John Philip Sousa Middle School opens new science lab

Principal Casimiro Cibelli (l) and Benjamin B. Tucker chat in the new science lab.
Photo by Bill Weisbrod

Students at John Philip Sousa Middle School on Baychester Avenue had two reasons to be excited for school Wednesday, November 2. They got a visit from a White House official and opened a new $1 million science lab.

Benjamin B. Tucker, a deputy director at the Office of National Drug Control Policy addressed the students, and then helped them cut the ribbon on the George Washington Carver Science Lab, which had been under construction for two years. The lab is the result of a 2008 grant from then-Borough President Adolfo Carrion, himself a Sousa alum.

“I think it adds a lot because we can actually do experiments now,” said eighth grader Cameron Williams. “Now we can do more hands-on stuff.”

Shawontay Rhone, also in eighth grade, concurred.

“The lab has changed, we can do a lot more projects now,” she said.

It now has a smart board, new computers, and state-of-the-art science equipment to facilitate experiments. That makes science teacher Eva Burgos’ job a lot easier.

“When we’re talking about stem cells, we can now do research on computers,” she said. “And we can actually make our own compounds, like vinegar.”

The school was “adopted” by Rho Psi Lambda, which is the Bronx chapter of the African-American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. When the fraternity learned about the science lab opening they coordinated an accompanying assembly and invited Tucker from Washington, D.C.

“To bring the deputy drug czar into the Bronx to let the students know what the Obama administration is doing, that is the role the fraternity has been playing for over 100 years,” said LeRoy Thomas, a Castle Hill resident.

Tucker told a packed auditorium about his childhood in Brooklyn, watching friends succumb to substance abuse, and how in his current job he feels the onus of making sure young people stay out of prison and avoid drugs and alcohol.

“What country in the world do you think imprisons the most people?” he rhetorically asked the students. After kids shouted out their guesses, Tucker informed the ones that had guessed the United States were correct.

“There’s something seriously wrong with our criminal justice system,” he said. “And we care about keeping you out of the criminal justice system. If you are arrested and enter the criminal justice system, it will impact the things you want to do in the future.”

Principal Casimiro Cibelli said he was grateful to the Rho Psi Lambda for their contributions to the school.

“They always bring a positive message to the school,” he said. “They talk about believing in self and they expose the school community to leadership.”

Cibelli added that the science lab opening sent a positive message about the state of the school.

“Sousa is a school on the move,” he said.

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