2010-10-29 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

By Kevyn Bowles

Kevyn Bowles is a teacher at the Waterside Children’s Studio School at PS 225 in Rockaway Baach.

Over the course of the past year, much of the media focus on failing New York City public schools being closed by Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has fanned the flames of hysteria in communities around the five boroughs, hysteria based on the idea that students (particularly English Language Learners and students with special education classifications) would be misplaced, pushed aside, and forgotten. One NY Daily News article (“Public sentiment has turned against Mayor Bloomberg’s dictatorial school reforms” 1/27/2010) described the rush to close large failing schools and replace them with smaller schools as damaging “the fabric of our neighborhoods”.

A recent editorial in The Wave (“Public schools are in the news, and most of the news is negative” 9/10/2010), applied this misunderstanding to the situation on Rockaway Park’s Beach 110 Street, where it was stated:

“There are now three schools at PS 225 in Rockaway Park – PS 225, The Waterside Children’s Studio School; and The Waterside School for Leadership. You get the picture. Where once there were three schools, with three principals and six assistant principals, there are now 10 schools, with 10 principals and 25 assistant principals.

“All to teach the same kids.

“Or, at least the same kids who are making the grade. Where did those students who were not making the grade wind up – the special ed students and the English Language Learners – nobody seems to know and nobody at the DOE seems to care.”

I do not write to argue on behalf of the Mayor and the Chancellor, or to comment on the larger issue of school closings as it applies to high schools such as Far Rockaway or Beach Channel. As a special education teacher at PS 317 The Waterside Children’s Studio School, however, I write to clarify only what exactly is happening in the proud red brick school building that is currently home to PS 317, PS 318 The Waterside School for Leadership, and the final year of the phase-out school, PS 225. (As of the end of this year, there will be absolutely no more PS 225. This two year phase-out was done to graduate students from the program.)

When the decision was made to close PS 225, despite a complete restructuring five years before and after years of failing to improve student achievement and/or welcome and engage the families of its students, the founders of PS 317 and PS 318, Dana Gerendasi and Linda Munro (respectively) were chosen to start a PreK-5 school and a 6-8 school, respectively. When these two passionate, driven, intrepid women arrived, they replaced (as sole administrators of their schools) a PreK-8 school with one principal, two assistant principals, and four deans. Though the amount of schools in the building increased, the amount of administrators decreased.

With PS 225 on their way out, students proudly wearing their green Children’s Studio School uniforms or their maroon Leadership shirts are greeted by name as they enter the building each morning. And yes, they are in fact the same children, including the English Language Learners and the students with special education classifications. This is the largest misconception I hope to correct. Where those students are, we do in fact know, and we do in fact, very much so, care. Every child who walks through our doors is treated with the equal respect and dignity they deserve, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, language or disability. They are known by each teacher, not merely by name, attendance record, or standardized test score, but by their likes and dislikes, and by their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

The vision of The Waterside Children’s Studio School, the elementary school, is to incorporate the performing and visual arts into every aspect of our curriculum, empowering our students and injecting creativity and imagination into their learning. The Waterside School for Leadership, the middle school, is founded on an ethos of leadership and responsibility, and a commitment to each child that attending a college or university is their eventual and certain goal. In both schools, teams of passionate, thoughtful, diverse educators are working in constant conversation with administrators to reflect on best practices and how best to support the academic, social, and creative development of our students. Through active Parent Teacher Associations, regular coffee hours, family visit days, workshops, celebratory performances, and other opportunities, parents and families have been brought into our school not as guests but as full partners. Most importantly, these family partnerships and active community outreach has created a stage for our schools to become active participants in the lives of all of the people of our Rockaway community.

When one steps in the front door of our school building, one can feel the vibrant energy of change, imagination, and learning occurring all around. Already, tremendous changes have been seen, including extensive art residencies and cultural programming, physical improvements to classrooms, and new educational materials and curriculum. The Waterside Children’s Studio School and the Waterside School for Leadership are schools to feel proud of, and our students and staff do; at the same time, we are constantly seeking to reflect and self-improve, and students, teachers and administrators all have our own ideas for new ways to enhance the children’s school experience, beautify and improve the practicality of our physical space, build connections with the community, and develop family engagement. We look forward to our second year of collaboration, community building, learning and development; rather than “damaging the fabric of our neighborhood,” we hope to play a role in strengthening and reinforcing that fabric, a fabric of which we are proud to be a part.

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