By Ariama C. Long
Bedford Academy is a small, stand alone public school that caters to primarily Black and brown students in Brooklyn and shares its campus with the YMCA next door. The school fosters bright young minds and has a nearly 100% graduation rate. Its students are dedicated, forward thinkers that aren’t afraid to get a little political.
“This is what we like to call educational Wakanda,” said Principal Dr. Adofo A. Muhammad, “and the students have done exceedingly well.”
The school was founded in 2003 and serves less than 400 students. The school’s founders, Dr. Lester Young Jr. and the late elected official Al Vann, designed the school to be a safe and equitable alternative to specialized high schools for minorities. The school specializes in career and college readiness, math and science, and has partnered with Syracuse University, Long Island University, Medgars Evers College, Monroe College, St. Joseph’s College and SUNY Albany to provide dual credit programs for students.
When two 10th grade students, Haneen Abouelker, 15, and Tiffany Sadiq, 15, on the student leadership team (SLT) heard in January that the school could possibly be relocated they sprang into action, circulating a paper petition on every floor of the school. The petition quickly was filled with signatures from students and teachers both past and present, about 900, stating that they were also against the move.
“Being in this school as a standalone, I’m able to go around the whole building, everybody knows everybody, you can communicate with teachers that aren’t yours. It’s a safe space,” said Abouelker, who first launched the petition.
Abouelker was excited about the response from students, staff, and even parents to her petition. She appreciates that her school supports democracy and free thinking. “We’re able to spread news and communicate with students. The ability to show yourself and ideas is something that some schools don’t favor,” said Abouelker. “This school makes us question things.”
The DOE has since said that there is absolutely no plan or official proposal to move the school to another location or to a colocated location with other high schools in one building. There was only an initial conversation that was had with the SLT to see how people would feel about relocation, said the DOE.
Sadiq has aspirations to be in the nursing or biomedical field while Abouelker is less sure, but both were passionate about attending Bedford Academy and preserving its legacy of inclusion and high academic standards.
“I think, especially being an African American girl, I’ve gone to a lot of schools and a lot that are predominantly Black tend to have this defeatist attitude to it,” said Sadiq. “What makes Bedford Academy amazing is that it’s a predominantly Black school and it really empowers the students to break that stigma and go beyond.”
The students said that any relocation of the school could affect their already long commutes, interrupt their learning environment and graduation rates, and have public safety consequences later down the road. “The students really don’t want to relocate,” said Abouelker.
Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman confirmed that there’s only been preliminary conversations about the space, possibly going to a larger stand alone space, and no official plans to move the school.
“The issue remains that Bedford Academy has its own culture and they’ve built a strong relationship with the Bedford Y,” said Zinerman. “I am not in support of them going into a building where they would be collocated with other programs. That school works because they are self contained.”
A representative for the Bedford Avenue YMCA, which owns the Bedford Academy property, said that they have a great partnership with the school and have no current desire or plan to relocate the school either.
In the event of any move, Muhammad said that the school would be open to it as long as it’s not a colocated space.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics 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://bit.ly/amnews1