The scene outside the New Settlement Community Campus on Thursday morning looked more like the start of an awards show than the start of a school year.
Video cameras and reporters greeted students as they entered the brand new building on Jerome Avenue in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx. Some of the city’s top officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, made cameo appearances.
The building, which includes a school for special needs children, Public School 555, a pre-k through fifth grade school, and Comprehensive Model School Project 327, a sixth through 12th grade school, is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, said Manuel Ramirez, principal of the upper school.
“It gives a different feeling for the community,” Ramirez said. “It’s a feeling of hope, we’re making progress.”
P.S. 555, which is opening with pre-K through first grade students, and Comprehensive Model school, which is currently comprised of sixth through ninth grade students, will both eventually expand one grade at a time up until New Settlement becomes a pre-K through 12th grade facility. Ramirez said almost all eighth graders at C.M.S.P 327 chose to stay there instead of moving to another high school. The school, a project of the Settlement Housing Fund, will eventually hold about 1,100 students, according to fund’s website.
Mayor Bloomberg told reporters gathered in the library that the onus was now on students and faculty. “ We can provide the building,” Bloomberg said, flanked by Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the president of the principals’union. “Now the teachers and the principals in our school system are the ones that have to take on the heavy lifting.”
The school features smartboards, high-tech whiteboards that can be used with computers, and special windows that block out the distracting noise of nearby subway trains. It also offers after-school recreation for students. A dance studio, indoor pool and rooftop garden are among the features children and the community can enjoy. P.S. 555 principal Jessica Torres-Maheia said other schools were invited to the campus as well.
“We are reaching out to the community to kind of work together, so that the kids can use the facilities and it’s not just our building,” Torres-Maheia said.
The 172,000-square foot facility will also hold a health center.
Coupled with the amenities, New Settlement’s bright tiled walls, which varied from shades of blue to green, and the welcoming atmosphere provided a sense of cheerfulness to the school.
Some teachers hope the advanced technology will provide some incentives for kids to come to school. “It’s going to make kids more engaged in the lessons with technology,” said Michael Morgan, a ninth grade math teacher.
After officials left and the cameras stopped clicking, faculty members were still talking excitedly about their once-in-a-lifetime morning.
Parent Coordinator Mercedelli Graciano received parents who were thrilled at the school their children get to attend.
“They were in love, they were like ‘can we walk around?’” Graciano said. “They were very, very excited.”
Like her students, Thursday was the first day of school for Torres-Maheia, a former assistant principal for Ramirez who is now in charge of P.S. 555. Torres-Maheia, a Bronx resident, enjoyed the fanfare, but was most pleased about her home borough getting such a unique school.
“It’s an amazing thing to see a facility like this here, where kids don’t expect to go to schools that look like this,” Torres-Maheia said.