JACKSON HEIGHTS — A middle school packed with after-school programs, special projects and community engagement is about to gain something it's been seriously lacking — space.
The annex to I.S. 230, the Magnet School for Civics in the Community, is scheduled to open next September across the street from the school on 34th Avenue and 74th Street.
Principal Sharon Terry, who's been in charge for 10 years, said the new addition was "exciting."
The school, which became a magnet school four years ago, teaches about 1,000 students who focus on the world beyond their classroom — and how they can make positive changes in it.
"We wanted our children to be socially responsible," said Terry. "The focus was so they'd become more socially aware and socially responsible."
All students are expected to perform community service and the school's band and other clubs take part in neighborhood parades, marches and festivals, Terry said.
Eighth-grade students work on special projects that address serious issues with a local and global impact. Last year's students worked on a special traffic safety project after researching recent pedestrian accidents in their neighborhood, she said.
I.S. 230 received an A on its last evaluation, scoring high on student performance and student progress with its 1,000 students.
Terry, 63, was educated at C.W. Post and St. John's University, and spent 14 years as a teacher on Long Island and in Queens before becoming an administrator. She spoke with DNAinfo New York about her role in the lives of middle school students in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world.
Q: Civics is a topic that, in other schools, has taken a back seat to other subjects. Did you think of this when making it your focus?
A: We felt that we wanted our children to be socially responsible. That no matter who you are, you are part of history, you are history, and it's people who make history. One voice can make a change, and we wanted to empower them and let them know that they can make a change. Our focus was hoping that they'd become more socially aware and more socially responsible.
Q: This school, like so many others in the district, is over-capacity, which is why it's getting a new building. How do you feel about the new annex?
A: I'm very excited, and I think everyone's excited. It will mean that we will have more space. We also are going to have a dual-language program in 2015, and we're very excited about that. We get time to plan for it and time to get some good teachers. It'll be a good transition for the children who are coming from the elementary school [with a dual-language program.] We should have double of everything in the two buildings, and it should be wonderful.
Q: Do you know how it will work being a principal in two buildings? Do you predict any challenges?
A: I think that what we're going to do is place maybe a grade over there, and place one of the assistant principals over there so we have somebody. I will strategically plan out and structure out my week where I go over certain days and times, or maybe every day at certain times, but structure it out so I'm seeing what's going on in both places. I look at it as a very exciting time because we get more space and more facilities. Once we go over and take a look at it, that's when we'll make a real assessment.
Q: How do you feel your school benefits from such a diverse population?
A: We speak 33 different languages here in the school but in the classrooms everyone basically does speak English, except for freestanding ESL. Having different cultures from different places, and the community itself being so diverse, students already bring that into the school. They've already moved into a neighborhood that's very diverse. The children, from elementary school on, it's such a diverse population, they've already made friends and have been exposed to one another. They know the different cultures. We have a wonderful program where students actually get up and do their talent — and what they're really showing off is their very different cultures. The children here are amazing. They are simply amazing. They are so accepting of one another and so encouraging of one another, and they're kind to one another.
In middle school, I believe we are change agents. We're here to help them and develop them and help them be the best people that they can be. Parents and everyone must be so cognizant of the middle school mind and the adolescent and make sure they don't go off track.
Q: What do you think makes your school stand out in the district?
A: We have excellent teachers. I think I have some of the best. I often say it's the quality of the teachers, and the teaching, that makes a school a great school. It's not about anything else. It's excellent, caring teachers. I have a staff that is caring, kind, loves the children, and they're good at what they do. They're really, really smart.
They care about the children as a whole — their academic, social and emotional being, all three together. And I think because they care about all three, that's why we're doing so well academically.