Brooklyn Congress Member and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries took some time out of his busy schedule in Washington this week to visit two Brownsville schools with good news — and hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for new programs and infrastructure.
In the busy schoolyard at P.S. 298 the Dr. Betty Shabazz School/Brownsville Collaborative Middle School on Monday afternoon, Jeffries announced he had secured a whopping $607,150 in federal funding to renovate the school’s weathered play yard with a new track, basketball courts, and an athletic field.
Gesturing around to the students gathered in the courtyard – including members of the school’s drumline and soccer, step, and martial arts teams — Jeffries said they were “an incredible representation of the brilliance and creativity of our young people.”
“Don’t let anybody tell you great things are not happening in Brownsville,” said District 23 Superintendent Khalek Kirkland. “Great things are happening in Brownsville. And it starts with three things that parents want. Parents want a school that cares for their children. Parents want to know that their children are learning something new every day. And they of course want to know their children are safe. And these schools are doing just that.”
Local leaders felt the playground at P.S. 298 wasn’t sufficient for their own children — and thus, wasn’t acceptable for the children of Brownsville, Kirkland said. Community members barked the concern up the chain until it reached Jeffries — a personal friend of Kirkland’s, who said he would come through with the funds.
And on April 3, he did, arriving in Brownsville with a big ceremonial check.
“It’s good to be home in Brooklyn — but even better than that, it’s better to be in Brownsville, USA, an all-American community,” the House minority leader said. “Now, over the last five [terms], I’ve had the opportunity to represent large parts of Brooklyn in the 8th Congressional District … but because of redistricting, I now have the opportunity to represent large parts of Brownsville proper. What an honor to be able to serve an amazing community, a community with such character, such history, such strength and such resilience.”
Now that he does represent Brownsville, Jeffries said, he wants to make sure the students there have the opportunity to develop and follow their natural talents and intellect in and out of the classroom — including on sports fields.
He “jumped” at the chance to allocate more than $600,000 to build new sports and recreation facilities at the school, he said — those facilities will serve students at P.S. 298 and the Brownsville Collaborative Middle School and the surrounding community.
“Frederick Douglass once said it is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men, and broken women,” Jeffries said. “And what we want to make sure we’re doing here in Brownsville is building up these amazing children, these amazing young people who can then go out and be doctors and lawyers and engineers and artists and members of Congress. And I think we gonna send someone to Washington one day who will be a future president. And I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about one of these incredible young people. As long as we nurture them and give them every opportunity to be successful.”
The next morning, the congress member headed to The Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies/I.S. 303 Herbert S. Eisenberg in Coney Island, where he toured the hydroponic farm at the Rachel Carson High School and revealed that his office has delivered $500,000 in federal funds for New York Sun Works, the organization that built the school’s hydroponic facilities.
The money will allow Sun Works to build 12 similar classrooms at public schools across the borough, and help to develop new curriculum “to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability.”
Surrounded by green plants and tanks full of fish, Rachel Carson science teacher Hannah O’Leary called the school’s hydroponics lab a “little oasis.”
“Over the last four years of partnering with New York Sun Works, I have watched this program and my students blossom as they did amazing things like grow their own food, start our school’s farmstand last year, and even start enjoying eating vegetables,” O’Leary said. “What I didn’t anticipate was how much this partnership would change me as an educator – giving me the opportunity to learn new things and be the kind of science teacher I always wanted to be, who works hand-in-hand with my students, not for them, to do something real and meaningful.”
Hydroponics is the science of growing food in a nutrient-rich water solution, rather than in soil. Sun Works’ Greenhouse Classroom Labs teach kids about urban farming, resource management, climate change, sustainability, and more. Students engaged in the program at Rachel Carson have higher attendance rates, get better grades, and “tend to be more involved in our school community,” said principal Stephen McNally, and are able to receive an urban farming credential through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“You will be the future sustainable scientists and environmentalists and urban farmers and climate change activists and leaders that we need for our country and for our world,” Jeffries told students. “To see you all in action today just reinforces my commitment to making sure we can expose as many young people as possible to hydroponic labs, to urban farming, to the wonders of Mother Nature.”
The rep said seeing the students in action made him feel confident that the best has yet to come, even as the world grapples with the climate crisis.
“At New York Sun Works, we believe that a sustainable future and the possibility for future economic mobility starts in the classroom,” said Sun Works executive director Manuela Zamora. “If we teach sustainability science and climate education in our schools from kindergarten up, we will create a generation of environmental educators empowered to make solutions to the global climate challenges we are already facing.”