Students celebrate new traffic signals in Flushing where their classmate was struck by a car

Fifth graders at P.S. 022 in Flushing celebrated the installation a traffic light outside their school on May 17.
Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

One year after a student was struck by a car at the intersection in front of a Flushing elementary school, elected officials joined students to celebrate the installation of a new traffic signal they collectively advocated for. 

Each day, approximately 800 students safely pass through the front doors of P.S. 022 Thomas Jefferson. But on one rainy morning last May, the community witnessed one of their own fifth graders on the ground after an accident at the intersection of Sanford Avenue and 155th Street. 

There are traffic lights and crossing guards stationed on Murray Street and 156th, which both intersect Sanford Avenue near the school. But the intersection where the student was hit, which is closest to the entrance of the school, was missing both. 

The students pressed their elected officials in written letters for safety measures to be taken. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

While the student was not badly hurt, when his classmates learned about what had happened, they were jolted into action. In letters, they individually wrote the area’s elected officials – Senator John Liu, City Council Member Sandra Ung and Assemblymember Ron Kim – they demanded that a traffic signal be installed. 

“We’re celebrating more than just a traffic light because this traffic light is the fruit of the efforts of these young people. It is a tangible sign of what can come about when citizens of the community put their minds together to make a change,” said Liu, who also attended the elementary school. 

Some fifth-grade students and the elected officials who represent Flushing cut the ribbon on the new traffic signals on Friday afternoon after delivering remarks. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“I am very familiar with this route and I’ve seen firsthand the dangers of this corridor with cars speeding down that blind spot,” said District 25 Superintendent Dr. Michael Dantona. 

Dantona also mentioned that the action students took is a prime example of the Civics for All program, which was launched at public schools across the city in 2018. The program’s goal is to produce engaged community members who can think critically and take empowered action.  

“Even though we’re kids, our voices are powerful,” said Ying, a fifth grader at the school on Friday. “Before I wrote the letter, I mostly thought that my work wouldn’t help the community. But after seeing it happen, I realized the letters could change the community,” 

It wasn’t lost on the community that day, or one year later, that the outcome could have been far more tragic. 

Principal Meyer applauded her students for this civic action to ensure a safer community. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Principal Jennifer Meyer, who has worked at the school for 16 years, said she witnessed two deadly accidents in which two adults were killed by vehicles on the curved avenue in front of the school. 

Over the years, faculty members have advocated for some type of safety measure, whether a speed bump or a stop sign, to no avail. Even when she received a letter from Senator Liu earlier this year that the Department of Transportation approved a stop light, she joked that she would see it only after she retired. 

But the DOT followed through and recently installed two hanging traffic lights and a pedestrian light and painted a crosswalk. A crossing guard might also be stationed there next year. 

The DOT recently installed the new traffic signals after studying what measures would be best for the intersection. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“I feel better that this came from the kids because they made a difference. We taught them to have their voices heard,” Principal Meyer said. “I always try to teach them, ‘your voices are louder than mine,’ and they are.”

While the student who was struck last year has since graduated, the fifth-grade students set to graduate next month were proud to see the impact of their actions and celebrate the safety measure. 

Zhe, a fifth grader, said he was proud to see their efforts come to fruition. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“I look at our community now; it’s so much safer,” said Zhe, a fifth grader, before concluding his remarks with Ghandi’s famous line, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”