Parents walked into Central Park Magnet School with some trepidation Wednesday.
They were there because their children were being transferred to Central Park from Oneida Middle School, which was closed to save money. Moving teenagers from a middle school to a K-8 building that looked a lot like an elementary school was not popular — at least for the first 20 minutes of eighth-grade orientation.
Then they toured the school, with sunlight streaming in through huge windows. Brightly painted murals covered the walls in the eighth-grade section. Teachers spoke to the teenagers as if they were young adults, not children, and the youths started to talk enthusiastically about their classes.
Parents took note.
“It’s difficult thinking she’s going to leave middle school in the middle,” said Charlotte Griffin, as she hung back to watch her daughter, “but it looks like a very nice school.”
Other parents admitted Oneida had been in poor physical condition. Central Park shone by comparison.
“I kind of like it. It’s nice, it’s clean, it’s brighter,” said Shaheeda Dhanessur.
And they all liked the way the teachers treated their children. The adults translated rules into language that left the teenagers feeling empowered, rather than controlled.
Principal Tonya Federico told the eighth-graders they “get” to hang out in the auditorium before school, while the other children must stay outside. During bad weather, they must share the space with fifth- and sixth-graders, but those students have to sit with their class.
“We don’t care where you sit,” Federico said. “You guys get to decide that. All we ask is that you sit.”
Assistant Principal Antonio Farina added that he wants them to watch out for kindergartners and other “little dudes.”
Instead of telling them not to curse or talk about obscene subjects, he told them, “We understand, it happens. You’re having an eighth-grade conversation about eighth-grade things and you look down and there’s a little dude next to you.”
He didn’t tell them that because of the presence of younger children in the school, certain topics would be off-limits.
“I’m not going to police your conversations,” he said. “Just please remember there’s a little dude next to you. They want to be you. They want to act like you. They want to dress like you. And they also repeat what you say.”
Even in the cafeteria, the teenagers weren’t given absolute rules. Instead, guidance counselor Cindy Dalrymple told them they would be dismissed by table because “it’s just more dignified that way.”
“It’s different from my old school,” said Terrance Bond, 13, who said he planned to treat the younger students as if they were his younger siblings.
“It’s not going to bother me because I have brothers and sisters at home,” he said.
Lesetchua Gibbs, 13, said she couldn’t wait for school to start. Being an eighth-grader, she said, will be wonderful.
“It feels great!” she said. “I kind of don’t like Oneida. It was kind of boring. This is going to be more fun.”
Griffin also liked the teachers’ approach.
“They’re talking to them like young adults,” she said. “The fact that they expect certain things from them, they’re not going to be checking up on them — they’ll do more if you expect it from them.”
Ambika Balkissoon agreed.
“I was a little disappointed my child had to leave Oneida and go here,” she said, “But now, I’m content, so I’m not regretting it at all. I think this is a good opportunity. They talk about good manners.”
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