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Principal frets about scuffles over cell phones

TimesLedger Newspapers

A Flushing principal reached across cultural, ethnic and administrative lines last week to get to the root cause of some decidedly 21st century problems that plague the neighborhood: the smartphone.

“How can we use these terrible devices for good?” asked Benjamin Sherman, principal of East West School of International Studies, which shares space with IS 237 at 46-21 Colden St., holding up the smartphone of one of his aides. “[They] have changed our lives forever.”

Sherman himself carries an aging Motorola Razr — all the rage in 2004 — and lamented the amount of time he devotes to metering out discipline the handheld gizmos.

Smartphones are constantly being stolen or students are using them to document fights and then post the footage online. Some youngsters have even been using lightning-fast technology to wage proxy wars after school.

Sherman calls them “roving fights.” While they start traditionally enough, like an argument between two people, once the heated parties go their separate ways, technology takes over.

Students will take a picture of the person they are fighting with. When that unsuspecting person arrives at a bus stop or bodega, he or she might be attacked by other youngsters who have received a text message or even a picture of the person with orders to ambush.

“We’re in a shifting world,” Sherman said. “It has become flatter and smaller.”

But the problems Sherman faces are intertwined with the other schools in the area: Flushing and John Bowne high schools, IS 189 and PS 20 and 24. Many of the students mingle at bus stops and in the nearby commercial strip on Kissena Boulevard.

He called a meeting with educators, civic leaders and the NYPD Friday to tackle some after-school hijinks the NYPD cannot always be on hand to police. He said that various groups might not trust each other or share information otherwise.

“Let’s build some trust and now we can establish communication,” he said.

Along with officers from the 109th Precinct, who said their school safety officers will respond to thefts and crimes, are stretched thin as it is, representatives from the Muslim Center Elementary School, PS 20 and Community Education Council District 25 gave their input on how to foster more communication between schools.

Sherman suggested exchanging yearbooks annually. If a certain student from a neighboring school is causing trouble, then the yearbook can be used like a dossier to identify the problematic student.

But adult victims of rowdy students, which Sgt. Brian McGowen of the 109th Precinct stressed are a small minority of most Flushing youngsters, were also on hand to air grievances.

Shop owners complained that students steal from their stores, deliberately knock over shelves and sometimes brazenly drink down a beverage and throw the empty bottle on the floor.

Representatives from state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), the Queensboro Hills Civic Association, the Queens Botanical Garden and the Holly Civic Association were also on hand.

Sherman said the meeting was designed to create a coalition of schools while the problems are still relatively minor.

“The idea is to start building something on a very small scale,” he said. “Before we have a problem, let’s do something proactive.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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