In Harlem, battle over placement plans for new school

SQUEEZE ME  | The proposed middle school would be the third school in a building on 136th Street.

SQUEEZE ME | The proposed middle school would be the third school in a building on 136th Street.

A proposal to squeeze three schools in the same building is making waves among Harlem parents and locals.

The New York City Department of Education has introduced a plan to add a middle school to the building that two elementary schools, P.S. 192 and P.S. 325, currently occupy on West 136th Street. The proposal will add approximately 225-255 seats to a building that the DOE considers “underutilized.”

“The DOE supports parent choice and strives to ensure that all families have access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s needs,” the DOE’s Educational Impact Statement reads. It intends for the co-location to provide parents another viable middle school choice.

The statement also states that, if approved, the co-location will add one grade per year, starting with grade six in the 2014-15 school year, until grades six, seven, and eight are added.

But Miriam Aristy-Farer, interim president of Community Education Council District 6, said that adding a third school would increase the existing struggles of the schools, which she said include dropping enrollment, poor academic performance, and administrative tension.

“They need to stabilize before they go through another change,” she said, pointing to the installment of a new principal at P.S. 192 in each of the last three school years.

Aristy-Farer acknowledged there is a need for a middle school, given that students are now zoned for I.S. 52 in Inwood or can attend a Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, a nearby charter school. But she said a co-location was not the answer because it would overburden the two elementary schools in the building.

“The community does need a middle school,” she said. “The parents at the school want a middle school. They do not want a third school.”

Parents dropping their children off for morning classes on Monday had mixed reactions to the co-location.

“My son is going into fifth grade, and I was going to have to worry where to send him next year,” said parent Jenny Melendez, who said he welcomed the addition of a middle school. “I think that, in this area, there’s not enough sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.”

Parent Rita Molina said in Spanish that some teachers already have 30 students in their classrooms.

Luz Verdejo, a kindergarten parent who attended the school when she was younger, added that she thought the school was understaffed.

It “depends on how they put it together,” she said of the co-location.

Aristy-Farer said she is also concerned that the KIPP charter school nearby has been responsible for the “cannibalization” of public schools, “actively soliciting the highest-performing students at those schools” and causing their scores and enrollment to plummet.

A KIPP Infinity Elementary School spokesperson said that KIPP’s admissions lottery is not based on achievement level. Rather, students who have siblings in the school are given the highest preference, and those who live in Community Education Council District 5 or qualify for free or reduced lunch are given benefits.

“We work through a lottery, so we do not know who comes in through our doors” until the school receives the results, Rosy Canela, the administrative office assistant, said. “Any student at any level from anywhere can apply to KIPP.”

Ultimately, Aristy-Farer said she hopes to minimize co-locations in future. The DOE’s Panel for Education Policy will vote on the co-location on Oct. 15, and Aristy-Farer said she is still trying to mobilize parents.

“We are doing everything we can to make it clear that this cannot continue to happen,” Aristy-Farer said.

By Deborah Secular – Columbia Daily Spectator


Huge Hamilton Heights Mural Portrays History of Harlem

A portion of the mural "Magic with Logic." (DNAinfo/Jeff Mays)

HARLEM — After several weeks of working on the second largest mural in the history of the Creative Arts Workshop for Kids, a group of teenage artists unveiled their massive work, “Magic With Logic,” at P.S. 192 on Wednesday.

It is an effort to display some of the history and daily life in Hamilton Heights while also inspiring others, they said.

The birds represent freedom and striving on the multi-colored mural on 138th Street between Hamilton Place and Amsterdam Avenue. The elephants are the elders of the community who pass knowledge to the young people flipping, dancing and playing soccer nearby. And a sun is composed of people’s hands reaching out to the community and their own future.

“This mural is not just a mural,” said student artist Issac Normensinu, 17, who is visiting New York this summer from Ghana. “It’s the history of Harlem and we make history today.”

The bright yellows and reds of the mural along with its rabbits and birds nod to the fact that Barnum & Bailey circus used to call the area home. Men play dominoes in the artwork, just as they do blocks from the site. Even the local shaved iced vendor on the corner is depicted.

“This has meaning,” said Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation. “It tells your story, it tells my story.”

The students drew inspiration from Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas and the poetry of poet William Braitwithe, a Sugar Hill resident.

“It just opened the doors of their imagination. Just seeing them get over their fears was amazing,” said poet J. Ivy, who has worked with Jay-Z, Kanye West and John Legend and partnered with the kids on a spoken word project that goes with the mural.

Visitors to the artwork will soon be able to scan a code with their smart phones to get a guided tour from the artists and hear some of their poetry and spoken word, said Brian Ricklin, executive director and CEO of Creative Arts Workshop for Kids.

Molaundo Jones, program director for Creative Arts Workshops for Kids, said the mural was about much more than art.

“This gives them a sense of how they can impact their community. When they were working on this and saw the way people have responded, it had more meaning,” said Jones.

The artists said they learned to work together.

“We were all a little shy because we felt we weren’t artists. We didn’t have the confidence,” said Tiguida Toure, 15.

But that changed as the mural came together.

“We became more than friends, we became a family,” said Richard Rosado, 19.

The community also chipped in. From the superintendent of the building across the street who helped put up the ladder everyday to the shaved ice guy on the corner who provided refreshment during blazing summer days, the community embraced the project, participants said.

In addition to the artistic experience, the kids involved with the mural — sponsored by advertising firm SelectNY — were also able to earn a paycheck.

Herwig Preis, SelectNY’s president and CEO, said he hopes to commercialize the mural into t-shirts or other items. He also offered each of the mural participants two week internships at his firm starting in the fall.

“Whatever you can dream of you can achieve,” Preis told the students.

Rep. Charles Rangel said the artists have made a long-lasting impact on their community.

“I can hear you bragging now to our kids, saying look what I did when I was young. I don’t blame you because it’s a gorgeous piece of art,” said Rangel.

Normensinu said the mural is something he’s going to remember for the rest of his life.

“It represents us, the people and culture of Harlem, and it’s going to live forever,” he said.

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