District 75 dads create a ‘bridge’ for their kids

The mural illustrates fathers’ role as protectors and nurturers in their children’s development.

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Fathers of District 75 students showed they care with a new mural they designed for the district’s administrative office on E. 23rd St.

A small leadership group of dads of the students, who have various disabilities, came up with the visual — and real — concept that they are like a “bridge,” helping their children get from a place of bullying and low self-esteem to success and confidence.

The project not only was for the kids themselves, but also empowered the fathers through the process of conceiving, designing and ultimately painting the artwork. And, counter to the stereotype of dads being uninvolved, it helped them engage more closely with their children’s education.

Working with District 75 — which has school sites citywide — the social-action mural project was spearheaded by the Center for Educational Innovation, an education nonprofit.

Overseeing the project was Alexandra Leff, CEI’s director of arts education.

Alexandra Leff, the director of arts education at CEI, oversaw the mural project. Photos by Lincoln Anderson

The mural was unveiled in October inside the school’s lobby at 400 First Ave.

“Our fathers came from all five boroughs with their children to participate in the creation of this amazing piece of artwork that is a representation of the joys, challenges and rewards of advocating for a child with disabilities,” said District 75 Superintendent Ketler Louissaint. “We wanted to explore the reasons why some fathers may feel disengaged and to find opportunities that are meaningful for fathers to participate with their children. We want them to know they are an integral part of our District 75 community, and that they have a voice in decisions that affect their children’s education.”

In his remarks, CEI C.E.O. Michael Kohlhagen said, “Art is a powerful tool for expression, and CEI’s work with District 75 has been a great opportunity for us to support its Fathers Initiative and present a mural project that engages fathers in their children’s education, gives them a voice to express themselves, and impacts others through this inspiring mural. This project is aligned with our important work with the My Brothers Keeper Initiative and our commitment to parent engagement and the success of all students.”

District 75 Superintendent Ketler Louissaint, left, presented Louis Garrison III and other fathers involved in the project with certificates for their exemplary work and support for their children’s education — and their support for District 75, in general.

“This social-action mural gives fathers a voice through the power of art,” arts eduction director Leff said. “It reflects their love, sensitivity, respect and care for their children — expressing to fathers everywhere that being actively engaged in their children’s lives and education is vital to the growth, success, self-confidence and happiness of their sons and daughters.”

C.E.O. Michael Kohlhagen said the project embodied the values and goals of his group, CEI, and that “art is a powerful tool for expression.”

The group of fathers who worked on the mural — including Reginald Carroll, left, and Louis Garrison III — were themselves empowered through the process.

District 75, the special-education district of the New York City Department of Education, has sites in all five boroughs and is devoted to serving nearly 25,000 special-education students facing a wide range of challenges, including severe learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, cognitive disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and multiple physical disabilities.

Founded in 1989, CEI’s mission is to guarantee a quality education for every student. CEI’s motto is to “work directly with students, teachers, school leaders and the community to create the schools their children need to succeed.”

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