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Portrait of a GothamSchools reader: Parent Ayanna Behin

Being an active parent in the New York City public schools is practically a family tradition for GothamSchools reader Ayanna Behin, the winner of our reader survey drawing.

Behin’s grandmother went to Hunter College High School before continuing onto Hunter College, and her grandfather went to Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx before attending New York University and Harvard Law School.

“When they were done with high school, they could speak Greek, they could speak Latin,” Behin said. “They had poetry galore memorized, they knew how to think, and they had a core knowledge.”

But because they were West Indian immigrants, her grandparents’ parents had to fight to to keep their children from getting tracked into non-college preparatory classes.

“So even then their parents had to go to school and know people,” she said.

Behin’s daughter Marley represents the fourth generation in her family to attend New York City public schools (fifth if you count Marley’s great-great-grandfather, who went to City College). Marley is a student in the inaugural kindergarten class at Urban Assembly Academy for Arts and Letters in Clinton Hill.

Behin herself went to P.S. 166, P.S. 104, and Brooklyn Technical High School before going to the University of Michigan and Fordham Law School.

Behin became a GothamSchools reader when she was trying to find the best school for Marley. She and her husband explored all of their options, and Marley even got a coveted spot at a charter school. But the Behins ultimately decided upon Arts and Letters because of its convenient location, the student-driven curriculum, and the diversity.

She said she feels Arts and Letters is an example of a shift back toward the model of schools her grandparents benefited from, the great equalizer.

“We made the choice to go public because it’s important,” she said. “There’s something about being in a classroom where some kids live in the projects and some kids are millionaires that means that everyone benefits.”

The location means Behin can help out in her daughter’s school often. She was recently elected to the post of correspondence secretary for the 2012-2013 school year and co-chair of the subcommittee devoted to obtaining library services for the school, which does not yet have a library.

Behin is also a frequent volunteer at Williamsburg Northside Preschool, where her 4-year-old son Asher is a student — for now. Behin said she hopes her son will get a spot in pre-kindergarten at P.S. 20 — which is colocated with Marley’s school — for the fall. She said she would like to serve on both PTAs and help strengthen ties between the two schools.

Behin also has another job — she fulfilled a lifelong dream this year when she started her own literary agency, after being a lawyer for more than 10 years.

But in the moments when she isn’t reading manuscripts or at her children’s schools, she said she’s on our site.

“If I have a break and I’m waiting for something, I’ll just go on,” she said.

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