Area groups join forces to promote school attendance
Hunts Point Riverside Park was full of fun, food and friends last Saturday as the Hunts Point Alliance for Children held its eighth annual Back to School Fair.
The high school graduation rate of Hunts Point teens is the lowest across the five boroughs, so HPAC used the annual event as a way to counteract that statistic, and to bring awareness and excitement to students and parents at the beginning of the school year. Enthusiasm was not in short supply, with more than 640 people attending the event.
“This event brings the community together, brings different organizations together, and makes Hunts Point one big happy family,” said Demi Rivera, a program assistant at The Point CDC. Part of HPAC’s mission is to partner with other organizations in the community, and Rivera worked the crowd to give people information about The Point’s programs. “It’s a good way to get our name out there.”
The Laundromat Project, a non-profit that brings arts programming to community spaces, allowed kids to decorate pens with colorful duct tape, which some fashioned into large flowers or bows. The Bronx Children’s Museum was stationed near the entrance with an exhibit of the borouogh’s wildlife. The New York Public Library, Bronx Charter School for the Arts, and Jumpstart, which serves preschool aged children, also offered activities and resources for kids. School supplies, such as brand-new backpacks, were given to children. At the check-in table, HPAC volunteers gave fair-goers a ticket, which allowed them to receive a free book from the organization.
“This is truly a community event and one of the reasons why HPAC was created,” said Jill Roche, HPAC’s executive director.
This year, the Alliance hopes to improve literacy rates by promoting daily reading between parents and children. According to a Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York 2015 report, Hunts Point students have improved in state reading test scores over the past two years, but still rank 23rd out of the city’s 32 school districts.
The most crowded booth was Urban Health Plan’s pop-up farmer’s market. The market offered fresh produce, including apples, cucumbers and kale, obtained from Hunts Point’s food distribution market. Fair-goers bought the fruits and vegetables with “food bucks,” which were earned by participating in a fitness activity, such as hula-hooping or jumping jacks, or an arts-and-craft project. Culinary demonstrations drew many people to the stand as well, where employees prepared dishes such as kale, apple and red onion salad.
Urban Health Plan came to the event to hear directly from community members about what they would most like to see at the Hunts Point mercado. The organization hopes to improve the farmer’s market’s offerings in order to increase residents’ interest in healthy eating and exercise.
“It is so amazing to hear the kids say they like the cucumbers, and kale, and fresh fruit,” said Debora Kupersmid, a nutritionist working at the pop-up market.
Families were offered boat rides from students at non-profit Rocking the Boat, located adjacent to the park. Siblings Tatiana and Daniel Hill smiled and laughed during the ride down the Bronx River, especially when the students began to show off their rowing skills.
Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. arrived in the afternoon to meet residents and address the crowd. “What you are doing here is God’s work,” he said after a brief introduction by HPAC president and founder Maryann Hedaa. “You are making sure [the kids’] futures are bright.”
After his speech, Díaz posed for pictures with families. He said he hopes that parental involvement increases, which will improve their child’s success in school.
“Parents need to know their rights, and what they’re entitled to. They need to know the right questions to ask the schools,” he said. He explained that developing parents’ English-language proficiency will help improve communication between school staff and families. Díaz also hopes to see an increase in the arts, sports and gifted and talented-classes in South Bronx schools, in addition to science, computer and math classes.
One of HPAC’s goals was to get the word out about the city’s universal pre-k at the fair. According to the organization, only 50 percent of Hunts Point preschool aged children take advantage of early education programs.
“Pre-k gives kids a good foundation for reading, they perform better in math, and it’s great for socialization,” said Roxanne Cardona, the principal of P.S. 48. Cardona said that the HPAC back to school event helps kids see what Hunts Point has to offer. “It’s a strong community and I want them to feel it, experience it, and become a part of it.”