Op-ed: Creating Environments For Success From Harlem To Hollis

June 19, 2017

By NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña

School buildings are more than just structures made up of hallways and rooms, they are hubs for communities; and students and educators across New York City consider them a second home. From the front doors that welcome over 1.1 million students each morning, to classrooms filled with high-quality teaching and learning, to cafeterias where students build social skills and make lifelong friends – these walls are filled with pivotal lessons and endless memories.

As we provide all students with a high-quality education, we are focused on not only what they learn, but also where and how they learn. This year, we’ve taken unprecedented steps to ensure all school buildings support a healthy learning environment. For students to be able to focus on learning, they must feel safe and welcome in an inclusive and comfortable environment – these are the conditions for success.

An investment in our school buildings is an investment in our students. To ensure Equity and Excellence for All, we are addressing the fundamental elements that too often become barriers for students.

I’ve worked in our school system for over 50 years, and as a principal, I relied on my custodian and school safety officers as much as I did on my teachers. We were all one community ensuring safe and supportive learning spaces. I encourage families to spend time in their child’s school and get to know the staff members who work tirelessly to educate students and maintain the school’s facilitates.

This April, we announced new funding to purchase and install air conditioning for every classroom in New York City by 2022. We’re prioritizing summer school sites so that all students are comfortable during the warmer months.

We also launched an initiative this spring to designate single-stall student restrooms in all New York City schools by the end of the 2017-18 school year. These new facilities will provide schools with additional space to support the privacy needs of students, including those with medical conditions and disabilities, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming students. We also installed menstrual product dispensers in all schools with middle and high school grades, providing free tampons and pads to students.

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And just this month, Mayor de Blasio and I announced the Universal Physical Education initiative to provide all schools with a quality PE space by 2021. The research is clear – exercise significantly improves cognitive skills and academic performance, while also teaching students critical skills and healthy habits that will last them a lifetime.

Over the course of the next few years, we will continue to work with middle and high schools to renovate cafeterias and provide students with a more college-like cafeteria experience. These new cafeterias empower students to make their own choices from a wide array of nutritional options. Preparing for college is more than rigorous curriculum, it is essential that we teach students to be independent thinkers and making healthy choices is a part of this.

In addition to these important enhancements, the City is also investing $4.5 billion to create over 44,000 new school seats, bringing more capacity to neighborhoods in all five boroughs.

By creating these conditions for success, we are setting students up to grow and thrive in the classroom and beyond.

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