On Thursday, June 19, as most students were anxiously awaiting the start of summer vacation, the school held its 2nd annual Walk For Community Unity with students marching around the block of their school, located on Mace Avenue, with signs advocating support on a number of neighborhood issues.
Messages such as “Say No To Drugs” and “Don’t Litter!” were highlighted as the students marched down Williamsbridge Road in the early afternoon, to the smiles and cheers of shop owners and pedestrians.
A particular message being promoted this year was “going green,” advocating recycling and other easy ways that individuals can make a difference regarding environmental concerns.
“The excitement in our students today shows that there is a strong community spirit that has emerged here,” said Fran Palmieri, parent coordinator at the school.
Helping the students with their efforts were members of the 49th Precinct Explorers, a youth organization that promotes the values espoused at the march. “Many current and past explorers have attended the school,” noted Palmieri.
Despite word of a rise of youth involvement in gangs in the area, according to neighborhood, school and police sources, the event and the Explorers’ presence sent a message that the sense of belonging that many young people find in gangs can be found in the positive institutions in the community.
“For some of these kids, siblings may be in gangs, and they see it all around them,” said Police Officer Chris Traumer, who runs the Explorers program. “Today and everyday, the Explorers show that you don’t have to do the route you’re brother went. We provide a support network.”
Traumer fielded many questions about his program from parents arriving at the end of school day, which coincided with the end of the march and was encouraged by their desire to attend one of his upcoming weekly meetings at the precinct.
The school and precinct’s commitment to developing youth programs, such as the school’s acclaimed ballroom dance program, are just some of the reasons that residents have made a commitment to remaining in the area.
“Parents who were thinking about moving are now saying, we’re going to stay in this community,” Palmieri said.
Principal Ron Rivera agrees.
“Parents want their kids here,” said Rivera, who has run the school for five years. “The teachers really work together here and for the kids, this becomes home.