Go park your school somewhere else!
Local leaders are lambasting a controversial plan to put a charter school for 95 at-risk youth in the middle of Floyd Bennett Field — a move they believe will bring a quick end to their dreams of revitalizing the sprawling national park.
“Parks are for parks, not for schools,” said Councilman Lew Fidler, who is leading the charge against the proposed school. “We’ve been fighting to get more respect for [Floyd Bennett Field] and this is not the way to do it. Just because it’s in Brooklyn doesn’t make it any less of a national park than Yosemite.”
Urban Dove, a non-profit organization that currently provides after-school programs to city kids, is hoping to open an alternative high school for over-aged, under-credited youth inside a thatch of abandoned buildings on the massive, federally owned property.
“Putting a school in a national park makes no sense, especially if we’ve just begun working on a coherent plan for the area,” Fidler added. “We shouldn’t start doing things that we won’t be able to undo.”
Rep. Anthony Weiner is also opposed to the project, especially since he’s just put together a Blue Ribbon Panel charged with shaping the park’s future.
“It is not unusual for the uninitiated to see the open spaces and historical buildings of our local national park as a blank canvass on which to propose any use they see fit,” wrote Rep. Weiner in a terse letter to schools Chancellor Joel Klein, opposing Urban Dove’s plans. “But [the Urban Dove] effort is half-baked and will not be approved.”
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and state Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Mill Basin) have also voiced their displeasure with having a school built in Floyd Bennett Field, which was added to the 26,000 acre Gateway National Recreation Area and made a national park in 1972.
“There have been more plans for Floyd Bennett Field than I could count, but nobody had a plan about putting a school there,” said Kruger. “We want to keep the park viable, but bringing in an at risk charter school is not the answer.”
Yet Urban Dove organizers believe Floyd Bennett Field is the perfect spot for their sports, health and fitness program. First, it’ll be close to Floyd Bennett Field’s Aviator Sports and Recreation, which they already forged a partnership with. Second, it has plenty of abandoned buildings that they can turn into a “one of a kind campus environment” that will include classrooms, a cafeteria, office space and recreational areas.
At its core will be a socialization-heavy curriculum where students aren’t part of classes, but teams that travel together from lesson to lesson and activity to activity, according to the prospectus currently being reviewed by the state’s Education Department.
Students — most of whom are expected to come from south Brooklyn — will be bussed onto the former airstrip at the foot of Flatbush Avenue and Jamaica Bay, explained Urban Dove Executive Director Jai Nanda.
“These kids are at a risk of dropping out and we want to re-engage them into a school community,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure what the objections would be to having young people come to a national park to learn. People come to national parks to learn every day.”
Nanda said that the buildings they’re looking to take over used to be a Jobs Corps facility.
“People used to go there and learned how to develop their skills,” he explained. “Using the resources of a national park for education services is nothing new.”
The school could be a welcome addition for the mostly unused 387-acre airfield. With the exception of Aviator, a few ball fields and a community garden, most of Floyd Bennett Field is vacant with boarded-up buildings peppered throughout. The area gets busier on the weekends — especially if a festival is held — but not by any record breaking standard.
Calls to the National Parks service for comment were not returned, although sources said Floyd Bennett Field’s landlord didn’t know about school until they outlined their plans to school district 22 earlier this month.
Urban Dove is one of 16 organizations the state Department of Education has invited to apply for charter school status. A final decision won’t come until December, after a staunch review process.
If its approved, Urban Dove will follow the wave of charter schools that’s been crashing down on Brooklyn, which is already home to 50 of the state’s 140 not-for-profit run schools.