Porcelli: The Other Side of Education (9/1)

It’s Not Your Grandfather’s – It’s High-Tech

By Mike Porcelli

Shop Class is coming back…at least I hope it is.

Last month I attended the City & State Education Summit, featuring some of the leading voices on education in New York.

In his keynote address, School Chancellor David Banks announced his intention to bring back CTE – Career & Technical Education programs – the modern version of trade education, or what I call: ‘the other side of education,’ by saying, ‘It’s Not Your Grandfather’s CTE.’

His phrasing immediately got my attention, because the reference to grandfathers in the title of this column, was selected a week before the conference.

When I heard Chancellor Banks stress “It’s not your grandfather’s CTE,” I immediately thought, he understands modern CTE must necessarily be high-tech, because all trades now use technology extensively.

At least, I hope he understands, and acts accordingly.

Everything the Chancellor said, indicated he understands the importance of trade training for students who are suited for and desire it, and he has plans to make shop classes available to all who can benefit from them.

He indicated that the destruction of trade training programs over the past six decades, was misguided and destructive to many students.

It absolutely was, resulting in millions of students being under-educated by schools that deprived them of the training they needed.

Hopefully, the restoration of CTE will reduce the number of students forced into programs that don’t match their talents, desires and ambitions, leading to their poor grades, high drop-out rates, low employability and high frustration.

This combination of low skills and high frustration in students deprived of their best options, is a major cause of mental, emotional and economic distress.

When students do not have the opportunity to develop their natural talents, they will be less employable, less productive and less satisfied than those allowed to develop their potential.

Our education system is obligated to provide all students the best training options based on their abilities and needs.

Hopefully, Chancellor Banks and his administration can increase the availability of CTE programs, so that all students who need them can take advantage of them.

The goal of restoring CTE poses a commendable challenge for Banks.

For the sake of his students, I hope he is successful – but he must be held accountable.

Academic & Trade Education are Two Sides of a Coin.

This column explores the impact of CTE programs on students, society, and the economy.

Mike Porcelli is a life-long mechanic, adjunct professor and host of Autolab Radio.

He is committed to restoring trade education in schools before it’s too late.

Relatives of killed DoorDash worker demand justice; Tran family speaks out

By Jessica Meditz


Locals built a memorial for Be Tran at the intersection of Myrtle and Seneca Avenues in Ridgewood.

Anh Tran wanted nothing more than for her 74-year-old father, Be Tran, to come home to Flushing and relax on the evening of Aug. 14.

She pleaded for him to stop working as a DoorDash driver so she could take care of him — in return for all the years he did the same for her.

“Don’t worry,” her father said to her in a text message.

Little did she know that those would be the last words she would ever hear from him.

During what is believed to be his last food delivery of the night, Be Tran was struck by a hit-and-run driver in a black BMW with Florida license plates at Myrtle Avenue and Hancock Street in Ridgewood.

Tran was pronounced dead at the scene.

The suspect is still at large and the case is being investigated by the NYPD Highway Collision Investigation Squad.

Tran’s death sparked feelings of shock, anger and sadness within the community, and activists rallied to demand more action from the city they live, work and commute in every day.

Nearly two weeks after the hit-and-run collision, community members and volunteer activists Chong Bretillon and Elizabeth Amber Gomez organized a candlelight vigil with the Tran family to honor his life and legacy.

“Thirteen nights ago on this very street, a man I called father, a man who spent his lifetime paying for his family, building and living the American dream, today we have gathered to celebrate his life,” Anh Tran said to the small crowd at the vigil.

“The cruel individual who killed my father and inflicted this pain upon my family and I is still out there,” she continued. “We have been shedding light and raising awareness about this horrific tragedy through the news, media and social media to bring justice and a semblance of peace in our hearts.”

Tran and her sister, Tina expressed their gratitude to the community for the endless support, including the memorial built by local activist groups on Myrtle and Seneca Avenues and all the donations that went toward their father’s funeral.

Tran started a GoFundMe page for her father on Aug. 15, where she described him as a “kind, caring, charismatic, funny and extremely hard-working individual.”

Close to 900 people donated — from other local DoorDash drivers to Tran’s high school classmates from Vietnam — to support the family, quickly raising over $40,000.

Early last week, Tran’s funeral was held at Quinn-Fogarty Funeral Home in Flushing.

His younger sister, Truyen Swinger, flew to Queens from her home in Florida when she heard the news about her brother.

She, Tran and their six other siblings were born and raised in Vietnam. Swinger said that Tran was in law school before he was drafted to the Vietnam War, where he served as a lieutenant.

“We went through thick and thin together…we survived the Vietnam War before we came to America,” Swinger said.

“My brother is a very hard worker and a very devoted father. This loss is just such a shock.”

Truyen Swinger and Anh Tran demanded justice for their brother and father, Be Tran.

Swinger said that “something must be done” for street safety citywide, especially to protect the elderly and disabled, and wishes people would drive slower and more carefully.

Her words struck up conversations on possible options for the DOT to implement to end traffic violence and accidents.

Juan Ardila, the Democratic candidate for Assembly District 37, which represents parts of Long Island City, Maspeth, Sunnyside, Woodside and Ridgewood, pointed out that there are five roads at the intersection where Tran was killed, and only four traffic signals.

“We all deserve to have safe streets and be able to work with peace and dignity. Especially coming from an immigrant background, where being a delivery worker is one of the few occupations that is attainable for working class people,” Ardila said.

“This is something that impacts all lives…immigrant populations, people of color and working class people,” he continued. “We need to ensure that we are responsive to this situation, that we understand the need and the demand because right now, we are asking for robust infrastructure and robust protection,” he continued. “It’s the No. 1 rule to look out for each other.”

Bretillon argued that this incident is being underrepresented, and believes that if it were a gun-related matter, it would have made state or national news.

Transit activist Chong Bretillon co-organized the vigil and advocated for the Tran family.

“Traffic violence happens every single day in this city and disproportionately impacts senior citizens, immigrants and people of color. The police do not enforce dangerous driving behavior, such as speeding and failure to yield. The DOT designs clearly dangerous intersections and terrible curb conditions despite years of complaints, crashes, injuries and deaths,” she said.

“Mr. Tran was a delivery worker and essential worker. Unlike people who work in offices, schools or buildings, his workplace was the streets. He brought hot, fresh food to people who are safe in their homes, who order online, who aren’t even thinking about the dangers that delivery workers face,” she continued.

“Lack of safe infrastructure and lack of speed limiting street design means delivery workers are placed in unsafe conditions every single day. Not only that, but they’re vulnerable to violence, robberies and assault by other people. Their bikes are often stolen and lastly, they’re subjected to harassment and ticketing by the NYPD themselves.”

Anh Tran said that she wishes it didn’t take someone losing their life to resolve these issues.

“I just hope this incident can actually bring light to this, and hopefully they can take this seriously,” she said. “We don’t need any more New Yorkers to get killed, and I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what I’m going through.”

Tran said that she and her family will not stop searching for justice, and had just four words for the person who killed her father, “You will be caught.”

Shawn Eldot: The local king of chess

Forest Hills teacher inspires students through chess

By Jessica Meditz


Shawn Eldot of Forest Hills was recognized as one of the nation’s leading chess instructors.

Although some teen movies portray the game of chess as a thing for “nerds,” Shawn Eldot strives to prove to kids how cool it can be.

The Forest Hills resident works full time as a chess instructor, teaching people of all ages the ins and outs of the board game that’s been around for centuries.

Eldot first discovered his love of chess at the age of nine.

He played in tournaments throughout his childhood and teen years, racking up numerous awards for his impeccable performance.

A Bayside native, Eldot attended Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, where he played less frequently due to the stress from college applications, SATs and other exams.

However, he did play one High School Championship and won.

“Chess is an art and a science, and it shows a lot about a person. It teaches many disciplines,” Eldot said.

“It also builds critical thinking skills and builds friendships because a lot of people learn to play at some point. Chess has so many benefits and beautiful aspects,” he continued. “It’s a beautiful thing for kids to learn as well because parents don’t want kids to play video games all day. Chess is not only fun, but it shows a competitive spirit.”

Eldot, who has a background in mathematics, earned his master’s degree in higher education administration at Queens College and is in a PhD program at Liberty University.

His ultimate career goal is to one day be a dean of a university, but teaching children will always remain special to him.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he ran a large chess program at P.S. 196 in Forest Hills for years.

But similarly to the way he’s pursuing his PhD, Eldot quickly began to see the benefits of the technology right at his feet.

He offers online chess lessons to both adults and children via Zoom, and teaches students from coast to coast.

Eldot teaches chess to people all over the country.

“I try to bring a fun aspect to the game, because chess was always kind of a competitive sport. But I try to make it a fun thing where it doesn’t matter if one wins or loses. It’s all about having fun, enjoying and thinking,” Eldot said. “Any time that anyone learns something new is always a beautiful thing. Once you start learning, you enjoy the beauty of it.”

Eldot added that his students are always extremely appreciative of his efforts, and make it known to him that he’s the best chess teacher.

On top of that, the video chat giant, Skype approached him in 2016 to write an article about his work as a chess instructor.

The article named Eldot as one of the nation’s leading instructors.

“A lot of my references are not only from New York, but all over the U.S. — California, Arizona, Texas. Everyone gave positive feedback…for example, ‘I had chess instructors before but Shawn’s different.’ It makes me feel good,” he said.

Eldot taught chess to students in public schools across Brooklyn and Queens prior to the pandemic.

“Even when I would walk inside the elementary school, the kids loved me so much,” Eldot continued. “As soon as I stepped foot in there, I made such an impact because I understand what it means, maybe not to have the nicest teacher. I want to make everyone comfortable and provide a learning environment.”

Along with technology on his side, Eldot is grateful for the grassroots and word-of-mouth support he’s received from students and parents, helping him gain exposure for the services he provides.

He offers single-person lessons as well as “chess buddy” lessons, where two people can join the lesson at one time to play with one another. Each session lasts about an hour.

Eldot says he’s happy to be able to teach people the art of chess who may have never had an opportunity to learn the game before.

“It’s such a benefit to one’s life and it shows a lot about personality. When you play a chess game, it shows who you are as a person. Even if you don’t know a person, but you sit in front of them and you play them, you know who you’re dealing with, whether they’re a giving person, a creative person or a tricky person,” he said. “Without words, chess could tell you a lot about a person, even if you speak two different languages, but we both know how to play, a friendship is built on that.”

He appreciates the fact that the game brings communities, families and friends together, and continues to highlight the benefits of playing chess.

“My main goal in life is just to help someone learn and have fun,” he continued.

“When someone ever calls me and says, ‘Shawn, what’s the difference between you and someone else?’ My answer is always the same: ‘Do one lesson with me, and you’ll be the judge.’”

For more information on Eldot’s chess lessons, give him a call at (347) 471-4890 or visit his Craigslist page.

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