Back to School for 1.1 Million New Yorkers

By Catherine Yang, Epoch Times
September 4, 2014 6:19 pm Last Updated: June 24, 2015 8:01 pm
NEW YORK—About 1.1 million students went back to school Thursday at 1,800 New York City schools, the country’s largest public school system. 

In Astoria, Queens, the intersection at 30th Avenue and 29th Street was flooded with bright colors worn by young students walking home from schools on both sides of the intersection. 

Parents greeted their children in several different languages as the children left prekindergarten, elementary, or middle schools clustered in the area. 

“Last year, we had 43 different languages spoken by families here,” said Jimmy Josa, a counselor at the middle school Q235 Academy for New Americans.

Most of the students come from newly immigrated families, and part of Josa’s beginning-of-the-year work is engaging parents and getting them more involved. 


Iftea Saif at P.S. 234 after his first day back to school in Astoria, New York, Sept. 4, 2014. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

“I moved to this country when I was seven and a half, and I feel so fortunate to be able to help those who are in a position I was in myself one time,” Josa said. 

Downstairs from the middle school, elementary students and their parents were walking home, greeted by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

“I just felt I had to be in Astoria today—there’s so much diversity,” said Stringer, who was handing out pamphlets with information on free transportation and lunches, gifted and talented programs, and other information for parents. 

“The first day of school is such an emotional time,” he added.

Fourth grader Ariana Cammarota, like many of the other children, chatted away about how fun school had been, all the new friends they made, and the old ones they met up with again.

“She’s been here since first grade, so I’m happy with it. And I like what I see so far,” Ariana’s mother, Nicole Cammarota said of PS 234. “I told her to just have fun, and not to stress about anything—it’s the fourth grade.” 

“The teachers are great, the environment’s great, and it’s safe,” said Marisol Z, who didn’t want to disclose her last name. She was picking up her daughter Aliyah who had just started the fifth grade at PS 234. “I have five kids, and they all went to this school.” 

Fourth grader Ariana Cammarota, like many of the other children, chatted away about how fun school had been, all the new friends they made, and the old ones they met up with again.
 
 
Girls at P.S. 234 after their first day of school in Astoria, New York, Sept. 4, 2014. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

For first grader Muniba Chowdhury, it was a new school and entirely new experience. 

“This is different,” she said. “Everything is different.”

Just yesterday Muniba had been nervous about attending school, her mother Farhana Chowdhury said. “Now look at how happy she is.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio shared his own emotional first day story that afternoon at a press conference.

“Chirlane and I had a personal experience, an emotional experience this morning. This is the last morning of our entire lives that we will drop off one of our children for the first day of school, and we were emotional wrecks,” de Blasio said. “Dante was absolutely blasé about the whole thing.”

Universal Prekindergarten

Over 51,000 4-year-olds are joining the mix of students this year as 1,700 community-based organizations and schools have expanded offerings. 

Universal prekindergarten has been the centerpiece of de Blasio’s administration, and on the first day of school, he took a five-borough tour of classrooms. 

“Both of our kids took to pre-K like fish in water—they loved it,” de Blasio said. “The energy, the focus of these kids, the sense—already they’re talking about their numbers and their letters and the colors and they’re already engaged—and that’s what we want for every child.”

The tour started in Brooklyn in the morning, when the mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray visited Inner Force Tots. Then they made their rounds to Staten Island’s Sacred Heart School, followed by lunch with students at Journey Prep School in the Bronx. 

In the afternoon, the mayor and First Lady visited Home Sweet Home Children’s School in Queens, before ending the tour at Amber Charter School in Manhattan.

[View the story “First day of school in NYC 2014” on Storify]