UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Students at an Upper East Side high school are taking their fight for a new gym to the next level by organizing a petition to the city with local elected officials. So far, the results have shattered expectations.
More than 3,100 people have signed a petition asking for a gym facility for Eleanor Roosevelt High School in less than one week since its launch. The school, which is located on East 76th Street between First and York avenues, is currently forced to hold physical activities in a "glorified dance studio" or the school's auditorium, Principal Dimitri Saliani told Patch.
The cramped conditions are bad for gym classes — which can hold up to 40 students at a time — but even worse for students on the school's sports teams. Without a dedicated gym, athletes on many of the school's gyms have to practice at off-campus facilities as early as 6 a.m. For senior Quentin Thiery, who lives in Brooklyn, that means a 4 a.m. wake up for basketball practice.
"It builds character, but at the end that starts to dwindle," Thiery said. "After four months of waking up at 4 a.m. you kind of get sick of it, and it takes a toll on your life in general."
Students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School have been fighting for dedicated gym space for years. Two students, who have since graduated, asked Mayor Bill de Blasio for a new gym during a January 2018 town hall meeting in the neighborhood.
City Councilman Ben Kallos — who says he's been in talks with the city Department of Education and School Construction Authority to get more physical education spaces in district since he's been elected — helped students facilitate their petition and included it in his monthly newsletter for constituents.
"It's amazing that Eleanor Roosevelt High School has championed athletics given that they don't actually have a gym. Hopefully this can help their sports program grow to the next level," Kallos told Patch.
Kallos noted that while of the Upper East Side's private schools are building or already have field houses for athletics, public schools are left without adequate space.
The city councilman added that while the school's current dance studio is considered "adequate" space by the Department of Education, a real gym would be able to hold a basketball hoop or volleyball net.
Eleanor Roosevelt High School senior Sadie Wenger, who plays basketball and flag football, shares the frustration about the size of the school's current facilities. When the weather is bad or when outdoor space isn't available, the flag football team has to use the dance studio for practice. Wenger, who's the team quarterback, said the football constantly hits the ceiling on passes.
"A lot of people are turned away by the fact that our practices are very last minute," Wenger told Patch. "But if we had somewhere where we could have a set schedule than more people might be attracted to sports that are less popular at school."
Eleanor Roosevelt High School currently fields 12 teams that compete in the city's Public School Athletic League. About 240 students are involved in athletics, despite the school's current limitations, principal Saliani said. The school, which is just 17 years old, is looking to add new teams, but limited space stands in the way.
"Having something nearby would really take care of that and enable not just the after school programs, but possibly even PE classes to be more vibrant," Saliani said.
Eleanor Roosevelt High School hopes to get 5,000 signatures on its petition. Students have sent the petition to camp friends, friends from other schools and family members, Wegner and senior Grace Bradbury said.
Many of the students trying hardest to push the petition over its goal likely won't even enjoy its results. If the city does agree to build a gym facility for the school, most upperclassmen will probably graduate by the time construction even starts.
Bradbury, captain of the school's soccer team, said that she's involved with the petition to, "give something back to a school that's given us all so much."
"Coming back years from now and being able to say 'oh yeah now we have a really great gym, and the school has grown even more to be a really warm and supportive community.' That would be a really great thing," Bradbury said.
A request for comment was not immediately answered by a Department of Education spokesman. This article will be updated if Patch hears back.