Sunday, March 30, 2014

The School In The Gardens Launches Centennial

By Michael Perlman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council

PS 101 in 1927
PS 101 in 2014, Photo by Michael Perlman
PS 101 in 2014, Photo by Michael Perlman
Public School 101, nestled in the Forest Hills Gardens at 2 Russell Place, has been a community cornerstone since 1914, which was eight years after Forest Hills was named, and five years after the founding of the Gardens. To celebrate PS 101’s centennial and influential role in the community, students, parents, and faculty members rejoiced at the Community House on the evening of March 15th.   

The festivities marked the launching of a year-long celebration, characterized by several creative means of expression. On May 20th, PS 101 will officially become a Department of Education certified school, followed by the “Celebrating 100 Years of Diversity” international dinner on June 4th. Looking ahead, a Centennial Carnival will be held in October, the PS 101 Talent Show in November, and an Alumni & Parents Dinner come December. 

The Community House was filled with nearly 180 people, spanning the generations. Hof Hall was largely devoted to children’s activities. The agenda featured music and dinner, a show by Mario The Magician, and the All Star Dance Studios teaching classic and modern routines ranging from The Charleston to the Gangnam Style. The proscenium was complemented by an elaborate arched display of yellow and black balloons in representation of the school colors, alongside balloons which spelled “PS 101 100.” 

Hof Hall
Smith Hall

Smith Hall

At Smith Hall, attendees danced to the sounds of the notable duo, Banjo Nickaru & His Western Scooches featuring Betina Hershey Russo, whose diverse repertoire reflected the decades of PS 101’s operation. With support from local preservationists, a visual chronology of PS 101 graced the walls, and a window into the past featured a timeline of books read over the eras. Hors d’oeuvres were served, and dinner was prepared by parents and local merchants. To top it off, a multi-layer cake featuring PS 101-themed images was created by Mina Eimaldi, a PS 101 parent and board member, and presented to attendees who sang “Happy Birthday To PS 101!” To capture a memorable evening, participants set foot in a photo booth. 

Banjo Nickaru & His Western Scooches featuring Betina Hershey Russo
PS 101 Centennial Cake

 Back in 1909, the newly established Forest Hills Gardens bordered farmland which dated to its Whitepot days, but when the LIRR became an electrified stop at Station Square that same year, Forest Hills was eyed by newer families. In 1914, their children entered a 4-room frame school, nicknamed the “Little Red Schoolhouse.” As the population increased, that grew to a 4-story brick and limestone Germano-Tudor style school in 1927, which was designed by Architect William H. Gompert. Its octagonal tower bearing a pediment roof is a symbolic representation of the Forest Hills Inn.

PA President Soumaly King & Principal Monique Paniagua stand in front of the Smith Hall fireplace

“I am very proud of PS 101’s heritage, which reflects its academic excellence. We want to continue building our heritage, so hopefully in another 100 years that will be passed on to our next generations,” explained Principal Monique Paniagua. Parents Association President Soumaly King added, “It is amazing to be a part of a legacy, where thousands of children have gone to our school. We have cultivated and grown beautiful minds. We are academically enriched in a beautiful community, and we are lucky to reach this milestone now.”

“I have a daughter in the 5th grade and two older boys that graduated,” said Cecile Renna, who is a voice among parents echoing that sentiment. She explained, “What makes PS 101 unique is the sense of belonging to a great community, which is diverse in terms of culture and nationality. The teachers are amazing and really get to know you, and parents have become such great friends. It is a small school which is always welcoming. We have been at the school for 15 years, and when my daughter graduates, it won't be without sadness. I will cherish all the great memories.” As a Tory Burch employee, Renna helped raise funds for PS 101’s programming by having her company donate a pair of leather purses, scarves, and leather wallets, which were among the live auction’s many items, gift certificates, and membership packages.

PS 101 aims to instill a sense of the broader community within its students. After Hurricane Sandy, students assisted young victims by designing blankets. When the Forest Hills Gardens turned 100, the Parents Association coordinated a music gala to reflect the neighborhood’s cultural history, and some of the proceeds replaced a tree which succumbed during the 2010 macroburst. Other worthwhile events are the school choir’s performance at the annual Flag Day ceremony on Flagpole Green, a community-sponsored annual essay contest, and visits to the West Side Tennis Club and the Forest Hills firehouse. 

Children at recess, 1920s
Children at recess, 1920s
Drinking milk, 1940s
Class of June 1931
Class of June 1945
A 1950s class photo
Class of June 1954
Class 2-202 in 1979
A relic from the PS 101 boiler room!

Public School 101's centennial was also featured in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:

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