Students Beautify Benches With Social Justice Messages

Students of PS31Q The Bayside School celebrate the installation of their social action bench mural at Cunningham Park. Photo Credit: CEI

By Iryna 

Students from 11 public schools in Queens painted benches in Cunningham Park with underlying social justice themed messages through a nonprofit seeking to innovate the city’s public school system.

The Benchmarks program, part of the Center for Educational Innovation (CEI), engages students in social activism through the creation of public art. Some of the social issues that the students chose to focus on are racism, bullying, mental health awareness and respect for nature. 

On May 31, over a hundred students unveiled and celebrated their creations, which will be on display in the park through August. They also gave speeches surrounding the social impact that they hope their work will bring. 

A bench painted by students of I.S. 025 Adrien Block is installed at Cunningham Park as part of the CEI Benchmarks program. Photo Credit: CEI

“We hope that the bench encourages people to sit down and start talking to others while showing love and respect,” said Amaya Quayyum, an 11-year-old 5th grader from P.S. 191Q Mayflower School. “We are all the same across the nation and the potential for greatness is inside every one of us. Everyone can learn to respect, and respect is one of the greatest expressions of love and kindness.”

Tracy Dizon, a teaching artist at CEI, worked with students at four different schools to help them conceptualize and implement their ideas into mural style creations. With an art background in fashion design, she says that for both her and the students, mural making was a first time endeavor.  

Teaching artist Tracy Dizon poses with the bench she helped students of PS31Q The Bayside School to advocate for care for nature. Photo Credit: CEI

“Every class had a different charm to them,” said Dizon who witnessed the students in different schools gravitate to a social issue that they felt connected to. 

Dizon says that the students at P.S. 31Q in Bayside were largely inspired by nature due to their proximity to various parks and the spring season. The fourth graders that she worked with twice a week since February chose “Love Nature” as the theme of their bench with polka dot elements. 

Dizon worked with her students to create a preliminary design for the benches. Photo Credit: Tracy Dizon

The students were inspired by Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese contemporary artist who is best known for her heavy use of polka dots in sculptures and art installations. Dizon says that Kusama was one of the many artists that she introduced the students to in the planning stages of the project. 

“As the next generation we have to be stewards of nature,” said 10-year-old 4th grader Chloe Moy during the celebration. “The dots represent that we’re not alone in this world. We have to take care of each other and especially nature.”

For children, and even adults, thoughts on complex social issues can be difficult to express in words. The creation of art allows the space to process, learn and express inner feelings. 

“In this current climate, young people need a public platform to express themselves on current social issues in a constructive, creative, and powerful way, so they can join the conversation and make a difference in our world,” said Alexdra Leff, the executive director of arts education at CEI and creator of the Benchmarks program. 

“Their messages for social change on a wide array of critical issues will inspire hundreds of thousands of people this summer.”

St. Mary’s hosts 16th annual Big Hearts Walk

St. Mary’s staff and kids enjoyed the activities following the 16th annual walk-a-thon.

Hundreds of New Yorkers came out to Crocheron Park in Bayside on Sunday, June 12, for the 16th annual Big Hearts Walk for St. Mary’s Kids. The annual walk-a-thon helped raise over $90,000 to help the dedicated professionals at St. Mary’s continue to provide high-quality care to New York’s most critically ill and injured children–regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

“We are so thankful to everyone who participated in this year’s Annual Big Hearts Walk, especially after two difficult years of being unable to gather due to the pandemic,” Dr. Edwin Simpser, president and CEO of St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children, said. “The money raised from this walk will be crucial in the lives of St. Mary’s children with special needs and life-limiting conditions.”

As the only provider of pediatric long-term and rehabilitative care in NYC, St. Mary’s provides vital programs and services to children with medically complex conditions through an in-patient hospital facility, as well as home care services and community programs.

This year’s event honored David Clarke, healthcare commercial banking and senior relationship manager of M&T Bank. Clarke was recognized as this year’s Big Hearts Walk Honoree for his incredible contributions to raising awareness and funding for critical programs for children with special healthcare needs.

St. Mary’s kids and families were able to stay after the walk for carnival games, face painting, raffles, arts & crafts, and a magician.

Mary’s kids get their faces painted during the festivities.

Local students win Congressional art contest

Congresswoman Grace Meng recently announced this year’s winners of the annual Congressional District Art contest.

The competition consisted of entries from high school students in Queens, and is part of “An Artistic Discovery,” the national art contest held annually by the House of Representatives.

The contest displays the artwork of all Congressional District Art contest winners from across the nation.

Natalie Niselson, a freshman at Bayside High School, was selected as the winner of the Meng’s contest, for her original artwork, entitled “Brainwashed.”

Meng said that her winning piece, along with the winning artwork from Congressional Districts’ contests throughout the U.S., will be displayed for a year in the halls of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Meng announced Niselson as the winner during a reception she recently hosted for students and their families.
The reception was held at the Elmhurst branch of the Queens Public Library in its second floor reading room, where all the submitted artwork was on display during the event.

Other finalists in the contest were recognized at the reception, including second place winner Angela Lin, a 10th grader from Rego Park for her artwork, “Returning to Normalcy,” and third place winner Siya Gupta, an 11th grader from Rego Park for her artwork, “New York Under the Light.”

Their artwork will be displayed for one year in Meng’s Flushing office.

“Each year, I love seeing such beautiful, creative, and inspiring work that our young artists create, and this year was no exception. I look forward to Natalie’s winning piece representing our congressional district in Washington, D.C. and I am proud to highlight her exceptional talent,” Meng said. “I also thank Elmhurst Library for providing a wonderful space for the reception and exhibition. As we continue to move past the COVID-19 pandemic, I am glad that we can continue to hold this competition, and spotlight the tremendous creativity of our young people.”

All students who entered were presented with certificates of Congressional recognition.

The contests’ entries included different styles of paintings, collages, drawings, and prints. The finalists were decided by a panel at Flushing Town Hall.

The Artistic Discovery contest was launched in 1982 for members of Congress to highlight the artistic work of high school students from around the nation.

Since it began, more than 650,000 high school students from throughout the United States have participated in the competition.

Proposal for New School a Bad Idea

When is the proposal for a new school and playground not a good idea? When they are proposed for the wrong location without real community input, located on a narrow street creating a traffic nightmare, and being rushed through for approval at the end of a political term.
The proposal by the School Construction Authority (SCA) for a new school at 24th Avenue and Waters Edge Drive in Bay Terrace in northeastern Queens is significantly flawed. It comes at the end of this mayoral administration and months before a new City Council member for the district can take office.
First and foremost, SCA should put this proposal on hold until a new mayor and council member can fully evaluate whether a new school is needed in this specific neighborhood.
Only a few blocks away, P.S. 169 is already under construction, adding over 600 additional seats. I also understand that presently PS 169 has seats available.
The proposed new school site itself is on a narrow road with no parking. The street filters onto Bell Boulevard exactly at the entrance to the Bay Terrace Shopping Center, already a congested intersection.
Adding school buses and parents dropping off and picking up their children will only further exacerbate a crowded traffic situation.
The land is an historic landfill with possible underground contaminants, and may also include wetlands. These conditions should necessitate a full environmental impact statement before any possible negotiations with the property owner should begin.
Which SCA clearly will not do. The SCA can even beginning the process of purchasing this site without fully investigating these conditions is fiscally irresponsible.
The adjoining proposal for a new playground across the street seems to have been made solely to bolster the argument for the school, providing a few parking spots and a playground for the school children.
Unfortunately, the playground proposal also is short sighted for the same reasons as the school. This is the dead end of 24th Avenue, again creating a dangerous traffic situation for future park users.
Given its proposed location, a deserted dead-end street with little to no visibility, it can only become a potential late-night hangout.
I applaud the inclusion of $20 million in the city budget for construction of this playground, but not its location.
A much better location is nearby Little Bay Park and Fort Totten, which is much more accessible to residents of Bay Terrace and surrounding communities. That site has a large parking lot and a wonderful comfort station and is accessible by city bus.
Parks officials have long sought additional funding for Little Bay Park and Fort Totten. The $20 million would be a boom for both parks and create a more utilized and safer new playground.
Another reason against the proposed playground location is that although the lot on Waters Edge Drive and 24th Avenue is parkland, it currently is and has been for decades used by the Bay Terrace Country Club as a parking lot for the pool club. Taking away this parking lot would doom the club. The club has stated it has a 99-year lease on this property and obviously would contest the lease being vacated.
The club has been a great resource for Bay Terrace and Queens for over six decades, and it would be a tremendous loss for everyone if should have to close because of the loss of parking.
In addition, in the middle of both sites is a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sewage pumping station with facilities underneath and on the street and sidewalk.
I understand that only this week was DEP made aware of these proposals. Did no one bother to check what issues are present on these sites? Does it make sense to build a school and playground immediately adjacent to a sewage, odor producing, pumping station? Of course not!
For all of these reasons I oppose the new school and the location for the playground.
What should be done, and done immediately, is to put the school proposal on hold until a new mayor and council member have a chance to review its location and its need in this neighborhood.
The SCA should work together with local elected officials, the community board and residents to find an appropriate site that would better serve the children. SCA should turn away from dictating its proposals to working and collaborating with stakeholders.
The proposed playground should also be given a second look and relocated to Little Bay/Fort Totten. Let’s build the playground where everyone can enjoy it and at the same time allow the pool club to continue to serve the community.
To join with me, sign the petition.

Tony Avella is the Democratic candidate for the 19th District in the City Council.

LIRR issues

Dear Editor,
Besides the noise from work at the Bayside LIRR rail yard (“Another push to shut down work at Bayside Yard” – July 28), there are also ongoing problems at the Bayside Long Island Rail Road Station that impact several thousand dally riders.
I give the LIRR full credit for installation of new concrete ties and ballasts. This will insure a safer and more comfortable ride. They have also recently completed repairs to sections of the westbound platform edge.
However, there is still other significant outstanding maintenance and repair work to be done.
The original wooden support beams for various sections of the canopy have deteriorated. Pigeons have moved into the rotting bottom section of the westbound canopy stairs roof.
Other portions of the canopy roof are also in need of repair. The metal structure supporting the overpass connecting the east and westbound platforms has begun accumulating rust.
There is also a hole in one of the eastbound staircases.
Why does the LIRR allow these issues to grow even worse? When will the necessary repairs to these structural deficiencies be dealt with and completed?
Larry Penner
Great Neck

Another push to shut down work at Bayside yard

Bayside residents have had enough of a yard the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) has been using as a “temporary” staging site for overnight construction work on the Port Washington line for the at least the past six years.
Neighbors of the rail yard say they are often woken up several times a night by the work and loud diesel engines pulling in and out of the yard.
In addition to the noise, residents contend the site is being used to store flammable chemicals and other potentially hazardous materials.
“This is not a safe situation for any of us, it’s beyond inappropriate,” said Karen Digiacomo, who lives next door to the yard on 217th Street just south of 40th Avenue. “All of this has been done with complete disregard for us. We have been more than patient.”
Digiacomo said if the LIRR fails to take action, her and her neighbors have discussed filing a class action lawsuit.
Stephen Panagiotakis moved to his house on 218th Street next to the yard one year ago with his wife and two small sons. The overnight noise is a nuisance, he said, but so are the trucks entering and leaving the site all day long.
“There are trucks barreling down 40th Avenue,” he said.
Tony Avella, the Democratic nominee for City Council, said when he was last in office as a state senator in 2018 he spoke with LIRR president Phillip Eng about the issue.
“Eng promised to reduce activity, but now it’s worse than ever,” Avella said at a rally with residents on Monday calling on the LIRR to end activity at the site.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein said he also sent a letter to Eng and the LIRR about the issue in 2017, suggesting the agency find an alternative site for the staging work. He suggested moving the operation to Willets Point, a far-less residential area mostly surrounded by Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. He followed up again in 2019.
“The people in this neighborhood have been tortured by the Long Island Railroad for long enough,” Braunstein said earlier this week. “People do not deserve to live like this.”
Representatives from the MTA and LIRR did not respond to requests for comment.
While the LIRR has been unresponsive in the past, Avella said this time around they might have an ace up their sleeve. On Sunday night, Avella said Senator Chuck Schumer called to congratulate him on his primary win, and asked if there was anything Schumer could help with.
Avella mentioned the issues at the Bayside yard, and Schumer said he would reach out to LIRR officials to discuss the matter. Avella said Schumer’s help is important because many train operations are overseen by federal agencies.
“Having the senate majority leader on your side is a big deal,” Avella said.

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