Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our new We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE will showcase some of the many unsung heroes who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.
For our third We Are DOE feature, please welcome Community School Director, Eliana Bourdier.
“W hen students are painting, debating, learning about nutrition, doing math, or participating in a theater production, they are not only learning skills but socializing in positive ways with other students and instructors,” says Eliana Bourdier, who is responsible for overseeing afterschool programs at I.S. 230 in Queens as Community School Director. “That helps children grow so much compared to passively looking at a computer or phone. It also gives their parents peace of mind to know where their children are and that they’re safe.”
The Department of Education’s Community School strategy, which was significantly expanded in 2015 under Mayor Bill de Blasio, has become a national model that has demonstrably improved measures like attendance wherever it has been implemented. There are now 266 NYC Community Schools, which entail partnerships between schools and community-based organizations that provide additional support to students and families. The goal is to help students thrive by addressing any obstacles to learning by providing services like medical care (including mental health and dental care), mentoring, tutoring, adult education for parents/guardians, and more. Each Community School has both a principal and community school director who work in partnership to develop and implement services that help students and their families feel welcome, engaged, and healthy.
Starting her third year at I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights, which serves about 1,200 sixth through eighth graders, Eliana seeks innovative ways to get more students to enroll in afterschool programs. Her changes include a new online registration system and translating information about class options to connect more effectively with a school community that is 60 percent Latino and 34 percent Asian, including a sizable and growing share of Bengali children.
Engaging students in afterschool academic and arts activities, including a theater group called Showstoppers, has made a big difference for her kids. Eliana says, “When students don’t have anything to do after school, they either go to the park or hang out with friends. That’s when bullying occurs; that’s when the vaping occurs; that’s when parents who may still be at work might not know where their child is. That’s why it’s so important to get them into afterschool (programs).”
I.S. 230’s community school partner—and Eliana’s employer—is The Leadership Program, which runs a variety of youth development and family engagement programs across the City. It also is the lead CBO in more than a dozen other NYC Community Schools.
“When students don’t have anything to do after school, they either go to the park or hang out with friends. That’s when bullying occurs; that’s when the vaping occurs; that’s when parents who may still be at work might not know where their child is. That’s why it’s so important to get them into afterschool (programs).”
– CSD Eliana Bourdier, I.S. 230 in Queens
Born in the Dominican Republic, Eliana came to the Cypress Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn at the age of seven and still lives there. After graduating from a DOE Career and Technical Education high school and while attending Berkeley College, she volunteered for a local non-profit and worked on afterschool programs. It was there that she found her calling.
“I remember one day I had to take a student out of my class who was always misbehaving and told him I needed to call his parents,” she says. “He was really upset, so I asked him to draw on a paper how he was feeling. He calmed down and talked with me for a while about issues at home. It was the first time I experienced how taking time to dedicate to one child who needs some more support can really matter. And I said, okay, this is something I really love to do.”
Eliana spent her first three years after college as an IT consultant with a financial services firm before joining the Peace Corps to teach entrepreneurship education in Nicaragua. When she returned in 2017, she interviewed with The Leadership Program and began working with I.S. 230’s Principal Ronald Zirin.
One indication of Principal Zirin’s strong support of Eliana and her work related to the location of her office, which is the first door between the school entry and the main office. Concerned that parents and students congregating in her space might be disruptive, she offered to move to a less central location. “Principal Zirin said, ‘No, no, no, parents need to be able to see you when they first come in.’ And that actually has helped a lot to get parents to enroll their children in afterschool because I’m the first face they see when they walk into the building.”
So far the highlight of the new school year for Eliana was when a recent graduate of I.S. 230 stopped back to say hello. Eliana says, “She told me she wanted to volunteer and asked how she could do that. That’s what I love: seeing the positive impact you can have on these children.”
We thank Eliana and the City’s 200+ Community School Directors for their efforts in helping City students feel welcome, healthy, and engaged in their schools every single school day.
Together, We Are DOE.