On April 29, nearly 400 guests gathered at the New York Public Library for Bank Street College’s 2019 Annual Dinner. The yearly benefit celebrates Bank Street’s contributions to the field of education and aims to sustain its commitment to building a better world by transforming the lives of all learners.
This year’s event, titled “Paving the Way for a Brighter Future: A Community Approach to College Readiness,” celebrated the 30th anniversary of Liberty LEADS at Bank Street, a high school graduation and college access program that provides resources and supports to help students from traditionally underserved communities across New York City succeed in both school and life.
Sarah Gund, GSE ’73, longtime Trustee at the College, and husband Geoffrey Gund were honored at the event for their dedication to supporting high-quality education for children and their teachers. Beginning nearly a century ago with Sarah Gund’s mother, Sally Kerlin, the Gund Family has formed a deep connection to Bank Street and its mission. The family was recognized for their continued support to the field, including several Bank Street initiatives such as the College’s Urban Education partnership with BronxWorks and the Graduate School’s Online Learning Program.
“Bank Street is committed to supporting the equitable education of all students to help create a more just and democratic society,” said Marcela Hahn, Vice President of Development and External Relations. “We are thankful for the ongoing support of the Gund family and all of our supporters and partners in helping us continue to realize our mission of preparing exceptional and dedicated educators able to meet the needs of all learners.”
The evening began with a cocktail hour in the iconic Astor Hall of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building as alumni, donors, faculty, staff, and friends of Bank Street gathered to fete the College and enjoy music performed by SugarTones Brass Band. After guests took their seats in the Celeste Bartos Forum, Yolanda Ferrell-Brown, Dinner Co-Chair and Chair of the Board of Trustees, kicked off the program with introductory remarks in which she acknowledged Liberty LEADS staff, alumni, and the Gunds.
Next, Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, delivered a compelling speech about the importance of a child’s early adolescent years and how positive relationships and connections with adults and peers can help strengthen both academic and social-emotional development during this time.
“Schools or programs that orient around building deep, trusting relationships create a context emotionally that opens up and effectively fuels cognitive learning,” said Polakow-Suransky. “It energizes the learner emotionally, which in turn makes it more likely that they’re going to retain what they’re studying, feel connected to it, and persist—even when it’s challenging work.”
Liberty LEADS, which offers programming six days a week, 11 months a year for 5th through 12th grade students, places meaningful, long-term relationships at the center of its approach to teaching and learning.
“Liberty is a second home, a community built on trust where the staff sticks with the students and the students stick with the program. And it’s working. 90 percent of Liberty LEADS students have graduated high school on time every year for the past 15 years. And after high school, 90 percent of our students have enrolled in college, compared to the citywide rate of 58 percent,” added Polakow-Suransky.
After the President’s remarks, alumna Charisse Taylor, Liberty LEADS ’00, took the stage to share her experience in the program—first as a high school student and later as a college and career counselor. Today, Taylor is pursuing her Doctorate in Education Leadership at Harvard.
“If I were to sum up my experience in one word, that word would be ‘community.’ It was community that brought me to Liberty, it was community that nurtured me, and it was community that propelled me to where I am today,” she said. “As a staff member, I learned that open doors invite open dialogue, collaborative problem-solving makes space for creative solutions, and most of life’s problems can be solved with a bagel and cup of hot chocolate.”
An inspirational video featuring Liberty LEADS students, staff, and alumni was presented next, illustrating the day-to-day aspects of the program, such as tutoring, extracurricular activities, and group counseling, and also highlighting the long-term impact of Liberty LEADS.
“We’ve worked with over 1,500 students throughout our 30-year lifespan, and I’ve had alums share with me that without the access to the opportunities that they participate in at Liberty LEADS, that they would not be where they are today,” said Ana Tiburcio, Director of Liberty LEADS, in the video.
Guests enjoyed a meal before Ferrell-Brown concluded the evening by honoring Sarah and Geoffrey Gund.
“As an enthusiastic, dedicated member of the Bank Street Board of Trustees for the past 17 years, Sarah has devoted her time, spirit, wit, and resources. She has served as an exemplary ambassador for the College, opening doors to new donors and expanding the College’s network of friends. She has extended her mother’s legacy and brought her own of sense of being at home in the College to her board service,” she said.
Ferrell-Brown continued, “In her husband, Geoffrey Gund, Sarah found a match for her passion to share resources in support of those most in need. Geoff has contributed in an extraordinary and sustained way to community development and people’s empowerment throughout his lifetime.”
Donors contributed a total of over $900,000 to help Bank Street continue to create meaningful change and transform the lives of children through education.