Kiwanis Club Celebrates Scholarship Recipients 

Maspeth’s Kiwanis Club celebrated its scholarship recipients at a luncheon. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

Maspeth’s Kiwanis Club celebrated its annual scholarship recipients, alongside parents and community members, at a luncheon at Maspeth Town Hall on Thursday, June 22. 

Fifteen recent high school graduates, who reside in Maspeth, but attend schools across Queens received a check for $2,000 to assist with any educational expenses before they head off to college in the fall. 

“It’s harder and harder every year to pay for college,” said Michelle Masone, the scholarship program chairman. “This is a little thing that we can do to help them, and support them, in furthering their education.”

The annual scholarship program started in 1947, and has since awarded over $500,000 to local students. The club acknowledged the financial contributions on behalf of the late Susan Scott, a teacher “who held the scholarship program near and dear to her heart” in their program. Now in its 69th year, the fund is supported by donations from community organizations, including the Kiwanis Club and Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. 

Some past scholarship recipients also attended the in person celebration – a comeback following a two year pandemic hiatus. 

Toya Brown, an Executive Assistant to the CEO at Maspeth Federal Savings, was a scholarship recipient in 2014. After spending one year at Johnson & Wales, Brown transferred to Brooklyn College to complete her degree in film production. She says that she was grateful for the scholarship in helping cover costly tuition. 

Toya Brown was a recipient in 2014. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

“It’s great to see that they’re still doing it, and recognizing that the Kiwanis Club is important,” said Brown, who attended the luncheon with other staff members from Maspeth Federal. “It’s a great way, not just to build your portfolio, but to give back and really be a part of the community.”

As part of her role at the bank, she also visits schools to teach college and high school students about financial literacy, including budgeting skills and even how to balance a checkbook. 

Approximately 30-40 students apply to the scholarship each year, and at least fourteen are selected based on merit. Most students said that they heard about the scholarship through their guidance or college counselor, who encouraged them to apply. As part of the application, students submitted an essay outlining their contributions to their school and community, as well as their extracurricular activities and academic achievements. 

“I was very surprised,” said Emma Bogdan, who learned that she was selected at her graduation ceremony at St. Francis Preparatory School. In the fall she is heading to Marist College and to complete a dual Bachelors and Masters program in special education. 

Emma Bogdan will attend Marist College in the fall. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan.

After a hot lunch, the recipients were called up individually by Maspeth Kiwanis Club President, Jim Regan, to receive their checks. 

Lisa and Mike Terry, two club members in attendance, extended their congratulations to the recipients and shared that their son won the scholarship fifteen years ago. 

In 1971, Michael Falco received the scholarship after graduating from Christ The King High School. He says that the scholarship helped him pay for his textbooks as a student at Queens College, back when college tuition was significantly more affordable than it is today.

Today, he is a practicing lawyer based out of Maspeth and a Kiwanis Club member. He attended the luncheon to celebrate this year’s recipients. 

“And we hope eventually they come back to this community and they join Kiwanis to help us with our service projects,” said Masone, acknowledging that many past recipients already have.  

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 Shkurhan[email protected] 

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.”

Julie Won Talks Misogyny, Housing and Education

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

Julie Won isn’t scared of conflict and confrontation, in her own words – she thrives in it. 

Since assuming office in the beginning of 2022, the Western Queens councilwoman spearheaded negotiations for the largest private affordable housing development in Queens history, securing 20 percent more affordable units than developers proposed. And as someone who moved to the United States from Korea at age six, she focused on immigrant communities to pass legislation mandating vital city notices be accessible in other languages.

In a sit down interview with the Queens Ledger last week, Won used words such as pragmatic, confrontational and even rigid to describe herself. She attributes her approach as an elected official to being an Aries, a fire sign anecdotally known to represent bravery and boldness. 

Won came out on top of one of the most crowded city council primaries in the 2021 cycle, with 11 other democratic candidates vying to represent Sunnyside, Woodside, Astoria and Long Island City. Despite the initial density, over 18,000 locals turned out to vote in the general election, more than double the 7,709 ballots cast in the previous election. She replaced Jimmy Van Bramer, who represented the district since 2009 and did not run for reelection. 

She credits the high voter turnout to her team knocking on over 70,000 doors leading up to voting day, rejecting the assumption the District 26 “doesn’t vote” with the numbers to prove it. 

While she is a political newcomer, her background in data analytics, technology and marketing easily translated to running a successful campaign and fitting into the world of budget negotiations and all things legislation. Won previously worked for IBN in various roles for a decade, most recently as a digital strategy consultant right up until she took office. 

As the first Korean-American elected to city council at 32, Won is progressive without taking a full-blown Democratic-Socialist stance like Tiffany Caban and Jennifer Gutirrez in neighboring districts. She is pro-union, collaborative with organizers and supported holding the NYPD accountable for aggressive policing during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Won also says that she’s staunchly pro-public schools and disapproves of investments in charter schools, which critics say operate at a cheaper cost but siphon funding from public schools. And as someone who attended public schools for most of her life, Won says that her child, who recently turned one, will do the same when it’s time to enroll.  

“We have to fix the public education system as they’re privatizing it,” said Won. “I don’t have a single parent in my district begging me to open up a charter school. I have every single parent rallying to make sure that a charter school does not open in this district.”

Won received some criticism for voting to approve the controversial city budget last year, which included defunding public schools by $469 million. Only six members voted against it, including Caban who represents Astoria. 

She expressed that her vote to pass the overall budget does not necessarily signify a vote on just one line. 

Won also pointed out that given the rate of students leaving the NYC public school system due to pandemic relocation, schools should not receive the same level of funding now. Enrollment at NYC public schools is down 11 percent since the pandemic after 813,000 students in grades K-12 left the system, according to reporting by Chalkbeat. 

“If you understand the logic of what your job role is, you understand that your role as a legislator is to advocate and fight for a budget that is as close as possible to where I want it to look like,” said Won, who said that legislators who vote to reject the budget, delay long term solutions and reduce additional funding for their own districts. 

Since emerging in the political scene, Won says that she has encountered a fair share of misogyny, especially since she was pregnant during her campaign and gave birth just months after taking office. 

“I’m pregnant, not brain dead,” said the council member in response to critics who criticized her decision to choose both — motherhood and a far-reaching career. 

In order to be present for budget negotiations, which can not be attended virtually, her maternity leave amounted to less than a month. She also pointed out that she continued to work up until 24 hours before giving birth. 

“Because of my own upbringing, I think of having to be independent, I do better in high stress situations,” said Won, who secured her first job at 16 and moved out while being financially independent two years later. 

That mentality got her through negotiations for Innovation QNS, where she was able to secure a deal where 45% of 3,000 units will be designated affordable. Developers initially proposed that 75% of units will be at market rate. When renderings included designer retailers in the commercial space, she pushed for more apartments instead. 

Won says that in her district, 88 percent of people are renters. And with the city currently enduring an affordability crisis, contributed to by shortage of housing and skyrocketing rent, the deal was pivotal for the housing security of thousands of Queens residents.

At an Astoria rally for Good Cause Eviction legislation to be included in the state budget last month, Won shared that since she took office, thousands of constituents have come to her office distressed over eviction notices and the inability to afford the rising cost of rent and utilities. 

In response she hired a housing lawyer through CUNY Law School to represent residents in her district facing eviction. Since October 2022, he has come in twice a month and met with dozens of constituents pro bono.

While she says she is not a DSA member, and did not receive their endorsement, her policy stances paint her to be socialist-adjacent. She stood alongside exclusively DSA endorsed officials and organizers at the rally in support of the progressive vision. 

“I work with anybody who’s willing to work with me if our vision or mission aligns for the betterment of my community,” said Won about politicians on both sides. 

That includes the Working Families Party (WFP), whose higher ups vetoed her endorsement during her first run despite the Queens chapter offering their endorsement. Instead, the WFP endorsed Amit Bagga, another progressive candidate who trailed her on election day. Won attributed it to the “political machine” being “alive and well” in a response on Twitter immediately after. 

Following the rejection, her husband Eugene Noh, who also ran her campaign, said “f*** the working families party” in an interview with Matthew Thomas, an independent reporter. 

During her interview with the Queens Ledger, where Noh was also present, he said “she’s happy to start fresh” with the WFP and pointed out that they endorsed her in this upcoming cycle.  

It appears that Won and her husband are partners in life and work. The couple say that they have known each other since they were teenagers. 

In another immigrant-supportive step, she hired local residents who speak Bengal, Nepali and Spanish to better serve her constituents in her Sunnyside office on Queens Boulevard. She says her office has resolved over 2,000 cases since taking office. 

“Making sure our bread and butter is constituent services to make sure people have the constituent requests met, and making sure that I get the most money every single year for this district,” is top priority, said Won. 



Pol Position: State lawmakers to decide on Mayoral Control

The debate over mayoral control of New York City public schools remains a hot-button issue in Albany, as the Adams administration continues its push for a four-year extension. Adams has had a lot on his plate–in addition to his efforts to revive New York City following two years of the COVID-19, efforts to increase public safety amid a surge of gun violence nationwide, and efforts to construct affordable housing amid a homelessness crisis, he also found himself confronted with criticism from parents, students, and teachers regarding the mask mandates and COVID vaccination requirements.

But not all was lost. During his tenure, Adams helped restore funding for Gifted & Talented programming, introduced Asian American history into school curriculums, and helped usher a deal with Albany lawmakers to turn on speed cameras 24/7.

Mayoral control gives Adams the authority to hire and fire the Schools’ Chancellor along with nine of the 15 members on the Panel for Education Policy. It is a policy that has been around for the last twenty years, and yet despite support from Gov. Hochul, state lawmakers have indicated they may look to reduce the extension to a single year.

According to Chalkbeat, last month, Adams joined Chancellor David Banks for a rally on the steps of City Hall to plead his case with state legislators to continue and grant the administration the authority to oversee the city’s school system.

“The chancellor and I have laid out a bold new vision for our children and for the families that attend our public school system,” Adams said. “This is the first time in history where we have two men who grew up in the public school system with two different experiences — one dealing with a learning disability, another dealing with the Gifted and Talented program.” State Senator John Liu also told Pix11 News that while Adams will likely keep mayoral control, he expects changes to strengthen the ability of parents to give input and could even allow lawmakers to hold Adams accountable over his performance.

“The likely outcome will be a system in which the mayor still has control, and therefore, we can hold him accountable for school success or failure, but a system that also provides a meaningful mechanism to bolster parental input,” Liu, who chairs the Senate’s committee on New York City education, told Chalkbeat in a recent interview. “That is the main issue — that parents feel they have no way to engage, that their suggestions and complaints aren’t even heard.”

Although it seems likely that state lawmakers will approve the revised extension, there are a number of issues facing the nation’s largest school system that still need to be addressed.

One key concern is chronic absenteeism in schools. Thanks largely to the pandemic, the rate of absenteeism over the past year has reached its highest level in over twenty years. Student enrollment is down, class participation is down, and keeping teachers in the City school system has been a struggle.

Another major concern is parent involvement. Several parents are in favor of returning control of city schools to the state in light of recent decisions by the Department of Education Chancellor Banks. The recent dismissal of District 30 Superintendent Philip Composto and District 24 Superintendent Madelene Chan had parents in a frenzy over Adams-controlled DOE, which they feel did not consider the input of parents before making such a major decision. DOE officials have since stated that they plan to allow the Superintendents to reapply for their jobs, despite the likelihood that they will be replaced.

However, some say that the effort of the Adams administration to be more inclusive has been an improvement from years past.
With mayoral control set to expire, New York State lawmakers have until the end of session to decide on Mayoral Control.

VBGC kids read along with Mary Argento

Author Mary Argento visited the Variety Boys and Girls Club last week to read aloud her first book, “Goodness on Deposit — The Ginormous Tiny Idea,” a relatable work highlighting a teachable lesson to kids. Each child in attendance also received their own copy of the book.

“It’s all about doing good deeds,” Argento said, shortly after taking a tour of the VBGC facility in Astoria. “I can see there are so many good deeds being done here.”

Reading aloud to over two dozen after school students, Argento shared the story that focuses around identifying acts of kindness with a main character the same age as many of the kids in the room.

Students also received face masks with designs of the book’s illustrations.

Goodness On Deposit” was officially published earlier this year, but Argento says she originally wrote it about a decade ago. The book is published by Florida-based Atlantic Publishing Group.

Students got the opportunity to ask questions about the book after Argento’s read aloud.

“How old do you have to be to write a book?” one student asked. “How do you write a book?” another student asked.

Argento said that she initially shelved the book after writing it 10 years ago, but after receiving some inspiration from her husband, she finally went the publishing route with the children’s book.

The book comes with an interactive cut-out bankbook for recording good deeds, which students can trade in for a free “Goodness Superstar” wristband at Goodnessondeposit.com.

The VBGC serves over 4,000 kids in Western Queens per year, providing a safe space for the community and good deeds abound.

“I also learned that a lot of you come back,” Argento said. “Maybe you’re seven now, but when you’re 20, you’ll be here teaching. I heard that’s what people do here, they come back and give back. That’s amazing.”

Illegal burden

Dear Editor,
The flood of illegal immigrants coming here from our southern border bring the risk of COVID and places an unfair burden on our schools.
Queens are Brooklyn are among 15 counties nationwide that each took in over 1,000 children who were rounded up illegally crossing the border and brought here on secret flights landing in darkness at WestChester Airport in a clandestine program run by the Department of Health & Human Services.
Many of them are unaccompanied teenagers who don’t speak English and have special needs, but are placed in the city’s burdened public schools that do not get federal funds to handle the challenge.
This creates a financial “classroom crisis” for New York City schools that already cost taxpayers over $28,000 a year per student.
Law enforcement authorities worry that unaccompanied minors are prime recruiting targets for MS-13 and other violent street gangs. Why don’t our elected officials protest this program and try to stop its harmful impact?
If they fail to stand up for their constituents now, we should not re-elect them.
Sincerely,
Richard Reif
Kew Gardens Hills

TOP HIGH SCHOOLS 2021

TOP HIGH SCHOOLS ARE ON TOP OF EDUCATION TRENDS: While most public schools are still trying to figure out how to socially distance and getting teachers vaccinated, our Top High Schools are focused on getting their students to top colleges.

THE OPEN HOUSE EXPERIENCE: Finding the right high school is a daunting process, but open houses offer potential applicants a better chance to get a feel for each institution.

TECHNOLOGY IS HERE TO STAY AT TOP HIGH SCHOOLS: Within the past 18 months, Zoom became a household name, touchless thermometers became a standard part of entering any school building, and conference room equipment was essential in the classroom.

ARCHBISHOP MOLLOY HIGH SCHOOL

CATHEDRAL HIGH SCHOOL

DOMINICAN ACADEMY

HOLY CROSS HIGH SCHOOL

THE KEW-FOREST SCHOOL

LAWRENCE WOODMERE ACADEMY

MARTIN LUTHER SCHOOL

MONSIGNOR MCCLANCY HIGH SCHOOL

NOTRE DAME SCHOOL OF MANHATTAN

ST. FRANCIS PREP

ST. JEAN BAPTISTE HIGH SCHOOL

ST. JOHN’S PREP

ST. VINCENT FERRER HIGH SCHOOL

TOP HIGH SCHOOLS 2021

TOP HIGH SCHOOLS ARE ON TOP OF EDUCATION TRENDS: While most public schools are still trying to figure out how to socially distance and getting teachers vaccinated, our Top High Schools are focused on getting their students to top colleges.

THE OPEN HOUSE EXPERIENCE: Finding the right high school is a daunting process, but open houses offer potential applicants a better chance to get a feel for each institution.

TECHNOLOGY IS HERE TO STAY AT TOP HIGH SCHOOLS: Within the past 18 months, Zoom became a household name, touchless thermometers became a standard part of entering any school building, and conference room equipment was essential in the classroom.

ARCHBISHOP MOLLOY HIGH SCHOOL

CATHEDRAL HIGH SCHOOL

DOMINICAN ACADEMY

HOLY CROSS HIGH SCHOOL

THE KEW-FOREST SCHOOL

LAWRENCE WOODMERE ACADEMY

MARTIN LUTHER SCHOOL

MONSIGNOR MCCLANCY HIGH SCHOOL

NOTRE DAME SCHOOL OF MANHATTAN

ST. FRANCIS PREP

ST. JEAN BAPTISTE HIGH SCHOOL

ST. JOHN’S PREP

ST. VINCENT FERRER HIGH SCHOOL

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