Schools Chancellor David Banks dropped in on a Summer Rising site at Public School 161 Pedro Albizu Campos in West Harlem last Wednesday, July 27. The program onsite was run by  local nonprofit Harlem Commonwealth Council.

The Summer Rising initiative is a partnership between the Department of Education (DOE), New York City Public Schools, the Division for Youth and Community Development and hundreds of community-based organizations that are educating about 110,000 young people this summer. Adams had worked to expand the Summer Rising program this year, after its launch under former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2021. 

PS 161 School Principal Jasmine Caceres, as well as other officials, joined the tour. Banks, funnily enough, lives about three blocks away from the school and has driven by it many times, he said. 

“It’s a wonderful community to live in Harlem, the village of Harlem, particularly for folks of color and Black folks, has had tremendous cultural significance,” said Banks, who grew up in Brooklyn. “So I’m happy to be here every single day.” 

Banks sat with students in various classes as they did hands-on learning activities in arts and biology. He toured the summer school’s English and creative writing places classroom and spoke with kids on each subject. Most of the younger students were delighted in having company or painfully shy. Other students in older grades proudly showed off their work and skills to Banks and visitors.

“I think Summer Rising is a critically important program for our New York City students,” said Banks after the tour. “They’re learning, they’re having fun so they’re not just home watching TV and having idle times. So I’m really excited about it. This was a wonderful visit. The kids are being taken care of and that’s our first job.” 

The school had a fun “CBO Carnival Space” set up to host hand-made games and activities for students daily as well as provide freshly made snacks. 

Councilmember Rita Joseph, who chairs the education committee, attended the walkthrough with Banks. She said they often do these sort of drop-ins to spot check the Summer Rising programs and see if there are any problems to adjust. She said they call the DOE immediately to get fixes. “Whether it’s transportation, not enough paras, student mandates,” said Joseph.

The upcoming school year will be Banks’ first full year as chancellor. He said that he was “looking forward to it” with hope and optimism. 

Though the Summer Rising program is heralded for keeping kids engaged year-round, it’s not technically funded in the budget past this year and is a federal stimulus initiative.

“It’s not baselined,” said Banks, “but we’re going to work together with the city council and do everything we can to try to figure out how we get the funding from the state, from the feds that will continue this really, really important work. Right now we’ve had the great benefit of the stimulus funding. At some point that’s going to run out.”

Banks did not address the current litigation a group of parents and teachers have filed against him and the DOE over cuts to next year’s schools budgets at the walkthrough.

Last week, a judge denied the city’s attempt to get the lawsuit dismissed. The judge ruled in favor of parents and teachers. 

“We will take every step possible to make sure this litigation poses no disruption to students and families and that there is a smooth opening of our schools in September,” said the DOE in a statement after the dismissal. “This includes making sure the DOE school-based budgeting system remains fully available. As such, the Galaxy application will be available [Saturday] morning to ensure critical school operations proceed in accordance with the court’s direction.”

The public hearing over the budget cuts lawsuit will resume on Thursday, Aug. 4.

 
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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