Chancellor Carmen Fariña spent her 50th first day of school traversing New York’s five boroughs, showing off schools that highlight her favored initiatives: “community schools,” dual-language programs, the city’s school-turnaround program, and pre-kindergarten.
This school year will begin with 130 new community schools, which provide wraparound services such as counseling and health services; 94 “Renewal” schools, which will have an infusion of resources designed to boost academics; 40 new dual-language programs, designed to mix native English speakers with those who speak other languages; and more than 65,000 students registered for full-day pre-K.
Those efforts come with greater stakes than ever for Mayor Bill de Blasio. He will soon have to mount a new campaign for mayoral control of the city’s schools, and he faces continuing questions — from local critics and state officials alike — about the city’s plans for improving education.
On his first-day-of-school visit, he said some additional initiatives would be coming soon. For her part, Fariña seemed pleased with the progress the city has made under her 20-month tenure as she criss-crossed the city Wednesday.
“I’ve always loved the first day of school,” she said at P.S. 59 on Staten Island. “I generally do not sleep the night before, but I will tell you that I slept very well last night,” she said, a reference to her belief that New York City schools are on the right path.
Staten Island: Universal pre-K
Three-year-old Ameya Weichun swung on a playground outside P.S. 59 a few feet from where Mayor Bill de Blasio, flanked by Fariña, would soon say the city is experiencing a “moment in history.” De Blasio and Farina both touted the growth of the city’s universal pre-K programs, which will allow children like Ameya to attend a full day of school.
Ameya donned a polka dot skirt and a purple Band-Aid on one side of her head, which her mother, Jo Weichun, said was from a “hula-hoop incident.” Ameya, her mother said, loves to paint and loves to dance. She is thrilled that Ameya will now have another outlet for her creativity.
“A child’s brain is like a sponge,” Weichun said.
Brooklyn: A personal trip
Next Farina visited P.S. 29, an elementary school in Brooklyn. The trip was a personal journey for the chancellor.
“Many, many years ago I used to be a teacher in this classroom,” Fariña said, as she walked into a room of students saying “wow” as they watched reporters file in with cameras.
The students sat on a rug as their teacher asked whether anyone had a question for the chancellor. A student with a red shirt and a star shaved into the side of his head raised his hand and asked about when Fariña taught in the school.
“What was it like?” he inquired.
It was a different time, Fariña said, but “kids are pretty much the same.”
Queens: Dual language
At P.S. 212 in Queens, Fariña spoke in Spanish and English about the city’s new language programs. The school that Farina visited is one of the 40 with new or expanded dual-language programs, which group native English speakers and students who speak different languages.
Inside one fourth-grade classroom, students were asked to write their goals for the year on Post-it notes.
Some said the classroom should be “clen” and others wrote “clean.” A student wrote that the classroom should be “foucused” and another wrote that students should “work together and pay attcion.”
As for their goals, students wrote that they wanted to be better at math, reading, spelling or “sciecns.”
Bronx: Community schools
The trip to the Bronx included a stop at Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies, a small high school designed to provide wraparound services to help address student needs.
A billboard on the wall outside the school’s health center detailed a host of medical services that students could seek, from dental check-ups to birth control. Words like “vaccines,” “community health” and “female condoms” peppered the board.
Farina made a point of discussing the school’s mental health services as well, noting that the city’s community schools initiative will be focusing on helping students address mental health issues that can make it difficult to learn.
Manhattan: Renewal schools
The last stop on the tour was Renaissance School of the Arts, a Manhattan middle school that is part of the city’s school-turnaround effort. This is a high-stakes year for the Renewal schools, which have received additional funding, added time to their school days, and new community partnerships but face reorganization or closure if they do not improve.
The chancellor praised the art curriculum at the Renaissance School, which she said will help students with social and emotional skills. Then she listened to students play their first day of band music.
“And now we’re going back to energize the troops at Tweed because we have a lot of work to do,” Fariña said.