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Princeton Organizations Combat the Rising Cost of Child-care

By Daniela Bolanos

Miami, Fla.

Finger paintings, pictures of smiling kids, and a colorfully decorated reception area greets anyone walking into the Princeton Nursery School, which serves mostly low-income families. Its house-like architecture and gray carpeting creates a sort of coziness. Inside a classroom is a young girl who is crying. The teacher eagerly goes to her side and asks what’s wrong. The girl looks down and a teardrop falls on her duct-tape covered shoes. Her parents had wrapped her old shoes in duct tape to keep them from falling apart. Her mom’s work hours had recently been cut and they couldn’t afford to buy their daughter a new pair of shoes.

This story—recounted to a group of reporters recently by Rosanda Wong, the school’s executive director— provides a glimpse into the lives of Princeton’s low-income community. While many see Princeton through a lens of affluence and status, the town separates two different communities through an invisible ivy-covered wall of socioeconomic status. On the one side, you have the wealthiest of the wealthiest who drive Porsches; on the complete other side, you have kids who are wearing shoes that are only being held together by old pieces of duct tape.

Wong—the kids call her Ms. Rose—understands the child-care crisis in Princeton, and she has made impressive efforts to do something about it. But she isn’t the only one. There is also the work of the Henry Pannell Learning Center, which partners with the Princeton YMCA to run an after-school program for low-income students called Princeton Young Achievers.

Leigh Zink, the Youth Development and Outreach Director at the Princeton YMCA, puts the challenge this way: “Cost of daycare is killer.” It is a silent killer, one that infiltrates homes and suffocates them until they have nothing left to give.

Princeton Nursery School and Princeton Young Achievers are making progress in addressing this problem, but they still face challenges of understaffing and funding. The institutions rely heavily on grants and donations to stay up and running. Most parents of Princeton Young Achievers only have to pay $20 a month for their children to participate in the afterschool program. Wong said Princeton Nursery School fundraises up to $250,000 per year for scholarships. As a result, the minimum the parents have to pay for the students at the daycare is $20 per month, but even this is negotiable. Wong is very generous about waiving a fee for a struggling family. She is able to do so by reaching out to companies such as Mercedes-Benz and persuading them with pictures and stories of adorable little kids with the biggest dimples and warmest smiles. Who can resist that?

Yet even with the significant amount of money that they raise, there are still issues, such as a lack of special education teachers in the facility. “I cannot afford it,” Wong said. In general, they are understaffed and depend mostly on volunteers.

These problems don’t stand in the way of providing quality education to the children of low-income neighborhoods. In a way, “their enrichment programs are sometimes better,” said Zink, with a chuckle. The kids at Pannell can learn about STEM and coding. Westminster Choir College helps the students host two performances a year; the kids also have “Art Fridays,” where local artists come in and teach them art. These children, unlike the ones who go to traditional after-school programs that cost upwards of $300 a month, often do not have the chance to join a sports club or take private art classes, so PYA’s enrichment programs are meant to fill in the gaps, Zink explained.

Similarly, the Princeton Nursery School has “a very strict curriculum,” said Wong. It not only sticks to the HighScope Preschool Curriculum of New Jersey, but also incorporates a stronger science curriculum. The school even started a gardening program where kids can take home the plants they grow. It doesn’t always take a whole lot of money and resources to provide a child with an extraordinary education, but instead it takes a whole lot of heart.

Wong and Zink have been able to make a difference in the lives of these children. They are giving them the confidence they need to take on the world. Regardless of all the obstacles these kids face, getting an education isn’t one of them. It is because of people like Zink and Wong that even students whose families struggle to afford shoes will see a brighter tomorrow.

Police Work To Build Trust With Local Community

By Stacey Coleen Lubag

Las Vegas, Nev.

Some cops are in it for the thrill of the chase, but Lt. Johnathan Bucchere believes police also need to meet the emotional needs of their communities by acting as counselors, therapists, and social workers as needed. The almost 20-year-veteran of the Princeton Police Department urges officers to be “well-rounded” and promotes trustworthy, kind policing throughout the ranks.

Bucchere’s passion for law enforcement was born during his college years. As the younger brother of two, he found himself looking up to his siblings so much that, when his brother made the sudden switch from coaching basketball to serving as a New Jersey state trooper, Bucchere went in a similar direction. But he didn’t follow his brother to the state’s highways. Instead, he sought to help a community by joining the Princeton Police Department.

“I realized that criminal justice would be a good avenue [for me],” he said. “I learned a lot about the profession by watching my brother.”

Bucchere lit up when asked how he ensures a strong bond between the people and law enforcement. “The patrol division is required to do one community policing project per squad a year,” he explained. “At first we did Coffee with a Cop, but [then] we had to think outside the box.” Officers have bagged groceries on Senior Citizen Day, and recently the department hosted a “Bats and Badges” event, where officers brought hamburgers and hot dogs to the Princeton Little League, serving as coaches and helping the team. “Nobody was in uniform, but we were still representing the department,” he said. “It was unbelievable. That’s how you get external legitimacy, where the community values and trusts you.”

Bucchere is cheerful and outgoing, but even he can be frustrated by citizens who take their anger out on him after receiving tickets. His boss, police chief Nick Sutter, advised him to stay pleasant and polite in those situations, and Bucchere tries to put on a straight face and let incidents pass.

Bucchere said the department also tries to assist marginalized parts of the community, like undocumented residents. Princeton is a “welcoming community,” he said, and police do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I think the community trusts us,” he said, “because we give them a reason to.”

Missing Teach for America

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Teach for America co-founder Wendy Kopp defends the value of the program. Photo credit: Sebastian Derungs

By Samanta Gonzalez Castro

Houston, Texas

A young, enthusiastic teacher stood in the middle of my seventh grade classroom, looking ready for whatever we threw at him. The teacher, a corps member with Teach for America (TFA), injected enthusiasm and liveliness into my class.

The image of a teacher has completely changed within the YES Prep Brays Oaks campus—my middle and high school— since 2016, when the Houston Independent School District ended its contract with TFA. The district cited, “among other reasons, its teachers’ relatively low retention rate,” according to an article in ProPublica. Education Dive wrote that “90 percent of TFA teachers reported they did not plan to stay in education long-term.” These criticisms are at the core of disputes over TFA and its role in educational systems.

Yet TFA leaders defend their system as bringing “academically able” but “nontraditional” teachers to the classroom. Anna Almore, a managing director for TFA in South Dakota, said the program’s goals include “bringing people who may not have typically, or traditionally, thought of themselves as a teacher” to the profession. They help corps members transition from college to teaching with a “rigorous five to six weeks” of extensive training, Almore said, where they learn “the art of teaching” with the goal of “equity.” Wendy Kopp, the co-founder and CEO of TFA, wrote that encountering low-qualified teachers motivated her to search for potential educators from non-traditional backgrounds who excel academically.

This plan has transformed American classrooms. A 2013 study by Emily K. Penner found that “students of TFA secondary math teachers outperformed students in comparison classrooms in 11 districts in eight states.” These conflicting views of Teach for America are what has made it a controversial organization. “No teacher is ready,” Almore says of her experience in South Dakota, both admitting their short preparation period and pointing out the complexity of the task at hand. TFA, in contrast to other programs, is “there during the process,” Almore adds. It’s that dedication that has made the TFA teachers’ absence so pronounced now that they’ve left YES Prep Brays Oaks.

Cops Prioritize Outreach

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The Princeton Police Department has prioritized community engagement. Photo Credit: Brian Rokus

By Farinna Izquierdo 

Hialeah, FLA.

Lt. Johnathan Bucchere wears a gun in his holster, a weapon that often makes people feel threatened. But in an interview with The Princeton Summer Journal this week, Bucchere was anything but threatening: He sported a small smile and a fresh sunburn around the bridge of his nose.

Bucchere said that increasing the number of positive interactions the Princeton Police Department has with the community is a priority. They focus on reaching out to residents and establishing relationships with those around them, ensuring the safety of their fellow residents while also being shoulders to lean on.

Bucchere, who has been with the department for two decades, said the department has made progress since he started. When he was a young officer, the department was less connected with residents. “We’ve made adjustments to how we do things,” he said. “The community trusts us because we’ve given them reasons to. We’ve grown a lot in the last several years.”

A Princeton native, Bucchere detailed how one of the main priorities of the police department is to try and build trust among the people they serve. Aside from typical police work, each of the department’s four squads carries out a community project every year. One of these projects was “Coffee with a Cop,” where officers drank coffee with residents. Although this project was a great start, it wasn’t sufficient. Officers felt as if they were only meeting people rather than establishing true connections with them. They decided to put additional efforts into deeper engagement.

One day, off-duty officers bagged groceries for older shoppers. They brought burgers and hot dogs and served them for a local Little League game. The department also paid for a pool night for Princeton residents, complete with an officer dunk tank. At all of these events, officers presented themselves not as law enforcement, but as members of the community.

Police officers come into contact with many people on a daily basis. These experiences can often be negative—even if it’s just issuing a traffic ticket. Bucchere doesn’t want all of those interactions to be bad ones. “It’s critical that you police with a guardian mentality and rehabilitate those encounters,” says Bucchere, “so that it’s a positive experience.”

ICE raids and police brutality have given officers a bad reputation and ignited fear and resentment toward them. According to Bucchere, police brutality is not an issue in Princeton. While police face criticism on front-page head- lines, Bucchere reminds residents that a corrupt minority does not represent them all. Rather, the Princeton Police tries to live up to a sign hanging in their headquarters. It reads: “Police like a champion today.”

New Eviction Lab Closes Data Gap For Policymakers

By Sarah Wang

San Gabriel, Calif.

I could hear the distinct rumble of Baba’s construction truck approaching. He came home every day with cuts from glass, calluses on his hands and an aching back, but he always greeted me with a warm smile.

When my father moved to America, he didn’t know any English, so he worked as a laborer. It didn’t pay much, so we frequently moved around.

One day, as Baba washed the rice for steaming, I finally asked the question I’ve been wondering for years. “Why do we move so much?”

“That’s just how it is,” Baba said.

My father’s hopelessness is not uncommon. According to collected data from the Princeton University Eviction Lab, displacement and poverty is a way of life for those immersed in the eviction crisis. Joe Fish, a research specialist at the facility, said that between 2000 and 2016, there were 84 million eviction cases in the U.S. That estimate does not take into account the number of evictions left unfiled. “In reality, that number should be higher,” Fish said.

Before the work of the Eviction Lab, estimates like this simply did not exist. Federal and local representatives, journalists, and the general public did not have access to clear data about the crisis occurring in their communities. It takes immense resources and time to sort out documents that provide valid evidence of the issue, Fish said. Due to this, individuals living in these communities endured a cycle where reform was not a priority. No one was aware of how immense the eviction crisis was. “[When] you don’t know, you don’t think about it,” Fish said.

Princeton sociology professor Matthew Desmond founded the Eviction Lab after writing “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” To close the knowledge gap, the team analyzed millions of eviction records and published the first-ever nationwide dataset of evictions. Their findings showed that there is a direct relationship between poverty and housing. Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean eviction causes poverty. The housing system in America keeps low-income individuals in unstable economic conditions. This can eventually lead to their eviction because they are no longer able to afford rent.

The Eviction Lab’s work extends beyond providing the public with information. “Most everything we do is an attempt to sway policy,” Fish said. On a grassroots level, Fish emphasized the need for communities to start pressuring local officials with the facts. Now that Americans have tangible evidence, representatives must listen. “[We need to] protect what we have and push for what we don’t,” he said. “It’s about holding power accountable.”

Ultimately, uplifting those in poverty is like a construction site. The Eviction Lab holds the nail and hammer, restructuring broken communities one fact at a time.

Princeton Mayor Discusses Keeping the Peace

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Before becoming Princeton’s mayor, Liz Lempert was an environmental journalist at National Public Radio. (Princeton Summer Journal File Photo)

By Sergio Reyes Aguilar

Arleta, Calif.

Princeton is a small New Jersey town that is well-known as the home of the prestigious Ivy League university of the same name. It is very peaceful and has very friendly residents—there are always people smiling everywhere, trees all over the place, shops on every corner.

But there was a time when public outrage broke out and the constant peace was shattered. In January, a white supremacist group threatened to hold a rally in Palmer Square. Ultimately, the white supremacists never showed up, and the rally didn’t happen. Even still, it caused concern within the small community.

For the mayor of Princeton, Liz Lempert, it was her toughest moment to date.

“I was very worried the morning of the rally,” Lempert said in a recent interview. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, or if it was in fact going to happen, so I just closed the central part of the town to make sure that everyone remained as safe as possible.”

She said it was important to make Princeton a very diverse and safe space for everyone. “Princeton is such a great community with smart, helpful people and although the town is small, it never gets boring,” she said.

Born in San Mateo, California, Lempert has a degree in history and symbolic systems from Stanford University, as well as a very political background: Her mother and brothers were deeply involved in politics. Despite that, she said she never planned to get into politics herself. Before taking office, she worked as an environmental journalist at National Public Radio, and was recruited to run in 2012.

Princeton is a relatively small town, but it carries so much prestige because of the University and its distinguished reputation. There are tourists, students and local residents who try to peacefully coexist with one another, which has worked so far.

“Princeton is and will always be a work in progress,” said Lempert, whose term expires in 2021. “It’s impossible to get a perfect community in which everyone is happy, but I’m doing my best efforts to get everyone satisfied and to support the local people.”

In Divisive Climate, Mayor Recalls Threat of White Supremacist Rally

By Francin Vasquez

Brooklyn, N.Y.

The threat slowly forced itself forward, reaching every shadow, every corner, every chest, every heart. It yelled from the sidelines that it would walk inside, take over the streets, and tarnish everything with words of hatred.

It was January 2019, and rumors of a white supremacist rally in Princeton’s Palmer Square began circulating on social media. Flyers were spread in many areas in town and around the University.

In this type of situation, Mayor Liz Lempert’s hands were tied. Under the First Amendment, freedom of speech is protected—even if that speech consists of slurs from white supremacists. As long as there is no threat of violence, no legal action can be taken. “[We] have to make decisions where there are no real answers, and it’s painful,” Lempert recalled in a recent interview.

But neither Lempert nor Princeton were silent about the scheduled white supremacist rally. Shop owners, students, residents—everyone—united to say that they did not believe in those ideologies. 

Princeton’s white supremacist rally did not have a deadly ending. After all, it did not happen. Instead of expected hate signs and racism, the town was filled with love and welcoming. Hundreds of people showed up to protest against the white supremacists, and the white supremacists themselves stayed away.

“Forces from outside are repelled by the community. This is who we are, and there is no space for this speech,” said Lempert. “The people said ‘we don’t want you.’”

 

When one thinks about the name “Princeton,” their first thought might be the prestigious Ivy League university. However, the word Princeton is more than a private school with high expectations for their applicants. Princeton is where people come together to work with each other. By fighting off hatred, the Princeton community showed itself to be strong. By rallying against hatred, Princeton gave us all a reminder of the meaning of America.