NYC private and public schools located on West 61st street, between Amsterdam and West End Avenues, have come together to ‘green’ their block and change the face of the community.
On October 24th, more than 200 children, parents and teachers planted in 16 tree beds along 61st street, marched in a community parade, and made environmental art projects as a part of “It’s My Block! 61st Street Day of Action and Beautification,” an event organized by Border Crossers and the four schools on the block—PS 191/Hudson Honors, The Gateway Schools, The Speyer Legacy School and The Beacon School. The event was also part of the International Day of Climate Action and was an official “It’s My Park Day” site with support from Partnerships for Parks, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
These activities served to improve the appearance of the street as well as to launch a yearlong partnership between PS 191/Hudson Honors and The Gateways Schools, said Sachi Feris, director of Border Crossers, an organization created to bring together New York City students from different social and economic backgrounds.
Although similar events had been hosted to promote collaboration between public and private schools, it is the first time that two schools that are a few steps away and share the same block engaged in a community building project such as this one, said Feris.
“In New York City it is so easy to spend decades living on the same block of an organization without having an idea of what they do before realizing that you have a common purpose,” said Maria Verdesoto, Principal of PS 191/Hudson Honors and who, with Jossie O’Neill, Director of Partnerships and Outreach for The Gateway Schools, has been working on the partnership since last summer.
The project came up as both schools realized that their staff and students were flooding West 61st street every morning without knowing each other.
“We started just by the need of the schools and the community to really come together and share this space,” explained O’Neill. “Kids want to have friends and they want to meet the kids they see here every day.”
In the next weeks, classrooms from the schools will sponsor the tree beds and work together to water and to maintain them, while a joint student group will study how to further beautify the community. Guidance teams and teachers have already started working together to share professional development knowledge while also planning joint arts projects, dance interchanges and clubs visits.
According to Feris, there will be more opportunities for student interaction as the partnership grows.
“The goal is to reach out across the boundaries that are there,” said Verdesoto, who expects to get PS 191/Hudson Honors and its students known for their work in the community.
Meanwhile, the kickoff event also served to welcome The Speyer Legacy School—which moved this year to 61st street—to the neighborhood.
“Having just arrived as a new school on the block, we at The Speyer Legacy School were thrilled to be invited to participate in the “It’s My Block” event. Our families eagerly embraced the opportunity to make connections with children and parents from other schools in such a dynamic, if soggy setting,” said Connie Williams Coulianos, Head of School.
It also showed how children, regardless whether they go to a public or private school, come together to be a part of a community.
“What they pulled off today has never happened before,” said Council Member Gale Brewer. “Public school working with private school, little children with high school children… it’s a model of how to make a street an open street and not a dividing line.”
For many parents, such as Rick Roberts—whose daughter goes to The Speyer Legacy School—the planting activity allowed kids from different ages and backgrounds to interact with each other and to “understand they are all part of the same community.”
It also taught the children that they could change the face of the neighborhood by joining others. “It’s empowering for them and it’s a lot of fun,” said Yvette Pomerantz, Vice-president of the Parents Association of The Gateway Schools.
As curious neighbors looked at the newly planted tree beds and agreed that the street looked different, kids showed proudly to their parents and friends the work they have done with what, according to Coulianos, they now call “our trees.”
Nonetheless, the effects of “It’s My Block! 61st Street Day of Action and Beautification” will be fully seen in the spring, when the four schools will work together for the second time to organize a street fair and review the progress of the street since October 24th.
About the Reporter: Clara Martinez Turco is a freelance reporter for the NYC Private Schools Blog.