New School to open in Jackson Heights
For many students in Queens, overcrowded schools are a constant reality. Each day they jostle and push through crammed hallways, squeezing into classrooms designed for fewer occupants.
Some students in Jackson Heights, however, may soon be granted a reprieve, as the city has acquired the Blessed Sacrament School building at 34-20 94th St. and will be turning the facility into a public school, set to open in September 2010. The new school is expected to eventually house 700 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
“We need a few thousand seats to prevent overcrowding in Jackson Heights,” said Isaac Carmignani, president of Community District Education Council District 30, the advisory board for District 30. “This new school is a very big deal, because it is hard to get new buildings.”
After months of speculation, the school was finally acquired from the Catholic Diocese, which had shut down Blessed Sacrament as enrollment levels at the Catholic school dropped to a precipitous low of 180 students in January 2009.
On Thursday, members of CDEC 30 brainstormed what the new curriculum for the school ought to be, with five educators from across the city presenting proposals.
Jackson Heights is one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, with families from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as a vibrant Latino community, with immigrants primarily from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Members at the meeting agreed the new curriculum should reflect the area’s range of ethnicities.
Lenia Matias, a teacher and aspiring principal from Brooklyn, proposed a multilingual program wherein children would have the option of learning core subjects like math and science in English and Spanish on alternate days. Matias also suggested that children be given the option of learning a third language — perhaps Hindi or Bangla.
Jacqueline Coombs, who has been an educator for the last 17 years, also supported the idea of having the curriculum reflect the diversity of the neighborhood.
“For example, Friday would be ‘game day,’ and we can use this day to learn how math across the world is different and how different cultures add and subtract differently,” Coombs said, alluding to the use of the abacus and other counting instruments that would be used to enhance the learning experience.
The use of the school building after school hours also came up for discussion. “I see a lot of kids who are in the school till 3 p.m. and then go home and sit in front of the TV,” said Darwin Smith, another educator who presented a proposal. “We can use the building to house these students, so they can use their time in a more constructive fashion.”
Smith pointed out that school buildings are community properties and often lie unused in the evenings. By keeping the school accessible until 8 or 9 p.m., he indicated the building would be utilized for more youth programs.
Setting a new curriculum is a lengthy process, in which both the city’s Department of Education and the relevant CDEC consider an array of proposals.
CDEC 30 will meet again in December to discuss the proposals, hear public comments and incorporate changes into the possible plans. Ultimately, the DOE will decide on a curriculum. The person who proposed the curriculum may become the new principal, although that is not always the case.
This piece was first published in Queens Chronicle