By Patrick Donachie
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña touted what she said was significant progress towards alleviating parent concerns in recent years during a town hall meeting for parents, teachers, and students in eastern Queens Tuesday.
The event took place at Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74, at 61-15 Oceania St. in Oakland Gardens, and was the first scheduled meeting of the school year for School District 26’s Community Education Council. The city’s highest-achieving district, it includes parts of Bayside, Fresh Meadows, Douglaston and Jamaica Estates, among other areas.
Fariña started by acknowledging a parent’s question from a town hall meeting in District 26 last year, asking that cursive writing be reinstituted for students. She said she had made a recommendation to include cursive writing in third-grade lessons. She also lauded the increase in science, technology, engineering and math classes and lessons, also known as STEM learning.
“For a lot of people, they still think STEM is computer labs and sitting around,” she said, noting that students in the eighth to 12th grades were sometimes more computer literate than teachers. “In reality, STEM is a lot more than that.”
Fariña also said Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Education are working to give every student an equal opportunity to attend college. Every public school student will now be able to take the SAT exam free of charge in their own school during a school day, she said. Previously, some students had trouble taking the test because it cost too much money, was conducted too far from their home, or took place during weekend hours when they work to support themselves or their families.
“College is for everybody, and we need to make that clear to all our kids, starting in pre-K,” she said, also announcing that the City University of New York system will now waive its application fee for low-income students.
Fariña also answered questions written on comment cards by District 26 parents and teachers. The topics varied from the amount of district resources to dual language programs. Fariña said that since District 26 was such a high-performing district, it would be difficult to procure federal Title I funding, which can be allocated to school districts to improve academics for students in distress.
Fariña was particularly emphatic about her views on how to approach learning in pre-K, saying that it was not a place for rote workbook assignments or filling out ditto sheets. She said pre-K needed to be a venue for students to learn how to get along, to share and to learn how to be inquisitive and excited about their explorations.
“Every class should be about inspiring kids to want to learn,” she said.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona