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City Limits Report:

A report published in City Limits magazine by Bronx Ink reporters examines why a toxic contamination inside a Bronx School went undetected possibly for years, endangering the lives of the staff and students. The school, P.S. 51 in the Bronx, was shut down last summer because of the contamination. Since then, students, staff and parents have come forward detailing years of health concerns at the school, which sat on a former industrial site and had a history of producing environmental toxins. To read the full report, click here. Reporting was done by Bronx Ink reporters Jasmeet Sidhu, Bianca Consunji, and Carl V. Lewis.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Featured, North Central Bronx, Special Reports, Toxic SchoolsComments (0)

Father of 12 gunned down by masked robbers

A native of Dominican Republic who works at a Bedford Park bodega was killed inside his apartment in the early hours of Dec. 21 following an attempted robbery, according to the NYDaily News. Police identified the victim as Anselmo Porras, 51, an employee of Nizao Grocery along Briggs Ave. The robbers reportedly followed Porras home because they suspected he had the night’s receipts. According to NBC New York, Porras left behind nine children who live in Spain, two kids who live in the Dominican Republic, and one who lives in New York.

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Where are all the Bronx kids in the Bronx High School of Science?

As Bronx residents, Farhana Begum (left) and Ashmera Mohamed (right) are outnumbered by their classmates from Queens at the Bronx High School of Science. (JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

  Every weekday when school is out, the quiet streets surrounding the prestigious Bronx High School of Science are crammed with dozens of privately operated school buses, hired to transport hundreds of the school’s 3,000 students out of the Bronx. “Those are the buses that take everyone back to Queens and Manhattan,” said Farhana Begum, a senior from Parkchester, as she watched the bus fleets depart. Nearly two-thirds of the school's students come from Queens, according to a Department of Education spokesperson, while only 14 percent come from the Bronx. “The joke is that the school should be called ‘the Queens High School of Science’,” said Begum. “A lot of the kids think Bronx Science should just move to Queens.” The elite high school in Bedford Park once drew more than 90 percent of its student body from the borough’s middle schools. Over the years, however, the number of Bronx students has been steadily declining, a symptom of changing demographics and poor test preparation. Many of the Bronx students who do manage to get into the competitive school find themselves struggling to adjust academically and socially to a student body that is in large part wealthier and better prepared. The consequence is that these students are both outliers within their own communities, and outliers within the storied institution that sits right in their backyard. When 12th grader Aysha Sultana first came to the Bronx High School of Science from her middle school in Tremont, it was the first time she felt a divide between herself as a Bronx resident, and other New Yorkers from the rest of the city. “Many of my classmates come from richer or nicer neighborhoods than mine,” said Sultana, adding that many of her friends from middle school attend nearby DeWitt Clinton High School, a neighborhood school. “I sometimes feel like there’s a big gap financially between Bronx students and those from other boroughs.” Begum, along with Sultana, is one of six friends within their social circle that all live in the Bronx, taking a combination of buses and trains to get to school. “Generally, the kids from Queens come from wealthier backgrounds,” said Begum. “Their parents paid for some sort of prep for them.” The Bronx High School of Science is one of eight specialized public high schools in the city, famous for their selective student bodies based off the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). However, most struggling middle schools in the Bronx do not offer the test preparation that is available in other schools, resulting in only a handful of students from the borough who are able to qualify for a coveted spot. “Bronx students have to make new friends here, because most likely they are the only ones from the community who got into the school,” said Begum, who was the only student from her school, I.S. 125, to be accepted at any of the city’s specialized high schools. “It can sometimes be a difficult transition.” Ashmera Mohamed, a senior from Castle Hill, recalled how she helped proctor the SHSAT at the school this past October for Bronx eighth graders. “We treat it like a joking matter, like ‘look at all these kids coming in, only a few of them will make it,’” said Mohamed.  “You already know it. You don’t expect a lot of people from the Bronx to make it in.” Besides low expectations, Bronx students also have to contend with negative stereotypes of their borough once they arrive. “Most people think ‘ghetto’ when they hear someone is from the Bronx, which is offensive,” said Sultana, the senior from Tremont. “I think people are aware of how few students go here from the Bronx, but expectations of  kids from the Bronx isn’t too high.” The culling of the city’s most talented students into elite schools like Bronx Science can also present different academic challenges for these students, many who went from being the stars of their middle schools, to now finding themselves suddenly in a sea of smart students. “I didn’t have a good foundation,” said Begum. “I came here, and didn’t know things about history and stuff that the other students here knew.” Begum described how within the first week of her freshman year at the school, she discovered most of her new friends were valedictorians at their respective middle schools. “It’s hard for me to accept the fact that I’m not the smartest person in the place anymore,” said Begum, who was also valedictorian of her middle-school class. “But you can either be the smartest person in a dumb school, or an average person in a smart school. You pick which one you want to do.”
Of the more than 13,500 eight graders in Bronx schools, only about 2.5 percent were accepted into the city’s specialized high schools last year, according to the Bronx Borough President’s Office. However, it was not always this way. “If you went through my high school yearbook, most of the kids came from the West Bronx,” said Andy Wolf, a graduate of the school from the 1960s, and now publisher of the Bronx Press-Review. “And these weren’t rich kids, but working class kids.” Former school administrators estimated the school’s student body was once nearly 90 percent from the Bronx, but began to change as the borough’s share of middle class families declined, quality of schools dropped off, and poorer Hispanic and African-American residents moved into the borough. “I think it began to change as we moved into the 1960s,” explained Milton Kopelman, a former principal of Bronx Science, who began teaching at the school in 1949. “The changes had to do with the fact that many middle class people who lived in the Bronx moved out, and we began to see more kids coming from Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island.” When Kopelman retired as principal of the school in 1990, he said Bronx students made up about 20 percent of the student body. In response primarily to the declining number of black and Hispanic students who qualified for the specialized high schools, the city began a special year-long training program known as the Specialized High Schools Institute. However, many education experts said the program is ineffective, with the number of minority students gaining admission to the schools dropping in recent years. “These programs are not going to be able to compensate for going to a bad school,” said Pedro Noguera, a New York University professor who has studied race and education. “They really haven’t addressed the root of the problem: unequal access to good schools earlier that have external supports that the other schools receive.” Noguera said that unless specialized high schools expand their admissions criteria beyond SHSAT scores, students with the best test preparation within their middle schools would always have an advantage. Some private test preparation programs can run into the thousands of dollars, which coupled with institutionalized support from middle schools, can guarantee many students spots at the city’s specialized high schools.
“My middle school had pretty high standards and the teachers helped a lot,” said 10th grader Thomas Nguyen, who attended Marie Curie Middle School in Bayside, Queens. Nguyen was among 35 eighth-graders admitted to Bronx Science in his year. “My parents sent me to a prep class. I think it was a few thousand dollars.” Some Bronx students who can afford test preparation also flock to Queens, like 11th grader Ekramul Gofur, who paid upwards of $80 a week for a SHSAT tutoring course. “It was pretty helpful. It was better than what I was getting elsewhere,” said Gofur, a South Bronx resident and graduate of M.S. 128. “My middle school didn’t do much.” Even among the middle schools in the Bronx, there is a vast difference between the levels of preparation a student might receive for this critical test. M.S. 80 in Norwood for example, did not have a single student accepted into any of the specialized high schools. In contrast, The Pace Academy at M.S. 118 had 34. The school, which houses a “gifted and talented” program, conducts its own rigorous admissions process that makes getting into a specialized high school look easy: students need to score in the high 600s on their elementary standardized test scores, submit teacher recommendations, write an entrance exam, and go through an interview with school officials. “There are probably many students who would do well academically in a specialized high school, but they may not have the specialized high school test prep,” said Megan Franco, director of the Pace Academy. “It’s getting in that’s the difficult part.”
Administrators at Bronx Science declined to be interview for this article.  Officials from the Department of Education said they are aware that Bronx students don’t have a strong track record getting into the city’s specialized high schools, yet the issue is not a particularly pressing one for the office. “While the Mayor was committed to placing a specialized school on every borough, that does not mean that their focus is providing borough-based enrollment,” explained Thomas Francis, a spokesperson with the DOE. “The specialized admissions process does not really allow for that kind of preference, although there may be borough based outreach efforts going on at the school level or through community groups.” Alumni from the elite schools have made efforts in recent years to provide test preparation to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “There isn’t much test prep going on in the Bronx,” said Michael Mascetti, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan, and founder of the Science Schools Initiative. Mascetti’s organization works to tutor lower-income students in the Bronx and Washington Heights to write the SHSAT. “Bronx Science is the best public high school in the Bronx, and the fact that so few students from the Bronx go there or to any specialized high school is important.”
Other alumni of the specialized high schools view the matter differently. “We do have outreach programs seeking students who perhaps are not getting what they need for the entrance exam,” said Linda Klayman, executive director of Bronx Science’s alumni association. “But the alumni organization can’t be concerned about the admissions process. This is a test school. Individual alumni always wish everyone would get the opportunity.” One mother of a Bronx Science 9th grader, who lives within walking distance from the school, remembered a parent information meeting held at the school that was overwhelmingly filled with those from Manhattan and Queens. “They were giving out bumper stickers that said, ‘It’s worth the trip’,” said Shanti Knock. Still, the few students from the Bronx said they believe they can overcome the stigma of their borough with hard work.  They would not want to be in any other school.  It has graduated some of the most renowned Bronxites in American history, such as Nobel laureate and physicist Melvin Schwartz and two-time Pulitzer prize winner Gene Weingarten. “You start all over coming here, at the bottom of the ladder,” said Begum. “One thing I honestly do believe is that where you come from doesn’t determine where you are going.”

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Bengali immigrant savagely beaten

Police are searching for two suspects in the assault on Bimal Chanda in his Kingsbridge apartment. JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

The fatal beating of a Bengali man in his Kingsbridge building last week has shaken members of the north Bronx Bengali community, who now believe he was targeted because of his ethnicity. Bimal Chanda, a 59-year-old former taxi driver, was robbed and severely beaten on the second-floor landing of his apartment building on 190th Street just off of Fordham Road on the morning of October 29. He died in the hospital four days later from severe head trauma, leaving behind a wife and a 16-year-old daughter. Friends were shocked at the brutal assault of Chanda, who emigrated to Kingsbridge from Calcutta, India nearly 30 years ago. “He was an innocent guy who was killed intentionally,” said Mohammed Ali, a member of Community Board 7, who had been friends with Chanda for more than 10 years. “The Bengali community is very afraid of this biased crime. It’s a hate crime.” Ali said Chanda, an acute diabetic, was moving from his apartment on the third floor to a condominium in Parkchester, because of concerns about crime in the area. He and his wife were picking up the last of their possessions in the apartment when Chanda left to purchase tape from a nearby 99-cent store. That’s when two men grabbed him from behind on the staircase and struck him on the head with a metal object. The commotion could be heard throughout the apartment building, which has no security cameras or working locks on the front entrance.
“I heard a big noise,” said first-floor resident Nidia Rodriguez, whose 16-year-old son attended elementary school with Chanda’s daughter. “Then I heard his wife screaming.” Another resident on the first floor, Sara Inoa, rode in the ambulance with an unconscious Chanda and his wife Chaya, both of whom she had known for 17 years. “She came banging on my door, asking for help,” said Inoa. “He was lying on the floor with his head bleeding. For me, he was dead right there.” Ali said he doesn’t believe the incident was just a robbery, since Chanda still had his cell phone and more than $80 in his pocket when he was taken to the hospital.
“Robbers, they target us,” said Ali, referring to what he said has been a series of thefts and attacks on Bengalis in the neighborhood in the last couple of months. Ali helped organize a rally Thursday after Chanda’s funeral in Parkchester, where Chanda’s wife and daughter now live.

Police have placed notices inside the building where Chanda was killed, on 190th Street. (JASMEET SIDHU/The Bronx Ink)

Police have released a video of the two suspects, described as male and black, between the ages of 20 and 25, and approximately six-feet tall apiece. Notices of the attack have also gone up in the apartment building, including one written by residents demanding the landlord install cameras and fix the broken locks on the front door.
Chanda’s death is one of three homicides that occurred within one week in the 52nd precinct, which encompasses Kingsbridge, Bedford Park and Norwood. A 35-year-old man was stabbed to death in the lobby of an apartment building on Grand Avenue near Fordham Road on Tuesday morning. Police have yet to identify the victim, or any suspects in the case.
On Saturday morning at around 4 a.m., a 21-year-old man was shot in front of an apartment building on 2843 Bainbridge Avenue, near 198th Street, a few blocks from where he lived on the Grand Concourse. Detectives on the scene said that the man had been in an argument with several other men when the shots were fired. The victim, Edwin Valdez, who was shot in the chest, was still able to walk to 198th Street where he was able to receive help. He later died at Saint Barnabas Hospital. Bainbridge Avenue was cordoned off by police between 198th Street and 199th Street all morning, including a portion right in front of the Academy of Mount St. Ursula High School. Police have not identified any suspects. The early morning killing convinced some longtime residents in the Bedford Park neighborhood that it was time to leave.
“I’m moving upstate,” said Linda Matos, a mother of four, who heard the gunshots that morning from her apartment two buildings down. “The Bronx is disgusting. You’re so used to it. For my children, I say to God every day, please protect them. Police have released video footage of the suspects sought in Chanda's killing.

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Mysteries remain in the wake of a college student’s death

In early September, 25-year-old Bronx native Kennedy Brown enrolled as a liberal arts freshman at the College of New Rochelle in Westchester. Three weeks later, the father of 6-year-old twins was offered a part-time job at the retail-clothing store Hollister. Three days later, in the early hours of Sept. 24, Brown was shot dead, just steps away from his childhood home in Bedford Park. At the time, family and friends of Brown said they were shocked and could find no explanation for Brown’s shooting, which took place outside an apartment building on Decatur Avenue just off of 197th Street. Now, more than a month after the shooting, the police have offered neither leads nor suspects. Brown’s family is left with questions as they continue to mourn a man described as a focused, charismatic, and dedicated father. “Who would want to hurt my nephew?” asked Hope Harris, Brown’s aunt, in an interview near the one-month anniversary of his death. “I don’t understand why he had to die—and die violently. He was a father, he was somebody’s son, cousin. I cry everyday.” The moments leading up to Brown’s shooting outside an apartment building during a party are still cloaked in mystery. What Brown’s family do know is that just before 2 a.m. on Sept. 24, Brown stepped outside the party alone, readying himself to leave. A few minutes later, he was discovered with a gun wound to his head, and was later pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital. “He was actually leaving the party,” said Harris.“The way it happened, I think, it was someone close to him. It wasn’t gang violence. We figured it had to be over a girl. Kennedy had over 10 different girlfriends.” In interviews with several family and friends, Brown’s reputation as a gregarious flirt was well-known. It contrasted with the serious life he led as a student and father to his twins, Kennedy, a girl, and Kron, a boy. A couple of months ago, he had taken the twins’ mother to court to sue for equal visitation rights, said the family. “He was a person that would do anything to make you smile,” remembered Jazmin Lucas, 18, Brown’s next-door neighbor. “He was very genuine and sincere. I was shocked at what happened.” Lucas said she remembered sitting on the front porch of her house that fateful morning, when she saw Brown’s mother, Candy, return home from the hospital at 3 a.m. “She had blood on her hands, and she was saying, ‘This was my baby’s blood. I’m never washing it off,’” recalled Lucas. Brown’s mother is still too traumatized to speak about the passing of her only son. Brown’s cremated ashes are kept in the second-floor townhouse they shared together in Tremont, said family members. “She’s not doing good at all,” stated Harris. “We are still taking turns to staying in the apartment. She just can’t believe he’s gone, even now. This was the first homicide in our family.” Harris believes the family will soon learn to heal after Brown’s passing, but the questions around how Brown died will continue to haunt them. “It’s hard on the family, because we have no answers,” Harris said.

Kennedy Brown died of a gunshot wound in September. (PHOTO CREDIT: Shykeiya Harris)

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Tyra Banks pays surprise visit to Bedford Park high school to encourage kids to keep up high attendance rates, NY Daily News

America's next top student may have been among the 400 screaming, crying teens at the High School for Teaching and Professions, where former supermodel Tyra Banks made a surprise appearance Wednesday, the NY Daily News reported. Banks strutted onstage to promote her new book, "Modelland," answer questions and congratulate the students on beating 90 other schools so far in a nationwide competition to improve attendance rates. The Bedford Park school has raised its numbers by 4% as part of the Get Schooled Attendance Challenge. "Any fiercely real, curvalicious girls in the audience?" Banks asked the teens, who leaped out of their seats to strike model poses, one h

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Bronx parents say new law won’t ease overcrowding issue in schools, NY Daily News

Bronx parents are skeptical that the City Council's new legislation requiring the Department of Education to report annually on size, capacity and utilization of schools will help address rampant overcrowding, NY Daily News reported. Parent Eddie Valley said he's concerned about how much attention his third-grade daughter is receiving. "You could only have so many students in one class," said Valley, 43. "Thirteen hundred kids have to use the gym within three hours - that's really difficult to do, and my daughter got hurt twice already this year because they could only keep an eye on so many kids."

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Bronx school welcomes celebrity visitor, NY Daily News

Students from the Bronx's High School for Teaching and Professions welcomed former supermodel Tyra Banks, who made a surprise visit to the school to promote her book, the NY Daily News reported. The Bedford Park school has recently beaten 90 other schools so far in a nationwide competition to improve attendance rates, and Banks urged students to keep on working. "It's so important to understand your good attendance ups your chances of graduating," she added. "Everybody has a dream, right?"

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