By Michael Morton
“I know a man from Galilee, the one who gave his life for me,” they belted out as the impressed crowd applauded with approval.
“I've never seen a gospel choir at that age perform like they performed tonight,” said Jacques Leandre, a lawyer from Suffolk County who was the keynote speaker of the evening. “That kind of spirit needs to be replicated in schools across Queens.”
After a troubled past, “it is time to shine at 109,” as the refrain for a new hip-hop CD produced by the schools' students proclaims.
At the heart of the new ethos, Principal Shango Blake said, are both additional constructive outlets for the students, namely after-school programs such as the gospel choir, and a revised policy of not tolerating any misbehavior.
“With the no tolerance we also engage young people,” Blake said, noting that in addition to the choir the school now also has a step dance troop, a drama club and boys' and girls' basketball teams.
Blake came to IS 109 from Gorton High School in Yonkers in September as an assistant principal. At that time, he said, IS 109 was a place which had a problem with students' fighting, pulling fire alarms and walking the hallway without passes.
“This is one of these schools that last year was in absolute chaos,” Blake said. But in May the principal was transferred to another school - Blake declined to give a reason but said the turnover in principals had contributed to the chaos - and he took over.
For this school year, he created “the new 109” slogan for the school, instituted a dress code and started a program called PEST, or Parents Empowering Students Today, in which parents volunteer to patrol the hallways and surrounding streets.
Blake also launched the extracurricular programs, funding them by selling the hip-hop CD to parents.
“I started it as an after-school program that was positive and something they could feel good about,” Blake said, speaking of the programs' centerpiece, the gospel choir. “We needed something to keep them engaged.”
Blake has been successful in his mission, said Kim Toone, the choir's director.
“I think the kids really need these after-school programs,” she said. “They look forward to them.”
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.