School didn’t win big bucks, but ‘tent’ effort was worth it

By Bonnie Rosenstock

“Exhilarated and exhausted at the same time,” is how Mark Federman, East Side Community High School’s principal, described his 11 nights of camping outside in the school’s E. 12th St. alcove. Federman and a cadre of students, parents, staff and community residents spent the summer’s last weeks getting out the vote in the Kohl’s Cares contest, in which the top 20 Facebook vote-getting schools won $500,000 each. Although the E. 12th St. school only made it to number 31 or 32, Federman called the effort worthwhile.

“What we accomplished was we showed it’s important to try for something that can help your school even if you don’t get it,” he said. “Modeling that for the students is important.”

Federman’s idea to sleep in a tent was not only motivated by publicity to help garner votes, but also “to get the word out that there is a special school that needs the community’s support and involvement,” he said.

With more than 1.8 million votes cast, top place went place to Lake High School in Millbury, Ohio, a public school destroyed by a tornado that received a lot of press. Their school district posted appeals on Facebook. Eighteen of the other top schools are religious, either Christian or Jewish, and one is a public school, Darby Elementary School in Los Angeles, Cal., which had its school district’s backing.

This was the first time East Side Community High School participated in such a contest, and they learned a lot of lessons, said Jodi Caplan, the school’s director of community/family partnerships. However, the school didn’t get involved until the contest’s final two weeks.

“Our mistake was not getting into this thing earlier and not having other schools similar to us — neighborhood schools, public schools, other Title I schools — do it together,” Caplan said. “With all of the winning teams, it was the power in numbers and alliances.

“We would love Kohl’s in the future to do something just for public schools,” she added.

Still, she’s “thrilled” they participated “because we made wonderful contacts with individuals in our community. We would have loved to win the money, but we won so many other things for the effort,” she said.

People have offered to volunteer different skills, such as tutoring, coaching basketball, teaching yoga and art, and to come in to talk about their jobs.

Caplan is launching the nonprofit Friends of East Side for parents, alumni and local people who want to be involved in the school and help bring in more resources.

For more information, contact East Side Community High School, 420 E. 12th St. (phone: 212-460-8467).