Bukharian teens ready for leadership roles

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“In the society...

By Tien-Shun Lee

State Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills) Friday engaged teenage immigrants from the former Soviet Union in a discussion on public policy, asking them to consider the impact of a bill that would extend the school year to 12 months.

“In the society we live in, one person can make a tremendous difference,” Cohen said. “Each one of us has the capacity to change things. That’s what makes this country so great.”

Cohen was invited to speak to Bukharian students from Halsey Junior High and Forest Hills High School to help prepare them for an annual Jewish youth leadership conference called Panim el Panim, or Face to Face, that will be held in Washington, D.C. in April.

The event was held in the Bukharian Teen Lounge, a house next to the Central Queens YM/YWHA at 67-09 108th St. in Forest Hills where Bukharian teens gather regularly to socialize and organize community service events. The lounge is funded by the Jewish Child Care Association.

Cohen began his presentation by explaining that an assemblyman makes laws. He then told students that there is a proposal for the state to extend the school year to 12 months.

After laughter broke out in the room, Cohen discussed problems that would arise if the proposal took effect: The tourism industry would suffer from the lack of families traveling during summer vacation time; the government would have to come up with money to pay teachers for the extra time they would work; summer camps would be put out of business; and students would not be able to help out families by working summer jobs.

“Who can we write to or call if we don’t like this idea of the 12-month school year?” one teen asked.

Cohen said they could write to him.

Sam Aminov, a 10th-grader at Forest Hills High School, asked Cohen why the government spent $87 billion for the war in Iraq instead of spending the money on schools in the city, which are overcrowded and often in poor condition.

“I heard that the money they spent on Iraq was enough to knock down every school building in the city and build them up from scratch,” Aminov said.

Cohen responded that the issue of defense vs. non-defense spending has been discussed for many years, with some groups saying that defense spending is just as necessary as a local police department.

When Forest Hills High School 10th-grader Ilya Yusupov asked why nobody did anything about the parking so that his dad does not have to circle around for hours looking for a spot, Cohen said there was not enough space on the streets to accommodate large buildings with large numbers of car-owning families.

“I would welcome your coming up with an idea,” Cohen said.

One 13-year-old from Halsey told Cohen that the school system had taken the fun out of school by mandating that her literacy teacher instruct class in a certain way instead of allowing her to have the students act out what they were reading. Cohen told her if she wrote a letter to him, he would look into the situation.

“I’ll tell you, since this is only the first year of the (new literacy rules), if test scores go up, it’ll be more regulations,” Cohen said. “Your happiness is secondary to performance scores.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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