Westchester Square merchants, Lehman High School administrators and student leaders sat down with police and transit cops Thursday, November 13 for a community youth summit sponsored by Community Board 10.
The merchants asked Lehman for relief from rowdy student behavior – thousands of students stream into the square for lunch and after school. The students asked for respect. Merchants and students asked for a safety corridor from the square’s MTA station to the high school.
With a safety corridor in place, relations between Westchester Square merchants and Lehman have improved. The corridor consists of law enforcement officers ranged along a three-block route.
“It’s worked out well,” said Kenneth Kearns, district manager for Board Ten. “There are people from outside the community who prey on the kids – rob them of jewelry and electronic gadgets. Now the kids go straight to the train and home.”
For years, merchants and students teetered on the brink of animosity. Lehman didn’t always have a cafeteria; the school offers lunch three times a day.
“Since the advent of Lehman’s overcrowding, the Square’s been overrun,” Joe Regina, vice president of the Westchester Square Merchants Association said. “It’s a double edged sword – positive to have the kids shopping, negative to have the kids horsing around.”
According to Regina, store windows were broken and adult customers driven away. Some students just used the Sqare as a ‘hand-out.’
“It’s kind of put a bad label on the area for years,” he said.
Lehman’s new principal, Janet Saraceno, and student government appear determined to forge a more complete Westchester Square community.
“On November 13, we gathered everyone around the same table,” Kearns said. “The students want to be involved, and want to socialize freely. The merchants want to help with internships and jobs. The police were supportive. It was a healthy intervention.”
“The summit established avenues for communication,” Regina said. “Lehman’s new principal is more on top of the needs of the community. We’re all members of the community, whether we’re working or going to school. The important thing is to have respect and regard for each other.”
Lehman now has a cafeteria, and a closed campus policy for freshman and known troublemakers. Students who qualify for off-campus lunch enter and exit Lehman through a single set of doors – monitored by school personnel.
Kearns approves of the plan. “It’s a reasonable management decision,” he said. “The 9th graders need extra structure.”
Westchester Square isn’t horse play-free. But Regina thinks it could be. In fact, his organization may back a Lehman internship program.
“There’s definitely been a change,” he said. “After all, most of these kids are good kids. If we take on a few interns, the students will notice. It will be, ‘Hey, we don’t want to disrespect our friends.’”
A total of 18 law enforcement officers from NYC’s 45th Police Precinct and Transit District 12 comprise the Lehman-Westchester Square safety corridor at lunch and after school Monday through Friday.