Sunset Park

Sunset Park parents demand multi-lingual educators

February 16, 2018 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
When Sunset Park High School at 153 35th St. opened several years ago, it jump started an effort to get the city to build more schools in the community. Plans are now underway to construct five elementary schools, according to Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

New schools should reflect community diversity, advocates say

Sunset Park is slated to get five new schools during the next few years and parents are demanding to have a say in how the schools are designed and maintained, according to education advocates.

The grass-roots organization Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park held a meeting on Feb. 10 at the Sunset Park Library with Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) and parents and interested neighborhood residents to discuss ways to ensure that the design and construction of the planned new schools fits the needs of the community.

Prior to the meeting, Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park spent 10 months conducting a community outreach, including spending time interviewing parents, to determine what Sunset Park residents would like to see in the new schools that are slated to be built. The group compiled the findings into a report called “Community Visions.”

Here are some of the items parents and residents said they would like included in the plans for the new schools:

  • Rooftop gardens and green space for educational and recreational use

  • Multilingual staff members

  • Hands-on learning opportunities and arts programs

  • Zoning lines that alleviate school crowding

In an email to community residents, Menchaca wrote that Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park and other groups will call on the New York City Department of Education and the School Construction Authority to consider the recommendations outlined in the report.

“Parents and children in Sunset Park have taken the time to provide their opinions on issues directly affecting them and their families. The new report to be released will demonstrate that Sunset Park families are engaged, have opinions, and are willing to share their extensive knowledge on their school experiences,” Menchaca wrote.

In 2016, Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park, in partnership with two other grassroots groups, Voces Ciudadanas and Friends of Sunset Park, released an eye-opening report called “Our Inconvenient Truth: The Overcrowded Schools of Sunset Park” to highlight the need for new options for local parents.

The report estimated that the city will have to create at least 3,500 new seats by the year 2021 in order to stem the tide of overcrowding in Sunset Park.

“In Sunset Park, a neighborhood where about half of its population is foreign born, school overcrowding is reaching alarming levels. Currently, of the 10 elementary schools in the neighborhood, eight are overcrowded. On average, overcrowded schools reach 143 percent,” the report reads.

The report also presents a case that overcrowded schools are unhealthy for kids.

“It is well documented that school overcrowding has negative effects on children’s academic achievement, teachers’ performance, and overall school environment. Students in overcrowded schools tend to feel overwhelmed and discouraged, reported difficulty concentrating and many said they could not find a quiet place to study in their schools. The negative effects of school overcrowding in student academic achievement is particularly felt among low income students,” the report reads.

Menchaca said the environment in a school is just as important as the physical structure of the school building.

“Providing the right environment is critical to giving our kids the best education available and in assisting our teachers. This could not have been done without the engagement of parents, community members and neighborhood groups,” Menchaca told the Brooklyn Eagle last year when he announced plans to construct one of the new schools on Fifth Avenue and 36th Street.

To read the full report from Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park, visit https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bz4eMYv6efqmZ2lOelVVUHBjaDQ/view.