2009-12-18 / Columnists

It's My Turn

By Stephen Yaeger Former Teacher BCHS

I am reading from a letter written by David Kraus, Secretary of the Rockaway Academy of Science, Inc. (and Chairman of the Department of Biology, FRHS and author of "Concepts of Modern Biology") dated April 23, 1965.

It is addressed to James B. Donovan, President of the NYC Board of Education. Kraus writes, "In the near future, a new South Queens High School will be built in the general area of the Rockaways." This school "will provide early training in a subject which is of vital importance to the nation and which will provide guidance toward an emerging kind of career for our young people - oceanography and marine biology. As a comprehensive high school, the curriculum could also reflect the special vocational opportunities for students re - sid ing in the greatest seaport of the world." Kraus makes many good points on the importance of such a school, including quotes from President Ken - nedy, which still apply to today's world of climate change and environmental problems. The Academy suggests that such a school be located "so that ocean water can be pumped into the laboratories."

The Wave of April 29, 1965 had as its front page headline, "Want Marine Courses in New High School." The article quotes Kraus' letter stating that there should be a "brainstorming group of educators to plan the curriculum and administration of an oceanfront school" on the Rockaway peninsula.

While the school, named Beach Channel High School, was being constructed I was asked to be a member of the committee which researched, wrote, and produced a three volume Integrated Oceanography Program Curriculum un - der the auspices of the Bureau of Curriculum Development during the summer prior to opening of the school (1973).

This curriculum was geared for Beach Channel High School's Oceanography Program. Volume I of the curriculum covered Marine Science, Marine Biology, and Mathematics. Volume II included English and Foreign Languages and Volume III included Fine Arts and Social Studies. During the early years of BCHS the curriculum was expanded to include boating, navigation, marine maintenance, geology, chemistry, phy sics, drafting, photography, etc., etc. We even had a Summer Practicum which new students had to attend. The Practi cum made use of our rubber boats on Jamaica Bay, taught lab techniques, and went on a number of field trips related to marine sciences. This was all in keeping with the 1965 suggestions of Kraus in his letter to the Board of Education.

In September of 1973, Beach Channel High School opened its doors to enthusiastic students ready to learn and a talented faculty dedicated to teaching.

A few weeks ago my wife and I met with a number of former Beach Channel High School teachers for lunch. As is usual for such a get-together we began to talk about the "good old days" at BCHS. This group of teachers, including others who were not present, was surely among the very best in NYC and I write this with all sincerity and without bragging.

Except for two or three teachers who became members of the faculty a year or two after the school opened, we were all members of the original faculty at the school. We reminisced about the "golden years" of BCHS and what this school had to offer the students of Rockaway as well as those top students from outside of the school's zone who applied for its Oceanography Program after a screening process. I recall students who travelled from Staten Island and the Bronx. They wanted to come to the school for its unique program. After a few years the school was told to accept not only the top applicants, but to accept applicants from all levels. Coupled with the constraint of not admitting only the best students anymore, the Board of Education used the school as a "drop-off" for antisocial/ criminal students discharged from other schools and assigned socalled teachers who couldn't make the grade in their previous sch ools. It was at this point in time that BCHS lost its potential to become one of the top high schools in the state offering unique career programs. Good, imaginative teachers began to leave the school and by the time I retired (1991) the "golden years" were long gone and what could have been a unique high school with a unique program systematically fell by the wayside.

At the time that BCHS became part of Region 5 in the new Department of Education, I wrote a letter to the region's new administrator. I gave a brief outline of the school and suggested that perhaps, BCHS could be "resurrected." I asked that she may want to take a look at the three volume curriculum that was written back in '73 to get an idea of what the school was all about. Obviously nothing was done. Now BCHS will be closed, the present faculty will be replaced by a new faculty and administration overseeing a number of minischools attended by the same students presently occupying classroom seats.

Today I look at the many photos and slides I have with images of the learning process that was once Beach Channel High School and cannot but marvel how such a wonderful learning program was lost.

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