Volume 79, Number 28 | December 16 - 22 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Girls Prep ‘storms’ City Hall; School must grow, they say

By Helaina N. Hovitz 

Two school buses dropped 100 students and teachers wearing orange hats off at the gates of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon. The students and teachers, along with parents, of Girls Preparatory Charter school then “stormed the steps” and screamed with excitement as they waved signs that read “Let Great Schools Grow” and “Our Students Share In Class, Can’t We?”

Kids and parents alike were bundled up and ready to fight for the extra space they felt they deserved. The consensus among parents and faculty is that the success of the Girls Prep elementary school, currently located on E. Houston St., justifies their expansion into a middle school. But, as is so often the case in New York City, the issue is where exactly they will find the space to do it.

The Department of Education has come up with three proposals that it hopes will make more room for the charter school, but none are satisfactory to the parents and faculty of Girls Prep. Meanwhile, two Lower East Side district schools, P.S. 20 and Shuang Wen School, are also unhappy with the proposals, fearing the charter’s growth will reduce their space.

Mirian Raccah, founder of Girls Prep, said she organized the protest because parents want people to know that they are not “the bad guys,” and want to encourage the mayor and the schools chancellor to do what they said they would do during the election.

“I want our parents to feel heard. These girls are getting an excellent education,” she said.

As girls as young as 5 joined their classmates and teachers on the City Hall steps, Raccah led them in chants of “Save Girls Prep!” and “Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, Don’t Shortchange Our Girls!”

“I want a great school for all kids. The scenarios that have been put out are putting schools against each other,” Raccah shouted as she stood in front of the group.

Rebecca Chase, a teacher at the school, thinks D.O.E needs to re-evaluate the amount of space being used.

“They’re making the schools fight over space. We need to make space for all students,” she said.

“It’s not about which school is better. All teachers want what’s best for their students,” said Elizabeth Ballard, another Girls Prep teacher.

The entire faculty, 40 in all, were present at the demonstration.

Parent Rosa Aguiar pulled daughter Tess out of a standard district public school when she was in the second grade, and Tess, now in fifth grade, has been doing well at Girls Prep ever since.

“She made honor roll, she’s on the basketball team, and the school is multicultural,” her mom said. “They teach sisterhood and respect. We just want to survive like other schools.”

Marisa Guy, 9, is in fourth grade, and said she was there to help the fifth graders, so that when they moved on to fifth grade, they’d have more room.

“The fifth graders took our yoga room, so we don’t have room for our math groups anymore,” Guy said. “The fifth graders have to do their work in the hallway — and they jump rope, so it’s hard to get by.”

Cheyenne Padilla, 9, also in fourth grade, said she was at the protest to fight for the space they needed.

“Now we have gym and yoga in the same room at the same time, so we can’t hear the teacher. It’s annoying,” she said. Her mother, Lillian, said that the girls are doing the best they can, given the circumstances, and they wont complain, “unless you ask them.”

Classmate Thalia Ortiz, 9, said it’s too noisy to do yoga. Her mother, Hilda Salazar, is not happy with the present conditions.

“Ask anyone who’s making this decision what they were doing when they were 9 years old,” said Ortiz. “These girls are facing the biggest struggle of their lives.”

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