If you were moving into a new home, wouldn’t you like to make it feel as fresh as possible, perhaps by giving it a clean coat of paint? That’s how the leaders and students of the Math, Engineering and Science Academy (MESA) Charter High School, a new charter school opening in the Bushwick community of Brooklyn this fall, felt.
Arthur Samuels, Founder and Executive Director of MESA, reached out to Llermi Gonzalez, Principal of Bushwick Community High School, the district transfer school MESA will be colocated with, to discuss what they could do to bring their two schools together before the year starts. Samuels and Gonzalez turned to Publicolor, a nonprofit that brings art programs and supplies to public schools, to help bring their idea to life. Publicolor has coordinated many painting projects in NYC public schools, but this was the first joint project between a district and a charter school.
“To be perfectly honest, there was some internal hesitation before we agreed to work with MESA and BCHS,” said Cara Spitzer, Program Coordinator with Publicolor. “We only work with public schools, and when a charter school came to us, that was a red flag to some people. But once everyone came to the understanding that charter schools are public schools, we were thrilled to be a part of this collaborative effort.”
Throughout the summer, kids from both schools have come to the building several days a week to roll up their sleeves and get to work. With experienced coordinators from Publicolor guiding them every step of the way, the halls are getting a bright yellow coat of paint chosen together by both schools.
“It’s cool to be able to meet people before school starts,” said incoming MESA 9th grader, Linnebar. “Not knowing anyone on the first day of high school would be scary. Now I’ll know some people and know what the school looks like – I was here to paint it!”
Samuels pointed out that as a new school, MESA will only have 9th graders this fall.
“Having older students nearby could be intimidating, especially considering BCHS’ students are 17 to 21 years old,” Samuels explained. “This project, the first of many Llermi and I would like to have, will detract from that ‘them’ versus ‘us’ feeling that could happen in co-located space. There’s no ‘them’ versus ‘us’ here. We’re two schools sharing a building, with the same values and mission, and we wanted to make that clear to everyone before school even starts.”
“It’s easy to see that Arthur is a great leader and will provide his students with a great education,” said Gonzalez. “For the older students at BCHS, they haven’t had many opportunities to be role models. Painting the halls with younger kids has been great for their self-esteem and motivation. Many have told me this is the first ‘fun’ thing they’ve done at school before. And we’re going to make sure it won’t be the last!”
While there’s still quite a bit of work to do, but everyone is optimistic about completing in time for the first day of school.
“We’re determined to get it done, and we will,” said Samuels. “Doing it by ourselves would have been impossible, so we are very lucky and appreciative to have found a great partner and neighbor in BCHS.”