Some Midwood residents are upset that a charter school for academically struggling high school students is moving into the East Midwood Jewish Center — a conservative synagogue on Ocean Avenue.
An informational meeting about the new tenant, Urban Dove, which was meant to address inaccurate information that Urban Dove students are troubled youth, turned into chaos when attendees demanded answers to questions about safety. The school is set to move to the former site of a Jewish day school next year.
In one instance, a community member said that her child might be made to feel intimidated walking home from school with the influx of 300 Urban Dove students.
“I’m a little unclear why your son would be afraid?” asked Jai Nanda, the founder and executive director of Urban Dove.
Urban Dove, which has three locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens uses a sports education model to help students who struggle with school attendance and classroom engagement. In order to be admitted to Urban Dove, a student must have failed their freshman year in high school and be younger than 16-years-old. Of the 300 students at Urban Dove’s location in Bed-Stuy, 20% are Latino or Hispanic and 78% percent are black. The move to EMJC would place the school in a predominantly white Jewish neighborhood that has become increasingly more Orthodox.
Both Nanda and Michael Schwartz, president of EMJC, tried to calm fears.
“We did our due diligence, including a site visit … we spoke to the local police precinct, we found them in all respects to be good citizens and neighbors surrounding their school,” said Schwartz.
But East Midwood Residents questioned why the EMJC did not chose another Jewish institution to replace the previous day school.
“I want to know why when it came down to dollars you opted to go with a school that does sound wonderful but it is not committed to what we want,” asked Freddi Baronoff. Attendees were also felt that EMJC did not engage enough with the community before the decision to bring in Urban Dove was made.
When the previous tenant, the East Midwood Hebrew Day School stopped paying its rent in 2018, EMJC reached out to 10 different Jewish schools to see if they wanted to rent the space, according to Schwartz. But EMJC leadership was unable to come to an agreement with any of them.