We did it. We moved. Looking back, this summer was crazy. The deck was certainly stacked against us. A renovation, a move, and a pandemic? On top of the day-to-day of school life? Quite a combination. I’m grateful for the tremendous effort of everyone involved: from our building committee to our construction team to our staff and volunteers. The community made this possible. That said, it’s certainly something I’ll never do again.
My commute now includes a walk down beautiful tree-lined streets populated by detached, single-family homes with front yards, back yards, and driveways. East Flatbush is a side of New York I had never seen or even imagined before our move. It’s remarkably quieter and more residential than our old location in Crown Heights. Now, it’s become a pastime of mine to ride my bike and explore these neighborhoods of central and southern Brooklyn.
Our new home has witnessed a lot of the history of East Flatbush. Erected in 1940, Saint Vincent Ferrer parish and school served a community of predominantly European immigrants. The parish was on the main floor, with the grammar school built above it. While the structure has remained, the parish is now a thriving working-and-middle-class Black, mostly West Indian, Catholic community. The school closed over ten years ago. I’m excited to recruit some of the kids from this neighborhood, and for BJP to become an institution in the East Flatbush community.
The building needed major renovations when we found it. While the structure had "solid bones," it did not look very pretty. The $2 million project sought to bring this building into the 21st century and to make it a space conducive for learning. We completely rewired the building for safety and internet access. We installed new lighting and an HVAC system to pump in fresh air from the outside. We replaced roughly half our furniture and created new community spaces and offices we’ve just never had before. We have bathrooms that work (I bring donors and trustees in them! Those of you who visited our old building know why). We have up-to-date technology that has not been stitched together. We have clean, bright classrooms with all the tools students need to learn. This building truly does allow us to live out our mission to break the cycle of poverty through education.
Even though we’ve moved in, there’s still much to do. In our next phase of renovation, I want to focus on upgrading some of our facilities, to make our school more home-y and to support our academics. We have an incredible 800-person capacity space in the basement of our building that will act as our cafeteria, our assembly room, and our theater. We need to make that space more functional for a school of our size by segmenting the space into different sections and installing a sound system and projection technology. I would also like to reimagine our art & music classroom and our science lab. These spaces will come with a rethinking and retooling of our art and science curricula. Finally, I think it’s extremely important for students of color to walk around their school and see their likenesses reflected on the art on our walls.
The feedback- from students, parents, staff, and friends of the school- has been immense. Parents are excited by this space. Teachers have expressed gratitude for these new resources and facilities to do their jobs. There seems to be a sense of “wow, we didn’t realize what we didn’t have.” People understand what this move means for BJP. It gives us a vision for the future that we didn’t have at Sterling Place. It places us closer to the communities we’re called to serve. It makes our academics more competitive.
Beyond this, however, I have sensed a deeper significance of this move for our students. It's heartbreaking, but our kids just haven’t had the experience of someone investing this heavily in them. They’re used to the dinginess of Sterling Place. Many of their siblings may attend a local underfunded Public School. If school is their job, the focal point of their lives right now, our students’ experience thus far has been one of society dismissing and forgetting about them. I want our students to think that we spent a million dollars on them (in truth, it’s double) because this renovation is a message to each of them that their education and their future matters. I hope it also signals that this great gift of a BJP education comes with a high responsibility to love our neighbors, to steward our community, and to be committed to doing justice.
Our work is just beginning, and I’m very excited. This building allows us to change the trajectory of BJP’s future. Instead of trying to fix a leak or open a window, we can finally dream just a little bit bigger. I invite you to come by for a tour. We’ll also begin offering virtual tours soon. I hope to see you!