Racist initiative

Dear Editor,
Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending the Gifted & Talented programs in public schools because a large number of Asian and white students are enrolled compared to a smaller Black and Hispanic enrollment.
That is blatantly racist and unfair.
He condemns the kids and parents of two ethnic groups who succeed by following the rules. He wants to replace G&T with something called “Brilliant,” which is anything but.
It puts students of different academic levels in the same classroom. This underscores the difference between equality and his goal of “equity.”
Equality means equal opportunity for all, everyone is the same at the starting line. Equity demands equal results, everyone must cross the finish line at the same time.
That defies reality unless it’s achieved by replacing merit with manipulation.
This the Department Of Education’s latest step to dumb down education, which prompted many parents to pull their kids out of public schools and put them in charter, religious and private schools.
Enrollment declined in all 32 elementary and middle school districts. Parents realize that “equity” results in failure for all public school students.
Our likely next mayor, Eric Adams, wants to extend, not end, Gifted & Talented programs. He displays a gift that de Blasio clearly lacks: common sense.
Richard Reif
Kew Gardens Hills

Jackson Heights couple creating canned cocktails

With over four decades of combined experience in bartending and hospitality, Tara Merdjanoff and Jeremy Bohen are serving up classic cocktails in a can.
The co-founders of QNSY (pronounced “Queen-sey”) Sparkling Cocktails decided to launch a craft beverage company after both lost their jobs during the pandemic.
The husband-and-wife team from Jackson Heights have spent the last four years conceptualizing and perfecting their craft cocktails, which come in 12-ounce slim cans and sixtel kegs.
“When the world shut down, instead of having to find the extra hours to work on it, we had time everyday,” said Bohen. “Frankly, it was good for our mental health to stay positive and have goals.”
The craft cocktails are available in three flavors: Mojito, Cosmo, and Lovely Rita (their version of a margarita). They are 5 percent alcohol by volume.
Bohen and Merdjanoff said they focused on creating high-quality cocktails that, when ordered at a bar, slow down service for even experienced bartenders.
“Busy bars and restaurants run on systems, and some kitchens don’t stock mint,” said Merdjanoff, referring to the classic Mojito ingredient. “Good bartenders can manage that and make it look easy.”
While developing and perfecting the flavors used for QNSY, the pair opted to use real fruit juice and pure cane sugar as the neutral alcohol base for their products.
The drinks are also regulated as beer rather than a distilled spirit, which allows QNSY to potentially be sold at over 19,000 New York-based businesses.
“We wouldn’t have introduced the product if it wasn’t as good as bar quality,” said Bohen.
The pair also credited the Queens Economic Development Corporation (QDEC) for helping them prepare a business plan.
QNSY was one of over 40 local vendors to be featured at QDEC’s recent “Queens Comes Back!” event, where drew over 1000 people.
“QDEC has been by our side the whole way,” said Merdjanoff. “Without their resources, we would not have been able to accomplish this.”
The business is represented by Bronx-based Sarene Craft Beer Distributors. QNSY Sparkling Cocktails are available at over three-dozen Queens locations and select bars in Brooklyn.
“It’s not easy to stand out in a sea of new canned alcohol offerings, but they’ve nailed it by being among the best tasting and highest quality canned cocktails available,” said Matt Schulman, founder and co-owner of Sarene Craft Beer Distributors. “We believe consumers will be just as excited to try these as we were when we first got our hands on them. We’re sure they will not be disappointed.”

Stop Stop & Shop

Dear Editor
It has come to my attention that Stop & Shop in Little Neck will close on October 14.
My wife and I shopped at Stop & Shop for ten years when we lived in Little Neck. We moved to Bellerose a number of years ago, but still shop at Stop & Shop when in Little Neck.
I feel for the shoppers in Little Neck, especially senior citizens who depend on Stop & Shop. There are a number of residents who don’t have a car and depend on local supermarkets.
Many seniors will have to take buses or taxis to other supermarkets, which they might not be able to afford.
What an insult to be left without a local supermarket. My heart also goes out to all the workers of Stop & Shop in Little Neck who are losing their jobs.
This is a great loss for the people of Little Neck. People need access to healthy food, especially during this pandemic.
Stop & Shop is making a great mistake by shutting this store, I hope they change their mind.
Frederick R. Bedell, Jr.

Variety hosts back-to-school festival

Following the first week of in-person learning, hundreds of families enjoyed a back-to-school festival at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens (VBGC) in Astoria, marking the start of a new school year.
With the support of over a dozen community partners, the all-day celebration included school supply giveaways, local food vendors and outdoor activities for hundreds of students in Queens.
With last year’s back-to-school festival cancelled due to the pandemic, club CEO Costa Constantinides said it was extra special to help students feel normal again in a kid-friendly atmosphere.
With six sites serving over 4,000 area youth, the club is the largest youth services provider in western Queens.
“Today is a celebration,” Constantinides said. “We understand the gravity of the responsibility we have to provide them with an after-school experience and help them get back to normal.”
As a father of a son who hasn’t seen the classroom in over 18 months, Constantinides stressed the importance of the educational resources available at the club, as well as helping families through tough times.
“I know so many children in New York City who had a very similar situation,” he said. “From dealing with the angst of COVID, a family member losing their job or losing a family member, we hope to help them through the tension of this pandemic and help them feel like a kid again.”
School supplies were available to families through donations from the offices of Borough President Donovan Richards and State Senator Mike Gianaris, corporate sponsors and volunteer drives. Both Richards and Gianaris made appearances at the all-day event.
The hot and sunny day also called for Constantinides to sit in the dunk tank, making a splash for a good cause.
Elsbeth Grant, the club’s Chief Advancement Officer, would also be a dunk tank victim, saying it was wonderful to have kids back at the club playing again.
“It feels so great to have kids back at the club safely,” said Grant. “We want going back to school to be an exciting experience. I’m sure it can be scary with everything going on, we just want to support our community by making it fun and helping them prepare to go back to the classroom.”
Community partners joining the festival included Chip Cookies, San Antonio’s Wood Fired Pizza, Ample Hill Creamery and STEM learning from the BioBus. A vaccine pop-up station was also made available by the state Department of Health.
Volunteer Ashley Dean helped organize a school supply drive with her local running group, and chose the club to be the recipients of the backpacks and notebooks she collected over a month-long period.
“School is expensive for a lot of families,” said Dean. “People have multiple children so it’s nice to be able to ease a burden. Setting the kids up to succeed is important, especially right now.”

Boys & Girls Club receives $15K for STEM Program

Thirty-nine teenagers from the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens graduated from a summer STEM program last week in which they learned about electricity and renewable energy as part of a New York Power Authority (NYPA).
At the event, 174 Power Global presented a $15,000 check to support the program.
“The Variety Boys and Girls Club is so much more than a physical space, it’s where young minds come to grow,” said Variety CEO Costa Constantinides. “Programming like NYPA’s five-week STEM program gives kids hands-on experience with career paths and subject matter that is all around them, but not necessarily accessible.”
The middle-school students spent five weeks learning the basics of energy production and consumption through interactive and animated lesson plans. They engaged in games and hands-on learning opportunities, such as a contest to make the fastest wind turbine.
The students also investigated how different new renewable energy systems will work throughout New York State, as well as the battery storage project proposed for Astoria, which will store renwable sources of energy from upstate, and is being built by 174 Global Power.
To wrap up the program, students participated in a career panel event with subject matter experts from NYPA, 174 Power Global and Con Edison who spoke about their work and answered questions.
“Western Queens generates roughly 60 percent of the city’s power, and programs like this show our local kids opportunities to participate in the fast-growing green energy sector they may not have previously known about,” added Consantinides.
“We’re committed to supporting programs that inspire the next generation of STEM professionals,” added Henry Yun, CEO of 174 Global Power. “174 Power Global is committed to providing green economy jobs to the local community, in particular at a location that is close to our energy storage project, and this STEM program is a perfect fit with our mission of creating real change by working together.”

Demand for changes on McGuinness following deadly accident

At 12:45 am on May 18, Matthew Jensen — a 58-year-old Greenpoint resident and beloved teacher at P.S. 110 — was struck and killed by a black Rolls Royce at the corner of McGuinness Boulevard and Bayard Street.
The driver sped off and Jensen, who was walking home from his own birthday celebration, was rushed to Woodhull Hospital, where he later died.
The P.S. 110 and Greenpoint communities mourned the loss of a friend, teacher, and neighbor, and now they are demanding action.
Last Thursday, they organized a vigil and rally at McGolrick Park. The event honored Jensen’s life and demanded that the city dedicate funding to redesign McGuinness Boulevard. The event was attended by multiple city officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Everyone from PS 110, I’m so sorry that you’re gathered here in pain and mourning, Mathew Jensen wanted to help kids,” de Blasio said before a crowd of approximately 200, including many of Jensen’s former students. “He is gone because of a hit-and-run crash. He is gone because someone killed him and left the scene, and this is what happens too often.”
The mayor reaffirmed his commitment to eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries through the Vision Zero initiative. De Blasio also reiterated his support for the Crash Rights and Safety Act, a state bill designed to reduce traffic deaths.
“We’re going to apply Vision Zero right here, right now on McGuinness Boulevard, because it’s long overdue,” de Blasio continued. “We are putting money in the budget immediately to redesign and fix McGuinness Boulevard once and for all.”
The five-lane roadway is notoriously dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, and has been the site of at least 411 injuries and three deaths within the past decade. In 2014, McGuinness Boulevard was designated as a “slow zone” with a 25 mph speed limit and delayed traffic signals, yet accidents have continued at a steady rate.
“Every single one of us knows that it could be any one of us killed there,” Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher said. “If we don’t do something, something meaningful, there will be many more who will die on the McGuinness Boulevard.”
“Over the past few days, I’ve received more than 300 emails from our neighbors in support of redesigning McGuinness Boulevard, a notoriously unsafe road,” added State Senator Julia Salazar. “Implementing a plan to transform McGuinness is how we can honor Matthew Jensen’s memory.”

G&T Programs Close Achievement Gap, Not Cause It

The administration of new Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter provides us with a moment to reconsider policies that have worked and ones that haven’t over the course of the de Blasio administration.
The failing efforts to better integrate our schools could benefit from some fresh thinking.
Chancellor Porter has emphasized the urgency of integrating the public schools. It’s an important goal in a system that is more segregated now than it was 50 years ago, but it is also the unrealized goal of her predecessor.
If Porter follows the playbook from the de Blasio tenure, which includes fighting to change the admissions standards at our specialized high schools, eliminating gifted and talented programs, and setting demographic quotas for certain schools, her efforts are likely to face the same fate as those of her predecessor, whose tenure ended in frustration.
The recently announced admissions results at the specialized high schools should act as a call to action that the city needs new policies.
The sensible alternative to integrate our schools, based on years of real-life experience and what research has shown to be more effective is to increase the number of seats at successful schools, create engaging, magnet programs that draw in a range of families, expand the number of gifted and talented programs in underrepresented areas, and replicate effective schools throughout the system.
As a parent of two public school graduates, I know that all parents want their kids to get the best education in a school that helps them achieve their maximum potential, ideally in their neighborhood.
It’s a goal that every parent is willing to fight to achieve. And it should be the goal of the new chancellor.
For all of the political fighting over them, gifted and talented programs have been shown to challenge our brightest students and to put them on a path to success. Unfortunately, there are not enough seats for the number of students qualifying to attend, and in certain neighborhoods there are no programs at all.
Since these programs are not offered at every school, nor equally spread throughout the DOE’s districts, many families will have their children take hour-long bus rides to school, as they want them to attend these successful programs no matter where they are located.
In my former City Council district in Middle Village, the DOE recently created PS 254: The Rosa Parks School. It is a magnet school with a diverse learning community that has achieved incredible results due to a highly innovative program that draws in families.
And it’s located in an area that is not known for great schools.
PS 290, another relatively new school, has a new gifted and talented program that is largely populated with students of color from low-income backgrounds. It shows how the DOE can find gifted students in any neighborhood when it creates a program that interests parents in their community.
In another example, the arts-focused LaGuardia High School did not have enough seats for talented students, so the DOE created the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. Both schools are now highly successful at developing our city’s budding artists, and more students are able to attend.
And the schools are in different boroughs to boot.
Brooklyn Latin and the Queens High School for Sciences are also recent examples of the DOE creating more high-quality schools based on successful models and located in new neighborhoods that can serve more children. And all of these schools could easily serve more children by expanding them.
But a de Blasio-appointed school advisory committee recently announced that they want to eliminate gifted and talented programs. It’s the exact opposite of what they should be doing.
The DOE should expand and replicate these programs in every neighborhood in the city, so there are enough seats for every child who qualifies.
The time that our city and school leaders spend dividing up the small number of seats at successful schools, and trying to do so by race, is unproductive, divisive and potentially illegal.
The Rosa Parks School, PS 290 and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts are all examples of different methods that the DOE can employ to integrate our schools.
The DOE must create more high-quality magnet programs in neighborhoods with low-performing schools, create new gifted programs in underrepresented areas, and replicate high performing schools in communities throughout the city.
It’s a simple solution to a complex problem that has been shown to work for our city’s kids.

Elizabeth Crowley is a former member of the City Council and candidate for Queens borough president.

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