Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and First Lady Chirlane McCray paid a visit to P.S./I.S. 128 in Middle Village, a designated Regional Enrichment Center (REC), for a social emotional learning talk with elementary students on Friday, June 26 — which happened to be the last day of the 2019-20 school year.
“These children are in a safe place. They are learning about their emotions and how to identify them, how to channel them, and it’s a wonderful foundation for them to have during this difficult time, especially,” McCray said. “We launched social emotional learning and restorative justice practices a year ago, and I’m so grateful that we were able to do that because it is needed now more than ever…because these children are going through so many different emotions with their families [and] with their friends during this pandemic.”
The event offered a look inside an REC, which the city launched back in March to provide a safe place for children of emergency and essential workers to stay during the COVID-19 health crisis.
The Department of Education opened about 100 centers across the five boroughs, run by volunteer teachers and administrators, but have not listed where all the RECs are located — they’ve encouraged parents who are first responders to enroll online, instead.
QNS previously reported educators said the centers got off to a rocky start in March, but P.S. 128’s Site Supervisor Josephine Ramage praised Mayor Bill de Blasio and Carranza for their leadership.
Carranza and McCray, both wearing colorful masks, arrived at the REC around 9:30 a.m., and were greeted by Ramage and eighth grader Marjona Mamatkulova.
Mamatkulova, who just graduated from P.S./I.S. 49, said she was excited to meet McCray and Carranza.
They then made their way into the building, where they were met with two nurses conducting temperature checks with a no-contact thermometer. The table also had hand sanitizer available.
As they walked toward the classroom they were visiting on the first floor, they were greeted with welcome and “We Love Our REC” signs held by elementary students, all of whom wore masks.
They briefly stopped to take in a colorful bulletin with “Self-Esteem,” “Beautiful Me Reflections” and other positive messages. About three other classrooms in the first floor had students and teachers, who waved to Carranza and McCray.
McCray and Carranza joined a classroom of 11 first and second grade students, who all sat in a circle with two teachers. They had a social emotional learning session in which students talked about what they’re grateful for, sharing, how they cope with bad feelings and what makes them happy.
At one point, they wanted to see how they expressed happiness, so everyone jumped up and down while clapping.
The teachers then asked Carranza and McCray to also share what makes them happy.
McCray said that she feels happy when her husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, offers to clean the dishes after a long day. “That makes me really happy,” she said while laughing.
Carranza decided to talk about what he was grateful for, which he said was when the mayor appointed him to Schools Chancellor of New York City.
They joined some elementary students during a social emotional learning session, where they talked abt being grateful: pic.twitter.com/XLDtjJlj7b
— Angélica M. Acevedo (@angacevedo15) June 26, 2020
One of the teachers talked about words and how much they matter, and pointed to an exercise based on Japanese author and scientist Masaru Emoto’s “The Hidden Messages in Water.”
When she asked what the experiment was supposed to teach them about words, David, one of the students, said, “Words have energy, they carry it.”
“How powerful,” Carranza said.
After a few more minutes of chatting with and listening to students, Carranza thanked the teachers and administration of the REC for their hard work. He also thanked students for wearing masks, told them to have fun this summer and remember to wash their hands.
As Carranza and McCray made their way to their next stop — they’re touring the five boroughs for in-person and virtual activities during the last day of school — they took photos with teachers, students, and school safety agents.
Before leaving the center, McCray and Carranza spoke to reporters about their visit.
“As our First Lady said, social emotional [and] trauma informed practices are just as important as academic practices now more than ever, and New York City has been ahead of the curve,” Carranza said. “We’re celebrating a year where this has been ubiquitous throughout all of our elementary schools, and we are going to reap the benefits of that as we come back to in person learning and work our way through this pandemic.”
There are many questions still unanswered about what the fall will look like for schools across the city. When asked what they’ve learned from RECs that may transition into the fall, Carranza said there have been many lessons.
“I’m very proud to say we haven’t had one student that’s become ill or adult become ill. So as you see, there’s a lot of lessons learned around social distancing, continuous cleaning, face masks, all of the recommendations and guidance that we have from our medical professionals,” he said. “Our principals and school site leadership teams are at this moment walking their buildings, making sure that they have the appropriate distancing and identifying public spaces that can be converted to classroom spaces as well, because we have to take into account the social distancing requirements. So there’s a lot of very detailed and complex work that is happening now.”
Carranza said they hope to have definitive plans by the end of July.
RECs, in the meantime, will remain open throughout the summer.
Ramage, who is an assistant principal at East River Academy on Rikers Island, said she volunteered to assist with RECs since she had more free time due to remote learning.
She told QNS P.S./I.S. 128’s REC has an average of 72 student per day, with a high of 89, who range from pre-school to 10th graders. She said the number of students signing up for the RECs continue to grow, with more than 108 students who have already signed up.
“As the school year is winding down, more and more students are coming in,” Ramage said. “As each phase is opening up, more and more people are bringing their children.”
Ramage said the RECs are running on three sessions over the summer.
Madelene Chan, the superintendent for School District 24, attended the event. She said parents have emailed her thanking them for giving their children a safe and educational environment.
“We’re honored that the Chancellor and the First Lady came out to support our REC center today, the centers have been supporting first responders since the first days of COVID,” Chan said. “We’re honored that they were able to visit and see the remarkable work that the staff and teachers have been doing even under such challenging situations. We’re confident that we can continue to support the children of first responders until we see an end to the virus.”
Update: This story was updated at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 27 to reflect Marjona Mamatkulova graduated from P.S./I.S. 49, not P.S./I.S. 128.