By Elena Mora
Chanting, "Tell me what you really want! Tell me what you really need! More schools, more schools!," a large group of Bronx residents gathered on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse April 6 to demand immediate action be taken to fulfill the promise of new schools in the Kingsbridge neighborhood.
The rally/press conference, called by the North West Bronx Clergy Community Coalition, brought together students, community leaders and Bronx elected officials.
The need for the city to build schools with seats for 2,000 students on land currently occupied by the National Guard is part of an ongoing struggle around the redevelopment of the Kingsbridge Armory, a huge building that has been empty since 1996. Kingsbridge, a solidly working-class neighborhood with a majority of Latino and African American residents, mirrors the Bronx's overall population.
In December, New York's City Council defeated the Bloomberg administration's plan to build a shopping mall in the armory, which had been vigorously opposed by a broad community and labor union coalition.
While the armory redevelopment is now back on the drawing board, the proposal for the schools is pressing.
City Councilman Fernando Cabrera called it "inspiring to see youth taking action" and said, "We need smaller classes, quality teachers and parental involvement. We can win this because we are united."
Other speakers applauded the role young people are playing. New Day Church Pastor Doug Cunningham noted the irony that, "it takes a group of kids to tell the adults that education is important!" School District 10 in the Bronx is at more than 100% capacity, he continued, "which means there are young people with no room to get an education. If we are going to be a democracy, we need educated youth."
Among several eloquent youth speakers was Manny de la Cruz, who spoke on behalf of Sisters and Brothers United, one of the organizations most active on the campaign for the new schools. SBU had chosen eggs to symbolize the fragile situation of the Bronx's young people (as well as the Easter season), and to illustrate their slogan: "Our schools are broken, let the future hatch its shell."
Flor Cabrera, a NWBCCC parent leader with two children in public school, described the difficulty she had finding a local middle school for her daughter. "Our schools lack fundamental resources," Cabrera said, calling it unacceptable that the city's Department of Education (DOE) only expects 36% of Bronx high school students to graduate in four years. "I want both my children to make it all the way through college. We demand that schools be built on West 195 Street."
State Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz said many of the new schools that have been created by the DOE in recent years have only "multi-purpose rooms," serving as auditorium, gym and cafeteria. "When I was growing up we had all three. Our kids should have all three now."
Dinowitz called the community's proposal a "triple win," referring to the new opportunity to develop a good plan for the armory, with schools at the adjacent site, and moving the National Guard to an already approved location in another area of the Bronx.
State Assemblyman Jose Rivera pointed across the street at the new Yankee Stadium. "That park wasn't there a year ago. The stadium wasn't there a year ago. But the Kingsbridge Armory has been abandoned for more than 13 years, and all those years we've been trying to get the city to do something with it, and solve the problem of overcrowded schools," he said.
Desiree Pilgrim Hunter, a community activist and leader in NWBCCC and probable candidate for state Senate, blasted the city for the overcrowded schools and inadequate resources. "Students continue to have classes in converted closets, leaky trailers and hallways and stairways."
She called on the Bloomberg administration to "stop neglecting the children of the Bronx."
Photo: Elena Mora/PW