Growing up Too Fast in New Rochelle

Over the last 10 days, my local community has been rocked by a tragedy that claimed the life of a 16 year old girl and shattered the future of the teen who committed the crime. Sadly, both girls were students at the high school that my son, who is a sophomore, currently attends.

Within a week of the incident, another fight broke out and a teenage boy suffered lacerations to his hands and in retaliation, he stabbed another teen in his class. To say that parents whose kids attend the high school are reeling over the lack of supervision and the poor response to the events by the Board of Education is an understatement.

While I know the community, the administration, school board members and the police are going to work to put an end to the violence that seems to be happening on a daily basis at the school, what I’m more concerned about is why these incidents keep happening. What I have learned is that there is a large gang presence at New Rochelle High School and while most students like my son just avoid the violent fights that break out and the stairwells that reek from marijuana, for a very long time, the gangs have been able to do what they want, leave the school at any hour of the day and ignore security guards who attempted to curb their dangerous behavior.

For the past week and a half, I had to grapple with the fact that while I love that my son’s high school offers great academic programs, incredibly talented and committed teachers, dozens of after school activities, fantastic sports teams and a friend group comprised of bright, funny and hard working kids, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.

I know that my children are incredibly lucky to have a strong support system comprised of their family and friends, but I cannot say the same for the teens who have become susceptible to gangs. Which leads me back to the first story. Sadly, I heard from several people in my community that the girl who was murdered was practically raising herself. She no longer lived with her parents and she had become a target of bullies because she looked different and wore “Goth” makeup. She was enrolled in academically challenging classes and students who knew her said she was a nice girl, but she was obviously troubled. Unfortunately, on a day she was supposed to be in school, she found herself in a situation where she was cornered by a gang, pepper sprayed them in order to ward them off, was chased by the group and then stabbed twice in the torso.  Tragically, she passed away the same day.

The perpetrator of the crime has a pretty sad backstory as well. It was discovered soon after the murder that she was living in a homeless shelter in Yonkers but attending school in New Rochelle because that was the last place her family lived before they had to leave their home. There’s no telling what this girl had to go through every day just to get to school. And did all of these problems in her life lead her to decide to join a violent gang? I guess we will eventually find out what happened but I do hope something can be done to help rehabilitate this girl. I’m sure she didn’t start her morning thinking she would be arrested for murder. And the poor girl who was killed didn’t start her day thinking she’d be cornered by a gang, but somehow it happened and things have got to change now.

It is my sincere hope the students at New Rochelle High School will eventually get the chance to attend a school that’s free from gang violence. I want students who may not be fortunate enough to have the support of their families to be able to seek immediate help from administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, social workers and mentors in the community who can provide them with tangible ways to break free from this dangerous cycle and live up to their true potential. I’m not naive to think we can cure gang violence with hugs, but I do know these kids need tough love, mentorship and stability in their lives so they can find their way out of a world that is dangerous and self destructive.

Change is scary but it can also be very positive. Here’s hoping that New Rochelle High School will finally lead the way in changing the dynamic among students living in our community and attending our public schools for the better. We want our kids to be safe, to feel secure when they’re in school and be empowered to make a difference in the lives of others. As the anger subsides, we must find solutions, make much needed changes and support all of our students no matter who they are or where they come from.