9 | A necessary space?

Success Academy Charter Schools are a network of charter schools across New York City. They already have 12 schools in three boroughs, including two in the Bronx. “Success Academy Bronx 1” hopes to expand from its current kindergarten-through-second-grade curriculum, adding more students to its school. When Success Academy officials applied to the Department of Education for more space, it was determined that they should be moved into the building that currently houses Letters’ 581 middle and high school students.

The Bronx Academy of Letters already shares its building, The Paul Robeson complex, with M.S. 203, a middle school with 291 students and P.S. 168, a special education preK-12 school with 407 students. Before increasing enrollment, Success Academy Bronx 1 will add 192 students to the building. That will mean 1,471 students of all ages and grades, asked to share the space of one building.

“I can’t see why they would do this to our school,” said Overton. “I could see if we were a poor performing school but we’re not. It’s not like we haven’t shown what we can do with the space.”

For Letters, adding another school to its building would mean larger classes in fewer rooms. Aside from that, the school would lose full access to its gymnasium, rooms for counseling, five classes deemed not essential and its library. What will happen to Overton has yet to be decided. A public hearing will be held April 4, where the DOE will hear statements from community members, students and educators regarding the proposed changes. It will be put up to a vote just two weeks later.

When Principal Ann Hall announced the proposal to students over the loudspeaker during third period one Monday, a hush fell over a high school class. “She sounds like she’s about to cry,” one boy said. Overton reassured the group that their principal was speaking “deliberately” so everyone was clear on what was going on. She had just learned of the details of the change a week before.

Back in the library, Overton said she sees the library primarily as a space to encourage students to read. Library offerings paired with the classroom requirements, is what she described as the “give and take” of education. She takes the opportunity to provide books the students wouldn’t otherwise see in school. “Libraries are the third space,” Overton said. “They’re a place that’s not school or home. They’re a space to try things out and not have to be who you are in the other two places. I think that’s really important for everybody but especially teenagers.”

In a hushed tone, seated at a table in the library, Overton said one of the greatest lessons that she’s learned as a teacher and librarian is how to manage her passions and emotions, a lesson that she wishes for her students. “I grew up in a house where my dad was total yeller,” she said. “I didn’t learn how to process my emotions until I was older and I see a lot of that in the school. I can remember and relate.”

Donovan X. Ramsey