Pols Place Focus On Sports And Arts In City Schools
BY LYNN EDMONDS
A second grader dribbling a soccer ball and sporting a huge smile may be one of the cutest sights, and it’s even more heartwarming when the person they’re passing the ball to is a professional player who is going easy so they can teach Queens’ kids how to improve their game.
But the free soccer clinic for kids at PS 120 in Flushing, hosted by the New York Cosmos on Feb 11, wasn’t just a cute event. It was a joint attempt by educators and legislator Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) to get around a lack of funding for New York City public schools, especially when it comes to arts and sports.
These aspects of the curriculum can often receive short shrift, despite studies indicating that they have significant positive impacts on children’s physical health, mental wellbeing, brain development, social skills and academic performance.
It was an issue that other legislators in the area were grappling with as well.
On Feb. 12, at PS 173, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) held a press conference to draw attention to a lack of funding for music education.
Twenty-five percent of the schools in his Council district had no music education programs at all, Lancman said, even though it is mandated by state law.
And even the schools that did have music education sometimes required the students to pay extra in order to get access to those programs.
Blue ribbon school PS 173 was a case in point, despite the principal’s best intentions and the fact that they were one of the schools in the district lucky enough to have a full time music teacher.
There was only funding for half the instruments in the orchestra, Principal Molly Wang said.
“We don’t have money to give to the rental; the parents pay for the rental of the instruments so that we can have a full orchestra,” she explained.
Lancman said he feared this could leave some children excluded.
“I’m sure somewhere, at some time, some kid wanted to be in a music program, and went home to mom and dad, and was told ‘we just don’t have the money fort this,’” he said. “We’re really created a bit of a tale of two educational systems, even within the public school system.”
Lancman said it was up to the City to increase funding for music education. He pointed to the fiscal crisis in 1970, when the budget for music teachers was cut, as a point of origin for the problem.
“Music education has yet to recover even though the economy did,” his press release states.
Now, he said, it was time to do more.
“It’s what’s required by the law, it’s what makes academic sense and it’s what our kids deserve,” Lancman concluded.
Rozic, on her part, focused her efforts on extracting funding from the state.
“My district is owed about $43 million in terms of resources for after school programming and in school equipment and classroom trainings,” Rozic said.
The $43 million number that Rozic cited was the result of a ruling on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity vs. The State of New York. The lawsuit, which was settled in 2006, ended with New York’s Court of Appeals ruling that the state was not doing its duty in providing a basic education to New York City children. The state was mandated to increase their funding for education by a total of $5.5 billion between 2007 and 2011. But after two years the state froze the program, and schools never received the bulk of the funding.
That made the soccer clinic more than just a fun opportunity for the kids to practice soccer with professional players. Instead, it was also a case of a private corporation, the New York Cosmos, plugging a gap in a public service.
“I’m trying to figure out ways that we can really leverage private-public partnerships,” Rozic said.
The clinic itself was organized chaos, with children zigzagging in every direction. Most of them seemed to be beginners, and they struggled to keep pace with unruly soccer balls that threatened to escape their control and roll across the gym floor.
When it came time to the question and answer session with players Danny Szetela, Eric Calvillo and Lucky Mkosana, the children were rapt.
“How did it turn out when you played soccer for the first time?” One boy asked the players.
“I wasn’t very good,” midfielder Szetela answered. “I had older brothers and when I had the ball they tried to take the ball from me.”
“They hurt me a little bit, by kicking me to get the ball, but, it was fun. That’s what made me the player I am today,” he added.
For many of the students, it may have been a pertinent question. Principal Robert Marino said that prior to the 2015-2016 school year, PS 120 did not have a licensed physical education teacher.
The way Marino saw it, giving kids the exposure to sports might be a key aspect of advocating for more sports programs implemented in the future.
“There are a lot of obstacles when you’re trying to implement any type of a sport. The one way to get around those obstacles, or at least, to, get over them, is to spark interest in children,” Marino said. “Through that interest comes ways to get around budget and time and space.”
Meanwhile, education advocates haven’t given up on getting more funding for New York State’s schools.
The same lawyer who brought the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, Michael Rebell, is working on a new one, New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights.
“We tried dealing with this politically and didn’t get too far with governor Cuomo and all, so we did bring a new case to try and get satisfaction there,” Rebell said.
Oral arguments were heard by the Appellate court on Feb. 24.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana