On Thursday, 1.1 million students in over 1,800 New York City schools returned from the summer break. Reporters from the Midtown Gazette fanned out to hear how the first day of school impacts residents of Midtown West, whether they are teaching classes, packing lunches, or driving a school bus.
This fall marks the second year of the de Blasio administration’s universal free pre-kindergarten initiative. Offering pre-K to all New York City students regardless of income is part of a package of reforms designed to ensure that 80% of students graduate from high school on time by 2026. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña toured schools in the five boroughs on Thursday in order to promote the administration’s educational goals.
City Knoll Middle School
425 West 33rd Street
Grades 6th through 8th
By Talia Abbas and Amanda L.P. Gomez
Getting to class on time is a challenge, especially during the first month of school when many students change schools and neighborhoods. Students attending City Knoll Middle School on West 33rd Street have to be aware of the construction zone in front of their building, where the Hudson Yards redevelopment project is underway.
Daniel Campos plans to accompany his 11-year-old daughter every day for the first week to teach her the safest way to get to school. He prefers to take 10th Avenue to avoid the Lincoln Tunnel entrance between the school and 11th Avenue. The intersection does not have traffic lights, a concern for Campos.
Another parent, Elena Mario, said she observed the area for a week with her 12-year-old daughter before September 8. Mario and her daughter tested bus routes during the summer, but Mario says her daughter will be on her own after today. “I was more nervous than she was. She will be fine,” she said.
Angelica Diaz, the parent coordinator at City Knoll, said the school advises 7th and 8th graders on traffic rules and the safest routes to take on their lunch break. Sixth-grade students stay in the building for lunch.
The construction noise is not expected to be an issue during the school year, Diaz said, but she worries about its affect on students during tests.
By Roda Osman
Manhattan Nursery School runs a year-long program dedicated to getting children ready for exceptional and competitive learning.
Students are allowed to start anytime during the year through a rolling admission process. Still, Trina Wuan, parent of a two-year-old in his second year, says that many students start in September and end in May. “This will be my second year and we started this year just yesterday,” said Wuan. “Most kids do. In the summer, I teach.”
Students can attend either part-time or full-time, Monday through Friday. The children have a full day of activities that includes music, dance, gymnastic and tennis lessons, which was what first attracted parent Allen Mabra “I wanted an environment where my child could grow,” he said. “He has been growing and learning at a faster rate since he has been here.” Mabra’s three-year-old son enrolled earlier this year.
Manhattan Nursery School ‘s primary focus is to prepare students for the next step in their education. In the last ten years the graduates of Manhattan Nursery School have gone on to prestigious private schools or high-achieving public schools. The school is located in Midtown west and was founded in 1996 by educator Sinok Park; five years later they expanded to seven classrooms.
Satellite Academy High School
120 W. 30th Street
By Keenan Chen
Juan Mejia, a senior at the Satellite Academy High School, is excited about going back to school, but the 18-year-old, finishing his cigarette, thinks it will be tough to keep up with the workload: He commutes from Coney Island to Midtown Manhattan for school and he also works for a cold-cut producer from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Satellite Academy High School, which has four locations in four boroughs and an enrollment close to 1,000 students, is not a conventional high school; it is designed to “help students overcome their negative feelings about school, improve their attendance, become active learners and graduate with full capability for future success,” according to its website. Since many of the students here have had behavioral or academic issues, provides an advisor for each student and keeps classes small.
“My program is based on projects. I worked on some statistics, took a test and completed a five-to-six-page paper,” said Mejia, who was meeting friends outside of the inconspicuous school building on 30th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
“We don’t have a gym, but we have a workout room, you know,” Mejia said.
Avenues: The World School
259 10th Avenue
PK – 12th grade
By Anade Situma and Alex Mierjeski
Milind and Tharan Arulraj are entering the 4th and 1st grades at Avenues: The World School in Chelsea. “It’s been nerve wracking, more for me,” says Prashant Arulraj. “It’s the anxiety of new classes, new teachers, that transfers to me. My summer has now come to an end.”
“There were lots of tears this morning, you know, after summer, and getting back to school. All the tears are only for home and for me though. No tears here at school. After three months, I’m ready for a break. I have errands to run,” said Bhavika Mehra, mother of a 7th grader and a 1st grader.
Parents juggled iPhones while taking iconic annual photos by the Avenues sign next to the line that went around the corner. After three months of summer vacation there was a multitude of exuberant reunions for both parents and children.
It’s this tight knit community along with a reputation for nurturing global citizens that draws families from across the country, despite the over-$45,000 annual tuition. “It’s been crazy”, said Keisha Gustav, the mother of Sanni, who is going into first grade. “We live in Brooklyn so it’s was a long journey but the school is worth it,” said Keisha, a veteran who moved from San Diego to send her daughter to Avenues.
As students trickled in, and parents mingled in the muggy morning heat, a passerby said, “You’re at the right downtown school.”
P.S. 191 Amsterdam School
210 W 61st St, New York, NY 10023
By Guanhong Hu
Summer vacation has ended for New York City school bus drivers. Their day begins earlier than their students’, because they start their routes early in the morning and arrive at school in time for the first morning bell.
City bus driver Maria Esbiner, whose own son started school in the Bronx, serves P.S .191 on 61st St, a school that has been in transition over the past five years, with a decrease in enrollment, a likely result of an increasing number of violent and disruptive incidents.
Still, Jeoff Grinwood dropped his son off and said, “We are looking forward to discovering what this school is all about.”
Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art
100 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10023
By Katryna Perera and Madison Darbyshire
Students arrived outside Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts nearly an hour before the first bell rang.
Adidas sneakers dominated the sidewalks of 65th street, ranging in color from traditional black and white to bold greens and blues.
The Adidas brand presence at LaGuardia this year does not stop at student fashion.
“There’s a new sound lab in the school, sponsored by Adidas,” said sophomore Claudia Faunt. According to an online poster, the Adidas Sound Lab is one of four in the country that provides students with professional audio recording equipment.
According to sophomore Saoirse Dempsey, the new facility is for students taking music technology classes, one of the offerings in the performing arts curriculum.
The school has a reputation for excellence in the arts but some students are concerned about a changing student body.
The high school recently revised its admission criteria to focus more on academics than artistic talent, and last year students, teachers, parents, and alumni drafted a petition calling for “effective leadership” and a change back to the original admission criteria.
“They’re going crazy for academics,” said Ela Ziu, who also expressed concern over the possible impact of last year’s petition on students who signed it.
By Whitney Kimball
Nine years after it closed, parents still shudder at the old sign for Park West High School on the side of the building that is now home to five smaller specialty high schools: Food and Finance, Manhattan Bridges, Facing History, Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction, and High School of Hospitality Management. During the Bloomberg administration, Park West received a “failing” label and was shuttered to make room for alternative programs. This year, more hopeful faces appear in the orderly line of kids in their school uniforms or dress code-compliant graphic T-shirts, and their parents who look on from the sidewalk.
Assistant principal recalls the start of Facing History High School
Facing History High School
525 West 50th Street
By Rakshitha Ravishankar and Joseph Flaherty
“We have 120 freshers this year,” said Mark Otto, the assistant principal of the Facing History High School, as he helped students waiting outside the school. Five schools share the Park West High School building, but all of them have the same entrance.
“The security arrangements are in place, and we have one representative from each school helping the students outside,” he says as the security personnel ask students to keep all their gadgets together for the scan.
The 12-year-veteran says that the school focuses on teaching students to appreciate the importance of a historical lens to view the world. The school also has separate teaching aids for students with special needs. “We don’t focus on a single method of teaching. We want students to be able to develop their own perspective to answer questions,” he says.
Otto is particularly proud of two programs within the school’s mathematics department. The school partners with Operation Smile, a non-profit for cleft palate research, and uses statistical data to understand the government’s hunger distribution system. He believes that t this helps the students apply their skills in everyday life.
One of the students starting at the Facing History School is 14-year-old incoming freshman Freddy Sanchez. Freddy, who is from Washington Heights, waits in line with his mother, Flora. Drawn to the school because of its size, he said he’s not nervous for the first day. He said his favorite subject is English because “it’s very easy.”
“He always builds things at home, and he wants to be an engineer”
By Whitney Kimball and Rakshitha RavishankarUrban Assembly School of Design and Construction
525 West 50th Street
“I’m trying to find my son in this queue. I want to see him to wish him good luck before he goes inside,” said Surinder Mann, mother of a 13-year-old who is starting ninth grade at the Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction.
Mann and her son took the train from Bronx this morning to reach school on time. “The school isn’t too far, but there is a lot of rush on the subway,” she said. There are a few buses that ride down from Bronx to midtown west, but Mann prefers the train. Though Mann feels that the commute may get tedious for her son, she is confident about safety around the neighborhood of the school.
Mann’s son loves designing cars and his interested in sketching led him to the school. Mann says that there are a few specialized schools in Bronx, but she has heard the Urban Assembly Design School is considered to be one of the best places to learn the craft. “He always builds things at home, and wants to be an engineer,” she said.
Across the street, a group of seniors are sitting on the stoop across the street decked out in rockstar-style vintage clothes, Jordans, Yeezies, Cartier frames, Supreme+Bape clothing. They’re loitering as the line shrinks across the street, but they make sure to get in the doors on time.
“It’s important to have fun. That’s what’s missing from school.”
Food and Finance High School
525 West 50th Street
By Whitney Kimball and Kristin Corry
Adam Martinez and Ghislaine Vargas are smiling with their toddler as they watch their freshman, Shaylin, line up for her first day at Food and Finance. She’s been interested in cooking for several years (a specialty dish is “mac n’ spam”). Adam doesn’t mind if she doesn’t become a chef– so long as she’s engaged in her education. “We think it’s important to actually have fun. I think that’s what’s missing from school,” he said. “And if she goes elsewhere, she always has culinary training as a fallback,” says mom Ghislaine.
A move back to Queens for “real-world skills”
The High School of Hospitality Management
525 West 50th Street
By Joe Flaherty and Whitney Kimball
Suley Estrella moved her son Rolando back home to Queens from Florida specifically for the High School of Hospitality Management.
“In the education system [in Florida] they would give them homework on Monday that was due on Friday, so you get it done in 30 minutes and then they have nothing to do the rest of the week,” says Estrella. “It was not very inspiring. I think he wants to be a general manager but mostly it’s important that he just gets some real-world skills. A lot of friends went to the Zone School, and it seems there’s very few career options. All the kids seem to be going into computers. It’s good to mix it up.”
And here’s what they ate for breakfast and lunch.
By Kristin Corry
Upstate Farms Cherry Vanilla Yogurt
Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey Granola Bar
Ham, Egg and Cheese on a Kaiser Roll
Champlain Valley NY Apple Slices
Deli Sandwiches: Italian Hero
Cheese Ravioli w/ Marinara Sauce
NY Apple Slices
Public School 33, Chelsea Prep
281 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10001
Pre-K to 5th grade
By David Klein and Rebecca Zissmann
High style is not reserved for Fashion Week runways. At Public School 33 in Chelsea, kids are sporting their best outfits for their first day back at school.
On a corner, Ava Englenton’s mother took her photograph. The seven-year-old girl started her modeling career in March 2016 and will be modeling jewels and accessories for New York Fashion Week. Today, she shows proudly her “Fashion #blogger” glittering t-shirt.
Ava is not the only student with a taste for fashion. Kaylie Coleman, who is entering kindergarten, wore a Hello Kitty ankle bracelet with a Hello Kitty black and white striped dress, a pink belt but no matching shoes. “The pink shoes didn’t fit” she explains when asked about her black flats.
But not everyone takes fashion as seriously. Max Negbaur, a 5th grader, said, “I don’t really go for anything. I go for what I want to do and consider what I like and what works”.
Warren Davis, who watched his youngest daughter Jhyrve head into school to start 5th grade, says his two girls follow the style of their oldest brother who is in high school. “I bought six Kevin Durant backpacks. Two for each of them” he said.
What to wear was not just an issue for students. Nina Murphy, a mother bringing her two daughters to school, wants to make sure that all three of them matche. “The rest of the year they can wear what is comfortable, today we have to make a good impression” she said.
Davis lets his children decide what to wear but keeps an eye on their sense of style. “If I don’t like their outfit, I change it up,” he said. “If it needs to be ironed, I iron it. I like to think of it as a togetherness thing”.
The school does impose some limits. “We don’t have a uniform but the students can’t wear inappropriate clothing showing too much of their body” according to Dilini Ranjeet, school aid at PS 33.