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PEEKSKILL PRIDE By Zachery Gates II

Peekskill High is now classified as a “designated school” an institution recognized by the state education department for its high academic achievement, student growth, and graduation rate.

It is no secret that Westchester’s most northern city has not always had the best reputation. Neither has the City’s High School. If you listen to public perception and how they tell it, Peekskill High is one of the last places any parent would want to send their child.”  

Once you enter Peekskill High School the aura of pride, zeal, transparency, hard work, and successful academic achievement by the student body hits you squarely in the face. There are many examples of the cultural changes taking place at the school. Principal Rodney Arthur who became the school’s first African-American principal in 2016, took over a school with a 64% graduation rate. Last school year Peekskill graduated 78% of its seniors.  He is largely responsible but also recognizes and appreciates the contributions of his staff. Peekskill High is now classified as a “designated school” an institution recognized by the state education department for its high academic achievement, student growth, and graduation rate. “The good things that go on here at Peekskill High aren’t talked about or publicized” stated Mr. Hanh, who has taught at the school for over fourteen years. The school’s cultural reconstruction is due to Mr. Arthur’s “having set the bar high.” The Motto being “Building bridges of excellence, every student, every day.”  

Over the last few years, the city of Peekskill has seen a revitalization to its downtown, with several construction projects, and a considerable drop in crime. The demographic make-up of the school is 57% Latino and 30% African American. The majority of those students come from economically disadvantaged homes; however, Peekskill High receives less state aide than many neighboring schools whose students come from more economically advantaged situations. Despite those challenges, Arthur and his staff have expanded opportunities for their students to obtain success after Peekskill High School. Peekskill High, like the city itself, has now undergone a renaissance. A change of identity led by the Author and his staff; the students are now flourishing. 

“I have nothing to hide,” Arthur said. Students are encouraged to give their honest input on not only how their school has changed, but also any other modifications they would like considered.  To many students, “the school use to appear like a prison; the walls were bare; kids loitering in the hallways, there was no school spirit. Now their achievements are displayed on the walls; everyone goes to class; students take pride in their school and we see the success Peekskill High graduates achieve after graduation, whether they go on to college, the military, or technical school. Mr. Arthur will do anything to help his students succeed,” Stated senior Inmay Weinstein.  Student body President London Claxton elaborated “We are better than people think; our diversity and teacher support is amazing; I feel completely safe. The atmosphere here is that of a place of learning.”

Peekskill High School contends in academic competitions against more locally prestigious Schools, some from as far away as Canada! They have been victorious in Science and Robotics competitions; Westchester business skill Olympics; and blood drive initiatives. Principal Arthur invites colleges to the school, hosting several college fairs throughout the school year. Totally accessible to his students and their parents, he hosts “special assemblies” promoting scholastic achievement, a Freshman orientation program, student aide, pitfalls of social media, drug abuse, and the dangers of vaping. It is clearly apparent that the needs his students are a priority “if they need more, then we need more” he said. The Red Ribbon program is a pledge, voluntarily signed by students, to remain drug-free, and their commitment is displayed for the student body to see. Counselors are readily available to assist students if and when there is substance abuse or social-emotional issues. 

The Schools Bi-Lingual Program aids students whose first language is not English. Math, Science, and US History are taught in Spanish and English until the student has fully matriculated into being taught in English. Peekskill High has seen a rise in student enrollment. Many city students, who were once attending private and independent schools, are returning to Peekskill High. Evidence that some parents now acknowledge that their children will receive a quality education at Peekskill High.  

Principal Arthur’s reconstruction process included personnel changes: teachers and security staff; and new department-wide grading policy. Institution of AP courses, internships, stem courses, and a diverse course catalog.  Arthur credits three books as influencing his success and the changes instituted at Peekskill High; Making Thinking Visible, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary executive, and the Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  

The high school is getting a new AstroTurf football field and has applied for a P Tech grant. The P Tech grant is a public-private partnership that will prepare New York students for high-skills jobs of the future in technology, manufacturing, and healthcare. Through these programs of study, students will be able to earn college credit towards an Associate degree. 

Incoming Freshmen receive tee-shirts during orientation that say “Greatness is within me”. By instilling pride, stressing high scholastic achievement, and an environment focused on education, Arthur and his staff have created a New Peekskill High. In spite of the challenges a school faces where the majority of students are people of color, and being a “small school” the Peekskill Red Devils and their Principal Rodney Arthur are winning against all those demands and are achieving greatness. Peekskill is a city on the rise!

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About AJ Woodson (2279 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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