A pep rally between different schools across the greater Ridgewood area was more than just that with staff celebrating the resilience and resourcefulness of students who have experienced a range of difficult situations.
P.S. 71 Principal Indiana Soto led the rally with Greater Ridgewood Youth Council President Bob Monahan, who has worked to reinforce the well-being of at risk youth in the community.
The Thursday night pep rally featured student routines from Grover Cleveland High School, who hosted the event, P.S. 71 and I.S. 93.
One student, 17-year-old Naydia Bolden, has lived nearly her entire life in foster care after being abandoned by her mother at a young age, according to Soto.
But with help from the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council and Soto, Bolden has been able to build structure as well as support in her life apart from blood relatives.
“She used to sing in the train. Her story is amazing,” Soto said. “With cheer, she gets to have those, aka normal experiences of a teenager. The community, which is [GRYC] … show her how to have a work ethic, how to have responsibility. She has to help children with homework. She has to help them with a skill.”
Bolden found work through the GRYC’s after-school program and has been commuting to Grover Cleveland High School from Far Rockaway, an hour and a half trek, to continue her education and stay within her support network.
Other students GRYC and Soto help develop are living with one parent or a stepparent.
“The apparent onion is, do you have children that have the unspoken stresses of managing their academic expectations plus the social, emotional challenges they go through, whether it’s poverty or family composition,” Soto said. “What’s amazing about this collaborative initiative is that we look at children and their families, we help them own their story. We don’t want to come in and want to change their story, which is powerful.”
Children who have coping challenges are taught to self-regulate their emotions by focusing on moving forward with their lives instead of dwelling on what is missing, Soto said.
By learning healthy coping mechanisms, these children will be at an advantage when it comes to building relationships by prioritizing the need for maternal and paternal figures as well as mentors.
“Taking those life experiences that could create negative skillsets or have a negative impact and turning them into something positive,” Soto added.
Monahan’s organization helps fund the pep rally though his benefactors in government and has bought new mats for the Grover Cleveland High School that will arrive in December.
The pep rally is in its sixth year and is growing in popularity.