Greenpoint Gazette
Michael Cesarczyk
Kirk Schneider, Haz Khawaja and Brett Roer

Automotive Rising

BY Michael Cesarczyk

Despite receiving a vote of no confidence from the Department of Education, Automotive High School teachers past and present continue to support their students.

On Friday, April 27th, teachers and alumni gathered at Red Star Bar for a fundraiser to benefit the school’s 2012 Rising Phoenix Scholarship. It was a generous gesture, especially since earlier in the day the Panel for Educational Policy had voted to close and overhaul Automotive, along with 23 other city schools it deemed under-performing. But rather than worrying about their jobs, teachers focused on their students’ futures.

History teacher and college advisor Brett Roer started Rising Phoenix last November following a fire at his apartment. Although insurance covered his losses, Roer received $500 in donations from colleagues the day he came back to work. Overwhelmed by the outpour of support, he used the money to set up a college scholarship for struggling students. Contributions have since poured in from local businesses, neighborhood residents and Automotive staff by mail or through events like the well-attended fundraiser at Red Star.

“This is what [the teachers] do every day,” said Roer at a packed table. “Our kids go to school under incredibly difficult circumstances, and we’ve dealt with it by working harder and caring more. The Department of Education doesn’t see it that way, and it’s unfortunate. The students end up being short-term sacrifices of a long-term project.”

Some of the biggest donors to the scholarship include former teachers like ESL instructor Jennifer Kessler, who also founded the Automotive Garden and headed their cooking program. She allocated $300 from grants she received for the garden to Rising Phoenix. “I know many students who would benefit from the money,” said Kessler. “They’re extremely hard-working, and deserve to go to college. Any support they can get is amazing.” One of the star pupils of her culinary class, Dexter Ambrose, was just accepted to Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island.

Other major benefactors include Barclay’s, which gave $1,000 through an employee matching program, and neighborhood business such as Calexico, Lokal, Lite Bites, Cato’s Army/Navy, Valdiano’s and Billy’s Locksmith. Most impressive to Roer were the students who went to Greenpoint stores and restaurants and asked for contributions in person. “Many of those who volunteered were not necessarily eligible for the scholarship,” he said. “They did it because they knew it was the right thing to do.”

Michael Sill and Brett Roer / Photo: Michael Cesarczyk

Roer’s goal is to reach $25,000 by graduation and distribute it equally between five seniors who, despite high grades, will be ineligible for financial aid. The scholarship money will provide tuition for one year at a four-year CUNY school. “To go to college is not an option without this kind of support,” stressed Roer. As of press time, Rising Phoenix has raised $7,056 ($1,060 came from the raffle at Red Star).

Raffle winners walked away with Mets and Yankees tickets and $200 worth of Red Star gift cards. (The bar, a longtime friend of the school, also donated its space as well as free drinks to participants.) English teacher Michael Sill received the grand prize of $200 (half the raffle money), which he promptly handed back for Rising Phoenix. The scholar and gentleman downplayed his act of charity, giving all credit to Roer.

For more information, or to contribute to Rising Phoenix, call Roer at (631) 807-8102 or email

Donations can be mailed to:
Attention Brett Roer
Rising Phoenix Scholarship
Automotive H. S.
50 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11222


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