Speculation about the fate of Chabad of Staten Island’s preschool ended when the school reopened in a brand new facility this school year. Last May, city authorities closed the buildings citing code violations. But now, says Chani Katzman, director of the school, “we are back and better than ever.”
Children streamed into the new building, some fifteen minutes away from the original site, to begin the school year. The new school site trumps the old one in several significant ways. Within the brick building are six generously sized classroom bathed in natural light from the oversized windows in each room. New light pine colored flooring, soft yellow wall color and matching tables add to the bright, clean look. The building was constructed originally to house a day care center, but it did not attract enough children to remain open.
“I am excited for my son that he has such a beautiful new building,” said Rena Kimmel whose son, Dovie, has been in the school for the past two years. “The level of care hasn’t changed–it is still tops – but the huge building is a very nice plus.” Her favorite new school feature is the rubber-padded yard that’s outfitted with a climbing bridge and playhouses.
Initial concerns over the school’s distance from the old site have been muted by the beauty of the new school building, according to PTA President Irit Matuszewiecz. “Initially when I was calling people to volunteer, they were hesitant. Now that they see how the school runs they want to participate. A few people have come up asking me what they can do,” said Matuszewiecz.
The new neighborhood is a return to Chabad of Staten Island’s roots. Rabbi Moshe and Chani Katzman, Chabad’s representatives in Staten Island, lived in the Oakwood Heights neighborhood when they first moved to the Island over 18 years ago. “There are more Jewish people here who do not yet send their children to a Jewish preschool. In a sense, Chabad is needed more in this area,” said Chani Katzman. Several parents from the neighborhood have toured the school and are considering it for their children, she said.
Students in Chabad of Staten Island’s yeshiva, Mesivta Menachem, now study in the former preschool classrooms. Minor renovations to get the building up to code for older students were completed over the summer. The thirty yeshiva students are making full use of their more spacious quarters. Now separate lectures and study sessions go on concurrently now without interference and with space for dining on site.
Rabbi Katzman views the events surrounding the end of last year less as a set back and more of an opportunity. “In Chassidic philosophy each descent is seen as a precursor, a preparation for an ascent, and from the positive reaction of the parents and the smiling faces on the children, we can see this coming true.”