Sunset Park’s newest elementary school, P.S. 958, officially took on the name of Puerto Rican educator and social worker Dr. Antonia Pantoja on Tuesday.
The school opened its doors on Fifth Avenue in 2022 and looked to the local community for assistance in naming the school building.
After months of conversations with Sunset Park neighbors, organizations and families, the community officially selected “The Dr. Antonia Pantoja School of Sunset Park” as the school building name at a meeting of Community Board 7 in May.
Pantoja was chosen as the school’s namesake as she not only reflects the culture of its students, but the values that its educators instill in them, according to P.S. 959 principal Emily Shapiro.
“P.S. 958 was designed in collaboration with the Sunset Park community to celebrate and ensure success for children of diverse cultures and needs,” Shapiro said. “We are committed to giving our students the tools to be advocates for their peers and their community and we are honored to name our school building after Dr. Pantoja.”
A Latina civil rights leader and activist, Pantoja passed at the age of 80 in 2002, and is best remembered as a staunch advocate for Puerto Ricans in New York.
Pantoja worked to address the discrimination Puerto Ricans faced in education in New York City and founded ASPIRA, a non-profit organization that promotes advancement in education for Puerto Rican and other Latinx youths in the city and across the U.S., in 1961.
She was instrumental in the passing of landmark legislation that established the basic right to bilingual education in the city, and was the first Puerto Rican woman to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.
“Dr. Pantoja is a role model for all of us,” said Pat Ruiz, president and founder of the Boricua Festival Committee, which played a huge role in advocating for the naming of P.S. 958 after Pantoja.
“She was a defender for equal rights in the city school system for bilingual classes and Puerto Rican youth. Her life’s work revolved around educational access for the disadvantaged and community self-determination,” said Ruiz. “Dr. Pantoja’s lifelong mission was to empower community members to speak for themselves and we are thrilled to finally name a school building in our community after her.”
P.S. 958 This is the first school building in the Sunset Park community named after a woman of color and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Sept. 26 ceremony was attended by parents, staff, and local Council Member Alexa Avilés, who presented a citation from the city council to Pantoja’s lifelong partner, Dr. Wilhelmina Perry.
“I am honored to be here. To see a school in Dr. Pantoja’s name here in New York City makes my heart shudder. There are other schools in her name but there is not one in New York City,” Perry said. “My hope, my wish, and my prayer is that for every student that enters this building, they get to know who Dr. Antonia Pantoja was, and her legacy. And as they get to know those things, I hope they come to know about themselves, who they are, and what they want to accomplish.”
“Because after all, it really is about passing on, from one generation to another, from one student to another, and that is the greatest gift that Dr. Pantoja could leave behind,” Perry continued.”Her legacy becomes the legacy of every student who attends the Dr. Antonia Pantoja school.”