The school year is over, but student artwork still adorns P.S. 76 in Harlem.
"We decided to leave it up for a couple of weeks, for the beginning of ‘Summer Rising,’” Principal Charles Deberry said.
When students flock to this school next week for the new summer program, Deberry will be there, as always. His devotion to his students earned him a spot at the city's ticker-tape parade Wednesday, alongside other essential workers.
“I know principals and educators do an amazing job of supporting communities, but when you think about the jobs of nurses and doctors, who are so close to all the pain and all of the loss, I'm humbled to be a part of that,” Deberry said.
It was admiration for those workers that prompted Deberry to remain in school buildings at the height of the pandemic. He led a Regional Enrichment Center, or REC, which serves the children of essential workers.
“There’s one thing I want to be my legacy and that is, that Mr. Deberry really cared about children, and that I was willing to do my part in a very difficult time,” he said. “It was not easy. The decision to actually go into a REC center just came from my desire to be involved — to support the real essential workers who were those doctors and nurses who were in hospitals.”
The centers launched in March and ran through the summer. Deberry was there from day one, and juggled his job leading P.S. 76, which was fully remote, and supervising the children attending the REC in person.
“I was serving the needs of supervising nurses, and they would come to pick up their children and they would share with you that it was an extremely difficult day, that there was loss of life. And you could see the drain and strain on their emotional state of mind,” he said. “But being there, and being a part of the organization, the REC centers that were trying to support them in that work, was extremely rewarding.”
Doing his part during the pandemic, and leading through the twists and turns of shifting coronavirus guidance, are among the most rewarding moments of his 18 years as a principal.
“We believe, you know, in the Department of Education and in New York City, that we are here to help our fellow man when they need it. And I'm just excited that I'm being a part of this,” he said.