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Kathleen Kenny

Presented for: Prof Rogers


Social Context and the School

Although it may have appeared to be a simple walk around a neighborhood, the

tour that I attended on July 18th, 2010, revealed the underlying relationship between a

school and its surroundings. On this day I got to experience the history of surrounding

business’, historical structures, and countless other buildings/homes. In addition, visually

observing the people that make up the community also made it apparent how greatly each

aspect of a school’s surroundings may influence and shape the character of school itself. I

chose to observe my own junior high school’s neighborhood. I hope to gain some insight

as to what the relationship is between the community makeup and the census data/school

report card and what it all means.

Located at 528 Academy Ave, Staten Island, NY 10307 in Richmond County

resides “I.S. 34 Tottenville”. (District: NYC Geog District #31 - Ric #7) It is a public,

middle level school with enrollment at 1,149. The neighborhood contains many single-

family homes (94.1% white). The community population is broken down into 94.1% white, .

9% African-American, 3.4% Asian-alone, and 1.1 percent for “some other race alone”. For

reasons unknown to me “Hispanic/Latino” was not included for the 2007 Social Explorer
Estimates in this category of data. Although I did not observe a classroom I can assume that

based on the lack of diversity in race, the classroom will be filled with mostly white students.

In these classrooms the students are not exposed to various cultural backgrounds. A less

diverse population means less understanding of cultures and people who are different from

oneself. “…it’s a shame that students in this particular classroom aren’t exposed to children

who have different backgrounds that they could share with them. I see a lot of benefits to a

diverse classroom.” (Frank, Ethnographic Eyes, p22) It would be the teacher’s duty to target

learning objects focused on cultural/social populations that exist in the other areas of the state,

country, and world. The neighborhood is comprised of some very large, beautifully landscaped

home to smaller homes (newer construction) in developments. Of the households 66.3% are

reported to be married families. This information suggests to me that a greater number of

students have a traditional family structure in which they have the guidance and support of two

parents instead of one. This also may suggest that the income of the household may be a

combined income, which means greater resources for the child.

“It is in the community, rather than in the family or the neighborhood, that formal

organizations like the church, the school, and the courts come into existence and get their separate

functions defined. With the advent of these institutions, and through their mediation, the

community is able to supplement, and to some extent supplant, the family and the neighborhood as

a means for the discipline and control of the individual.” (P.106) At the corner there is a church,

“Our Lady Help of Christians”. Across the street is a bagel store; it is new and known for

its fresh foods and cleanliness. A sign outside reads “egg whites special on a whole wheat

roll…3.99”. This suggests to me that the community has the option to make healthy eating

choices, those in this area may be aware of the benefits of eating right and maintaining a
healthy lifestyle. Next door to the bagel store is the Tottenville branch New York Public

Library. Tottenville Library opened in 1904 and has been at the current location since then.

They house materials on the history of Tottenville and Staten Island. It may serve as a

valuable resource to students in this area. They also have many child-friendly/educational

activities on a regular basis. “Reading Aloud” is one example of an event held at this

branch in which a librarian will share favorite picture books, providing children with the

wonder of books and the joy of reading, for ages 3 to 11 years old. The library also

provides a “summer craft program” in which children participate in hands-on projects

using a variety of skills, for ages 5 to 12 years old.

Across the street from the library is an ice-cream store “Eggers”. This ice-cream

shop has been around for ages and is a popular treat for children after-school. One

employee had this to share with me “Children come in after-school with their parents,

brothers and sisters, or friends…children comes in after-school to buy ice-cream or candy.”

Looking around on the streets it was clear to see that mostly all of the stores/businesses had

been around for years. Comparing the types of stores there were in this area looked very

different to the ones I observed in Port Richmond. Port Richmond’s community appeared

to have a variety of ethnic stores. For example, I recall seeing an “African supermarket”

and “Mexican food restaurant”. These stores are in existence because members of the

community are culturally represented by what these stores have to offer (supply and

demand). Therefore, an African Supermarket most likely would not best serve the

Tottenville area because only .9% of the population is African American in this area.
Although one should be aware of a schools surrounding neighborhood or

community, it is important to keep in mind that the neighborhood does not always reflect

the socioeconomic/racial status of the students it serves. Although schools may be located

spatially in a neighborhood, the individuals who make up that school (e.g. staff and students)

that participate in this particular communal environment may actually reside in a different

neighborhood than the one in which their school is physically located and may spend very little

time in the neighborhood when outside the borders of school. Therefore, keeping in mind that

schools are not solely influenced by the neighborhoods in which they are physically located, in

this case it is important to share that the majority of the students in attendance are from within

the community.

“On What is Learned in School, Dreeben (1968, p.4) argues, “if schooling forms the

linkage between the family life of children and the public life of adults, it must provide

experience conducive to learning the principles of conduct and patterns of behavior

appropriate to adulthood.” This quote suggests that in order to be successful at educating our

children or socializing them we, as educators and administrators, must know “where” they are

coming from. We must know what their day-today life is like, and above all never assume it is

the same as one’s own.

Civilian population in labor force 16 years and over category, “employed”

comprises 96% and “unemployed” comprises 4%. These statistics suggest that the students

have a strong sense of work and earning in order to obtain their needs and wants. In

addition there is a slightly larger percentage of people who have obtained a Bachelor’s

degree (13.3%) than those who have “less than a high school” (11.8%), while 29.3% have
some college. These statistics, while they do not reflect any one-strong dominance over a

category, you do see the highest percentages amongst the following categories: High

school graduate, some college, and Bachelor’s degree. This suggests that the majority of

the neighborhood population does continue education compared to not continuing

education. As a professional working in this school I may be interested in providing

increased counseling/education regarding the benefits of continuing education. A strong

emphasis on college could be incorporated into the curriculum.

In terms of poverty it is merely non-existence. Income at or above poverty level

is listed at 99.1%. This information suggests that the school’s primary concern will not be

things such as custodial care (i.e., free meals, health care, etc…). A strong focus can be

emphasized on actual learning objectives and education, not meeting basic needs that are

not met in the homes of the children.

After taking a closer look at the communities in which a school resides I feel I have

a better understanding of what needs my students may have. I feel I have a greater

understanding of how vital it is to understand where my students are coming from. This

information will help me prioritize their needs and create a connectedness with them that

will be necessary to positively influence the schools culture. The word school environment

has taken on a new meaning to me. Not only does environment stand for the school climate

and school culture but it also includes the social needs and learning priorities of my


Dreeben, R. (1968) On What Is Learned in School Reading MA

Frank, C. (1999). Ethnographic eyes

Robert E. Park, Ernest Watson Burgess (1925). The City