D27 Schools Step up for the Bronx

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 On the morning of January 9, while most were on their way to work or school, a horrific fire ripped through a Bronx high-rise apartment, killing 17 people, including eight children, with the youngest just two years old. However, that fire, the third-worst residential fire in the U.S in four decades and the deadliest fire in NYC since 1990, did not just rip through the building, leaving families broken and the Bronx community stunned. It ripped through the hearts of New Yorkers. Local principal of The Randolph Holder School for Social Justice in Far Rockaway, Phoebe Robinson, was one of those New Yorkers, and she determinedly took on the herculean task of mobilizing her fellow DOE District 27-wide school community to host a donation drive for the fire’s victims. Once given the green light to proceed by D27 Superintendent Jennifer Carreón, Robinson reached out to the entire district last Tuesday, January 11, and within one day, 22 schools got on board. Even more amazingly, in a mere two days, Robinson with her fellow D27 community members, collected and delivered the items to the Bronx with the help of the 101st Precinct’s police officers in three packed U-Haul on Friday, January 14.

D27 represents NYC DOE schools in Queens South. Of the 22 D27 schools that got on board for the donation drive, seven are from Rockaway—The Bay School-P.S./M.S. 105, Scholars' Academy, Lighthouse Elementary-P.S. 106Q, The Randolph Holder School for Social Justice-27Q253, The Belle Harbor School-P.S./M.S. 114, Robert Vernam School-P.S./M.S. 42, and The Bays Water School-P.S. 104.

For Robinson, the objective of the two-day donation drive called, “D.27 SCEWP's It Up & Delivers,” (SCEWP is the D27 acronym, which stands for "Self-Regulation & Student Agency, Communication/Collaboration, Engagement & Empathy, Work Habits/Organization, Persistence & Perseverance), was not to host an elongated drive, it was to respond to an immediate need.

“The understanding was that the drive would have a quick turnaround of two days. Losing students in our schools is heartbreaking and sets off a difficult series of emotions that resurfaces at just hearing of such a horrific tragedy. I just wanted to offer our district an opportunity to lean into our colleagues in the Bronx because I know that so many of us want to do something to help, but don’t necessarily know the pathway to getting it done. My school is The Randolph Holder School for Social Justice, and this fire in the Bronx is a social justice issue as people were displaced, and there would certainly be many challenges in terms of access to quality resources and affected needs for these families. The flyers were sent out to schools last Tuesday, by Wednesday, schools signed up, and by last Friday, the donations were en route to the Bronx,” Robinson said.

With an impressive 22 D27 schools on board, next on Robinson’s to-do list was securing transportation to pick up the donations and deliver them to the Bronx. The 101st Precinct’s C.O. Robinson; Det. Falero; Det. Acevedo; P.O.s Blanchette, Henry, Brand and Edwards not only volunteered to drive, but even reserved two huge U-Haul vans. P.S. 63 Ozone Park parent, Tiffany Placeres, also volunteered to drive with another U-Haul, generously reserved by the Ozone Park Association. Also, Robinson’s son, Sekai Robinson, volunteered to help carry the hefty bags.

Robinson relayed that another powerful aspect of the two-day drive was the power in D27’s students recognizing the strength of their voices and uniting to promote something so tremendous. Scholars’ Academy Principal Michele Smyth agreed.

Smyth said, “I was blown away by the outpouring of support by Scholars’ entire school community. Though DOE’s communication system was partially paralyzed during the two days we were pushing the drive, the students, families and staff worked in tandem to quickly get the message out, collect items, and ultimately do their part to make Principal Robinson’s initiative with District 75 successful.”

For P.S./M.S. 114 Principal Welsome, it was moving to witness not just the students, but the entire school community’s outpouring of love to their fellow NYC Bronx residents.

“We sent out the mission to our families on Wednesday, and it was amazing to see not just the students, but the families band together to send in clothing, blankets, sheets, toiletries, and more. I truly feel that the people of the Rockaways and Breezy Point always do whatever they can to help. Often you see these type of tragedies in the news, and this drive gave people something actionable they could do,” Welsome said.

And actionable the D27 donation drive was. “It was overwhelming to see the rooms filled with donations, and to see firsthand what we gave, went directly into the hands of the families,” Principal Robinson shared.

For Scholars’ 12-graders, Ehidianen A., Amanda P. and Brianna L., attending a D27 school really instills the ethic of always paying it forward. Ehidianen A., Student Government president, also an active member of the Borough and Chancellor's Student Advisory Council, said, “It’s important to help a community in need, whether you know them or not. I just want to keep putting myself out there to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Amanda P., Key Club secretary, who also sits on the Community Executive Council as D27 Student Representative, said, “Unity was a major aspect of this initiative, and for Principal Robinson to mobilize the district so quickly, really shows how powerful D27 and NYC are as a whole.”

As for Brianna L, Key Club president, amidst personal challenges in life, one should still think of others. “It makes me feel good to know that I can still help people regardless of what I’m going through,” she said.

Principal Robinson, who tried to shy away from any recognition for what she and her D27 colleagues pulled together in two short days, is especially proud of her district. “I put out the call, but it was really everyone who made our initiative as successful as it was. Truly proud to be a member of D27,” Robinson said.

 By Kami-Leigh Agard

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