Tag Archive | "schools"

State Pulls Funding from Highbridge’s only Mental Health Clinic for Children

One Monday in October, therapist Shlomit Levy was called to a classroom at I.S. 313, a middle school on Webster Avenue in the Bronx where she has worked for the last four years. A student was causing disruptions, storming out of class. The clinician from a nearby mental health clinic, Astor at Highbridge, took the student aside for a two-hour therapy session. The student was able to return to class with the help of Levy, but not for long. Half an hour later, she had lost control again. In her emergency session, Levy discovered the student's family was not cooperating with her therapy. If Levy had been able to see the child earlier, the crisis might not have happened. But last year, the state pulled its Clinic Plus funding that required I.S. 313 to have parents fill out mental health assessments for their children. Now that the program is gone, the clinician has no information about which children may need help. The result is that Levy now in October has only one new student patient, at a time when she usually has at least 10. "I’m missing a lot of information," she said.

Shlomit Levy, a clinician for Astor at Highbridge in I.S. 313, is seeing far fewer children ever since the clinic lost its state funding. (VALENITNE PASQUESOONE/The Bronx Ink)

Levy's referral numbers from schools in no way reflects the area's need. The only mental health outpatient clinic for children and teenagers in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, Astor at Highbridge  serves more than 400 clients ages 2 to 21. Patients are seen in its Shakespeare Avenue clinic and inside six local public schools. Its future is uncertain in a community where 52 percent of the population has already received mental health treatment or counseling. In 2006, mental illness hospitalization rates were significantly higher in Highbridge and Morissania than in the rest of the Bronx and New York City. Levy said the children she sees are suffering from trauma and anxiety among other issues. Some of them have lost a family member to gang violence, or have been sexually abused. Others have parents who are either arrested, incarcerated, or deported. Levy has had patients who lost all contact with their deported parent. Undocumented, these students can’t leave the country to go visit them. "All these children have such challenging life environments," Levy said. The therapist is convinced five clinicians like her are needed in I.S. 313. "And we would all be very busy. The end of Clinic Plus not only curtailed services for needy children, but also created a greater financial problem for the clinic. It came at a time when Astor at Highbridge is being squeezed by yet another cut in state funding. Since 2010, New York State has gradually reduced its direct support for Astor's two outpatient clinics in the Bronx by 25 percent per year. The same day Levy was called to P.S. 313, the clinic received word that a third 25 percent reduction would go into effect next year, totaling 75 percent lost revenue in three years.  The cuts mean clinicians are under pressure to increase the number of clients who bring in Medicaid or private insurance money. Astor at Highbridge opened the satellite clinics in schools in 2007. The clinic now has six clinicians who work in neighboring schools. Astor was keeping these services afloat after Clinic Plus money ended, yet times are difficult. "A couple of my schools want more clinicians," said Zory Wentt, program director at the Astor at Highbridge clinic. "Do we need it? Yes. Are we going to get it? No. We don’t have enough funding for that." Wentt has worked a Astor at Highbridge since it opened seven years ago. It remains the only mental health clinic in the area. It was difficult at first to convince residents to overcome their fears and seek therapy, she said. A strong stigma attached to mental health needs was a barrier. "A lot of children need mental health services. Yet they have never received it,"  Wentt said.

A book Levy and other clinicians use to help students in schools. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE/The Bronx Ink)

At the clinic, therapists see children with conditions ranging from attention deficit-hyperactivity or oppositional defiant disorders to those with bipolar or suicidal symptoms. Violence in the area spills over into their clinic. Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorders are common illnesses. "We had a little girl whose father was shot right in front of her," Wentt said. "We have a lot of death cases, along with children being placed in foster care or suffering from sexual trauma." In a neighborhood where 35 percent of residents live below the poverty line, according to a study by Queens College, lack of resources can become a triggering factor when it comes to mental illness. The majority of the clinic’s patients are low-income, Hispanic and African-American residents. Eighty-five percent of them are on Medicaid and 5 percent have no insurance. Only 10 percent can afford a private health insurance. Revenue from these insurances is now Astor’s only chance to survive financially. "Funding is a challenge, we’re constantly out there seeking private funding," said Sonia Barnes-Moorhead, the executive vice president of the Children’s Foundation of Astor. Astor Services for Children and Families operates 12 sites in the Bronx, including two outpatient clinics. Clinicians have had to provide the same services in a way that could decrease costs. Astor at Highbridge has been affected by what appears to be a national trend: increasing and larger cuts to mental health state funding. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than $1.8 billion has been cut from mental health state budgets in the U.S. from 2009 to 2011. At the same time, one in 10 American children have serious mental health conditions like depression or stress disorder. New York is the second state where cuts are the largest, after California. It cut $204.9 billion in its mental health budget between 2009 and 2012. Three years ago, the New York State announced it would reduce its Comprehensive Outpatient Program Services (COPS) funding by 25 percent each year, until no funding is left. The state increased Medicaid rates to keep outpatient clinics afloat, but centers like Astor at Highbridge face direct consequences. The COPS funding represented half of the clinic budget, about $1.5 million. Services at the clinic have been reorganized, and the workload has become barely manageable for some therapists. In 2009, a clinician had about 20 cases in total. Now, their caseloads vary between 50 and 55 people. "We’ve had to work harder, we’ve instituted a business-like model in mental health services," Wentt said. The mental health clinic started to launch open access sessions four days a week for three hours in order to build their client base. Things can easily become hectic during open access time. Children cry when their parents meet with the therapist, leaving them in the waiting area. Crises can erupt when children fight. A parent advocate and front desk receptionists are available to care for them, but they can often feel overwhelmed. "With open access, no one is allowed to have a free moment when people come in," Wentt said.

Zory Wentt has worked at the Astor at Highbridge clinic since 2005. (VALENTINE PASQUESOONE/The Bronx Ink)

With Astor’s limited staff, new clients are often left waiting. On Oct. 1, Nilza Martinez, a 26-year-old resident of Highbridge took advantage of open access hours. She and her 6-year-old child waited for  more than an hour, only to be given an appointment two weeks away. No Spanish-speaking clinician was available that Monday. Her son’s pediatrician at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center had referred her to the Astor clinic. Her son, she said, was showing extreme anxiety about sleeping, and being left alone. Clinicians said their heavy caseloads prevent them from being entirely available during open access services. Every week, they need to have an average of 25 billable hours of direct contact with their clients to keep the clinic alive. Some of them say they have to schedule appointments almost every hour to maintain this requirement. "There is a lot of pressure since we have a lot of paperwork and accountability on top of the work you do in sessions with the children and families you’re working with," said Audrey Williamson, a 26-year-old social work intern working as a full clinician at the clinic since September. She works 21 hours a week at Astor at Highbridge, besides her classes at Columbia University School of Social Work. She is required to see her clients for at least 10 billable hours. "Yet I think the pressure of helping and assisting children and their families is much bigger," Williamson said. "You have lives in your hands for the most part."

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Taking Advil to schools

Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner reads to kids at the re-opening of P.S. 130's library, funded by the Advil Congestion Relief Project. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Advil Congestion Relief)

These days, a village isn’t enough to raise a child. Multinational corporations have had to step in. For six years, students at Longwood’s Abram Stevens Hewitt School didn’t have a functioning library. With the help of Advil, a Pfizer product, P.S. 130’s pre-K through fifth graders now have a newly renovated space, complete with new books, computers and iPads—as well as a new plaque that reads: “This Library Was Proudly Revitalized By: The Advil ® Congestion Relief Project.”

After the opening festivities, this plaque and Advil Congestion Relief notebooks are all that's left of the company's logo at P.S. 130. (Rani Molla/THE BRONX INK)

As schools nationwide watch budgets dwindle, for-profit companies have offered a hand. However, critics see gifts from these companies not as goodwill, but as a way of marketing to children. School officials at P.S. 130 competed for and won the Advil grant, which was facilitated through The Fund For Public Schools, a nonprofit that works with the New York City Department of Education to find private funding for schools. It is part of a growing public school/private partnership initiative championed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It also highlights the need for schools to branch out into the private sector as government funding decreases. No study tracks the amount for-profit companies invest in public schools because schools don’t necessarily have to go through a governing organization to receive these funds. But anecdotally, the practice is becoming more common, according to Faith Boninger, a research associate at the National Education Policy Center, a unit based in the University of Colorado at Boulder that examines research on public schools. In a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 22 that included giant Advil Congestion Relief scissors and a reading of a Hank Aaron biography by Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner, students viewed their newly renovated library for the first time. What did they think? “It’s good!” 5-year-old Angel shouted the following week, holding an Advil notebook and ducking behind his mother, Mayra Ocasio, outside the school. Before the Advil grant,  the library consisted of a large room with only four computers. The checkout system involved writing students’ names and books on an index card, then crossing them off upon return. Many of the books were outdated, with non-fiction more than 10 years old. Science books still included the now-discredited planet Pluto and sports books heralded bygone heroes such as Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. After the renovation, the library boasts iPads, computers, a flat-screen TV for computer instruction, a high-tech image projector, new furniture, a computerized catalog system and illustrations inspired by famous kids' books such as Where the Wild Things Are. Many more pictures illustrate the $20,000 worth of new books, from Dr. Seuss titles like Oh, The Places You’ll Go! for younger readers to the more adult Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. Principal Lourdes Velasquez had long wanted to fix the library, which had been without a regular library teacher since the last one retired six years ago. “Literacy was something we needed to focus on wholeheartedly,” Velasquez said from the school’s bustling office. “The library was the central hub to spearheading that.”

P.S. 130's new library features new technology, artwork and $20,000 worth of new books. (Rani Molla/THE BRONX INK)

Last year Velasquez hired David Levin, a longtime teacher at the school, as the library teacher. At the time, the library was used mostly as a teacher center. Velasquez and Levin believed an updated library would help meet the many challenges—from high-needs students to low test performance—of the South Bronx school, which is located in the poorest congressional district in America. They turned to the Department of Education, which connected them to nonprofit The Fund for Public Schools and in turn the Advil grant program. Jennifer Kokell, a spokesperson for Pfizer, which manufactures Advil, said P.S. 130 was one of two initial projects for the Advil Congestion Relief Project, which is now accepting applications for another round of donations. The other recipient was the Chicago Department of Transportation, which received bike-lane-sized snow plows to alleviate traffic caused by winter snowstorms. The Fund for Public Schools does not track partnerships between businesses and schools because many of those partnerships happen independent of the fund. Public Outreach Coordinator Kate Wagoner said corporations frequently partner with the city’s schools, citing Bank of America’s literacy initiative as an example. But critics say corporate gifts are simply a way to market to kids who have no choice. “We don’t market drugs to kids for good reason,” said Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. The packaging for Advil Congestion Relief says it’s not suitable for children under 12—every student at P.S. 130 is below that age. Golin’s organization blames childhood marketing for a slew of lifelong problems, from consumerism and conformity to eating disorders and sexualization to violence and moral debasement. “We have a responsibility in society that these kids in the South Bronx have a library without being exposed to commercial messages,” Golin said. Pfizer’s Kokell said the South Bronx and Chicago were picked for the project “because literal congestion is an obstacle both of these communities face.” Kokell did not multiple questions on whether the initiative in the Bronx is in any way a form of marketing. At the opening ceremony, the Yankees' Gardner stood in front of giant posters with a repeating Advil Congestion Relief logo. Students received yellow Advil notebooks and pencils to take home. Advil employees wearing bright yellow Advil Congestion Relief shirts stocked new books on shelves. After the ceremony, all that remained of Advil was the plaque. But Boninger, whose research says marketing to children undermines their critical-thinking abilities, said even mentioning the brand is “still a form of marketing.” Boninger said commercial messages are frequently directed at schools because the children are a “captive audience” in an environment they trust, meaning they are highly susceptible to marketing there. P.S. 130 officials said the gift is worth it. “Coming in for one day, to me, I think it’s reasonable,” Levin, the library teacher said, amid the shelves of new books and tables of new technology. “Considering the spirit of the donation—it's tremendous, I can’t find any fault in it.” The updated library, he said, is necessary to develop a more “organic” way to learn reading, in which kids see it as fun instead of a job. “My goal is to turn books into candy,” Levin said. “It’s not a book, it’s candy.” Principal Velasquez doesn’t think marketing was on Advil’s agenda either. “Their agenda was to support a school and bring it resources,” she said. Parents also seemed happy with the arrangement.

Angel, 5, walks home from P.S. 130 with his mother Mayra Ocasio and his Advil Congestion Relief notebook. (Rani Molla/THE BRONX INK)

Daisy Campbell, mother of Davonte, a 4-year-old pre-K student, said the good outweighed the bad. “They really don’t know what Advil is yet,” she said, pushing a stroller away from the P.S. 130 after school. “They just see that someone helped them out to get a better education.” Raquel Chaparro conceded that her 7- and 8-year-old sons, both named Angel, would be “more likely to recognize Advil.” But for now, neither of them knew what Advil was. All of the children interviewed had their Advil notebooks with them, nearly a week after they received them. According to Boninger, the message such gifts give is obvious. “Send a letter to the parents but stay away from kids,” she said. “When kids are involved, it’s clearly an attempt to influence them.”

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Mott Haven garden offers tranquility and community spirit

Carlos Mendez marinades beef and cactus for a barbecue at Wanaqua Garden. (CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN/Bronx Ink)

“There was nothing here — nothing,” said Luis Rosario, 74, gesturing around his Mott Haven plot of land. The verdant vegetable patches of what is now Wanaqua  Garden are dotted with cheerful sunflowers. Ten years ago the empty lot was teeming with trash. Residents used it as a fee-free garbage dump. Then the Department of Parks put up a sign by the plot on East 136th Street, welcoming neighbors to use it for gardening. Rosario gathered a group of friends and set to excavating it. “It took us more than a year,” said Rosario, one of a handful of gardeners that has stuck with Wanaqua from the start. In the decade since, gardeners have come and gone — some who just wanted to try their hand at gardening, and others who stayed longer. For greenhorns and gardeners alike, though, this 10,000 square-foot lot is a place to gather, make friends, and feel part of a community. Neighbors pop in to pick up fresh vegetables free of charge, and dozens of children troop in a few days a week to care for the vegetable patches their elementary schools have adopted. But the long-time gardeners of Wanaqua are the heart of the community. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Rosario, who is Puerto Rican, combed through the tomato bushes looking for ingredients for a salad, while his friend Carlos Mendez, who has also gardened here for years, marinaded beef in herbs and beer for a barbeque. Soon, Mendez’s nephew would arrive for lunch. In the meantime, Rosario invited two passersby to join them — a father and daughter whom he had never met. Even after a decade, Rosario said the garden, with its rows of beans, yams, pumpkins, and herbs like cilantro and papalo, still attracts new faces. And for Rosario and Mendez, it is a second home. The two old friends visit the garden seven days a week and say even the winter doesn’t put them off. “It’s a beautiful garden,” said Mendez, 70, who hails from Mexico and has lived in the US for 37 years. “It feels like being in my country in the mountains.” “It’s perfect,” he said. “Like today, we’ll grill some meat and enjoy a calm afternoon.” The garden may offer respite on some days, but just as often, it’s alive with dozens of schoolchildren from neighboring Public School 43 and Mott Haven Academy Charter School, harvesting swiss chard and squealing at the sight of bumblebees. Each school cares for a sizable section of the garden, where the elevated flowerbeds are living, breathing science labs, and the children can follow food from the seeds they plant to the salads on their lunch table. Candace Williams, a science teacher at Mott Haven Academy, said announcing that it’s time to go the garden is a surefire way to liven the classroom. “The students are super excited. So excited that sometimes it’s a challenge to get them outside,” she said. Fourth-grade teacher Peter Kalkau’s students at P.S. 43 have learned to test the pH of soil and replenish the nutrients in it with compost, and students at both schools have harvested vegetables for salads and other dishes. That’s a good recipe for getting kids to try new things. “Those are the vegetables they planted, so they want to know how they taste,” Kalkau said.
Starting this year, some students at P.S. 43 will have reading classes in the garden, too, following the addition of a garden house this month where the kids can sit outdoors in the shade. The garden house, courtesy of the nonprofit GrowNYC and corporate donors, replaced a dilapidated shed and gives the gardeners much needed storage space. Even better, it gives them water. Palette Architects, the Brooklyn-based architecture firm that designed the garden house pro bono, created a roof that feeds rainwater into a 1,000-gallon barrel that should fill up in just a few weeks’ time. For the gardeners, it’s a huge convenience: They had previously been fetching water from a pump on the street. “It’s great,” Rosario said, admiring the garden house that seems to reward years of hard work on the garden. He continued searching for tomatoes and soon had a bagful. The garden produces more than the gardeners and their families can eat, but nothing goes to waste. “I give it away,” Rosario said. “If someone needs it, I give it.”

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Emotional pleas aside, panel votes to close Bronx Academy

When Angel Sosa transferred to Bronx Academy High School in the South Bronx almost a year and a half ago as a sophomore, he only had 10 credits out of the roughly 44 needed to graduate. “I woke up this morning with three acceptance letters to college,” the 18-year-old senior told  the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which on Thursday night voted to close the school. In March, the Department of Education proposed the phase out of Bronx Academy because of its poor performance and its inability to turn its failing record around quickly. The school received two F’s and a C in its last three report cards. Students and teachers presented data to demonstrate the changes the school has implemented in the past eight months under the leadership of new Principal Gary Eisinger. According to a 43-page document distributed to the panel, the school saw a 25 percent increase in the number of students who passed the Regents exams, and attendance is up to 73 percent from 67 percent. Senior Snanice Kittel, 16, told the panel members that  her teachers genuinely cared about students and were helping them to succeed. “They will call in the morning to make sure you go to class. And they will even visit your house and talk to your parents if you haven’t come,” she said, explaining that these practices were put in place under the new administration. Their case was not persuasive enough to convince the panel to vote to save the school. “We are proud of the work Gary has done in the school,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg. “Even if there has been improvement, it’s well below what we expect to see,” he said, adding that the numbers presented by the school staff was inaccurate and that its own assessment revealed a different story. Frederick R. Coscia, a statistician and economics teacher at Bronx Academy, insisted the Department of Education was basing its decision to close the school on two-year-old data. “We deserve our own report this year,” he said. Monica Major, the Bronx representative to the panel, requested a postponement of the vote to phase out of the school. The motion was denied. “We asked for a miracle, we got it and now we will not see the end of it,” said Major as the audience yelled at the panel to “look at the data.” She reminded her colleagues on the panel that Bronx Academy High School is a transfer school that takes students who  have already failed in other schools. Opened in 2003, this “transfer school” serves an alternative for overage students who have trouble graduating from a regular high school. Despite acknowledging the work done by transfer schools and what they represent, the newly appointed Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Bronx Academy “has not done the job.” “We base our decisions on facts and not solely on emotions,” he said, citing the school’s poor performance and its inclusion in the New York State’s “persistent lower achieving” schools list. “We cannot allow more students to go to a school that is not performing at the standards,” Walcott said. After four and half hours of testimony and amid chorus of “lies, lies” and “shame on you,” the panel approved the phase-out of Bronx Academy by nine votes to five. Only the five borough representatives opposed the closure. Starting in September, the school will not accept new students and will have until June 2013 to graduate those who are currently enrolled. It will be replaced by Bronx Arena High School, a transfer school that will open its door for the 2011-2012 school year. English teacher Robert MacVicar expressed his disappointment with the chancellor and the panel for not giving the school a one-year reprieve. “I am saddened by Mr. Walcott's and Mayor Bloomberg's failure to take reasonable and compassionate account of our students’ deep and abiding goodness, despite their sometimes soul-trying circumstances at home and on the mean streets of South Bronx,” he said. Visibly upset, Angel Sosa asked why the panel did not take his testimony and others who spoke into consideration. “I had come with hope,” he said. As students and supporters of the school left, Principal Eisinger said he appreciated the support he received. “I put a lot of heart into the school,’’ he said, “and it shows.”

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Bronx Academy High School to DOE: Not us too!

Bronx high school superintendent Elena Papaliberios explained to Bronx Academy parents the proposal submitted by the DOE (Foto credit: Clara Martinez Turco)

By Clara Martinez Turco Teachers and parents at the Bronx Academy High School in the South Bronx were surprised by a last-minute proposal by the city’s Department of Education to close the school. “I really wasn’t expecting they would come in and say we might close,” said Linda Butkowski, 52, a teacher of American studies at Bronx Academy and a representative of the United Federation of Teachers representative. In a document dated March 3, the DOE proposed the phase out of Bronx Academy because of its poor performance and because “the school lacks the capacity to turn around quickly to better support student needs.” The school received two F’s and a C in its last three report cards and had a six-year graduation rate of 49 percent. A new school administration took over in September and teachers say they thought the DOE would take into consideration the changes made since then. “The school had an amazing turn around under the leadership of the new principal… Is almost as if it was a new school,” said Butkowski. Changes to this “transfer school,” which was opened in 2003 as an alternative for students who have trouble graduating from a regular high school, include trimester terms and the appointment of a faculty advocate for every student. Last December, the New York State Department of Education identified the Bronx Academy as a "persistent lower achieving" school and gave it a year to implement a major transformation to turn around. State representatives later visited the school and said they would release in late April a report with their recommendations, said counselor Linda Vinecour. However, the city’s DOE cited the identification of the school as an under achiever as one reason to close it.  “At the end of the day, Bronx Academy is not doing the job, and we feel it will not turn around and serve better the kids,” said spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, explaining that the DOE decisions are independent from the state. Both city and state departments of education were unavailable for further comments. The proposal to close Bronx Academy comes after the city’s Panel for Education Policy voted to close 22 schools, ten of them in the Bronx. During an informational meeting held at Bronx Academy on March 8, parents expressed their frustration with the proposal by city’s school officials. “It seems the decision has already been taken,” said one angry parent soon after the Bronx High School superintendent Elena Papaliberios explained the next steps in the school’s phase out pending approval by the Panel. “I don’t agree with the closure because students need a school like this,” said Rosa Ramirez, 39, who enrolled her 16-year-old son, Jorge, in October after she said he had been bullied several times at his previous high school. Jorge said the school has helped him to stay on track. “A lot of us come here for a second chance to get our diploma,” he said. Despite the shock caused by the proposal, students and faculty vowed to fight the phase out, Vinecour said. On April 6, the Bronx Academy community will meet at the school to make the case against the closure. The meeting will be recorded and a copy of the recording shared among the members of the Panel for Education Policy, which will vote on April 28 on whether the phase out should proceed.

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Citywide Plan to Replace Hazardous PCB Lighting Fixtures

By Sana Taskeen Gulzar On the heels of an alarming study of PCBs in New York City Schools by the Environmental Protection Agency, the city’s Department of Education has announced a $708 million plan to replace PCB lighting ballasts and to improve energy efficiency in 772 city schools. The EPA’s study of fluorescent lighting fixtures in seven city schools, including PS 68 in the Bronx, showed PCB leaking in levels higher than federally approved limit of 50 parts per million. In PS 68, 10 out of the 13 samples taken showed PCB leakage exceeding that limit. The EPA has been conducting spot inspections at random city schools to help steer a city-wide policy to address the issue of PCB leakage in schools, said Mary Mears, the agency’s spokeswoman PCB or Polychlorinated Biphenyl is a chemical found in florescent lights and caulking and was manufactured before a 1979 congressional PCB ban in the United States. Extended exposure to PCB has to cause cancer in animals and other health problems including damage to human immune, reproductive and endocrine systems. In response to increased pressure by the EPA and concerned parents and community leaders, the DOE says it will replace lighting ballasts in schools all over the city over a period of 10 years. According to the Department of Education, the city will prioritize 772 city schools according to the following criteria: 1)    schools with visual leaks, 2)     elementary schools built between 1950 and 1966, 3)     secondary schools built between 1950 and 1966, 4)     elementary schools built between 1967 and 1979, 5)     secondary schools built between 1967 and 1979, 6)    elementary schools constructed prior to 1950, and 7)     secondary schools constructed prior to 1950 The DOE spokesperson, Marge Feinberg asserted that this 10-year plan will not only rid the schools from PCBs but will also make them more energy efficient. “We believe this is a fiscally responsible approach to addressing the issue of PCBs in our schools—the plan can be accomplished without disrupting student learning and it will generate significant energy savings for the city and taxpayers in the long run,” Feinberg said in an email response.

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In vote, panel seals fate of six Bronx schools

In vote, panel seals fate of six Bronx schools

After a massive walkout at Brooklyn Tech High school to protest school closings, demonstrators displayed messages to the Panel for Educational Policy.

By Clara Martinez Turco Vincent Malfetano, 61, a teacher at Christopher Columbus High School, waited more than five hours before he could offer “some advice” to Schools Chancellor Cathie Black during a boisterous meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy Thursday night. “Columbus has its problems, but we’ve been opened for 70 years and graduated scholars for years in our building,” Malfetano said before a diminished crowd at Brooklyn Tech High School. “The school needs a change of leadership, there are five principles and there has been a poor management.” But his words and a massive walkout staged by some 2,000 parents, teachers and students during the meeting, were not enough to prevent the panel from approving the closure of Columbus High School and nine other schools, five of them in the Bronx. Along with Columbus and Global Enterprise, the panel voted to close John F. Kennedy High School, Frederick Douglass Academy III Middle School, P.S. 102 and Performance Conservatory High School. The building had a heavy police presence as a few hundred students briefly protested outside after the walkout. They marched around the block holding banners that read “closing is not the answer” and “save our schools,” but the protesters acknowledged that they already knew what the outcome was going to be. By the time the panel started to vote, only 80 people remained in the auditorium. “Shame on you!” shouted a group of parents as the members approved the closings one by one. The Department of Education cited  “substantial evidence” in closing Christopher Columbus. Spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said the school has had received Cs and Ds in the last four report cards. “Ninety-nine percent of the schools in the borough are outperforming this high school,” he said. The panel had already voted last year to phase out the school, but a lawsuit filed by the United Federation of Teachers prevented the Department of Education from closing it. The Manhattan Supreme Court found the city had violated the provisions of mayoral control by not properly assessing the impact that the closures would have in the community. “We knew they’d do it again,” Malfetano said of the panel’s vote , in an interview after he addressed the group. “The lawsuit last year was just a procedural victory. It just said that Bloomberg did not follow the law properly, but he needs our buildings for other schools.” According to the proposal presented by DOE’s Division of Portfolio Planning, two new schools will replace Columbus High School and Global Enterprise High School, which shares the same building and will also close. Starting in September, the outgoing schools will not accept new ninth graders and will be closed by 2014. Meanwhile, the two new institutions would move into the Christopher Columbus Educational Campus, which since 2004 hosts Columbus High School and four other schools. “They are going to cram these two schools into a building that already has three other schools, it’s going to be a zoo,” said Malfetano. “It’s so out of control, we don’t have a teacher’s room to sit in anymore, there’s no refrigerator to put your lunch in anymore. You don’t even know who to go to order supplies.”

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Vets battle obesity in Belmont

Fun Fitness Day willl be held at the M.S. 45 Don Serpone schoolyard. Photo: Irasema Romero

Fun Fitness Day will be held at the M.S. 45 Don Serpone schoolyard. Photo: Irasema Romero

Military veterans will lead Belmont children in a series of interactive games during Fitness Fun Day Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at M.S. 45. According to the New York City Department of Health, 40 percent of city children are overweight or obese. Fitness Fun Day is designed to promote more physical activity by students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The free program is sponsored by USA Fitness Corps, a non-profit organization established in 2009 to fight childhood obesity with veteran volunteers. “We want them to be as much like Saturday morning, and less like school,” said USA Fitness Corp spokesman Arthur Pincus. Fitness Fun Day uses a custom curriculum designed by Dr. Jaci VanHeest, a professor of kinesiology and child psychology at the University of Connecticut. With names like Wicked Ball, Attack the Snack, and In the Pickle, each activity offers an opportunity for students to have fun while being physically active. For Attack the Snack, the captain selects a food product, and along with his or her team, decides what physical activity is necessary to burn calories consumed in each serving. Depending on the calorie amount, the group collaborates to burn calories with jumping jacks, jogging or push-ups. During training last week, participating veterans were advised not to use the word exercise with students because that makes it sound too much like work. “If they are fun, they will want to do more of those kinds of activities,” said David Haney, USA Fitness executive director. “All of that leads to a healthier and happier kid, and happier families.” Parents may still register their children for free at the site. The school is located at 2502 Lorillard Place. For more information,  email info@usafitnesscorps.org.

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