THE BRONX -- The 15-year-old Bronx teen now universally known as Junior should have been starting his junior year at Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School on Home Street, near East 166th.
Instead, his fellow classmates and teachers remain jolted by the June 20 chase and murder of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, captured on more than a dozen surveillance cameras inside and outside a Bathgate Avenue bodega.
“I felt we lost somebody we shouldn’t have,” said former dean Arndray Gay, who taught Junior physical education in the teen’s final year at the school.
“Junior was great, he was very funny, very talented,” the teacher said, recalling he last saw Junior in a second floor hallway, five days before the murder. The teen had just taken a science Regents, he told the man called Mr. G.
“He said, ‘You know I’m coming to your camp. I’m working out,’” Mr. G recalled.
It’s been more than three months since a mob set upon the popular Junior with knives and a machete. His absence at school is deeply felt.
“We can do whatever we can to keep them safe here,” said Director of School Culture, Jose Ferrer, “but also we need to build skills so they stay safe out there as well.”
Ferrer, who monitors behavior, school safety, and helps to build a sense of community in a student body of 820 pupils, told PIX11 he grew up two blocks away from the place where he now works.
“I know the neighborhood presents a lot of challenges,” Ferrer said. “Things need to change.”
Both Ferrer and Mr. G emphasize that students need to be encouraged to pursue productive activities.
Mr. G had already told Junior, “Sports is always a great way to take your mind off of anything,” adding, “whatever it is you’re struggling with, just speak to somebody and don’t hold it in.”
Mr. G said, “I speak to the kids about the choices they make on the outside of here. I spoke to Junior about choices and everything else, too. But we always kept it about sports and academics.”
Junior’s mother, Leandra Feliz, told PIX11 recently she had worried about her son’s new friends on Adams Place, an area where there’d been some violence.
Mr. G said, “He never really stated to me anything about gangs.”
Mr. G has felt compelled to re-name an annual “Stop the Violence” basketball game this year to “Hoops for Junior.” Police officers from the 42nd Precinct will challenge school personnel in the game on October 23.
Ms. Namisha Joiner, who is the High School’s ELA Curriculum Specialist, said she will assist in a new initiative called “Reading for Lesandro.”
“We’re going to host the book club monthly and just use it as a tool to work through the moment, “ Joiner said.
The teacher noted teens will be able to “make connections in the text to their real life.”
One of the pieces the club members will read is “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds, which is written in verse.
Mr. Ferrer added, “The books that the students will be able to select all are related to issues in an urban environment, related to gangs and violence in the community and how we can best respond.”
Mr. G wants students to know that education can lead them to a better life.
“You don’t have too many of them believing they can do it academically,” Mr. G told PIX11. “Everybody just wants fast money.”
Mr. G and Mr. Ferrer and Ms. Joiner are working on changing that mindset.