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A few hundred yards to the west, at the foot of the 59th
Street Bridge to Manhattan, LaGuardia is slowly renovating
a third factory building, which still has a few manufacturing
tenants. Classes are held on three of the nine floors of the
former Loose Wiles Sunshine Biscuit Complex. The school
envisions a business incubator on the top floors.
Back on the main campus,
LaGuardia had the street between
buildings “demapped” by the city of
New York and transformed it into a
courtyard, the only bit of outdoor space
on campus.
LaGuardia houses four high schools
in addition to the community college.
Middle College High School, one of
the nation’s first schools for at-risk
students, encourages its 500 students to
do college work during high school and
seek an associate’s degree. International
High School gives 500 fresh immigrants
with limited English skills their first
taste of American secondary education.
The Robert Wagner High School,
named for another former New York
City mayor, focuses on the arts and
technology. LaGuardia is also the temporary home for Frank
Sinatra High School for the Performing Arts, which was
founded by fellow singer Tony Bennett.
Visitors never quite know who will be waiting around the
next corner on LaGuardia’s campus. Two Chinese students
hammering a table tennis ball back and forth, or a tight
circle of young women, heads covered by shawls, conversing
quietly outside a classroom. Many ethnic groups have their
formal or informal meeting places, but everyone comes
together in a three-story atrium off the courtyard. At this
campus (and world) crossroads, it seems that everyone hails
from somewhere else. Simply stopping passersby for fifteen
minutes highlights the disparate goals, academic histories,
cultural values and language backgrounds LaGuardia’s
students bring to the school.
Some, like Wumi Daramola, 21, are living the almost
universal story of second-generation immigrants in New
York. Her father practiced as a medical doctor in Nigeria,
and traveled alone to England and later Canada on
sabbaticals before settling in New York. He is working as a
school nurse to support his family. Daramola, who came to
LaGuardia after graduating from Evander Childs high school
in the Bronx, is at home on the streets of two big cities, New
York and Lagos. And she is torn between the future her
family sees for her and the one she is discovering for herself.
“I told my father that I would study nursing,” she said. “But I
think I want a career in business.”
Daramola’s tale is as old as the CUNY system. But
Dhruba Saha’s story is more typical of LaGuardia’s recent
students. A 26-year-old native of Bangladesh, he was
studying botany and zoology there two years ago when Saha
received word that the United States had granted him a
student visa. Without finishing the semester, he dropped out
of school, took the next flight to New York, and enrolled in
the computer science program at LaGuardia.
Asked if he always wanted to study computers, Saha
“We want them to have
enough experience
on the job to begin to
think about the world
of work.We offer hope,
encouragement, and a
little bit of reality.”
—Jack Rainey, director of
cooperative education at
LaGuardia by the Numbers
Enrollment (fall 2001)
Median student age: 23
Racial/ethnic composition
34 percent
Black non-Hispanic:
16 percent
Asian, Pacific Islander:
16 percent
14 percent
5 percent
Unknown (no response):
15 percent
National Origin
Foreign-born students:
67 percent
Students from140 countries, speaking 104 languages
Full-time faculty:
Part-time faculty:
Operating budget (2001-02):
Tuition and Fees: NewYork State full-time students
seeking degrees pay $1,250 tuition per semester, plus
$60.85 in fees. Out-of-state students pay $1,538 tuition.
President Gail Mellow believes LaGuardia Community College
offers valuable opportunities for its many foreign-born