Students at AHRC Middle/High School were given the gift of music this holiday season. Sing for Hope, a non-profit seeking to expand opportunities in the arts in New York City, donated one of their famous pianos to the school in the fall and formally christened the instrument with a ceremony on Thursday, December 14th.
About Sing for Hope’s Pianos
“We get artists that come in to paint about 50 pianos that get placed in public spaces during the summer months, and then the pianos are donated to schools,” said Daniel Smiertka, a representative from Sing for Hope. “Usually the students don’t have access to instruments like this because pianos are a lot of money to buy and maintain.”
You may have seen a Sing for Hope piano before without realizing it. In June 2017 they were found in all five boroughs, usually in frequented areas such as Central Park, Grand Army Plaza, and the boardwalks in Rockaway Beach and Staten Island, (several were installed at Liberty Plaza near AHRC New York City Headquarters). Each piano has a unique design reflecting an artist’s personal vision of the Sing for Hope mission.
MHS’s piano was designed by Jennifer Kakaletris Boyar and was previously located at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza near the United Nations complex. It has Keith Haring-inspired lettering and designs, with Lady Liberty and the phrase “Art for All” spread throughout.
“I saw the pianos first on the street years ago, and this past year I was inspired to give a piano submission and it’s been awesome,” Jennifer said. “I’m so honored it’s here, it’s so cool. While I was working on it I thought about where its final home was going to be, and it looks great here.”
We’re All in the Mood for a Melody
MHS Principal, Andrew Winfrey said that the school applied for the piano over the summer, and it was delivered in early October. At the ceremony on December 14th, the piano was introduced to the school at large by Frank Malloy IV, Sing for Hope’s Program Manager, and Neil Davis, a New York City-based singer-songwriter.
“I’ve gotten to volunteer at hospitals and schools underserved with music,” Neil said. “I love the mission and as an artist myself it’s always nice to get [the music] out of you and bring it forward for other people.”
Neil first led all students in a musical scales exercise to warm up their vocal chords. He then played an original song that had plenty of collaborative singing before finishing up with a few songs in the Christmas canon, such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and Wham!’s seminal “Last Christmas.”
“We’ve done so many different schools and seen so many positive reactions,” Neil said. “You realize how universal music is.”
On Tuesday, July 18, 2017, students from a Japanese university received a hands-on look at how children with disabilities learn at AHRC Middle High School, (MHS). The visit was arranged in part by Dr. Raymond Franzem, Director of Internships. Appropriately, most of the students were undergraduates studying either Special Education or social work at the University of Tokyo.
The students began their day in the MHS cafeteria where Principal, Andrew Winfrey, provided a broad overview of the school. With the help of a translator, he explained the school’s demographics, administrative structure, service types, and teaching techniques that are available to students as they learn about a variety of academic subjects.
Throughout the visitors’ tour of the school, they had the opportunity to meet students as they passed through the school’s hallways, on their way to classes, The students exchanged pleasantries with the Japanese guests. Teacher, Anne Keane, made mention that during lunchtime students open up a mini-café in the cafeteria, selling healthy snacks and drinks.
The visitors toured classrooms on all four floors of the building, observing students and teachers in the learning environment. Andrew and Estefania Flores, Transition Developer, pointed out many teaching techniques, such as PECS.
For their final classroom visit, several of the visitors partnered with the school students for an origami airplane art project. Students learned the basics of the ancient and dexterous paper medium, and many proudly let their creations fly once complete.
Reconvening in the cafeteria, a brief question and answer session closed out the visit. One person asked about MHS students options following their graduation from the school, providing an opportunity for school staff to inform them about AHRC NYC’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program, which provides young adults with disabilities with individualized academic, vocational, community and social experiences, preparing them to be competitively employed and to obtain higher earnings. It was explained that following graduation from MHS, some students Transition to adult programs offered by AHRC NYC and other organizations in the disability services field, while some students take a break to make decisions about their future options.
One visitor asked what the significance of the artwork lining the walls was. Estefania explained that with the help of Sarah St. John, the school’s Art Teacher, students created the art in preparation for this year’s middle school and high school proms.
To finish their day, the Japanese students went to Fordham University to hear Dr. Franzem speak about further issues relating the developmental disabilities field.
Children and their families from AHRC New York City’s schools were cruising at Wings for Autism
for the third year in a row. Organized by The Arc
in partnership with Delta Airlines
, the TSA
, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
, the event is an airport rehearsal experience that allows families to go through all of the stressors and stimuli that passengers are confronted with at the airport, including long lines, loud or confusing noises of the airport terminal, public address announcements, security checks, and airplane boarding procedures.
For young people with autism, Wings for Autism offers an invaluable opportunity to become acclimated to a daunting but necessary part of life.
Like any other trip to the airport, the day began at the check in counter, where prospective passengers checked in and received special boarding passes. Families then proceeded to the gate, along the way undergoing security measures, emptying pockets, taking off their shoes, and passing through the full body scanner.
At the gate, Delta provided snacks and drinks while everyone waited for the plane to arrive. After the deplaning process was complete, the families, many clad in the royal blue Wings for Autism shirts, were allowed on the plane to sit for several minutes and explore what it is like to be on an airplane as a family.
All the while, airline and airport staff treated the event as if it was a typical day, making the usual boarding announcements and answering questions from children and parents alike.
Students and Staff React
“This is my second straight year coming
,” said Salvatore Shurott
, a student from AHRC Middle / High School
. Salvador came to LaGuardia Airport
with his mom, Vicky and his brother. Salvatore said that he was getting more used to coming to the airport and has big plans in mind. “Next year we’re hoping to take a flight to Las Vegas!
Jalen Brown was accompanied by his dad, Danny. “This is my first time!” Jalen said with a big smile. “I like to go to the airport, and I’m glad this plane isn’t taking off.”
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” said John Goodson, Staff Training Director and Lead Investigator for AHRC NYC’s Educational Services, speaking to the families in attendance. “Thanks to all of you – the volunteers, the parents, the students, the friends, the airline staff. The goal is to make the airport more comfortable and we come closer and closer to that every year.”
AHRC New York City would like to thank Brian Rohlf and Michele Delgado of the Port Authority, TSA’s Veda Simmons and Guy Lainis, Jorge Chuzan, from Delta Airlines, Kerry Mauger of The Arc, and all of the Delta staff at LaGuardia Airport, for helping to coordinate Wings for Autism and once again, making it a great success. We also thank all of the AHRC NYC staff who volunteered their time to assist the families.
DATE and TIME: Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm
LOCATION: LaGuardia Airport, Delta Terminal
Wings for Autism® is an airport “rehearsal” specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, their families, and airline professionals. The program is intended to reduce some of the stress that families who have a child with autism experience when traveling by air. The program provides families with the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtain boarding passes, go through security, and board a plane. Wings for Autism® provides airport, airline, Transportation Security Administration professionals and other personnel the opportunity to observe, interact, and deliver their services in a structured learning environment.
Wings for Autism® was created by Charles River Center, an affiliated chapter of The Arc, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Port Authority. For additional information about bringing Wings for Autism® to an airport near you, please email email@example.com.
AHRC Middle/High School (MHS) held its graduation commencement ceremony on June 29, 2016. Nine students were honored for their achievements. The day featured speeches from AHRC NYC leadership, MHS staff, community leaders, and more.
The graduates were Harry Burekhovich, George Duah, Ciara McDonagh, Vanessa Silva, Nicholas Weafer,Constantino Chrysostomou, Anwar Jubran, David Cisse Parris, and Travis Thomas.
“If you think back to our origin story a parent in 1948 put an ad in the New York Post that said ‘Looking for other family members that want to start services,’” Gary Lind, Executive Director, said to the graduates. “Over 67 years we’ve been trying to provide supports and services for New York City and all from the spark of that parent. That’s what you represent here today. You are that hope, you are that heart of families and traditions going back generations and generations.”
The ceremony began with a video slideshow accompanied by the MHS Choir singing R. Kelly’s song, I Believe I Can Fly. Following another choir-led performance of the Star Spangled Banner , Rev. Monsignor Ronald T. Marino gave the benediction, followed by special awards given out on behalf of State Senator, Martin J. Golden.
In addition to Mr. Lind, MHS Principal Andrew Winfrey and Christina Muccioli, Director of Educational Services, gave speeches praising the graduates and staff for their accomplishments over their long tenures. Several staffers received flowers as a thank-you for their hard work and dedication.
The ceremony closed with a group performance of Rachel Platten’s Fight Song and a farewell message from student, Harry Burekhovich. Many of the graduates will move on to AHRC NYC’s adult programs. Others will take some time off before deciding their next step.
AHRC New York City congratulates all of the graduates and their families, and the entire staff at the Middle/High School for another successful and enriching year of support students with disabilities.
During a gorgeous spring evening on Friday, May 20th, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors for an event titled Teens Take the Met, which invited teenagers across New York City to visit the museum during evening hours, to enjoy art making, performances, gallery activities, music, dancing, and more. Students were allowed into the museum for free in an effort to increase art awareness and to participate in various activities developed by outside organizations on behalf of the museum. Over 40 cultural and community organizations helped make the evening special by providing teen-only activities such as creating music and art pieces, jewelry design, dancing, poetry and song writing, film, fashion, pattern making, stop motion animation, arts and crafts, and other art-inspired collaborative activities.
Collaboration and Collage
AHRC New York City added to the festivities by providing attendees the opportunity to create a collaborative pattern collage as well as advocating for people with autism and other developmental disabilities. AHRC NYC’s booth, located in the Arms and Armor Exhibit, was safely nestled among dozens of medieval knights resplendent in full sparkling armor. The activity, developed by AHRC Middle High School and Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School Art Teacher, Priscilla Palmieri, encouraged visitors to create patterns for use in a collaborative collage, with each person adding their own unique perspective to the project. Students of all ages visited the booth to participate in the fun.
“As one of the only Art Educators collaborating with over 40 different organizations from the Greater New York City area, I felt honored to work together with everyone to have teens engaged in the art making process,” said Priscilla. “I had the pleasure of working with several Met staff who were extremely helpful and considerate in helping to meet the needs of my students.”
The diverse range of activities held by other organizations allowed for the teens to explore various art mediums and interests, as well as practice positive social interactions.
“I … plan to maintain a relationship between AHRC and the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” added Priscilla. “They have plenty of resources to offer our students, and I love how they have made it possible for us to interact with other organizations within the community.”
AHRC New York City is proud to celebrate events such as this, which allow our students to share their creativity while engaging in social activities with their peers. Thanks also to AHRC NYC’s Christopher Chin, Education Training Director, and John Goodson, Staff Training Director, of Educational Services, who helped to coordinate this event.
On Saturday, April 16, 2016, people receiving services through AHRC NYC programs, families, and staff from all across the five boroughs took to the stands, concourse, and even the outfield in the 2016 Special Needs Spartan Race. The multi-faceted obstacle course took place at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
Among the AHRC NYC services represented at the Spartan Race were Educational Services, Adult Day Services, Employment and Business Services, and Camping and Recreation.
The Spartan Course
The Special Needs Spartan Race is an obstacle course race designed to test resilience, strength, stamina, and ability to overcome adversity. Overseeing the safe and structured athletic event, the organizers of the Spartan Race provided students and families with an opportunity to challenge themselves, to spend time with friends, and to get some exercise.
Racers began the event in the left field concourse area, snaking their way through the seats, then turning up to the stadium hallways. They encountered climbing and ducking obstacles as they moved up and down stairways. Eventually, the athletes progressed through the left-field warning track, where each person faced a brief balancing test in foul territory. Finally, the racers climbed their way back up into the stands and hurried toward the finish line.
Throughout the course the students were cheered on by Spartan staff, who were dressed as superheroes such as Spider-Man, Captain America, and Robin. All participants received a medal for completing the race. To re-hydrate and replenish, the racers also received water, a banana and a protein bar once they crossed the finish line.
AHRC New York City thanks all of the families and staff members who came out for support and to race themselves, as well as Spartan Race, Inc. for making the day a fun-filled success.
During the week of March 15, 2016, AHRC Middle/High School hosted 10 student interns from New York University. The college students, Alice Cheng, Taylor Dang, Austin Serio, Esther Phambu, Fadumo Osman, Mimi Doan, Mohammed Hossain, Bournee Huang, Margaret Arabpour and Samuel Zhu spent three days at the school, observing and helping in classrooms, the computer room, gym, art, music, and throughout the school. They were able to gain an understanding of how the school operates and what the students do each day.
Following their visit, the students provided comments about their experiences:
“Thank you for providing me with the incredible experience working with the students in the last here days. It has been eye-opening and incredibly humbling. Working in classrooms, art, gym, and music, I witnessed groups of talented young individuals shine in their passions. These students, even though they face difficulties in tasks we take for granted, have shown so much talent in the [things] they love. I’ve learned so much both about myself and autism and am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.”
– Alice Cheng
“As someone who’s studying computer science, it’s been incredible to see how the students were able to quickly navigate sites, code, and find their favorite videos. Some students and I were also able to communicate more effectively through a combination of hand signals and visuals on the computer screen. As a first-timer to working with students with autism, this was insightful, impactful, and it destigmatized many beliefs in the best way possible. I hope to continue to learn, while also taking into consideration what I’ve seen when it comes to creating software in the future.”
– Fadumo Osman
“Before coming to AHRC I had no experience working with kids with disabilities. Their community is so marginalized and so often ignored that not enough people get the opportunity to realize how amazing all of these kids are. Thank you for letting me be a part of your community.”
– Mimi Doan
The students of NYU were pleased to have shared in the learning activities of the school, and several of the students expressed a desire to work with AHRC NYC again in the future. We thank all of the volunteers and look forward to working with them again soon.
Going to the airport can be a traumatic experience for anybody, but for children with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities, the long check-in lines, constant noise, and cramped cramped conditions of airline travel can present special challenges. The Arc’s Wings for Autism program was developed to provide families with an airport rehearsal experience that allows them to undergo the steps of checking in at the airport, going through security, and boarding an airplane. Opportunities to practice these steps can help families to find ways to reduce the stresses of of travel for their loved one with a disability.
On Saturday, April 9, 2016, families and staff from AHRC New York City‘s schools gathered at LaGuardia Airport to participate in Wings for Autism. This was the second consecutive year in which families from AHRC NYC’ schools benefited from the program. AHRC NYC and The Arc partnered with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Transportation Security Administration, and Delta Airlines to help families to get the wheels off the ground.
“A lot of families of kids with autism are intimidated by the airport process, because there are a lot of sensory experiences, a lot of crowds, there are delays that are unpredictable… which are all things that in many cases can disrupt someone with autism’s life,” said John Goodson, Training Director for AHRC NYC’s Educational Services, during an interview with Newsday, which covered the event.
The families arrived at LaGuardia at 11:00 am, greeted by volunteer staff from AHRC NYC schools, who assisted them during the check-in process. With specially-designed boarding passes provided by Delta Airlines attendants, families were directed to the security gate, where they practiced the security protocols that are so familiar to people who frequently travel by air.
Annissa Guariglia and her son Jack, a student at AHRC NYC’s Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary, were encouraged by their experiences during the Wings for Autism event. “I would like to travel with Jack one day and I wanted to see the experience of going with a special needs child,” said Annisa. “This makes me to go with Delta. They’re showing their employees how to work with families that have special needs children.“
Prior to boarding, Delta provided snacks and trinkets to families in the waiting area. “We travel quite often, so it’s a good opportunity to come out here,” said Andreas Chrysostomou, whose son, Costas is a student at AHRC Middle/High School. “It’s very organized. This is what they should expect to see when we come to the airport.” Costas smiled continuously as he boarded the plane.
Omar and Amber Chandler had never been to the airport before, let alone get on a plane (Omar is an MHS student). “We just wanted to see how it is,” Omar said. “It’s good,” Amber said. “I like mostly everything.” Upon departing the airplane both flashed a thumbs-up.
Students and families then boarded the Boeing 737, complete with a flight crew and pilot. After settling in to their seats the crew gave a typical pre-takeoff demonstration and played some Disney trivia over the intercom.
Thank You for Flying with Us
AHRC New York City would like to thank Brian Rohlf and Joanne Feltman of the Port Authority, TSA’s Veda Simmons and Guy Lainis, Delta’s Jorge Chuzan, Caitlin Davis of The Arc, and all of the Delta staff at LaGuardia Airport, for helping to coordinate Wings for Autism and once again, making it a great success.
We also thank all of the AHRC NYC staff who volunteered their time to assist the families.
Students from AHRC New York City’s Middle High School and Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School took part in the NYC Edition of the Spartan Race! Held at Citi Field on Saturday, May 9, the Spartan Race is an obstacle course featuring a wide variety of challenges for competitors to overcome.
The students, as well as people supported from Camping and Recreation, Employment and Business Services, and Adult Day Services, raced in a course specifically designed for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The course featured obstacles such as plank walking, jumping, a cargo net, and a tunnel crawl.