness. For instance, schools that provide more Advance Placement courses are granting their students with a higher level of education, giving them an advantage when they reach college, while others do not have the means to offer the same programs.
Taking this into consideration, however, most schools are having certain privileges being taken away when they do not meet the financial requirements needed to get governmental assurance. The [government] provides financial assistance, Title 1, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in schools where a high percent of students come from low-income families. However if more students from high-income families move to these schools, only a small percentage of low-income will remain, therefore causing the school to receive less funding and, as a result, creating challenges for students to succeed academically.
For instance, a school in Crown Heights that exemplifies the impact of gentrification on school budgets is Brooklyn Arts & Science Elementary School. In an article written by the New York Times entitled “New York Schools Wonder: How White is too White?” Ms. Soto, the principal, "worries that as Crown Heights undergoes a demographic shift — her school used to serve free and reduced lunch to almost all its students, and now serves it to 64 percent of them — the school will no longer be able to reach as many of the poor children she got into education to help.”
In other words, working-class and high-income families coming to the area have the money to pay for his/her child, while low-income families who need assistance in order to pay for their children's lunch are getting this privilege taken away. The eligibility for free or reduced lunch is based on the income of the entire household. According to FRAC (Food Research & Action Center),a new community eligibility is being implemented, allowing schools whose students are primarily low income to receive free or affordable breakfast and lunch. However if more high-income students go to these schools, the less probable it will be for the other students to get free or reduced meals.
An important factor in most high school students educational career is the standardized tests used to measure their capabilities and ensure their placement in the university or college of their choice. Although some students may easily decide to not prepare themselves thoroughly for these exams, others who long for impressive scores search for the best means of preparation in order to assure them a confident mark on their applications for college. How much do most of these courses cost however? Well, according to the New York Times, test preparation can cost up to $4,000! Even the initial expenses can deny many families an exam since the registration fee for these tests ranges between $40- $50. When wealthy students move into low-income schools, low-income students will lose the opportunity to receive school support to pay for test prep programs for exams such as the SAT, ACT, and AP tests, therefore lose the opportunity to receive a high mark for their college applications.
II. Hillcrest and Jamaica’s Shift
Although gentrification has not specifically reached Jamaica, Queens, since it is a lengthy process, from what is witnessed in other schools affected by gentrification, we can only infer that a change will impact Hillcrest High School. A school located in the heart of Jamaica Estates, Hillcrest has gradually seen fair shares of demographic shifts in the area. Nearly twenty years ago, the Jamaica area was not considered great.
Our school Principal, Mr. Morrison, a former Hillcrest student himself, shared his opinion of the problems the school faced when he first attended. “It wasn't a great neighborhood. It looked like the city forgot about the neighborhood.” Ms. Bilquees, Hillcrest’s current Parent Coordinator, also remembers Hillcrest’s neighborhood being less than ideal.“This place used to be scary as there was constant violence outside the school.”
As a result of a neighborhood with high crime rates, Hillcrest gained a reputation of being a less than desirable location and some of its elite programs like Pre-Med and Health Careers struggled to fill its seats. As the Gothamist article suggests, Jamaica is undergoing a resurgence as more working and higher income families have entered in the last decade. Mr. Morrison stated that he has “seen the neighborhood get better.”
According to HomeFacts.com, Mr. Morrison’s assessment may be right -- crime rates have seen a significant change, dropping nearly 90% from 1999 to 2016. Jamaica's unemployment rate has dropped from a shocking 9% to 5.2% over the last 5 years, impacting the real estate market by having more individuals working and therefore able to invest in homes and apartment buildings.
Most importantly, the city is starting to invest in Jamaica. The Jamaica Now Action Plan will be spending 153 million dollars for over three years to rebuild downtown Jamaica with financial buildings and hotels are being built there to house potential business trips. The Jamaica transportation hub has undergone extensive renovations. Even Gotham Greens created a huge Jamaica building rooftop to create a greenhouse for thousands of crops.
Mr. Michalos, Hillcrest’s Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services, has begun seeing the community expanding around Jamaica. “I’m starting to see it [a demographic shift] in my travels in the area. With all the new construction that’s going on, I see a different demographic a lot. Still very very diverse, but I’ve seen businessmen a lot, people who are looking to invest, open new businesses in Jamaica, which really was unheard of up until recently.”
What does this mean for Hillcrest? Well, Jamaica will be viewed as a top choice for higher working classes that are searching for neighborhoods that can provide them a safe environment as well as job opportunities. Ms. Bilquees stated, “The community shift has been for the better. It’s [Hillcrest] actually one of the safest schools in the city.” According to Hillcrest’s 2015 School Quality Snapshot, 100% of students saying they feel safe in school and 92% of teachers saying discipline is maintained.
Where does this leave current students attending Hillcrest? Mr. Michalos believes they will also benefit from the change. “I think that it [programs to help low income families] will always be here as long as the administration remains here and the small learning communities remain, which I think they will moving forward. Because most of the programs here are educational options programs, whether you are from a low income or high income is really not a significant thing because you can apply here from all the five boroughs. I don’t think that income plays any role at all. It’s about the quality of the kid. There will always be a place here for any student, we don’t look at income and frankly we couldn’t care less -- if it’s a quality kid, they’re welcome here.”
Mr. Morrison tries to focus on the positive aspects gentrification has to offer, hoping to see more diversity and helping each student reach their academic potential by having programs that meet each students academic needs.
Although gentrification is tough to analyze when predicting how a school may shift as its neighborhood changes, we can infer that one of two things will happen to Hillcrest -- either the school will have a new demographic that brings along better overall school success or the new breed of families will scoff at Hillcrest’s still average graduation rates and look towards some of the other schools in Queens with better reputations. If the latter occurs, Hillcrest may have to undergo changes like Satellite West school to appeal to the new gentrified families.
When gentrification comes along, it must bring along a balance of both social classes to prevent its negative influences on Hillcrest. Mr. Rios, the Assistant Principal of Math, acknowledges the positive impacts gentrification may leave on our school, but also takes into account the several outlining problems that can come as a result as mentioned before. Having tackled the early steps of gentrification while living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mr. Rios comments, “Even though gentrification is a difficult situation impacting neighboring schools and having individuals moving, at the end of the day, putting an effort towards education is the only way to ensure a secure future.”