by Barbara Nevins Taylor
Gerta Lami and her four-year-old son Eli got lucky. They bumped into New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his entourage on Flatbush Avenue, in Brooklyn, just as the mayor held up a bunch of flyers to promote the expanded pre-K program.
He leaned into the crowd and asked, “You know why were here? For you and your family. Full day pre-K. Free. Spread the word.”
Because the newly created pre-K slots in public schools filled up quickly, the mayor expanded city-funded pre-K to approved neighborhood centers, private schools, pre-schools and museums.
Gerta heard the mayor loud and clear.
She worked her way through the crush of shoppers taking photos with him and explained that Eli is on a waiting list for pre-K programs in several public schools. Mayor de Blasio motioned to Lucas, a staffer, wearing a gold Department of Education t-shirt. Lucas explained the new opportunities and promised to help Gerta find an open slot. He said, “It’s not a problem. We’ll find a spot for him.”
Gerta hugged Eli and smiled. She’d been working hard to try to get him into school. “He’s number 6 on a waiting list at one of the public schools where we applied, and this is a relief. I hope it works,” she told us.
de Blasio treated the outing like a campaign event. He worked his way through the crowd and up the stairs to Barry’s Beauty Bar, a popular Flatbush Avenue salon. He chatted up the ladies and asked them to share the news about the expanded pre-K program.
Jean Dorvil and his 8-year-old daughter Shamah stood on the sidewalk outside hoping to snap a photo with the mayor. “I want to see a superstar,” Shamah said. For a little bit, de Blasio seemed like a superstar here as people shouted, “That’s my mayor.”
Dorvil told us he hoped to get information about pre-K for his four-year-old nephew Mike. And when father and daughter did get close to de Blasio the mayor suggested that those who know someone who needs pre-K should sign up soon. “Don’t wait,” he said repeatedly. “Promise me you’ll spread the word and get children signed up right away.”
Towering above most everyone, Mayor de Blasio stopped to take photos and make his pitch to get the word out that pre-K slots are available now in the expanded community-based program.
In Total Hair Salon on Church Avenue the beauticians and customers left their chairs to follow him around the big shop.
They gathered around him in a semi-circle and de Blasio explained what he wanted, “You can sign up for pre-K right now. It will make a huge difference in a child’s life. It’s available for free. Take advantage of it.”
He certainly chose the right audience. A sign at the front of the shop read, “Please do not bring your children to store while you are working. This is not a daycare.”
If your child is eligible for pre-K, or you know someone with a child who needs it, you can call 311 or find a list of available community based pre-K programs at nyc.gov/prek.