By Ava Stryker-Robbins
A rally last week at P.S. 145 — The Bloomingdale School — commemorating the first anniversary of the Ukraine war and celebrating the refugees and asylum seekers from Europe, West Asia, South America, and Central America who currently make up 20% of the student population, also shone a light on the overcrowding issues the school currently faces.
City Council Members Gale Brewer and Shaun Abreu joined P.S. 145 teachers, parents, children, and members of the New York City Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), in addressing students and parents, who held homemade blue-and-yellow signs and flags.
P.S. 145, located at 150 West 105th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, is a natural environment for Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers due to, both, its welcoming community and Russian and Spanish dual-language programs. Refugees who attend can learn, including English, without a language barrier holding them back.
According to Naveed Hasan, a member of PEP and P.S. 145 parent, around 80 students in the school are asylum seekers from South and Central America, and around 50 are from Russian-speaking nations, with 15 of those coming directly from Ukraine. Other students come from an astounding range of countries, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Transnistria, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela.
“This school is a place that embodies the spirit of New York City,” Councilmember Brewer proclaimed. “You welcome everyone who is in need….What a great example you’re setting for the rest of the world.”
The rally also honored volunteers who have been supporting P.S.145’s families. Anna Azvolinsky, a parent and active community member, said in an email to WSR, “the work the community has been putting in at this Title 1 school has been extraordinary.” [A Title 1 school is one in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment.] “P.S. 145’s principal, teachers, staff, and parent volunteers are a fantastic example of what a New York City public school should be—inclusive, inviting, and caring.”
While the school welcomes new students, it also faces severe concerns about space. According to Lauren Balaban, PTA co-vice president of fundraising, there are currently 525 students enrolled at the school. According to the 2021-2022 Enrollment, Capacity, & Utilization Report from the DOE, the target capacity at P.S. 145 is 438 students. Balaban says that the school does not want to turn anyone away, but acknowledges that “we’re busting at the seams.”
Parents at P.S. 145 have been asking for more space since September 2022. Along with the PTA, they sent a petition signed by over 200 parents and guardians to School Superintendent Kamar Samuels on February 15, begging for more space.
“The DOE has negatively impacted our school community’s ability to help refugee families,” Balaban said, “but also all of the kids at P.S. 145, by not granting us what we need: a dedicated building with a library and counseling, music, and science rooms. These are not luxuries, but necessities for children in public schools.”
Brewer, Abreu, and the vice chair of PEP, Gregory Faulker, said they are committed to advocating for more space for the school, but it is all a matter of funding. After the rally, Brewer told WSR there are available spaces right near P.S. 145, but the DOE needs to invest more money in the school in order for it to expand.
Hasan said additional space could also be used to possibly split the lower and upper grades between different buildings. “School space is available right next door and very close by: the Romemu Center (176 W. 105th Street) and Ascension School (220 W. 108th Street) will have open academic-configuration square footage in the coming season. Currently, Beit Rabban [a Jewish day school] uses the classrooms in Romemu, and they’re not renewing for next year. Ascension is closing down permanently this year. The entire school building will be available.”
“Every new immigrant who comes to the society will bring more than they will receive,” said P.S. 145 PTA co-president Mashura Akilova during the rally. “We remain committed to providing the best safe place for the kids and also the best education.”
“Come any time to visit P.S. 145 and see for yourself the amazing work we’re doing as a community!” Hasan wrote. “We are happy to show off the wonderful people and school as a whole.”