Eleanor Roosevelt H.S. uses a dance studio for a gym, but it is narrow and has a low ceiling. Photo: Courtesy of Eleanor Roosevelt H.S.
In a little more than two weeks, students at an Upper East Side High school have reached close to 5,000 signatures on a petition asking the city for a gym for their school.
The petition is being hosted by Councilman Ben Kallos, and as of Feb. 22, had 4,709 signatures. The school, which has been at its current location since 2003, uses a dance studio on the second floor as a gym, but it has low ceilings and is very narrow.
In 2018, several students attended a town hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio to request space for a gym.
Kallos told Our Town that he has visited the school, met with the students and feels a gym is needed. He hopes that the petition will pave the way for a gym at Eleanor Roosevelt in the next year or so.
“Many of the schools in my council district do not have an appropriate gymnasium and make due with dance studios, converted class rooms, and using cafeterias or auditorium for physical fitness,” Kallos said in a statement on the petition’s website.
In June 2017 the de Blasio administration announced a Universal Physical Education initiative to provide all schools with a designated PE space by 2021. The initiative is focused on around 200 schools, out of a total of 1,629, that do not currently have a gymnasium. However, Roosevelt was not one of them.
Dimitri Saliani, the principal of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, commended his students for their action and praised Kallos for his assistance.
“It’s a great opportunity for our community and friends of the community to help support us in this endeavor,” Saliani said.
Saliani explained that not having a gym causes many challenges. Some of these issues include crowed gym classes, Public School Athletic League teams must practice at nearby locations such as Wagner Middle School at off-hours, such as before school starts, with practices often starting at 6:30 a.m. or earlier to get access to the spaces — which means some kids have to get up around 4 a.m. to make practice. The school also has no real place for home games for many indoor sports.
“Our school community, past and present have hoped for access to a nearby space for use by our PE program and our PSAL teams for the past 17 years,” Saliani said. “It has been one of our limitations as a school. We have shown resilience through the years and worked with our generous neighbors to share their spaces to enable our indoor sports programs to find space to practice and compete. It would be a dream come true for our current school community and those that will soon become a part of it in the coming years, if we could alleviate the reality of not have a proper gym space for a high school of over 500 students.”
One student who signed the petition is Quentin Thiery, 17, a senior, who plays basketball. Thiery echoed his principal’s concern about how having to practice at early hours at other schools take a toll on student athletes.
“Not only does the inconvenience of practicing before school weigh heavily on the physical endurance of many athletes, but just as much the mental aspect as well,” Thiery said. “Personally, waking up at 4 a.m. for four to five months has not only wavered my ability to perform at the highest level on the court, but just as much in the classroom.”
He added that because the school does not have a gym most of the school’s games do not begin until 6 or 6:30 p.m., compared to most schools, which are right after school. This causes kids to get home late, be up late doing work and be exhausted the next day.
Thiery noted that often there are more fans of other teams at their “home games.”
“I would be lying if I said those early mornings and late nights made loving the game of basketball a lot of work,” he remarked. “Thankfully I have developed the ability to manage these tough days after four years ,,, I do not exaggerate when I say that literally everyone at my high school is disadvantaged somehow by us not having a gym to call our own.”
However, on a more positive note, the teen is elated that the school has reached nearly 5,000 signatures in more than two weeks. While he will won’t be in school when it receives a gym, he will be proud he was part of the change.
“I love the fact that we have the opportunity to actually make this happen,” he said. “Eleanor Roosevelt having a real gym has always been more a joke between my friends and I than anything else. It has always been a “If we had a gym, I would...” situation. Now that those “ifs” can actually be a reality for the future generations of Eleanor Roosevelt students is something that we, as all fellow petition-signers, are proud to be a part of.”