From the Queens Chronicle:
Nicol Rodriguez isn’t surprised when she has to walk around human feces while taking the quicker route to get to her school, Pan American International in Elmhurst.
She starts and ends her school day by choosing between two walking routes: one safer path that takes 35 minutes, and one creepy, obstacle-ridden one that takes 20. The shorter route requires trudging over a pedestrian bridge with dislodged cement stairs, uneven surfaces, loitering men, piles of garbage and poor lighting — despite the school’s extensive lobbying effort for an overhaul.
Rodriquez’s walk home on a recent Wednesday was typical: she watched her steps carefully as she made her way up the broken stairs and around the shards of glass. Nearing the top, Rodriguez prepared to hold her breath, because it always smells like urine and vomit. On this day, there was a pile of feces along the side.
The school’s entire student population emigrated from Latin America, and part of Pan American’s mission is to integrate lessons about civil liberties and immigrant rights into class curricula. So after listening to the onslaught of complaints, director of School Programs and Latin American studies teacher Carly Fox decided to do some real-world teaching about civil rights.
With the help of the school’s nonprofit community partner, Make the Road New York, Fox oversaw a petition drive. She and 40 parents collected about 240 signatures from students and teachers. Students delivered the petitions to the office of state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) in December 2008.
The petitions are still on the desk of Peralta’s chief of staff Yonel Letellier. He says a phone call with Fox after the bridge was repainted in May 2009 left him understanding that the school was satisfied.
But the bridge was soon covered in graffiti again.
Spurred by calls from MTRNY, Maura McCarthy, the Queens commissioner for the DOT, came to see the bridge for herself on March 27. Fox, joined by eight parents and 12 students at the meeting with McCarthy, said McCarthy promised to level out the stairs by filling in the chipped blocks of cement; clean the embankments; put a sign up explaining how to report damage; and paint the bridge.
DOT is one for four on its promises.