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BCC to boot University Heights High School

How does one persuade a high school student from a rough Bronx neighborhood to try college? The answer, teachers at University Heights High School argue, is simple. Plunk that student on a college campus and let the good vibes sink in.

UHHS, which moved to the grounds of Bronx Community College in 1992, has earned praise from the Department of Education and funneled thousands of neighborhood teens to college, many to its host institution.

But BCC, under pressure from increased enrollment and ambitious City University of New York administrators, now plans to give UHHS the boot.

The high school, which belongs to School District 10, will abandon its BCC building in the fall for the South Bronx High School campus St. Ann’s Avenue in School District 7, the DOE has announced.

CUNY asked the DOE to negotiate the move in December 2008 in response to increased enrollment, BCC spokesman Bryant Mason said. BCC added 46 percent more students between fall 2001 and fall 2009. It needs the classrooms that UHHS has occupied, Mason explained.

UHHS students, teachers and parents are furious and hurt. Hundreds packed BCC’s Gould Memorial Library in January in protest; they contend that the move makes no sense.

“Our school has been a Grade A school for three years,” UHHS senior Astrid Barreras said. “To remove us from our home on campus would be crazy.”

Barreras, 17, has won a full-ride Posse Foundation Scholarship to Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. The Mount Eden resident, who pens poems for fun, owes her success to UHHS, she said.

“When we come to school we step into a college atmosphere,” Barreras remarked. “I have friends at other high schools in the Bronx. In middle school they had better grades than I did. Not anymore. They don’t get the support we get here.”

Not only does UHHS benefit from BCC’s college atmosphere, it benefits from BCC’s tranquility and campus security. UHHS assistant principal Judith Wexler helped found the school more than 20 years ago.

“We’re one of the only high schools in the city without a metal detector,” Wexler said. “We’re also one of the city’s safest high schools.”

Wexler also helped found UHHS’s LYFE Center, which offers daycare to student mothers. The LYFE Center has a laundry room and more; Wexler is concerned that it wouldn’t reopen at the South Bronx High School campus. She calls the 14 student mothers “my mommies.”

“My mommies go on to college because they get daycare here,” Wexler said.

UHHS students, parents and teachers not only want to stay, they think that the high school has earned a spot at BCC. UHHS raised millions of dollars independent of BCC and the DOE to remodel the college’s old chemistry building, college advisor Lillian Martinez said.

The building, a mess of unhealthy chemicals two decades ago, boasts a new auditorium, a new library, new paint and a new science lab, Martinez explained. More than 85 percent of UHHS students go on to college, nearly a third to BCC, she added.

Roland Legiardi-Laura, a Nuyorian poet who teaches “Power Writing” at UHHS, considers the planned move illogical. When the economic recession ends, BCC will lose many students to more prestigious colleges, Legiardi-Laura said.

The UHHS move would net BCC only 400 seats; BCC senior vice president Mary Coleman told parents that it needs 4,000, while classrooms in other buildings sit empty, Legiardi-Laura claimed.

In January, Coleman explained that BCC hopes to maintain a relationship with UHHS but must put its students first.

BCC freshman Nicole Keece admitted that the college is crowded but would hate to see UHHS go. She knows that the high school does well and wants her younger brother, a Clinton High School two years behind, to transfer to UHHS.

At the South Bronx High School campus, UHHS would join Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School. New Explorers High School and Urban Assembly Careers in Sports High School are scheduled to move from South Bronx to a new building. Before the DOE announced the South Bronx move, rumors had UHHS headed to the Taft High School campus.

“We don’t want to be dumped into a warehouse, to share a building,” Martinez said. “We’ll chain ourselves to the radiators before we go to Taft.”

Wexler is afraid the move would “destroy” two decades of hard work, she said. Principal Hazel Roseboro, a UHHS graduate, has asked the DOE to help the high school keep its unique programs intact, Wexler added.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Senator Pedro Espada, Senator Jose Serrano, Assemblyman Nelson Castro and Councilman Fernando Cabrera have asked BCC to reconsider.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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