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School and social services, in one building

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A new charter school building recently opened with a ringing school bell. Some believe the school will be ringing in hope for disadvantaged children.

On Wednesday, September 1, Mott Haven Academy Charter School offically opened its doors with a ceremony that signified the school’s new home in a state-of-the-art LEED-certified green building at 170 Brown Place in Mott Haven.

The school, sponsored by New York Foundling, shares its 55,000-square-foot, 8-story building with Bronx Community Services, which provides child welfare services.

The first of its kind, the school integrates an academic currriculum with supportive social services to address the needs of students in child welfare services, including foster care.

Joining New York Foundling executive director Bill Baccaglini in ringing the bell were children, parents, and grandparents. Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, Haven Academy board chairwoman Patricia Mulvaney, Haven Academy principal Jessica Nauiokas and staff from both the Haven Academy and the Foundling were all there as well.

They watched as children pulled on streamers attached to a symbolic school bell.

“Our new facility is the realization of a vision many years in the making: to level the academic playing field for children in our child welfare system,” Baccaglini said. “The co-location of Haven Academy with The Foundling’s Bronx Community Services will give our students and their families a seamless continuum of support. We will prepare our scholars for the most competitive high schools in the city and help strengthen their families and the community, at the same time.”

Baccaglini said the school hopes to send a message that the children of Mott Haven are as capable as children everywhere. He hopes the school will be the first step in raising the bar toward higher expectations and levels of achievement for students in the area.

Walcott said that the students were entering a “haven” of excellence where there was “innovation, creativity and vision.”

Nauiokas said that bringing together social workers and teachers under one roof should facilitate the exchange of information and help children in the school stay focused on their studies.

“If the child needs to go for a family visit or a health or dental appointment,” Nauiokas said, “we are decreasing the amount of time away from school and the stigma associated with it. Caseworkers and teachers are now under one roof, and that facilitates the kind of discussions that they should always have with one another.”

The first three floors of the building house the Haven Academy classrooms and specialized rooms, including an outdoor play area and space for art, science and music classes. The fourth floor is devoted to the community-based services and medical clinic.

The upper floors will be home to the organization’s community programs and roughly 200 staff members. The school eventually will serve 314 children in grades K-8, and is expanding its programming by one grade per year.

Patricia Clanton, whose grandchildren Jeremiah and Isaiah both attend Haven Academy, is excited for the year.

“I am confident,” she said, “that this school will help the children receive an academic foundation that will allow them to go to college.”

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