Building bonds beyond the bell

Uniondale's vision for community-driven education


In recent years, the Uniondale school district has undergone many transformations in an attempt to better the student experience and help students not just succeed, but excel — and push them to go to new heights.

However, the advocacy for a better resourced Uniondale doesn't end at 2:30 on school days. It runs deep in this community, where the popular consensus is that residents feel they lack the proper political representation, requiring them to have to work twice as hard as other communities to get the same level of attention.

Last week, the Uniondale school district hosted its second annual Community Leaders Breakfast at the high school, where faith-based leaders, community organizers, activists, and civic leaders were all recognized for their continuous work throughout Uniondale.

“It is humbling, honestly,” said Jeannine Maynard, co-facilitator for the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition on being named a community leader, “I know I do the work, but the important thing to me are the results.”

But there was more to this event than just the recognition of Uniondale’s community’s leaders, “it’s not about just recognizing them, but really working with them and creating collaborative bonds,” Superintendent Monique Darrisaw-Akil explained, “there's so many opportunities that we're not touching, and our theme is that the schools can’t do it alone.”

She explains the children are only in school for a certain amount of time, but outside of these halls, they need all hands on deck. “We need every caring adult to be invested in making better decisions and better outcomes from those young people. We can't do it by ourselves,” the superintendent said.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” explained Uniondale High School Principal Mark McCaw. “The building of young kings and queens is a family and community effort, so with the spirit of unity and collaboration, we will continue to come together to create an environment where the seeds of knowledge are sown, faith guides, love flourishes, and community bonds are strengthened.”

The breakfast featured performances from students of Walnut Street Elementary School, and speeches by school administration and community leaders, such as Bishop R.W. Harris of Uniondale’s Grace Cathedral.

Harris is a member of the Freeport/Roosevelt NAACP and a retired New York State Housing Police detective who led a successful lawsuit against the New York City Housing Police for their unfair treatment of Black officers.

Bishop Harris pleaded with other community and school leaders to look into the potential of the youth they may think have gone down the wrong path. “There needs to be collaboration between the school district and the faith community,” said Bishop Harris, “the burden of education is a dual goal and objective that the church shares with the school — and that burden is preparing the child, even the ones who do not want to be burdened.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of the morning was the period of group discussions on how to move forward and ensure the future of the Uniondale community is bright for upcoming generations to come.

These discussions focused on ways to improve the community’s connectivity to the youth and get them more involved in civic engagement, developing further resources for students with disabilities, implementing career shadowing programs for students to experience various types of careers firsthand, hosting business forums for students to learn how to run small businesses, and brainstorming ways to connect with more parents to increase the overall involvement in PTA meetings as well as gaining their feedback.

“The main thing is pouring wisdom and experiences into these young people,” said Pearl Jacobs, president of the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association. “I feel very encouraged and honored that the school district invited me to take part in that conversation.”

“Like Malcolm X said, you are either part of the problem or you are part of the solution,” explained Darrisaw-Akil, “and everybody who is here — is committed to looking for solutions.”