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Students get creative at Merrick Academy

Pupils on the K-6 charter school's student council are planning a Black History party for the end of February where students will dress up as an African American they admire.The event is just one of ideas that have come out of the council this school year, which involved a variety of after-school clubs. "The whole mission is to instill leadership skills in the students," said Alma L. Alston, the founding principal of the school that opened in 2000. The council was formed in the 2001-2002 school year. In December, the students were honored by Borough President Helen Marshall at Borough Hall for their leadership.Well-behaved and articulate, the council's members recalled the private ceremony where they received certificates."We met the Honorable Helen Marshall, borough president," said Rosedian Benson, a fifth-grade representative on the council.In order to run for a seat on the council, students must have a B-plus or better average, good conduct and two teachers, a parent and seven of their peers to sign a petition. Candidates then give a speech and the winners are voted in by the student body in November. Installations are held in December. "My slogan was: 'Let's work together to make Merrick Academy an even better place,'" said Keolani Williams, a fifth-grader and the council's president.Alston said the 500-seat school is in high demand. Close to 800 applications were received for 75 kindergarten slots in 2005."There's a lot of people who want to get in this school," Alston said. Most students are from southeast Queens. A lottery system is used to select the pupils. Alston said the school also has a fathers committee to help students bond with their fathers in activities outside Merrick Academy."One of the things that separates us from other schools is the high level of parent involvement," she said.Since it is a charter school, Merrick Academy is allowed to have a curriculum that is not overseen by the state. It is funded through the State University of New York.Student council members said the non-traditional public school makes learning fun."They try to do as many activities," Williams said. "They treat you like they're a part of your family."Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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