Van Nest Academy up and running

The building previously known as the Van Nest School has been open over one month, and its inaugural year is going smoothly.

Widely discussed in the Morris Park and Van Nest communities before it opened due to a controversy over the naming, the building located at 1640 Bronxdale Avenue houses three different schools.

In the orange brick half of the building is the Carl Icahn Charter School 2, and in the gray stone D.O.E. side are P.S. 176 and P.S./M.S. 498 the Van Nest Academy for Environmental Health Sciences and Technology.

People in the community, for the most part, have avoided the lengthy name, calling it the Van Nest Academy for short.

The Academy has kindergarten, first grade, and sixth grade. That gap occurs because the DOE opened the elementary and middle schools simultaneously, so they are starting out with the foundation grades of the two schools. Next year, the school will have K-2 and 6-7, and eventually full elementary (K-5) and middle school (6-8) grades.

P.S. 176, meanwhile, has kindergarten only, and the Icahn Charter School is for grades K-5.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” said Bernadette Ferrara during the first week, “that everything is going well over there.” Ferrara is vice president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance and remembers well the battle that went on before the school was opened.

Carol Ann Gilligan, principal of the Van Nest Academy, said that indeed, the opening weeks have gone swimmingly.

“We had a wonderful school opening on September 8 and continued to have a very positive experience with our students and our parents,” she said. “The students are extremely eager each morning to come in. They hug the staff, and they are all smiles.”

The three schools, according to Gilligan, have a very close working relationship. Inside are separate elevators, but they share some common space such as the gym and auditorium. Aside from those areas, the DOE side and the charter have completely separate staff and classes.

There has been one glitch in the opening days: parking. There is no lot for staff, and the spaces along the main street are limited. The problem was raised at the Thursday, September 16 meeting of Community Board 11.

“Parking for the teachers, that’s the one issue we still really need to work out,” district manager John Fratta told boardmembers.

Gilligan acknowledged that parking has been a problem, though a minor one. “Parking for the staff does continue to be an issue,” she said. “We are attempting to work with the community to find a solution for that.”

The general campus of the building, which includes all three schools, is named the Lt. Curtis Meyran and John Bellew Educational Campus, after two firefighters that died in the Bronx blaze now remembered as Black Sunday.

Gilligan said the school has made it a priority to educate its students about the campus namesakes. “Our students have been learning about what makes a true hero, and our sixth graders have learned specifically about Meyran and Bellew,” she said. In addition, the Van Nest Academy’s teachers have email and phone correspondence with the families of the two lieutenants.

The school’s next challenge will be to create a parent association, Gilligan said. The first meeting was on Friday, September 24.

There will be a grand opening ceremony on Thursday, October 14 at 9:45 a.m.

“The ribbon-cutting commemorates not only the opening of 498,” Gilligan said, “but the opening of the whole building and the commemoration of two very brave men who paid the ultimate sacrifice in serving their community.”

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