Not too many years ago, Ditmas Junior High School was the scourge of the neighborhood — its playground rife with local youths hanging out or causing vandalism to and from school.
But between the school administration’s effort to landscape the grounds and the local civic organization, Kensington Action Force (KAF), the school and its playground have evolved into one of the neighborhood’s jewels.
The school, located at 700 Cortelyou Road, is also known as I.S. 62.
“One of the reasons for the KAF’s formation is the community perceived the students coming to the school from outside of the neighborhood as a problem,” said KAF Founder and Executive Director Sydney Zelman. “They would walk on peoples properties and go into backyards causing mischief.”
Zelman said the KAF began working with both police on the situation as well as with the school and the city to get funding for renovations.
Now, what was once a problem has turned into an asset, he said.
Nowhere is this asset more pronounced then in the schoolyard, which the city renovated under its $25 million Trust for Public Land initiative.
The playground/park now includes play equipment for local elementary school kids, a track, basketball courts, a small Astroturf field, chess tables, a gazebo area for older adults and a small community garden.
“All of what you see was designed by children in the school,” said Barry Kevorkian, who has served as principal at Ditmas Junior High School for the past four years and has been at the school the past 32 years.
“The design works in a specific way where there has to be a little for each age group. The children are out there all day long and after 3 p.m. it’s open to the community until dusk as well as on Saturday and Sunday until dusk.”
Kevorkian explained that the school’s 1208 students come mainly from the surrounding zone covering School Districts 15, 17 and 22.
The test scores have also risen in the last few years where the school now is about in the middle compared to other junior high schools in the district, he said.
Kevorkian attributed the evolving relationship between the school and Kensington’s approximate 70,000 residents to several factors.
“It’s us getting out in the community, Sydney and the KAF’s help, and I attribute a lot to the neighborhood, which is gentrifying,” he said.
©2009 Community News Group
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