By Julie Shapiro
"It’s so amazing to be here," said a grinning Ashley Charles, a senior from Crown Heights, after she hoisted the Harbor School’s blue and white flag onto a pole outside the new building.
"It was a dream of mine to have our own little world on an island. And now we have it, and it’s like: Wow."
Founded in 2003, the New York Harbor School previously shared space with other schools in a crowded building in Bushwick. Although the Harbor School’s curriculum focuses on maritime sciences, and students learn how to sail and row, not to mention swim, the high schoolers previously had to take a field trip just to see the harbor.
Now, the 400 students, who mostly come from low-income families in Brooklyn, will be surrounded by water all day long, from their daily ferry trips to their classrooms perched in the center of the harbor.
The Harbor School is located on Governors Island's north side in Building 550, which first opened in 1938 as an army barracks and recently underwent $34 million of renovations. The school is part of the Urban Assembly program and receives both public and private funds.
"It’s awesome cuz it’s the only school that’s on an island," said Julio Soto, a senior from Bushwick.
While Soto’s commute just got about an hour longer — he lives across the street from the high school’s previous location — Soto said the beautiful building and spacious hallways are well worth the trip.
On Wednesday morning, students and staff wearing navy Harbor School T-shirts gathered on the lawn near the new school building for a first-day ceremony.
Students cheered as Principal Nathan Dudley spoke of turning the Harbor School into one of the best schools in the city and the country. Although over 80 percent of the students start the school below grade level, 74 percent graduated in 2008, and of the graduates, 95 percent were accepted to secondary schools.
Dudley said the Harbor School's move marks a first step in Governors Island’s long-term development.
"You are making history," Dudley told the students. "We are the first, and the island is going to grow."
Before the students dispersed to start their first class of the day, the seniors lined up facing each other, with a path down the middle, and all the other classes walked through. The seniors applauded the freshmen and greeted the sophomores and juniors with handshakes and hugs.
Amy Mahon, a sophomore from Queens, said she felt almost like a freshman again, learning her way around a new place.
"This is a totally different experience," she said. "This year is going to be crazy — expect a lot from us."