Looking around Colin Powell Elementary School’s “gymnatorium” at the school’s ribbon cutting ceremony last week, one thing stood out – a pair of gothic-style archways on either side of the auditorium’s stage.
In an interview last week, Teresita Diaz, the school’s principal, revealed that the archways were brought over from the demolished Christopher Columbus School, which formerly stood in the space Colin Powell now occupies.
“I remember coming in this summer and observing the construction, and I saw the masons there placing those stones one by one,” said Diaz. “I knew this school would be a special place for our kids.”
The school is a marked improvement over its predecessor. The building, which now houses all of Columbus’ students as well as students from the city’s former Henry Hudson School on 19th Street, is equipped with an enormous cafeteria and kitchen (Hudson School had neither) as well as a modern media facility and, of course, the “gymnatorium.”
New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie, who accompanied State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, praised Diaz in his speech at the ribbon cutting, saying that he could see tangible examples of her leadership in the classrooms and hallways.
“We call it our wall of heroes.” -- Teresita Diaz
The school also “oozes” the personality of its students. During a tour of the building last week, Diaz pointed out countless art projects displayed in the school’s hallways, which ranged in topic from Greek mythology to Black History Month.
On a visit to the school’s large art classroom, Diaz explained that the school was attempting to implement a vastly interdisciplinary curriculum, which infused the arts into more straightforward subjects like language arts and math.
“We’re trying to integrate the arts into the entire curriculum,” she said.
Darmy Gonzalez, the school’s art teacher, explained that to coincide with a section of her curriculum which deals with Chinese art, she had decorated the room with various Chinese art pieces, including miniature dolls and a gong. She also showed off a map with art from around the world.
“We’re teaching geography in art class,” said Diaz proudly.
In the school’s music room, also notably spacious and comfortable, music teacher Richard Cush explained that his curriculum was built around a three-year program called LinkUp, which stresses performance and musical theory, but also other aspects of the subject.
“We do a lot of history and musical appreciation as well,” he said. “Each student also has his or her own recorder.”
In May, the students will travel to Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform with other LinkUp students.
Technology is also an important aspect of the school’s mission, said Diaz.
The school’s media facility holds 20 computers and a smart board. On Monday, students were in there researching mythology and preparing presentations for class.
In addition to the media center, technology has also made its way into the classrooms. Each room is outfitted with a smartboard, which teachers use for everything from math to reading. In order to help the teachers deal with the transition, the Board of Education offered professional development classes.
The media center sits in one corner of the school’s vast library, which Diaz described as a “work in progress.” There are wide open spaces designed for personal reading, art projects adorn the walls and bookshelves, and in one corner, there is a display of various military memorabilia and photographs of soldiers.
“We call it our wall of heroes,” said Diaz.
She explained that in honor of the school’s namesake, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the more celebrated Armed Service members of the post-World War II era, students brought in photos and belongings of their relatives who served in the military for the display.
Politics and education collided at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, when Stack declared that Colin Powell – the seventh school to be built in Union City over the past 10 years – would not have been made possible without Christie’s assistance.
“Make no bones about it, this school would not exist without Governor Christie,” said Stack, despite the fact that ground was broken on the school in 2009, when Jon Corzine ruled in Trenton.
The mayor’s speech, which he said he prepared specially for the occasion due to Christie’s attendance, all but explicitly endorsed Christie, a Republican, for reelection in the upcoming November gubernatorial race.
“Not only is he the greatest governor, but he’s the best I’ve ever worked with, and that’s coming from a Democrat,” Stack finished, to thunderous applause from the audience.
Christie, for his part, focused most of his remarks on the successes of the School Development Agency (SDA) which is tasked with constructing all new school facilities in 31 low-income districts around the state, including Union City.
Colin Powell Elementary is the seventh school in the past 10 years to be built on the state’s tab, which has totaled about $280 million.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org