FINANCIAL DISTRICT — When Adonis Cruz walked into Richard R. Green High School of Teaching as a freshman three years ago, he felt like a giant Alice in a too-small wonderland.
The hallways in the cramped Upper East Side building, a former elementary school, were jammed with students, making it impossible to get to class on time, Cruz said. And he was dismayed to discover that the "gym" was just two classrooms stuck together.
"It was hard — there was no place to move," said Cruz, 16, a Washington Heights resident who is now a senior at Richard R. Green. "I thought to myself, 'This is not what high school should be.'"
Cruz spoke Thursday evening at an ebullient celebration of Richard R. Green's long-awaited, sparkling new home at 26 Broadway in the Financial District.
As grinning politicians and school officials cut a ribbon to officially open the new 103,000-square-foot school, in the former Sports Museum of America space, students and staff said they could already feel a new energy building within the school community, which has struggled in the past to get all the students to graduate.
"There's already been a sea change," Principal David Raubvogel said.
"You can just see it in the kids. It's almost like an overnight maturity in how they handle themselves.... Boys take off their hats now. They're pulling their pants up. They're getting engaged in class."
Cruz said he nearly cried tears of joy when he saw the school's new gym, and he finds it easier to learn thanks to the spacious corridors and sunlit classrooms with views of Bowling Green.
"This building is what high school should feel like," Cruz said. "After four years, I finally know what that feels like."
Cierra Smith, another student, said she loves the new school because it finally feels like she and her classmates have the space they need to relax and be themselves. The guidance offices now have real walls and doors, rather than glass partitions, and even the cafeteria food tastes better, Smith said.
"Do you know how good it feels, to have our own space?" she said. "Everyone's attitude has changed. It opens up doors for a better future for all of us."
Richard R. Green draws its students from across the city and offers a teaching track and a liberal arts track, both with a focus on internships. Students call teachers by their first name, as a way of building a community atmosphere, and many teachers, parents and students remain involved in the school even after they leave.
More than 100 members of that community joined Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott at Richard R. Green's ribbon cutting Thursday night, but none were more excited than the current students.
Jeancarlo Perez, 14, a sophomore from the Bronx, said he's so pleased with the giant gym that he doesn't mind that it now takes him nearly an hour to get all the way down to the Financial District for school each morning.
"It's worth it," he said with a smile.