Special needs students from Queens get treated to first experience at Mets game

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

It’s not every day that students who attend District 75 schools, such as P.S. 9 Walter Reed in Maspeth, get to hang out and watch the Mets play at Citi Field — but this was not a normal day.

The students, who suffer with disabilities that range from autism to other psychological disorders, received a sponsorship of 175 tickets from the Mets to see their team play the Marlins; for many, it was their first game.

Though Sharon Roberts, a teacher at P.S. 9, did not know how many of the students, parents or paraprofessionals looking after the children would be able to make it to the 7 p.m. game, the event would seem like an ample excuse to get the physically disabled kids out of the house.

“It’s our first one, so we’re really nervous to see how everything goes which kids are coming. Some of them are wheelchair bound, most of them – and I can guarantee – have never been to a game before. That’s why it’s so exciting,” Roberts said. “A lot of them come in from Jamaica or Maspeth, it’s hard.”

With eight sites for District 75 learning across the city, Roberts and other staff from P.S. 9 did not recognize many of the students. Some of the children were familiar faces, however, being students who had improved to the point where they could attend regular public school with or without a “para” present.

Paraprofessionals, according to Roberts, are a critical component to teaching in her classroom.

Often, there are almost as many adults as children in Roberts’s class with students have individual education plans that call for “one-and-one” attention throughout the day.

P.S. 9 is currently undergoing massive renovations from the city Department of Education.

After the facility got traction in the media for its poor state, the city began pumping money into the 100-year-old school set within an industrial section of Maspeth.

The staff did not get the hype, however. Roberts argued that, yes, while the school was in poor shape, it was not unlike any other facility of its age under the purview of the DOE.

Mike Goldstein, the assistant principal at the school, said he felt as though the attention the facility was receiving in the media was mostly due to the political goals of Councilman Robert Holden who referred to the school as “Willowbrook 2.0.”

For Goldstein, whose parents had met at one of the groups homes that resulted from the closing of Willowbrook in the early 1970s, having his school compared to the notorious Staten Island facility where widespread abuse took place was an affront to work he and his staff do at P.S. 9.

At Willowbrook, the issue was less about the facility and more about the staff committing abuse to the mentally ill residents. Goldstein thought of the comparison as inappropriate and a misrepresentation of the staff.

The August 2019 New York Post story was not the only account of staff at the P.S. 9 taking umbrage to Holden’s attempts have the school moved.

In October 2019, staff confronted the councilman at a Juniper Park Civic Association meeting in which Holden discussed the effort to move the children from the school and negotiate with the Department of Homeless Services to convert the building into a homeless shelter.

According to Roberts, it was not that they saw a problem with receiving a new facility. It was two years it could take to build the new school and the subsequent displacement of the students until then.

Goldstein, however, is pleased the DOE has set aside $16 million for renovations which take place after session lets out.

QNS covered Councilman Holden’s effort to have a building currently slated for a homeless shelter at 78-16 Cooper Ave. instead be used as a District 75 school over the course of the past year as part of a citywide objection to shelters being built in neighborhoods.

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