District 7

A better way

a new method

closure number 4

New York

Bronx principal marshals colleagues around arts enrichment

Sixth-graders at M.S. 223 drew Andy Warhol-inspired portraits during summer arts enrichment program Angel Angel, 13, missed playing in seven baseball games last month so he could mentor students at his middle school, M.S. 223. But Angel, a rising eighth-grader who is also an avid guitar-player, welcomed the opportunity to forgo his usual summer activities to help 96 incoming sixth-graders at the South Bronx middle school study reading, math and music for three weeks. The summer enrichment program, which just finished its first year, is the brainchild of M.S. 223's principal, Ramon Gonzalez, who has gained a reputation as a leader in public school management since he opened the school in 2003. Gonzalez has touted initiatives to increase literacy and parental involvement to school community members throughout District 7, which is largely poor and low-performing. Now he is trying to turn District 7’s attention toward arts education, at a time when many schools are facing cuts to their art and music teaching positions. He is asking a handful of local principals to help him write a large grant to fund after school and summer school arts education at multiple schools in future years. Gonzalez said he wanted to create a free summer program for his students that would address the learning-loss that some students, particularly those from low-income families, experience between June and September. He hoped offering afternoon classes in painting, printmaking, and orchestral music — in addition to trips to Broadway shows and the Museum of Modern Art —  would bring the students back each day, even though the classes were not mandatory. Rather than try to carve $85,000 out of MS 223's tight budget, he leveraged his connections — augmented after this spring's appearance in the New York Times Magazine — to win funding. Still, selling the split schedule to donors was difficult.