As a member of the Maspeth community for my entire life, I had never visited PS 9 Walter Reed School until this past November. I was privileged to tour the school with the principal, Robert Wojnarowski, who is truly a large part of what gives “heart” to this school, along with his students and faculty. PS 9 is part of District 75 which provides highly specialized instructional support for students with significant challenges, such as: Autism Spectrum Disorders, significant cognitive delays, emotional disturbances, sensory impairments and multiple disabilities.
As I walked through the halls, I saw the historical nature of the building mixed with the children’s artwork and presentations outside, as well as, inside the classrooms. There was a positive “vibe” throughout the school. Classrooms were full of state-of-the-art computer technology for the children as well as smartboards and Promethean boards (an interactive white board display) for the teachers, a music room with a myriad of instruments, a library packed with brand new books and a gym with the latest fitness equipment.
The school is in the process of an extensive renovation and therefore the outside is blanketed for the safety of the students and their faculty. The work on the exterior of the school was necessary to be done first to stop water infiltration, and then the interior walls will be repaired once it is watertight. On the exterior, I was able to peek through the protective blanketing and saw a pretty large and modern schoolyard area with all new equipment and thick cushioning on the ground.
The interior of the school hallways and doors were in the process of being painted in a more modern, clean and bright nautical blue and white motif. There were two brand new bathrooms that have been renovated with the same nautical blue and white tile. I also noticed new linear style up-lighting fixtures were in some of the classrooms.
We passed by several classrooms where the students were working on new computers with specialized software programs. The students all happily greeted the principal and myself and were eager to share what they were working on. One class was working on an animation type program where the students drew a number of different slides separately showing a particular action and its progression. When the slides are run quickly together they appear as a movie. The one I was shown by a student had a person on a basketball court going toward the hoop and throwing the ball in the hoop. When I told the student that was a great job, they thanked me and also gave credit and thanks to their teacher and the principal, and proceeded to politely shake my hand as we said goodbye.
The gym, which was completely renovated, had an entire area with modern workout equipment machines (similar to Planet Fitness or Curves). There was a basketball court where they recessed the ceiling areas by the basket hoops to give more height. While the height of the basketball court area may be lower than some gymnasiums, it didn’t seem that it was detrimental to the kids playing.
On the same level, there was an area divided off where the students have their meals. It was sectioned off to provide a safe environment for the students and to make sure they did not wander off to other areas. The “chef”, as he is fondly referred to, works in a very functional kitchen that could perhaps be upgraded in size but together with his small passionate staff he provides all the necessities to the students.
The “heart” and soul of the school shined through the entire visit as Principal “W” explained to me some of the programs he promotes to engage these special needs students including the “School Store”. The store concept allows students to proudly earn and save up to buy things they desire. By saving up over time the students learn delayed gratification.
Even more heartwarming were the stories of students who were previously non-verbal and now speak, students who were able to move on to college and students who learned to play musical instruments despite their learning and physical difficulties. The principal proudly pointed out how their school band was invited to play at other schools because of their talents.
The dedication of the principal in petitioning various public officials and engaging in other fundraisers to provide all of the new technology, brand new books, musical equipment and other learning and building improvements, in addition to staff using their own money to provide things for their school and its students, shows just how much “heart” this school has. With the extensive renovations being provided in this ongoing project it will only mean more improvements for the students’ experiences.
Being out of school for some time now BUT having attended older schools in my past, I can see how some may see the historical look of the school and think it is not an “up to date” facility, but the technology, equipment and ongoing renovations seem to say different. Many schools in NYC were built in the same time frame as PS 9 and have similar appearances. Calling the school “dilapidated” and “totally inadequate”, as some have presented to the community seems a stretch from what I observed during my visit and the presentation photos did not properly represent the conditions at the school, in my opinion.
I do believe that District 75 schools, and more schools in general, throughout our district are needed to support the growing population. The District 75 students come from all over the city and would be benefited by having more locations and I believe they would be welcomed in our community.