Volume 19 • Issue 15 | August 25 - 31, 2006

Back to School 2006

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Angela Benfield with her son, Cliff, outside P.S. 89, which will be losing its art and music studios this year to make room for more students. She’s worried the school will have to give up more special programs after Cliff graduates in June.

Population booming — schools get crowded

By Angela Benfield

My children and Lower Manhattan have something in common: I can’t believe how much they have grown.

My son, Cliff, will be going into fifth grade this September, and it will be his last year at the place he has called “his school” since he was four years old. I’m sad that my youngest child will no longer be in elementary school, and of course, I will miss the school, too (not to mention how old this makes me feel). But there’s a side of me that’s relieved he will be leaving just as the school is starting to burst at the seams.

As described by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, this is the fastest growing part of the city with a birthrate that has increased by 250 percent since 1991.

And it’s going to continue since residential buildings are going up everywhere down here.

It’s good to see Lower Manhattan re-build, even if it’s a pain maneuvering through scaffolding and having dust blown in your face. Yet, I can’t help but wonder what the schools will be like for all of the new families with young children moving into these apartments.

Back in 2000, when I applied for Cliff to enter P.S. 89’s pre-K program, I showed up at about one o’clock in the afternoon on the first day of enrollment. There were plenty of spaces available, and I had a choice between the morning and afternoon sessions.

This past spring, as I was walking my dog early one morning, I saw people camped outside P.S. 89 on beach chairs as if they were lining up for concert tickets. I was told the line started forming at 4 a.m.! These were parents of 4-year-olds waiting to apply to one of the coveted pre-K spaces. There were at least 50 people waiting, probably more to come, and with only 36 spaces available, more than a few were going home empty handed that day.

Then, this past June, parents at P.S. 89 in Battery Park City received a letter from Principal Veronica Najjar regarding the upcoming school year. Due to large enrollment in kindergarten and first grade, there will, for the first time, be four classes each. P.S. 89 was constructed to accommodate only three classes of each grade. Not anymore.

So, the school will be losing its current art and music studios to make space for the two additional classes in each grade. The art studio will move to the staff lounge and the teachers will share space in the parents’ room. The music studio will now be in the third floor locker rooms (the lockers will be removed). The principal did the best she could to keep space for these programs, but if the current trend continues, how much longer will it be before there are no more enrichment programs at P.S. 89?

Of course, our neighbors across West St. at P.S. 234 in Tribeca have been facing this problem for years. At least there will be some relief for them as the building currently being constructed on Murray and West Sts. will include an annex for some of the lower grades. Still, that won’t entirely solve the problem.

To relieve this serious overcrowding, a new K-8 school was scheduled to open in September 2008 at the base of a 75-story multiuse skyscraper on Beekman St. Just recently, the building’s developer announced that construction will be delayed because of a school funding dispute earlier this year.

There is no way our community can wait any longer for this school. And not one other residential building should be constructed until we have it.

But realistically speaking, that will not happen. In Battery Park City alone, there are at least five more residential buildings due to be completed by 2009. I can’t imagine what P.S. 89 is going to be like for the children who will be starting kindergarten at that time if we don’t get another school down here.

It will not be the same as the school my children went to; all the wonderful enrichment programs that made the school so special will have nowhere to take place. The state-of-the-art dance and art studios will have to go. So will the computer and science labs. And the music room will be a faint memory. I hope I’m wrong, but when you do the math, it just doesn’t work out to keep them.

So, although I feel sad when I see a little less baby and a lot more teenager in my son’s face, part of me is grateful that the elementary school years will be behind us. Now, we only have middle school to worry about (which is another problem down here, but that’s a different story).


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