Mayor de Blasio stepped into room 100 at PS 69 in Jackson Heights, where 29 fourth-graders sat at their desks sketching various scenes of New York City.
Impressed by their creativity, de Blasio asked several of the students about their drawings but 9-year-old Nevin needed to get something off his chest first.
“I didn’t know in real life you were this tall!” he blurted out.
“It’s true,” the mayor responded. “I didn’t know in real life you were this creative!”
“He’s so tall, he’s like six feet,” Nevin said to his friend Pema.
Though some were transfixed by his height — which is actually 6-foot-5 — de Blasio’s visit was more than a casual drop-in. After visiting the fourth-graders, the mayor addressed the lack of arts education available to public school kids.
“The level of engagement and creativity and energy that these kids felt was something that would make every New Yorker proud,” de Blasio said in the school’s auditorium on Monday. “They were expressing their ideas, their feelings and they had a teacher who was encouraging them every step of the way. It’s a reminder that arts education really matters. It helps kids to better express themselves.”
Last week, de Blasio introduced the executive budget plan, which includes, among many other things, an additional $20 million to facilitate arts education efforts throughout the school system.
“We have a long way to go, but this is an important step forward towards making arts eduction universal throughout our school system,” de Blasio said.
The mayor, who was joined by Schools Chancellor Carmen Fari–a, said the newly added funds, which must be approved by the City Council, would be used primarily to reach out to schools that do not yet have arts education.
“Our hope is that some of this money will allow us to put out grants where schools will apply — elementary, middle and high school — as a team so that there will be some art forms that the kids actually have a continuum over time,” Fari–a said. “Because I think all students should graduate high school being proficient in some art form.”
Though arts education is lacking in certain areas, overcrowding is an issue almost all public schools in Queens face.
De Blasio said his four-year capital plan will provide $4.4 billion in capital investments for new space. Separately, almost $500 million will be used to remove trailers in “as many locations as possible to free up schoolyards.”
“We have too many schools that are overcrowded,” de Blasio said. “We have too many schools that are forced to use trailers, even though they don’t want to. This is a school that has dealt with overcrowding for a long time. This is a part of Queens that’s one of the most overcrowded areas of the entire city.”
The mayor ended by emphasizing the importance of funding education, especially full-day pre-K and after-school programs for middle-school students.
“We have big dreams for the kids of this city, for the parents of this city,” he said. “And we know it’ll be hard to achieve, but we know we can do it and we’re challenging ourselves to go as far as possible on their behalf.”