At the Union Square Partnerships Education Program luncheon on Monday, from left, Jane Chesnutt, Womans Day editor in chief and a member of the Washington Irving High School Business Advisory Council; Jennifer Falk, the Partnerships executive director; and college scholarship winners, Cliford Surpris, Jonathan Felix, Flora Flores and Rong Zhang.
Magazine editors efforts for school are award-winning
By Joy Wiltermuth
In the mid-1990s, Washington Irving High School was racked by violence and believed to be a staging ground for gang activity. Area business proprietors wanted to close the school down, and Robert Walsh, then head of the 14th St.-Union Square Business Improvement District today known as the Union Square Partnership came looking for volunteers to tackle the problem. He knocked on the door of Jane Chesnutt, editor in chief of Womans Day magazine, and found a willing partner.
But, after Walsh and Chesnutt met with kids at the school, they discovered students lacking basic access to educational resources, computers and career mentorship. To address these shortfalls, Chesnutt spearheaded the Washington Irving High School Business Advisory Council in 1999, which, through focused initiatives, has helped turn around the schools fortunes.
On Monday, Chesnutt was honored with the Partnerships 15th Annual Cus DAmato Community Service Award for her exemplary commitment to the students and faculty of Washington Irving High School, as well as to the Union Square community. Chesnutt was recognized at the Partnerships annual Education Program luncheon.
In addition, City Councilmember Rosie Mendez won the BIDs Second Annual Norman Buchninder Community Service Leadership Award, while four Washington Irving High School seniors were also recognized and granted annual $1,500 scholarships.
As a first step in helping the school, Chesnutt began a student-run newspaper. The Washington Irving Times gained support through Womans Day in order to get off the ground. The newspaper continues as a student, Web-only publication and is headed by teachers Shawn DeSilva and Roger Ferarra. Chesnutt said the Web was the way of the future and that she was pleased that the school was now fully wired for the Internet. Her magazine hires two students from the paper to intern each summer.
Our high school kids function as good as college interns, Chesnutt said. She said Washington Irving students undergo a rigorous development process in preparation for gaining the coveted internship.
The Washington Irving Times published three issues this year and anticipated one more before school is out. Co-adviser Ferrara, in his first year at the paper, holds weekly, after-school meetings with student writers.
We were weary on resources this year, he said, yet they still increased publication from the year before. He said the student paper was a good place for writers to practice their skills and was enthusiastic about the Womans Day internship.
Soon to graduate from W.I.H.S., Victoria Draper wrote for the paper during this, her senior, year. She grew up in Harlem and after graduating next month, plans to study psychology and musical theater at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She likes to sing and played the part of a doo-wop girl in the school musical The Magical Land of Oz. Ferrara worked with Draper on her articles for the paper and said she was a talented writer. Ferrara said he looks forward to seeing her potential grow.
This year, U.S.P.s board of directors decided to award four college scholarships, as individualized educational awards, for four talented W.I.H.S. seniors. The grants are renewable, up to four years, and unrestricted in their use for educational expenses.
One of the recipients, Flora Flores won the Claire Chesnutt Scholarship and was accepted to the Teacher Academy at Brooklyn College, where she plans to teach math.
I love math, Flores said. Actually, it is one of my stronger areas in school. Flores, who grew up in Queens, plans to buy books and a laptop with the grant.
I want to study finance and be an investment banker, said Jonathan Felix, from the Bronx, who received another U.S.P. scholarship. He will attend City University of New Yorks Baruch College in the fall. While at Washington Irving he was in the Boxing Club and took a course in business law through the New School.
Rong (Andy) Zhang won the Partnerships John & Elaine Kanas Family Foundation Scholarship. He said his experience at Washington Irving was awesome. He said the faculty were professionals and showed respect for each other. Zhang moved from China when he was 6 and is the captain of the schools handball team. He will attend Stony Brook University and study computer science.
Another scholarship winner, Cliford Surpris will attend the University of Vermont, which he picked after having attended debate camp in that state.
I am terrified, but will bring a lot of sweaters and coats, he said. Born in Haiti, then moving to Harlem at age 10, Surpris received U.S.P.s Jill and Jim Gabbe award. He plans to be a lawyer.
The Cus DAmato Award was created in honor of the legendary boxer, trainer and owner of the Gramercy Gym, who inspired the minds and spirit of those he coached. It is given annually to individuals symbolizing the same spirit of generosity and community involvement.
The Partnership brings business and community members directly into Washington Irving High School to provide tutoring, mentoring, school supplies and books. The award-winning program focuses on college and career planning, academic support, after-school programs, counseling and family involvement activities.
The obstacles that many of the students face are not easy to overcome, said Jennifer Falk, the Partnerships executive director. Chesnutt, she said, gives tremendously of her time and energies to bring key stakeholders together and increase our students changes of success in whatever they choose to do after graduating from high school.