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Students act to save drama teacher’s job

Photo by Phil Corso
By Steve Mosco

Parents and students are stirring up some drama in support of a school’s theater department.

After learning IS 119 at 74-01 78th Ave. in Glendale might send a beloved drama teacher, Evan Belhivanis, packing for budget reasons, supporters came together and decided to step out into the neighborhood to spread the word and save his job and the department.

“Mr. B. is a wonderful teacher and he inspires all of his students,” said Jesus Valdez, father of student Elina Valdez, who starts seventh-grade this upcoming school year. “It is bad enough to lose a teacher like that. It is phenomenal what he gets out of the kids. His work positively affects other classes. These kids perform better because of it. This is a big deal.”

Supporters said they have secured more than 30 letters for the teacher since learning about his possible departure last week.

Darlene DiSanti, a parent and member of the School Leadership Team, said losing Belhivanis puts the entire theater department in jeopardy because the teacher is such an integral part of the program. She also said losing performing arts classes could be detrimental to the students’ academic performance.

“The fine arts program is the secret to students staying in school and being creatively alive while in school,” said DiSanti, who sent a letter asking for his help to state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), who said he is looking into the situation. “The students in theater not only sing, dance and act, but they also present several concert programs throughout the school year.”

DiSanti said Belhivanis has worked with more than 300 students in his nine years at the school. During this time, she said, he has enriched their lives and given them a creative outlet in which to express themselves.

“We are fortunate to have a theater program,” she said. “Whether donations are materials, costumes or just time and support, the teachers, students and parents pull together and make a great effort to put together some great work.”

Now they are pulling together to support the one teacher they believe is the sole reason the program is such a success.

“Without Mr. B., we wouldn’t have a program at all,” said Elina Valdez.

Elina’s mother, Cristina, said her daughter essentially chose the school so she could work with Belhivanis. She said the benefits of a good theater program not only help the school, but also the community in which the students call home.

“The musical department is just a huge part of the community,” Cristina Valdez. “Middle school is key to getting into a good high school and kids need to develop their special talents at this time.”

The school’s principal, Jeanne Fagan, could not be reached for comment.

Phil Corso contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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