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Graphics students are apprehensive on first day back to school

Students walk to the High School of Graphic Communication Arts Wednesday morning.

Students from the High School of Graphic Communication Arts and several small high schools returned to their Hell’s Kitchen building for the first time since Hurricane Sandy with trepidation.

They had heard on the local news and read on Facebook that their school building was in disarray after serving as a shelter for more than 1,000 people displaced by the hurricane which destroyed homes and flooded many parts of the city. Many received emails from their principals and teachers reassuring them that the schools would be ready for them to return to normal, but some weren’t convinced their classes were ready to pick up where they left off on Friday, Oct. 26, the last time the schools’ held classes.

“Yeah, I’m worried. It’s pretty disgusting,” said Yaina Reyes, a junior at Graphics, referring to conditions she observed in a news report about the school’s hurricane shelter earlier this week.

City officials originally planned to reopen Graphics to students Monday, while keeping its hundreds of shelter residents in place, even as Principal Brendan Lyons petitioned the department to send his students somewhere else on Monday, citing the turmoil that sharing the space might cause.

“If it’s not sanitary, it will be sanitary,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott told reporters at the time. But as reports of the school’s disarray trickled in, officials changed their plans. Instead of opening it to students on Monday, the city began shutting the Graphics shelter down earlier this week and relocating evacuees who had been staying there. Wednesday marks the school’s first day back in operation.

Of the seven other school buildings that have served as shelters, four others are opening today with small numbers of evacuees still living inside. Three others are not yet ready for students to return, but city officials said on Tuesday they hoped that would change by Thursday.

As Reyes rounded the corner of 49th Street and 9th Avenue en route to the entrance, she added that the large Career and Technical Education high school’s problems stretch far beyond the challenges of past week, and could get worse now that students are back. School leaders came under fire from students and staff last month when scheduling problems dominated the first weeks of school.

“Graphics is such a mess anyway. People are getting more reckless because of the principal, and this hurricane messed up the whole flow even more.”

Sophomore Ladre Grier said she was also more worried about resuming classes than about sanitation in the building. “I’m just glad they had the place to stay in,” she said. Grier said she was able to catch up on homework in all of her classes assigned before the hurricane hit, but did not receive any emails from teachers instructing her on how to prepare for the day’s lessons.

Another Graphics senior said he had been able to do new classwork in the past week, but only because he is enrolled in an online credit recovery class.

Francyne Villavicencio, a senior, said she did not receive updates from her teachers during the hurricane either, and found that discouraging. “Some of us are seniors and this is the year we need to be up on everything,” she said.

Despite the knowledge that she still had courses and Regents exams to pass before graduation this year, Villavicencio said she was “not looking forward” to returning to school today because of lingering concerns about how the school held up while serving as a shelter. But her friend Ryan Santos, a junior at the Business of Sports High School, another school in the building, told her he received a reassuring email from administrators yesterday.

“They said they were cleaning up the school, making it more clean than it was already,” he said.

A Graphics administrator told GothamSchools in a message that the school was “a lot cleaner,” this morning than it was over the past week. But the staffer added that it would take yet more time for the school to return to normal.

“I think it will take a while,” the staffer wrote. But, “I know that many students are looking forward to going back to school because it’s a stable place for most of them.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.