They crowded Downey’s Bar and Grill — parents, teachers and community members. It might have been adults only, but the goal was for a much younger generation — the children of P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School.
The Mosholu Avenue fundraiser took in nearly $6,000 for P.S. 81’s parent association — almost double the previous year — funding everything from online programs and lessons, to equipment for school safety.
“Because of recent school shootings, a lot of parents were concerned, and God forbid someone walked in, they will have these walkie-talkies,” said Marian Martin, parent association president.
The funds not only bought more efficient communication devices but also more learning-based gear like online courses teachers can use in lessons on the Smart Board. A Smart Board basically is an interactive touch-sensitive white board teachers can use while conducting a class that essentially serves as an oversized computer monitor.
Local businesses got in the act — like Addeo’s Riverdale Pizza, The Riverdale Y and the Riverdale Steak House — offering unique prizes to raffle. There were other prizes available, too, like free weeks at camps for kids, box seats to a New York Mets game, and American Girl dolls.
“It was a very nice and low-key event where families got to mingle, and families that normally wouldn’t know each other came together,” Martin said. Even U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel and former Community Board 8 chair Dan Padernacht joined the party. They not only made generous donations, they also socialized with attendees.
One of the big topics of conversation was Engel’s March vote in favor of the Stop School Violence Act. The bill, according to supporters, would have given schools and local law enforcement the tools they needed to spot gun violence warning signs with the hopes of preventing bloodshed in schools.
“We really have a passion for the students like they are our own,” said Betsy Friedman, the parent association treasurer. “Safety is urgent, and we work to modernize the initiative. We’re proud of that.”
With the raised money, P.S. 81 purchased 10 new walkie-talkies, which makes it easier for administrators and some teachers to communicate — especially through the school’s concrete walls.
With school shootings seemingly becoming more commonplace, P.S. 81 drills regularly in case such a tragedy struck the Riverdale Avenue school.
“Teachers practice hiding the children and the children do these drills so that they’re good,” Martin said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to do this.”
Principal Anna Kirrane has hosted several safety meetings with parents, faculty and security over the last several months about precautionary measures the school can take if there was an active shooter on the grounds.
Community outreach remained a primary concern in planning the fundraiser, Friedman said. The biggest challenge is to try and attract some new faces to school events, and hoped hosting this fundraiser at a popular local bar might change that. It seemed to work — 60 people showed up, when the parent association expected just 40.
It’s important the money goes back to help students, Martin said. She spoke to the dedication of the P.S. 81 teachers and the time they put into lessons and classroom organization. Giving them grants was a necessity.
“We want to support our teachers because these are the people that work with our children,” Friedman said. “We want to make our school even better and safer.”