Worker Correspondents: Overcrowding, Unsanitary Conditions, No Support for English Learners at Poor Schools in Nashville

By a Nashville Teacher

The schools in Nashville’s working class neighborhoods suffer from overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and a continual lack of resources, resulting in large disparities with the schools in wealthier areas. Children arriving from other countries who are learning English are especially at a disadvantage. I teach at a low-income school on the south side of Nashville where my students and I experience the failures of this unequal system first-hand.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is extremely segregated by wealth. For example, the neighborhood I teach in has an average income of $45,662, while one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Nashville has an average income of $168,688. According to the MNPS website, the wealthy neighborhoods are the site of new planned schools or large renovation projects for existing schools.

Meanwhile, many schools in poor neighborhoods in Nashville face overcrowding with few plans to expand facilities. To provide enough classrooms for students, the schools grounds are scattered with ‘portables,’ which are single room mobile homes. These portable classrooms can be very hot or cold depending on the temperature outside and are not safe during inclement weather.

There are rats, mice, and cockroaches in my school. One teacher’s ceiling has a huge black mold spot growing on it. Due to all the heavy rain that happened over the past month, another teacher’s classroom had water leaking into it.

In addition, the air conditioning hasn’t been updated in years. It barely works and breaks often. For the first couple days of school, when it was 90 degrees outside, we did not have AC. Students and teachers were dripping with sweat. One teacher said she felt faint and light-headed from the heat. Students cannot focus and learn in that environment.

A teacher said that at another working-class school where the entire building lacked AC, students always scored low on standardized tests. When they finally installed AC, the students scores shot up. The teacher highlighted how these were, “the same kids, all that changed was the air-conditioning,” and student performance immediately improved.

The student body at my school is majority students categorized as English Learner (EL). Most of those students are Spanish speaking, coming from Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Many of my students have just recently come to the US (as recent as May of this year), with only a few months speaking English.

The district has no policy to provide EL students with a teacher who can help the child in their native language. Due to gaps in their education, many of my students cannot even count and do not know their letters. These students need specialized help and instruction, yet the district digs in its heels, refusing to provide resources. They claim these students need more time in the country before they can determine if they actually need assistance.

When I asked how I was supposed to teach my EL students, I was told to use lots of hand gestures and online google translate. The school does not even provide materials in Spanish, so the students are expected to still learn and test in English. Many teachers, myself included, will work on our own time outside school to learn Spanish, without help or compensation from the district.

These conditions, while horrid, are not an anomaly to my school in particular. These are issues the poor schools in Nashville face as a whole.


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