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High School Students Paint Hell's Kitchen Bridge to Learn Life Skills

By DNAinfo Staff on August 13, 2010 12:37pm  | Updated on August 13, 2010 1:08pm

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HELL'S KITCHEN — Kids from high schools across the city have spent more than a week repainting a bridge on West 39th Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues in sunshine yellow and turquoise blue.

Repainting the bridge, nicknamed "The Painted Promenade," is run by Publicolor, a nonprofit that uses painting to re-engage students who are at risk of dropping out of school. The effort teaches students not only how to paint, but shows them the positive influence their work can have on communities, said spokeswoman Jane Sung.

"What painting does is not only give them a workable skill, but it is teaching them how to do a project from start to finish," Sung said. The goal is to help students' scholastic performance, attendance and attitudes improve.

Most of the kids working on the bridge are members of Paint Club+, a pilot program launched this summer for over-age high school students who lack sufficient credits to graduate and "are at extreme risk of dropping out," the organization says. The students attend a customized environmental science program in the mornings and then spend their afternoons painting on site.

Tamar Henson, 19, of Harlem, was referred to the program by a former high school English teacher who had noticed his interest in art. He said what he likes most about painting is the reaction of passersby.

"It brings people up," he said. "It's nice to get recognition from strangers."

Ashley Rodriguez, 18, who lives on the Lower East side, said she feels proud when she's able to step back at the end of the day and see what she's done.

"You feel good knowing you did it and nobody else did it like you did it," she said as she swept turquoise paint across a metal rail.

Before the bridge, the team painted a seniors' center in Brooklyn. All of the paint is donated by Benjamin Moore.

Students in the program receive a stipend for their work and can be docked pay or let go if they fail to show up.

"It's good to have something to do every day," said Nicholas Sherwood, 18, who lives on the Upper West Side. "It motivates you to pull things together."