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In protest against closure plan, Legacy students find silver lining

By the time Wednesday’s closure hearing began, students at Manhattan’s Legacy School for Integrated Studies had already said everything they could to support their school. For weeks, they had been making a case for their school, on the Today Show and WPIX, NY1 and YouTube and Facebook and Twitter.

And yet, revved up from a multi-school rally in Union Square, they said it all again.

In the school’s packed cafeteria, students said once again that their new principal, Joan Mosely, and the many new teachers hadn’t had time to turn the school around. Last year’s poor academic performance, they said, reflected stricter standards and higher expectations. They even made a formal presentation about the school’s performance and demographics.

Their arguments were seconded by teachers, parents and representatives of several elected officials, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, both candidates for mayor.

But Marc Sternberg, a Department of Education deputy chancellor, said the city did not want to wait for improvement that might never arrive.

“The question ultimately is, how patient can we be?” Sternberg said. “Our inclination is to act on behalf of our future students quickly.”

Students and teachers said the closure proposal had in some ways dampened the mood at the school. But they pointed to a silver lining: that the sustained protest against the city’s plan had given them purpose, public speaking skills, and an esprit de corps.

Junior April Pichardo, who presented a short film showcasing Legacy’s media blitz, told me that the protest efforts had brought her in contact with new people and students from other schools and has also given her a chance to get more involved in her school. In the past, she said, she got caught up “not caring.”

“At times like this I look back and go, ‘Wow, I was not like this last year,” Pichardo said. “It motivates you.”

Pichardo’s classmate Fatima Henry, also a junior, told me that the cause has brought cohesion to Legacy’s student body.

“We’ve gone through a lot this year,” she said. “It made us stronger. We got closer as a school and there really haven’t been fights and stuff because we don’t want to give them a reason to close us.”

The feeling of unity has spread beyond Legacy. Several students from Lehman High School — which would close and reopen under a different process known as “turnaround” — attending the hearing after participating in the afternoon’s walkout, which they had caught wind of on Facebook.

Lehman junior Anthony Colón told me that two or three weeks ago he felt apathetic about school. Last night, though, he stayed late into the evening to support the cause. He said he didn’t mind giving up his free time to show his support: “If I wasn’t here I would just be home playing Xbox.”

Randi Zimmerman, a Legacy teacher, said the closure process had been trying on the school community, leaving students who had witnessed positive changes feeling frustrated and confused. But she conceded that Legacy students’ with her students that it has provided an outlet for growth in other areas.

“The community-organizing skills that they’ve learned through this process have truly been the greatest plus that has come out of this,” she said.

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