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Inside P.S. 71 in Ridgewood, where a dance and cheerleading program was built from the ground up and spread throughout all the schools in the district, team practices require a unique strategy.

Once the last lunch period of the day is over, the custodial team begins clearing out the cafeteria. They remove the tables, apply padding to the columns and drag a floor mat into the room. Practice takes place here after school because P.S. 71 does not have a gymnasium.

When Councilman Robert Holden recently completed one of his first political missions by visiting every school in Council District 30 to assess their needs, he saw this lack of a gym as a real opportunity to make a difference, he said.

“What they were able to do without a gym was amazing,” Holden said. “Imagine what they could do with one.”

Along with P.S. 71, Holden also found that P.S. 68 and P.S. 91 in Ridgewood do not have gymnasiums, and he plans to fight to get gyms built in all of them, he said. Holden got the ball rolling by penning a letter to the School Construction Authority (SCA) asking them to assess all three schools to determine the feasibility of building gyms as quickly as possible.

So far, P.S. 71 is on the fast track to being the first of the schools to get a gym, and Holden said Mayor Bill de Blasio “promised” that it was going to get done.

Besides the cafeteria, the school also uses a large classroom with lines taped on the floor for physical education classes, and it has an outdoor space with half of a basketball court, a mini soccer pitch and two straight track lanes to be used when the weather permits. The school also coordinates with I.S. 93 and Grover Cleveland High School to use their facilities.

According to Principal Indiana Soto, the classroom used as the mock gym could be easily converted into a small gym by removing a partition wall between it and another classroom and installing wood floors and other gym features. Building gyms at P.S. 68 and P.S. 91, on the other hand, is going to require more creative work from the SCA, Holden said.

With the cheerleading program as evidence, the lack of a gym has never held P.S. 71 back in large part because Soto puts it on herself to improvise and become innovative, and “never will my kids compromise,” she said. She added that the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC), which partnered with the school to form the cheerleading program and host the Owl NYC Cheerleading Competition, will also greatly benefit from having a newly built gym to use for its after-school programs.

If 71 had a gym that would be really nice. They’re like orphans right now because they have to use I.S. 93 and company,” said Bob Monahan, president of the GRYC. “If they get a gym we’ll utilize it in a massive way for multiple activities, it enhances every aspect of all programs we have.”

For Holden, visiting the schools has been his favorite part of being a Council member so far, he said. Soto added that she could tell the councilman and former educator was passionate about his commitment to education.

“We know he’s going to follow through, and he’ll say it to the kids himself,” Soto said.

Holden plans to ask for additional funding from the borough president’s office and the Council speaker to go along with the mayor’s contribution, he said. If all goes according to plan, construction could begin at P.S. 71 by the summer of 2018.




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