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Members rally and win at PS 157

Organizing efforts address safety issues at Bronx school
New York Teacher
Members rally and win
Jonathan Fickies

Educators and parents blow whistles and shake clappers as they participate in a protest rally as part of a successful effort to improve safety at their school.

After months of organizing that culminated with a protest rally outside their school on April 16, staff and parents at PS 157 in the Bronx spurred the Department of Education and the NYPD to take immediate action to improve safety outside the Melrose school.

Educators and parents at the elementary school, with organizing support from the UFT, formed a safety committee and collaborated with members of the community to highlight concerns after an uptick in vandalism to the cars of school staff and an incident in which a man with a knife followed a parent who was walking a child to school. On March 7, which was a half-day at PS 157, a teenager was fatally shot outside in the afternoon, increasing tension and anxiety.

“The PS 157 school community built a structure and developed clear and concrete demands before going public at the rally,” said UFT community liaison Betty Zohar, who provided guidance and support. “When parents and educators work together respectfully to tackle an issue, they can achieve so much.”

PS 157 Chapter Leader Jessica McDonnell, who had two windows of her car smashed in December, said the DOE agreed to expedite the planned addition of surveillance cameras outside the school, ensure they are placed strategically and install additional lighting to brighten walkways.

The NYPD said it would increase foot patrols, particularly when students are dismissed from PS 157’s after-school program, according to McDonnell. Police also have begun texting McDonnell and the principal when they are on patrol near the school. The NYPD also plans to hold safety meetings with staff and community members, and they are working with the Bronx District Attorney’s Office to set up surveillance and try to catch the car vandals, she said.

McDonnell said she is proud of what the new safety committee has accomplished. The experience has brought PS 157 staff closer together and strengthened their relationships with families and the community. Educators, parents and students all participated in the rally.

“It does show that when you’re working together and making noise, you’re louder,” she said. “You get seen more, and things are going to happen when you make noise.”

Safety is vital for the school community, McDonnell said. “Everyone should be able to come and go from a school feeling safe and comfortable.”

Andrea Hallowell, the UFT Teacher Center coach at the school, said many educators arrive at school early, when it’s still dark, and park in an area that requires a DOE permit. For safety reasons, they remain in their cars until others have arrived and communicate via text, she said.

“We know who’s the early crew,” she said. “We won’t get out of our cars until everyone’s together, and we’ll walk in together.”

Hallowell said drug users leave paraphernalia in the park and playground behind the school. McDonnell attended a meeting at the nearby charter high school to discuss concerns about their students hanging out in the park and smoking.

“We know that our students feel safe and happy and loved in the classroom, but we want to make sure that they feel that outside of the school as well,” Hallowell said.

Natalie Chavez, a parent of a 5th-grader and a kindergartner at the school, said she is happy to hear about the cameras, lights and other positive developments around safety “because it’s dangerous in the neighborhood.”

“I’m loving it because basically we’re being heard, so I’m loving the outcome from the rally,” she said.

Related Topics: School Safety