Volume 23, Number 6 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 18 - 24, 2010

No bullying, support for a new kind of school

BY Nikki Dowling

At the Community Board 1 Youth and Education Committee meeting Tuesday night, members of the board voted unanimously to encourage the New York City Department of Education to take a more proactive approach to stop bullying and cyber-bullying.

“Anti-bullying initiatives should also be implemented on a long-term basis, incorporating anti-bullying training as part of core teacher...training,” the resolution stated.

C.B. 1 also resolved to encourage schools to develop their own anti-bullying initiatives and train students to act as peer mentors.

“Suicides have already resulted from cyber-bullying around the country and the present NYC Dept. of Ed. policy is insufficient as it only allows for monitoring of incidents that have already occurred, rather than preventative measures,” according to the resolution.

C.B. 1 also resolved to support the CUNY LEADS program, which provides assistance, career training and job development to physically disabled college students. The program was born when officials realized the unemployment rate for New Yorkers with disabilities hovered around 54 percent.

“When they do get employed they make one-third less than similarly-situated New Yorkers,” Christopher Rosa, a representative from CUNY/BMCC said.

The program is set to sunset at the end of the month and needs governmental support to continue. It has already been included in the Senate budget resolution but not in the Assembly.

“If Speaker Silver would be in a position to promote this, obviously, it would live,” Rosa said.

Job-ready students enrolled in this program have a 72 percent employment rate within 11 months of graduation.

The program costs $10,000 per student from their first year in college to graduation. Disability benefits alone for these same unemployed students is $14,000 per year.

“It pays for itself in the first year,” Rosa said. “The yield is more than two-to-one.”

C.B. 1 will present a revised resolution to the full board and will address the finalized version to New York’s policy makers including Governor Paterson and city council members.

“Dollars to cents, this makes sense,” Paul Hovitz, co-chair of the committee, said. “It will be our pleasure to present this to the full board next week.”

The meeting also included a presentation by Vivian Farmery, the founder of non-profit organization JustTell.org, the first website designed specifically to help children who have been sexually abused. Just Tell uses social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook and student groups to alert victims that sexual abuse is not their fault and they should find an adult they trust and tell.

“Not only do we have enormous numbers of kids who are sexually abused, very few of those kids tell anybody,” Farmery said, “Sexual abuse of children goes across all social stratus...equally.”

Just Tell has 32 youth teams in 24 states. The teams are given t-shirts and business cards, both designed by a local student graffiti artist. They go to places where children congregate and give out the cards, which direct the recipient to a website and 24-hour hot line. Each team costs $70 and reaches 2,000 to 3,000 children, according to Farmery.

“You need to use kids because kids won’t listen to adults,” Farmery said. “They’re not being told exactly what to say and how to do it but they’re not counselors.”

Just Tell is not recognized by the Department of Education, a hindrance since the organization is very grassroots and needs more money.

“We have arrived at a threshold point where we are ready to grow. This summer we will be launching teams at large area concerts,” Farmery said. “We’re very grassroots but we don’t have a lot of money.”

C.B. 1 agreed to draft and vote on a resolution that would encourage the Dept. of Ed. to get on board with Just Tell. The vote will take place in July at the full board meeting.

A more controversial presentation was given by Micaela Bracamonte of the Lang School, located at 291 Broadway. The private elementary school is the first in the country designed specifically for “twice exceptional” students or children who are gifted and learning disabled. Most of the children demonstrate exceptional math and leadership skills but suffer from ADHD, dyslexia, autism, severe anxiety disorders or Aspergers.

“In special education schools it’s more about remediation...since these children are gifted, if they don’t have that stimulation they’re pretty much checked out,” Bracamonte said, “They’re brilliant but they have challenges — they really can’t function in the classroom. They’re extremely distracted.”

The Lang School will have two teachers for every eight students. The school is starting out with two classes and needs 16 students to be at full capacity. It currently has 8 enrolled. Most are boys and range in age from 6 to 11.   

 The controversy came when Bracamonte addressed the school’s price tag. At $42,000 per year and without state subsidies, it is cost-prohibitive for many families. However, the board members agreed that the school is necessary.

“It is sorely needed and I am very hopeful,” Hovitz said, “Whatever support we can give...when you’re ready, just let us know.”

Bracamonte is hoping the Lang School will have 90 students in three years and is already thinking about developing a high school and summer program.

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