“Let’s build communities, not walls,” a kindergartner cried out to a packed auditorium at PS/IS 184 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on March 21. The closing words of the young oratory contest winner were met with thunderous applause from the nearly 200 people in attendance at the annual showcase designed to promote the accomplishments of the newly renamed UFT United Community Schools initiative.
“We’re bringing academically grounded, evidence-based approaches,” said UFT Vice President Karen Alford, who has shepherded the initiative since its inception. “We’re building whole children and strengthening whole communities.”
United Community Schools Executive Director Doug Friedlander said PS/IS 184 is an exemplar of both the challenges the 31 schools in the initiative face and what the program can achieve. PS/IS 184, he said, has “overcome tremendous obstacles,” including the task of supporting a substantial population of students in temporary housing.
“Parents are talking with their feet,” said Friedlander, by enrolling their children in ever-greater numbers. “The richness of school culture, offerings and outcomes are illustrated by the fact that parents want their kids to come here,” he said.
Four grade-level winners of the school’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day oratory contest, who wrote and delivered speeches inspired by the civil rights leader, were featured at the event, as was a rousing performance by the school’s drum line.
The presentations represented just a few examples of the impressive programs at PS/IS 184 that include music and dance classes, vision and dental services and more.
Principal Lisa Linder pointed out that as many as 90 percent of the programs didn’t exist before the school joined the initiative.
“Seventeen years ago, when I started at PS/IS 184, we weren’t equipped to meet the students’ needs,” said Denise Huggins, the school librarian and the UFT chapter leader. Now, the school’s suspension rate is lower and 55 percent of the students living in transitional housing have perfect attendance, according to school data.
These encouraging numbers are due in part to “phenomenal” teacher support, Huggins said, with coordinated, schoolwide literacy and crisis intervention programs.
One 7th-grader said attending PS/IS 184 is a great experience because he gets to “learn new things and make new friends.” A 6th-grader was proud to call the school “a no-bully zone.”
United Community Schools social worker Tamika Abdullah spearheaded the anti-bullying initiative. It included an anti-bullying pledge that students and teachers signed, and poster boards designed by each class. It was one of several projects the school’s support staff took on once Abdullah was on board.
“We work together as clinicians,” she said, so “kids get the help they need before things escalate to a crisis.”
PS/IS 184 Community School Director Wanda Speede says she treats every student as if they will be an agent of change and accomplishment.
“Not knowing what greatness will come from them,” she said, “if we give all students what they deserve, then we help them find what drives them.’’