Hundreds Celebrate PS 89's 20th Anniversary, a Hugfest of Reunions

Hugs abounded for PS 89 Principal Ronnie Najjar during the school's 20th anniversary celebration on June 6. "I remember everyone," she said. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 10, 2018

They arrived by the hundreds one evening last week, crowding into the PS 89 lobby and yard. Students and alums, school parents and staff from past and present were there to celebrate the school’s 20th anniversary with hugs, happy reconnections and a flood of shared memories.

“When I saw the people come streaming into the lobby it was just overwhelming,” said Ronnie Najjar, the Battery Park City school’s principal for all two decades. She estimated that at least 400 people were there for the festivities, many who came to say thank you to her and her staff. “From people who graduated last year to people in their twenties who came without their parents—or parents who came without their kids. It was just so great.”

“I saw students who were in our first classes, 1998 and 99, and from 99 and 2000, and they’re coming back and telling me about their jobs,” said Catherine Gallant, who has been teaching dance at the school since it began. “One young man is on his way to medical school in Australia. It’s mind-blowing.”

“Sometimes it seems like it went by quite quickly, which is frightening,” the teacher added. “But it’s really gratifying when people come back and say hello.”

“It feels really strange,” said Jamie Morrison, who was there with fellow PS 89 graduate Maite Matar, both finishing their sophomore year of high school. “I miss it a lot, but I didn’t expect to see as many people as I did. It’s nice seeing the teachers I thought I’d never see again.”

“It’s really nostalgic,” Matar added. “I kind of grew up with all these kids. I miss them.”

Jess Coleman, now in law school, was asked about his most vivid memory. “I hate to say it but 9/11 probably,” he replied. “Being here that day in the second grade. Watching it from the second floor.”

And the happier times? “In there,” he said, pointing to the cafeteria. “We used to have potlucks. It was great.”

Najjar, who had taught at PS 234 from that school building’s opening in 1988, said that seeing parents, especially from the early years, brought back memories of the small but dedicated group who were eager to pitch in with what she called “a bit of a grassroots effort.”

“There was a lot of respect for what we did in the school, for what we needed as educators and what we needed to get done,” she said. “The parents knew that their role was to support that and help to make it better.”

“Since we were here from the opening, it was more like our home,” said Maria Ouranitsas, the mother of three who served as PTA president for six of the 12 years that her children were in the school. “Every day we would come here, what should we do, what should we get done? Everyone was willing to lend a hand.”

“Everything we did sort of made it the place that is is now,” she added, “because it started with such good vibes and good people.”

Mike Clark agreed. A cleaner at the school for all 20 years, he credited the school’s “strong PTA, well-behaved kids and support. It’s all about support,” said Clark, whose own children went to the school. And good leaders, he noted. “I’ve had good principals from day one,” he said, referring not only to Najjar, but longtime IS 289 principal Ellen Foote and its current leader Zeynep Ozkan.

Najjar is known and admired for her remarkable ability to remember children, including their names, long after they have left the school. She recalled seeing one former student at the celebration, a girl now about 20, who smiled at her. In return, the principal called the long-ago student student by her name. “She said, ‘Oh my God, you remember me?’ I said, ‘I remember everybody. Of course I remember you.’”

Then Najjar paused. “It was so much fun,” she said of the evening, and the chance to gather with so many from the schools past. “I didn’t want it to end.”