Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A history lesson, and a chance to explore

Administrative note: I have fixed the commenting settings so that you no longer need a Google account to leave a message. Once again, I encourage anyone who's found this blog and likes what they read to leave something. I'm told I do, in fact, have readers! It lets me know that someone's reading my work, which is always nice. And now, back to our show.

Today we did something that I think we should have done on day one: get an overview of the South Bronx's history. Through narration and a slide show, we went from the area's early history as a Jewish center to its very diverse mix today. The most striking images came from the "Bronx is Burning" era of the mid to late 1970's, when landlords would torch their buildings rather than repair them. In the "after" photos, you could tell us that they had been taken in post-World War II Europe, and the only giveaway would be the models of automobile visible.

This presentation also coincided with a litany of depressing statistics about the current state of the South Bronx. The area outpaces NYC averages in diabetes, obesity, health problems, asthma, poverty, and every negative indicator you could think of. School are crowded, families are poor, and so much can seem hopeless. For an organization that had spent so much time filling us with hope that we could affect something, it was an odd change in tone.

Tuesday afternoon was dominated by a field project. Each team was given detailed information on one of the schools that we'll be serving, along with a video camera and instructions to prepare a five-minute presentation on the school and the surrounding environment. Our school was PS 333/335, two schools under one roof in the neighborhood of Longwood. The mayor's report on these schools had painted a rather rosy picture of them, which we'll be unable to evaluate until we're allowed past the front gate. Our report focused on the challenges faced by many schools in the area: noise, pollution, and a negative surrounding environment. Liquor stores abounded, and the one store advertising fruits and vegetables being available was locked shut.

There was a positive spin on this, though. A beautiful park lies across the street from the school. Next door, a space that had formerly been overgrown and taken over by rats has been turned into an attractive community garden. The "playground," an expanse of plain asphalt, has been beautified with a brightly-colored map of the United States. Our team leader informed us that this had been the work of the previous years CYNY corps. We saw the kids come out for recess, and they were as high-energy as you'd expect elementary school kids to be. It was awfully nice to see that they hadn't been beaten down by their environment.

This was the closest we had come to stepping inside a school and getting to work. Tomorrow, I will find out which school I'll be working at, and who will be on my team. Despite the day's presentations having a notably negative tone (as might be expected), it was nice to go home thinking of the beauty that I saw in the park, and the energy of the students. We may have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but we haven't been set an impossible task.

Tomorrow's a big day. Updates to follow. Thanks for reading.


  1. Can't wait to hear about tomorrow. Keep the posts coming! -EC

  2. What will you be doing in the school? Teaching? Fixing up the infrastructure? Working with troubled kids one-on-one?

  3. The answer is: it depends on the needs of the school. We won't be directly teaching class, but everything else you mentioned will probably happen at some point. Once we know where we've been assigned, we'll get a tour and introduction to the school and learn more.