School Desk

TEDx chromosome


When Jacqueline van Gorkom returned from her sabbatical as an astronomy professor at Columbia University a few summers ago, she discovered that while she was away, not a single female candidate had been admitted into the physics and astronomy department’s graduate program.

From then on, she became committed to sitting on Columbia selection committees.

That’s what she told the dozens gathered at Horace Mann on Saturday for a TEDx conference focused on women. 

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, hosted its annual discussion on women with one of its trademark fast-paced, multi-disciplinary talks in Washington D.C. It invited communities across the world to host independent symposiums mimicking the central talk called TEDx conferences. 

The Horace Mann Women’s Issues Club organized the school’s TEDx conference as 500 other groups convened at TEDx talks across the world to discuss the “the space between theme,” which explores women’s nuanced perspectives and women’s various roles worldwide. 

“Most people are slightly biased, not because they’re bad, but because they lack imagination,” Ms. van Gorkom said. 

She explained how when she first joined selection committees 20 years ago, only one woman was admitted to the astronomy and physics program every five years and that now the incoming class of graduate students is 30 percent female. 

“When the committees are composed of only men, they cannot believe women can do what they wish to find someone to do,” she said. 

Between speeches from four women, Horace Mann attendees tuned in to an online stream of the main conference. The crowd laughed, gasped and cried as Jessica Pabón, a New York University graduate student, discussed her research on women graffiti artists; Gaby Pacheco detailed the “trail of dreams” march for immigration reform she led from Miami to Washington D.C.; and Angela Patton recalled helping young girls in her Camp Diva move their annual father-daughter dance to a jail so an incarcerated dad could participate.

Back in the Bronx, Ms. van Gorkom described the shock that ensued when she told a high school teacher and her parents that she wanted to pursue astronomy back in her native Netherlands.

“I told my Dutch teacher and he said, ‘That’s not possible because astronomers do research and you’re a woman,’” Ms. van Gorkom said. “So I completely ignored that.”

Her parents advised her to spend a year supporting herself abroad and rethinking entering the field. When she returned from New Zealand and a brief visit to Australia, Ms. van Gorkom said her family supported her decision to become the only woman enrolled in the physics and astronomy department at college. Eventually, she began conducting research in New Mexico and at Columbia University, where she currently researches the gas clouds that appear as dark splotches in galaxies. 

Next, Francesca Heintz, the sister of one of the Women’s Issues Club co-presidents, discussed her work at Columbia’s Averting Maternal Death and Disability Project. She explained AMDD’s research on the disparities facing women across the world. Two out of every 100,000 women in Belgium die while giving birth or within 42 days of terminating their pregnancy, compared to 1,200 in Somalia, she said. Besides building more facilities and training medical personnel, Ms. Heintz said AMDD seeks to spread a new perspective on maternal health care.

“Another key part of this is talking about health care as a human right and not just a commodity that can be bought and sold,” said Ms. Heintz, who is a public health graduate student at Columbia. She went on to quote Egyptian OBGYN Mahmoud Fathalla, “Women are not dying of diseases we can’t treat ... They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.”

Chiara Heintz, a Horace Mann senior and co-president of the Women’s Issues Club, and Isabel Udo, a junior at Hunter College High School, concluded the conference by discussing their studies of Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause autism. 

Sara Hirade, a Horace Mann sophomore, said she left feeling grateful.

“I like it a lot. It was fun and a little sad at some parts to see that we take so much for granted,” she said. 


IN-Tech competes for $50,000


IN-Tech Academy, MS/HS 368, has been nominated for the Clorox Company’s Power a Bright Future grant and is competing for up to $50,000.

If IN-Tech wins, the school will put the money toward new technology. 

The contest permits anyone 13 or older to vote twice a day: once online at and once by texting 948pbf to 95248.

Votes will be counted through Monday, Dec. 19.


RKA secures wellness grant


The David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, MS/HS 141, was one of 150 schools that received a $2,500 Wellness Council Grant from the Mayor’s Obesity Task Force to support its health education initiatives.

The money will go to the Veggiecation, an after-school culinary program run by Riverdale Community Center, and a weight-training physical education program.

Veggication pairs middle school students with high school mentors. The high school students introduce the younger students to a vegetable of the week; teach them about its nutritional value; and cook a recipe featuring the vegetable. RKA hopes to stop buying produce for the Tuesday afternoon program from FreshDirect and begin growing its own vegetables in a greenhouse. The school must raise $900 more to fully finance the greenhouse.

HealthCorps partnered with RKA physical education teachers last year to help train small groups of students to use the weight room. Talk show host Mehmet Oz founded HealthCorps to teach students healthful habits.

This fall, the initiative grew into an after-school weight lifting and training club. The grant will help RKA puchase new weights, exercise bands, yoga mats, kettle balls and other equipment.


P.S. — we want you


The School Construction Authority hopes to begin drafting designs for a new elementary school to serve Spuyten Duyvil, Riverdale and North Riverdale this May, though the agency still hasn’t found a location for the 416 additional elementary school seats it promised the community last year, according to the SCA’s proposed five-year capital plan amendments.

If the SCA has its way, the construction for the new school would begin in January 2014 and the new school would be completed by July 2016. 

District 10 Community Education Council President Marvin Shelton said adding more seats west of Broadway wouldn’t be enough to meet the department’s predicted enrollment needs. District-wide, the SCA anticipates it will need to add 1,491 seats to the 416 included in the fiscal year 2010-2014 capital plan. 

Mr. Shelton also cautioned that if the SCA doesn’t find a space to host the new school, it may roll the seats over into future capital plans, as it did in Norwood. 

The SCA has also proposed advancing projects costing $290 million because the soft construction market and sluggish economy would stretch those dollars further. New projects the SCA plans to begin this fiscal year include: refurbishing PS 81’s cafeteria and replacing its lights, partitioning rooms at DeWitt Clinton High School, upgrading technology equipment on the John F. Kennedy Campus and replacing Bronx High School of Science’s roof, doing masonry work on its exterior, adding flood elimination equipment to the foundation and upgrading the fire alarm system. 

The capital plan adjustments will be reviewed by various agencies and the City Council before being finalized by July 1, 2013.