A Look Inside Our Schools: NY1 Visits Harbor MS

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March 19, 2024

Every day, CIS works at more than 50 different schools across New York City to provide transformational services to youth. Each school is different, and we pride ourselves on tailoring our programs to best meet the needs of their students.

One of our partnership formats is through the Community Schools Initiative, where more than 400 NYC schools are paired with service providers (including CIS) to create a holistic partnership for students to excel academically and thrive emotionally. NY1 recently visited one of CIS’ Community School partners, Harbor Middle School in Red Hook – where students can access everything from art therapy, to hydroponic gardening lessons. Watch the NY1 segment on their website now for a look inside one of our schools, or read the companion piece below:

Inside the community partnerships helping Brooklyn children succeed
By Roger Clark Brooklyn | PUBLISHED 6:00 AM ET Mar. 18, 2024

Inside the New York Harbor Middle School, volunteers were filling Easter eggs with treats for a big Easter egg hunt in Red Hook.

The food pantry at the school is often busy helping feed families of students and many others in the Brooklyn community.

“We feed on average around 300 local families from Red Hook and from the south Brooklyn area on a monthly basis. About [4,000 to 5,000] get food that are in communities like this that have food insecurity,” said Edwin Pacheco, a local pastor who is a community associate at the school.

The pantry is just one of the community partnerships at the school, which is part of the Community Schools Initiative. This addresses the needs of students, families and communities with a wide range of services. The nonprofit organization Counseling in Schools leads the initiative at the Brooklyn middle school.

“What we are here to do is support students to thrive in the schools, to feel like they are really learning, to participate in all the different activities that students have access to, support families that are in the community,” said Janna Brunner, the chief program officer for Counseling in Schools.

There are more than 400 city schools that are part of the Community Schools Initiative. There is widespread concern about what will happen with the Community Schools Initiative when federal funding for the program runs out at the end of June.

At New York Harbor Middle School, there is a hydroponics lab, where plants grow in water instead of soil and students learn how to grow food. Art therapy sessions are held in the library, where students like Sophie Levine choose to have lunch.

“Because when you are in the cafeteria, and it’s super crowded and crammed, you usually don’t want to be in there when it’s so loud. And the library is just a way that you can come in here and chill out and do art therapy,” Levine said.

There’s also a lab with turtles and fish and a boat program. Students build miniature boats, and also create bigger ones they can actually sail on the Hudson River.

“When they get their hands on something, and they are doing real things like building a real boat or a practice version but still using real materials and real tools, it is way more impactful and sticky in terms of a memory,” said Jack Wasylyk, a teacher who is known at the Brooklyn school as “Captain Jack.”

Princicpal Priscilla Figueroa can relate to her students, since she also grew up in nearby Gowanus. Known around the school as “Miss Fig,” she credits community partnerships for taking the school from being under state review to a school in good standing.

“The [Department of Education] is supporting of all of these partnership. [This is] definitely shifting how we are addressing student needs and how we’re teaching our students — how we are preparing them for the future,” Figueroa said.

As Figueroa says, this is a great way for students to make a connection with their families and communities, and also understand how they can prepare for college and careers.

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