By NATALIA IOFFE
Cornelia Foster Bradford lived in Jersey City over a hundred years ago, at a time when it was simultaneously experiencing an urban development boom and an overwhelming immigrant population growth. It was a time when children of the poor immigrants had few opportunities other than joining the industrial workforce.
A deeply conscientious and compassionate person, Cornelia F. Bradford dedicated herself to improving the lives of these children. One of her many initiatives included being instrumental in having an elementary school built in Downtown Jersey City, the school we now know as Public School No. 16 or “Cornelia F. Bradford School”.
Miss Bradford continuously sought to create opportunities for children of poor immigrants and to give them access to high quality education. She founded the “Whittier House” social settlement where volunteer teachers provided kindergarten care and various after-school and after-work clubs, such as cooking, needlework, dancing, athletics, the “newsboys club” and many others. Cornelia. Bradford’s tireless efforts, which included establishing the first free kindergarten in Jersey City, led her to become the first woman to serve on Jersey City Board of Education.
At present Jersey City is once again experiencing a vigorous urban development and population growth. Thanks to the efforts of founding pioneers like Cornelia F. Bradford, today our children have access to quality public school education. This allows us, as parents, to invest in supplementary activities for our children’s growth, such as athletics and dance, art and languages, and all the other things which we feel can help our children become multifaceted, confident and well-rounded individuals.
As parent council team at P.S.#16, staying true to Cornelia F. Bradford’s legacy is a major part of our vision. Like Cornelia F. Bradford, we strongly believe that every child deserves a chance to have access to the best and most innovative learning methods and activities, and it is our civic duty to make it possible. That is why we use the funds we raise throughout the year and our community partnerships to create our own extracurricular program. We aim to provide our students with low-cost and free enrichment opportunities, ensuring that students who may not ordinarily be able to afford such activities can still benefit from them.
We established a scholarship fund to sponsor a number of students from families in need for a semester of an after school activity, free of charge. The vision behind this scholarship is to create an opportunity for these students to uncover their creative gifts and potential in new ways.
We also annually sponsor “Dance-to-Learn” creative movement workshop, in collaboration with “Nimbus Dance Works.” Nearly 180 students participate in this workshop, where they are taught to incorporate their academic studies into interpretive dance, transforming precise knowledge into creative expression. As children attempt to translate an intellectual concept such as “electricity” or “cultural diversity” into physical movement it simultaneously deepens their understanding of the topic, supplies a welcome physical exercise and builds their confidence in self-expression.
At the end of the school year we award a small grant in Cornelia Bradford’s honor to a number of graduating students who exhibit character traits reminiscent of our school’s founder, such as charity, civic duty, innovation, diplomacy and integrity. We believe that a child’s growth of character must be rewarded as much as the development of their intellect.
We want the name of Cornelia F. Bradford to resonate with our students and be more than just a vague memory of a portrait in a school hall. In a fun attempt to make history come alive, every Halloween at our school I dress up as Cornelia Bradford and speak to students about what she has done for the children of our city.
One of Miss Bradford’s goals was to reconcile “the factory girl and the university girl” in an atmosphere of empathy and mutual understanding. Today, as we hope to continue her tradition of service, our dream is that the child from the shelter across the street who shares a desk with the child from the waterfront penthouse, can have the same opportunity at the highest quality innovative learning and self-discovery.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Natalia Ioffe is a resident of Jersey City.