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Students squeeze into Richmond Hill High

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In the spring of 2004, the High School for Architecture and Urban...

By Jennifer Warren

For Principal Susan Feldman and her 3,126 students who trek shoulder-to-shoulder through the corridors of Richmond Hill High, the new school on the block cannot come soon enough.

In the spring of 2004, the High School for Architecture and Urban Planning in Ozone Park — just 10 blocks from Richmond Hill HS School and seven blocks from John Adams HS — is expected to open its doors to more than 900 students.

Richmond Hill HS and John Adams HS in Ozone Park are two of the most crowded high schools in Queens. And at Richmond Hill HS the growing population has forced school administrators to curtail a student’s school day to just 3 1/2 hours. Classrooms have overflowed into the school yard where temporary trailers were erected to hold classes.

Restricted by the school’s tight schedule, many students are unable to participate in intramural sports and activities because their high school is still in session when other schools have closed.

While the boroughwide average operating capacity is 124 percent, Richmond Hill HS is operating at 202 percent of capacity, school officials said. John Adams, with more than 4,000 students, said it is operating at 164 percent of capacity this year.

The new High School for Architecture and Urban Planning will be located at the corner of 94th Avenue and 104th Street, just one block south of Atlantic Avenue on what is now a former paint factory. The 931-seat school, while open to students throughout Queens, is expected to siphon a large number from Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.

Until the school opens, however, the interim space crunch solutions of trailers, creative scheduling, and lightened course loads continue. It is an equation that Richmond Hill HS Principal Susan Feldman describes as “smoke and mirrors.”

Richmond Hill High runs much like a factory — in shifts. The first session made up of juniors, seniors, and English as second language students arrives at 7:19 a.m. They leave for the day just 3 1/2 hours later at 11:50 a.m. when the freshmen and sophomores show up. Their day ends at 4:24 p.m.

“It’s not fair,” said Feldman, 54, who has been the principal of Richmond Hill High for nine years. “At Bayside HS the kids have a lovely day. They come in at 8:15. They leave at 2:30, and they’re all together.”

The state has condoned Richmond Hill’s short day for five years, Feldman said. But its patience has been slowly fading. Come September the state will require all Richmond Hill High School students and those at John Adams to enroll in seven or more subjects.

Currently only 61 percent of the Richmond Hill student body takes the seven-class load, their principal said. And the state’s tightening of regulations could force the school to extend its hours to a 14- period day rather than a 12 period day.

“The extra 40 (percent of students) is just going to about kill us,” Feldman said. Adding the new high school “will certainly take the pressure off those last two periods.”

Situated on the north side of the campus on what was once a school yard with basketball courts are nine, red trailers outfitted with two classrooms apiece and surrounded by a chain-link fence.

They have been marketed to the upperclassmen, who use them, as a mini college campus.

“We sell it with the most positive spin we can,” said Feldman. “They happen to be beautiful and the kids like them.”

Inside one of the trailer classrooms on a recent rainy morning, 34 students were found mulling over an English lesson. The room, heated, clean and well lit, looked much like any other classroom.

But they’re not without problems. Security is an issue, Feldman said. The students who use the make-shift classrooms continually shuttle back and forth between the main school building and the ancillary classrooms, which have direct street access for both students and visitors, invited or not.

The school security detail is required to attend to the trailer classrooms, but they rarely do, the principal said.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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