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Alice Mahoney / Senior Staff Photographer

TCCS students had their first recess on a blocked-off street after receiving Department of Transportation approval for the closure until the construction of the playground ends.

Although many Teachers College Community School parents say that they are pleased with the school's academic offerings, some continue to express frustration over reneged promises.

Earlier this year, the school started charging for its previously free five-day-a-week after-school program. The school is still also lacking a permanent playground for its students.

Nancy Streim, Columbia's associate vice president for school and community partnerships and special adviser to the provost, said the school is still developing.

"It takes time for a school to build its program, its sense of community, its reputation, its rituals, and its history," Streim said. "A school like TCCS conjures up a lot of expectations in the minds of parents or in the minds of community leaders and we all have to understand that it takes time to get there."

The TC-funded school, located on Morningside Avenue between 126th and 127th streets, opened in September 2011 as part of Columbia's Manhattanville Community Benefits Agreement.

But Diane Tinsley, the mother of a second-grade TCCS student, said she is worried that recent problems might reflect deeper concerns.

"It seems like our TC faculty and everyone should have a handle on it or have foreseen something like this maybe happening," Tinsley said. "It doesn't seem like these contingency plans are laid out until we have hit the brick wall."

Last year, TCCS provided the free after-school program from 3 to 5 p.m. In June, school administrators told parents that they could no longer sustain the free program.

This year there is still a free option, which runs three days a week, but the second option, a five-day-a-week program from 3 to 6 p.m., costs $1,800 per child or $900 for families that qualify for financial aid.

"No parent in the school is happy about this," Tinsley said. "Our parent body is working really hard to make this better."

Tinsley added that administrators originally gave a proposal to parents that stated that the five-day-a-week-program would cost a little over $2,000.

Another ongoing issue is that, ever since the school opened, there has been no playground available. Construction of a new playground is still in progress.

Most recently, the Department of Transportation authorized the school to close off part of the adjacent street from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. so that the children have a space to play outside. The street was first closed for recess on Wednesday.

Joel Jimenez, a parent of two first-grade students, said that he expected construction on the playground to have finished by now, and that "it's good for the kids to get some fresh air."

Claudia Cali, a music teacher and graduate students at Teachers College said, "The children need that outside place, where they can express who they are as children."

"The playground is a priority if you have a kid and want to add to their day after the academics," said Miranda Schwartz, the mother of a second-grade student at TCCS.

Tinsley also said that delays in construction upset parents.

"It became very frustrating to the second-grade parents because it was just a blank cement yard," Tinsley said.

Streim said the playground would be finished in the winter, weather permitting.

"We will have learning spaces, it will have play spaces, it will have gardens, it will have areas where children can do science experiments," Streim said.

Still, parents say that they truly value TCCS and would not wish to enroll their children in any other public school.

"I imagine being in a school that's just a DOE school," Schwartz said. "You are dealing with a faceless bureaucracy."

Streim added that, "Everybody is pulling to realize the vision for the school."

Some parents said they feel that they have had to involve themselves in order to ensure that playground construction finishes.

"It seems to be underway, it seems to be the priority now, and I attribute that to the parents calling 311, taking pictures," Tinsley said. "As parents there are certain things we should be pushing for, but if we wanted that playground we had to say something."

Despite these bumps in the road, many teachers and parents said that the diversity of the school and its curriculum make up for the difficulties encountered.

TC plays a large role in creating the curriculum and hiring teachers. Many TC graduate students are involved, either during the day or after school.

"The program has increased in complexity a lot since last year—there are more students, they are trying to do more, and they are putting structures into place to keep it organized," Jason Wu, a TC student and after-school science instructor at TCCS, said. "I think that overall the experience is very good and we love the school."

"The families who are at TCCS are very committed to the school and to its future," Streim said. "From that perspective, we feel very welcomed in the community."

Deborah Secular contributed reporting.

sophie.gamez@columbiaspectator.com  |  @genuinelysophia

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