In my 2017 post, Beyond the Zone: All Your NYC Elementary School Options (And How To Get Them) Explained, I mentioned Deborah Meier as someone who didn’t believe that the primarily African-American and Hispanic families of Harlem should be forced to settle for the education their zoned public schools were offering. In 1974, she founded the Central Park East School, followed by two more elementary schools, as well as a middle school. In her personal website bio, Meier describes these unzoned options as “schools of choice.”
Some forty years later, however, Meier was writing, “The notion that we can leave (education) to the whims of individual parent choice in marketplace fashion is problematic.” Presumably, like so many other folks these days, she was for school choice before she was against it.
Nonetheless, the Central Park East schools are still operating and, as of 2016, still had Meier’s support as a wonderful “choice for families.”
On the other hand, almost a decade before Meier, in 1966, another school opened in Upper Manhattan, focused on a similar mission.
As the LA Times wrote in 1992 about The Children’s Storefront School:
“These children need more than reading, writing and arithmetic,” said (Ned) O’Gorman, 62, a poet, educator and former Benedictine brother. “They need a whole universe presented to them that they can live in and hope in.”
They will not find that in the typical Harlem school because public education is “knee-deep in the moral cesspool” swamping all of New York City, he insists….
The school, which occupies two row houses and two four-story brownstones, goes from preschool to eighth grade. Total enrollment is about 120 students. Although the school is private, tuition is free and no special admittance requirements are imposed. If you live in the neighborhood, you are eligible.
O’Gorman accepts virtually no government aid. Private donors, including many foundations, support the school and its annual $1.5-million operating budget. And the donors have high praise for the school and its methods.
“The Storefront’s concept of high expectations for kids is an essential ingredient in its success,” said Prudence Brown, deputy director of the Ford Foundation’s urban poverty program. “That core confidence in human potential is evident in its curriculum, in how accessible the school is and in its total commitment to the kids, many of whom were given up by public schools.”
We spoke to their Chief Executive Officer, Nicole Garcia, about what her schools have to offer – and how parents can still apply for September 2019:
New York School Talk: The Children’s Storefront was a highly respected, independent, tuition free private school in Harlem since 1966 (it was even the subject of a 1988 Academy Award nominated short film!). Why the switch to the charter school model in 2015?
Nicole Garcia: The Board of Trustees has independently financed the school for over 50 years and it became extremely costly. The goal was always to expand operations to support as many children as possible in NYC and throughout the US and through the charter movement, the opportunity presented itself to bring the model to larger populations and still enlist the support of willing donors for special programs and initiatives.
NYST: Taking the over 50 years of experience into account, what makes Storefront Academy charter schools different from the newer networks?
NG: The Storefront Academy Charter Schools maintain the model and integrity of the original Storefront Independent School. Students still enjoy the benefit of two certified teachers in every classroom to keep class sizes small, and take advantage of the personalized benefit of such an amazing ratio.
Community support and family are at the center of everything we do. From the support of families in need of English Language acquisition for themselves in order to be a benefit to their children, to the Care Closet in which we offer clothing and toiletries to our almost 20% population in transitional housing or shelters.
Our goal is to eliminate any barriers that would prevent students to be physically or emotionally present for school. We have washers and dryers on site to wash uniforms, and provide food donations for families in need. The Storefront has remained true to the mission and vision of its inception. We hold education as the cornerstone of what we do, but we know that there are often obstacles that need to be addressed within the journey to student success.
NYST: How do Storefront Academy charter schools serve the particular needs of their respective communities in the South Bronx and Harlem?
NG: We have an open door policy for parents at all time. We know that we need their support and they are the community we serve. The children have been doing community service projects quarterly that are planned out by their teachers. We also host community family book fairs, we offer affordable options for school supplies. We host a Family Movie Night that is free for families and their kids to spend time together in a free, safe environment.
NYST: Which of your grades still have openings at which location, and what is the best way for families to apply for September 2019?
NG: Grades K-5 are open in South Bronx and Grades K-1 in Harlem. Families can fill out an application in person at either one of our two locations. Once we receive their application, we will contact them immediately and notify them of what materials or paperwork is needed to complete the application. Families can also feel free to come in for a tour anytime.
And parents, keep choosing what’s best for your kids – no matter what anybody might say about it being “problematic.”