Students, parents, teachers and community partners gathered at Long Island City High School (LICHS) Thursday morning for its annual Community School Breakfast to acknowledge significant leaps made during the school year.
According to officials, the graduation rate at the school increased by 6 percent over the past four years under the guidance of its principal, Vivian Selenikas.
Working with a variety of community-based organizations (CBOs), especially Zone 126, Selenikas said these partnerships have created a synergy that is expanding opportunities for both students and the community.
“The school worked with the Zone to expand our school’s interest and participation in community-based activities,” Selenikas said. “We have taken the interests and talents of our students and asked the question, how can we expand those talents out into the community and bring the community into the school?”
LICHS is considered a “renewal school” by the city, which means they receive significant resources to turn around the fortunes of the students, including academic interventions and enrichment activities, youth development strategies and wellness and social service programs.
Part of the change is forming four smaller learning communities that Selenikas said adds to student creativity. Students can join programs in culinary arts, humanities and urban culture, global and dual languages, or sports medicine.
“We’ve been expanding those opportunities to give students and families a choice of high-quality, high-leverage academics,” she said.
The school has also opened a mental health clinic within the facility for the first time. Selenikas said it will help to destigmatize mental health and create a community of “mental wellness.”
Anju Rupchandani, interim executive director of Zone 126, said the organization was first formed in April 2011 by the Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi Foundation.
They work specifically with residents of the Astoria Houses, Ravenswood Houses and Queensbridge Houses, three public housing developments in Astoria and Long Island City.
Rupchandani said the group also works with 10 schools in the area to bring “partner programs” to support the children and families.
“We know children, youth and families have a myriad of stressors, and by bringing these programs we can eliminate those stressors so academic progress can actually happen long term,” she said.
She said students don’t come to school with just a backpack full of homework. They deal with issues stemming from poverty, and come with issues from home on top of the social pressures from school.
“What Zone 126’s programs are doing is trying to break down those barriers to ensure they actually have success and that they’re college and career ready,” Rupchandani said. “That they come back and be productive citizens of Astoria and Long Island City.”
Rupchandani said the breakfast was an event to showcase increasing attendance and graduation rates, parent engagement and supporting the mental health needs of the students.
“What works is we have a caring community of teachers, social workers, guidance counselors. Everyone that’s here really is really invested in the success of our students,” she said. “We’re not allowing our children to fall through the cracks because it’s not an option in terms of community vitality and long-term sustainability.”
While celebrating past success, Rupchandani said they’re also looking to improve aspects of the programs, including SAT prep courses at the school because outside tutoring programs are expensive.
They’re also looking to go deeper on its attendance initiative, even though some of the schools they work with already have high attendance rates. If a school is at 93 percent attendance, Rupchandani said they’re looking to find the other 7 percent.
“Sometimes when students don’t come to school, there are other underlying issues,” she said. “If it’s bullying or not being comfortable in your own skin, we need to figure that out collectively with parents.”