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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

From CES 132 to PS 132 Thoughts on my old Elementary School

From 1978 to 1985 I attended CES 132 Garret A. Morgan Elementary school.

My older brother, my sister, and my cousin from Georgia also attended there.

I even remember my old school song (well part of it):

Everywhere that we go we’ll let all the people know
We’re the pupils of 132.
We’re young ladies and gents and we behave,
And show good manners in all that we do.

Well, that’s all I remember (It’s been over 25 years)

During the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s CES 132 was a place with high academic standards and a heavy focus on academic excellence. It was a school that gave kids a top notch elementary education.

I can say after seven years at CES 132 back in the early to mid 1980’s most students could read and write. Moreover, most students could read and write above grade level. The academic foundation I got there was so rock solid I still used much of what I learned there in high school and college.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading about how a 9-year-old slashed another child with a razor he snuck into school. I was deeply saddened to hear of this turn of events.

But I wasn’t surprised.

I knew the mood at 132 had changed in 2004 when I visited there. A few days after my sister graduated from Columbia University Teachers College, we took a walk to over to 132. She wanted to apply for a job there. She wanted to give back to her community by teaching in the same school that taught her.

She was told to leave her resume and someone would get back to her.

They never called her back. She wound up taking a job someplace else.

When I walked into the old elementary school, the mood at the mood had changed. The CES 132 I went to as a kid was a well-oiled machine of efficiency and organization. There was a sense of community there. You could tell from the minute you walked in the door people cared about the kids and the quality of education they received there

But PS 132 was a chaotic place. I could feel the tension in the air. People were frazzled and frustrated.

It was filled with the kinds of apathy and indifference I experienced at the junior high and High school level.

In the twenty-five plus years since I graduated from CES 132, now PS 132 I soon learned that the school had been shut down three times in the last decade. When a Public school shuts down in New York City, the principal and vice principal are terminated or moved to another position. Teachers are laid off. A new principal is put in place. A new mission and new direction for the school are established.

If teachers are lucky they can reapply for their jobs. If they’re really lucky they can stay at the school they worked at.

Usually in most cases 50% or more of the staff is let go and replaced with new hires.

Things had to really get bad for132 to be shut down three times. Twice in the past decade.

In the aftermath of those multiple closings, PS 132 has gone from a center of academic excellence where disciplined students to a literal cage. In the article I read I learned that there are fights every day and total anarchy in the classroom.

It usually doesn’t get that bad until kids go to IS 148 down the block on Third Avenue. Now that place has been a disaster since it’s inception in 1978. It too has been shut down multiple times.

But at 132 I’m wondering what went wrong? What caused the solid academic foundation to crumble? Was it the multiple shutdowns? Was it the lack of leadership? Was it the lack of direction? Was it all the inconsistency? How did CES 132 go from a center of academic excellence that built a rock solid foundation for kids to become functioning adults into PS 132 a place where people build the foundation to failure? How does a great school turn into a failing one? And why does it keep getting WORSE with each shutdown instead of better?

In addition to asking what went wrong with the school, I’m wondering what went wrong in the community? Why are the kids so out of control there? I mean, we had single parent homes back in the 1980’s. We had poverty back in the 1980’s.

But we also had discipline and order. We were taught boundaries. We were taught respect for elders. We were taught how to behave when we went outside. We behaved with good sense and showed the good manners in all that we do. I’m wondering what changed in the last 25 plus years in the raising of kids for adults to lose so much control over them. Eight and nine year olds shouldn’t be fighting in class every day. An elementary school shouldn’t be as chaotic as a prison yard.

And I’m not looking at things through rose-colored glasses. Yeah, there were fights at CES 132 schoolyard back in the day. But back then they were a once-and-a-while thing. Maybe two or three a year tops. It wasn’t everyday.

And yeah at 132 back in the 1980’s some kids failed. A few were left back. But the entire school didn’t produce people who couldn’t function in the world. The school didn’t fail the kids like this.

Something is clearly wrong when kids under the age of nine are out of control.

I came from the same South Bronx neighborhood the kids at PS 132 live in. And many of the kids I went to 132 with grew up and are doing great things with their lives. If you go to their Facebook pages you find high school graduates, college graduates, professionals, and people who have moved past their ghetto roots and taken their lives to the next level.

Looking at the sad state of affairs at PS 132 I don’t know if there will be that level of academic success over the next twenty-five years. Without a serious intervention kids who start out fighting in elementary school are usually the kind to drop out of school in the sixth or eighth grade. They’re the kind to wind up stuck in poverty, in prison or dead. If something isn’t done PS 132 is going to be on its way to producing another generation of baby mamas, gang bangers, thugs, dope boys, and stick-up kids instead of college graduates, professionals, and businesspeople like myself.

Twenty-five years after graduating from CES 132 I still live in the South Bronx. And I still go down to the old neighborhood I grew up in from time to time. On some of my trips there sometimes I walk by the 132 building and reminisce about my time there and the great memories I had. But when I think of what’s transpiring now in those classrooms I just shake my head in disappointment. There has to be a way to get this school back on the right track to academic excellence. Our kids today deserve to have the same quality education I received over 25 years ago.


  1. Shawn-what happened is charter schools started popping up. Charter schools that can pick and choose the kids they want and toss out any bad ones or special needs one.
    Depending on your state laws-a school doesn't need certified teachers as along as there is 1 certified counselor to sign off on the grades. Or if the school doesn't get state funding and thus is not required to take state tests.
    When the parents that would not have allowed that school to fall apart are now in the charter schools-you get left with all the mess you saw.

  2. Excellent blog, Shawn. Few places bring more nostalgia than our old high schools, and it's highly interesting to note the differences between then and now. I'm glad you decided to do this piece. Perhaps one day we'll get back to the old tried and true what brought up youngsters who tried hard and respected themselves, others and our general society.

  3. I'm also an alumni of CES 132 (class of '86). My education at CES 132 had an profound impact on me, so much so that I graduated valedictorian of my class, having passed the math and reading final exams with the highest scores possible. In those days there were real teachers who cared about their students education and welfare. I have fond memories of teachers who loved to teach and students who knew what was expected of them. I remember people such as Ms. Solomon, the assistant principal and Mr. Billig, who was cool but strict with the students. But that was a time when students had respect for their teachers. Nowadays the opposite is true. Most students have no respect for their parents, much less their teachers. Back then the school was REAL school. It saddens me to know the condition of my school today.

  4. The school song was:

    Everywhere that we go
    We let all the people know
    were the pupils of 132
    We're young ladies and gents
    well-behaved, we show good sense
    and good manners in all that we do

    We're proud of you, dear 132
    Proud of us too we hope you'll be
    And when they compare
    All the schools of everywhere
    We'll be tops and everyone will agree
    We'll be tops thanks to you and to me!

  5. Luis,

    Congratulations on your success at 132.

    Thanks for posting the whole school song. I don't remember it that well after nearly 30 years.

    I graduated in 1984 ,and yeah the staff at 132 loved to teach and you could just feel the passion and energy there back then. Kids respected the teachers and the teachers respected them. It was a great experience back then and I wish the kids today could receive that kind of education today.

  6. Wow..i am so happy to see this is a coincidence that my mom sent me my second grade class picture today.I went to tbat school in the early 90's and my best friend was Shante Brown from Webster av.She was the best but we lost communication.Glad to see the theme song was great.I remember Ms.Dash, Mrs.Grullart and other teachers.Evan was one of the students in my class..he was in a wheelchair..hope he doing good