Faculty members, children, and their families at Howard Haber Early Learning Center in the Bronx could not have dreamed of a more perfect Friday for the school’s Summer Carnival on August 9. Children with and without disabilities were entertained together with a cache of classic carnival games and activities set up by the school’s teachers and staff. The carnival celebrated the end of the academic year for the preschool and new beginnings for children who are moving up to kindergarten.
“Howard Haber’s Carnival was truly a joyous event,” said Christina Muccioli, Vice President of Education for AHRC New York City. “It was a wonderful way to end the school year and the staff, families, and volunteers should be commended for their efforts and support of the preschoolers.”
Children were treated to a number of fun activities in which they could engage with their peers or by themselves. Teachers at Howard Haber set up three makeshift bowling alleys, coloring stations, a photo booth with costumes, fishing games, and bubble machines and stations. A DJ played a healthy mix of kids’ songs, Top 40 hits, and dance classics. Two bouncy castles provided near-endless entertainment as classes took turns jumping around. Finally, an ice cream truck pulled up to dole out some fresh soft-serve cones and cups.
One parent, Chris, expressed pride in how his son, Chris Jr., took to enjoying the carnival. “It’s allowing the kids to be themselves,” he said of the event. “A lot of the actives here are attractive to kids on the [autism] spectrum. It’s not often you find an event where you can have kids mingle with other kids like them.”
Aleida Diaz, a Para Professional at Howard Haber ELC, reflected on the comradery that resulted from the preparation for the carnival. “It’s a wonderful idea,” she said. “The staff members are always willing to go that extra mile to make it special for the kids.” She continued on to say that the comradery extended to carnival attendees. “For the kids, it’s a fun day to explore different areas. The parents are really engaging with the kids, too, which is just great to see.”
Britney Lopez would not let go of her tablet before going through security at Newark Liberty International Airport as part of AHRC New York City’s Wings for All® event.
Maria Aviles, Britney’s mother, expected this would be as far as her daughter would go during a dress rehearsal for air travel on Saturday, May 18. But with a little coaxing and patience, Britney got through security and smiled with her tablet in hand as she boarded the United Airlines jet with her family. Britney, a 16-year-old with autism who attends AHRC Middle/High School, sat calmly on the plane, tending to her tablet.
“Just a Special Experience”
Nearly 30 families participated in Wings for All®, hosted by AHRC NYC, The Arc, United Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration. Many parents admitted being nervous, not sure what to expect. But United’s employees went out of their way to ensure this would be a smooth flight, even though the plane never left the gate. United volunteers cheered young passengers and their families as they boarded the plane. This was AHRC NYC’s first Wings for All® in New Jersey after several previous editions at LaGuardia Airport in Queens. New Jersey has the highest rate of autism with one in 34 children. The national rate is one in 59.
Parents of young and adult children on the autism spectrum and other intellectual and developmental disabilities have numerous concerns about traveling on a plane. How will their child react to the airport lights, crowds and waiting in line? Will they be comfortable with airport security officers talking to or touching them? How will the engine noise affect their child?
United Captain Mike Neff went out of his way to meet passengers as they waited at the gate. Once on board, he reassured Tom Wu and his wife, Zoe Zhang, that their son Eason, two-and-a-half years old, who was crying, would be OK. Eason calmed down once his parents showed a video on a phone and sang along.
“This was fantastic, uplifting, eye-opening and just a special experience,” Capt. Neff said.
Rewarding for the Families
Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® also gives airport, airline, TSA professionals and other personnel the opportunity to observe, interact and deliver their services to people with disabilities in a structured, learning environment.
“Partnerships like this can remove barriers to travel for people with I/DD and their families,” said Marco Damiani, CEO of AHRC NYC. “This practice run will make a huge difference. We are empowering individuals and families while educating and sensitizing airport personnel to the unique needs of people with I/DD and their families.”
John E. Goodson, Assistant Director, Educational Services & Program Development for AHRC NYC, has seen the impact the programs have on families, having coordinated seven Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® events. “It’s rewarding when you see families immediately book that trip they always wanted to,” John said. “They become an airline’s loyalist for life. They know this airline will support them.”
While this was the first time many of the young passengers had been on a plane, they were all smiles as the flight attendants came around with snacks and beverages.
Maria Aviles was thrilled with the experience. “Britney did awesomely, so we’re going to fly to Disney! I’m excited,” she said. “She liked it so much she didn’t want to get off the plane.”
News 12 New Jersey published a story about the Wings for All event at Newark Liberty Airport. Learn more here.
AHRC New York will be sponsoring an additional Wings event at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) on Saturday, May 18th, 2019 at 10:00 am. In partnership with United Airlines, TSA, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Wings for All is an airport rehearsal program for individuals with autism and other intellectual/developmental disabilities.
The program is intended to reduce some of the stress that families who have a child with a disability experience when traveling by air. The program provides families with the opportunity to practice entering the airport, obtaining boarding passes, going through security, and boarding a plane. Wings for All® provides airport, airline, TSA professionals and other personnel the opportunity to interact with the families and deliver their services in a structured environment. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact email@example.com or 212-895-3386.
For the 6th consecutive year, AHRC New York City’s Educational Services collaborated with Delta Airlines, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, (PANYNJ) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to hold Wings for Autism ® at LaGuardia International Airport. Introduced by The Arc over a decade ago, Wings for Autism ® is an airport rehearsal specially designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. The program is intended to alleviate the stress that families who have a child with autism or intellectual/developmental disabilities experience when flying. AHRC NYC brought approximately 20 families of students who attend its schools to the airport where they practiced receiving boarding passes, going through security, and boarding an airplane.
“We had a great experience with Wings for Autism,” said Toni Bennet, parent of a student at Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary. “My son has experience riding on airplanes but every year there are new challenges. We went with a classmate and that family realized that the windows were something they have to problem solve around. Who knew – the benefits of practicing?”
Students and families were supported by school volunteers as well as Delta and the LGA personnel who dedicated their Saturday to supporting our families. Assistant Director of Educational Services, John Goodson, wants to recognize Jorge Chuzan from Delta, Veda Simmons and Guy Lainis from TSA, and Keshia-Elaine Johnson from PANYNJ for their contributions. We hope to continue this important event next year to continue to coincide with Autism Awareness Month.
“This was our first time participating in the event and we all enjoyed it,” said Maria Nero. “Our son, Sethos, loved meeting the captain, sitting on the plane and using the lights with the air traffic controllers. All of the Delta staff were extremely patient and friendly. Thank you so much for such a wonderful event!”
“We continue to emphasize that there are supports and programs in place that can truly help these families access important experiences,” said John after the event. John will be coordinating another Wings event at Newark International Airport in May with United Airlines.
On Saturday, April 28th, AHRC New York City, in collaboration with The Arc, Delta Airlines, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), held their 4th annual Wings for Autism event at LaGuardia International Airport (LGA). Over 20 families and 100 participants came for the event where they were able to rehearse all aspects of air travel. They were supported by 15 volunteers from AHRC New York City schools and Kerry Mauger, Training Coordinator from The Arc.
With the goal of helping families practice going to the airport and boarding the plane, Wings for Autism was a great success again this year. The event’s message was that “This Is Possible.”
“Year after year, Wings for Autism always surprises me and leaves me feeling more fulfilled than the year before,” said Corinne Young, a Behavior Trainer, and event leader. “The families and children are so excited to be trying out this experience to be able to enjoy a trip together in the future. Delta and TSA are amazing in all the ways they help and are able to cater to the unique needs of families. I’m looking forward to next year!”
The families arrived around 12:00 pm on what turned out to be a beautiful spring day. After checking in and receiving their event t-shirts, they received boarding passes and moved through the security line. At the gate, the families ate snacks provided by Delta and took pictures with airline and airport personnel. Boarding started at approximately 1:15. While on the plane, the families were guided through security and safety procedures and also given a visual tour of various on-ground airport job duties.
“I liked going into the plane,” said Dennis Nasonov, a student at AHRC Middle/High School. “We took pictures in the LGA, looking out the window and seeing the other planes.”
Fellow classmate, Tia Harper added, “I liked the event. It was fun!”
Thanks to Our Partners
Event coordinator, John Goodson, Education Training Director, would like to thank Jorge Chuzan and his Delta Airlines team as well as Guy Lainis and Veda Simmons from TSA, Emily Shyu from the Port Authority, and Corinne and the AHRC NYC volunteers. Wings for Autism is an initiative of The Arc of the United States. We look forward to holding the event again in April 2019 in recognition of Autism Awareness Month!
Students at AHRC Middle/High School (MHS) are preparing for the next stages of their lives by taking internships, attending resume writing workshops, and working with college students at Pace University.
Five MHS students (Michael, Alfonso, Ricardo, Nhojay, and Jasmin) have each been interviewed and accepted into the new CVS Internship Program. They all did such a fantastic job and the two interviewers at CVS were quite impressed with the students. These students have been working on their interviewing skills in school using the Links program. Their hard work has paid off as the students are very excited to begin their roles at CVS.
Kevin, Aser, Liam, and Patrick went on their first interview at Maimonides Medical Center. They were applying for a position at the volunteer center and will be doing clerical work. Students described their previous work experiences and why they wanted to work there. They then sat for a PowerPoint presentation about the rules and regulations of the hospital. They also were told about the hospital’s background and the people that they serve. Afterward, students were given a test about what they learned about the hospital and its rules and regulations. They all passed!
On March 28, 2018, Michael and Randy traveled to Manhattan by train to participate in a resume writing workshop that was put together by Karen Zuckerman, Director of Volunteering and Corporate Engagement. The workshop was conducted by corporate volunteers who independently sat with each of the student participants to help them think about and write a proper resume for when applying to use jobs in the working world.
Each volunteer explained how important it is to first think about and describe previous and current work experiences and to be able to put those thoughts to paper. They also asked them what types of jobs they would be interested in and how they would go about looking for them. They shared with the students their own experiences in looking for a job and how they went about it. The students found this session most productive and enjoyable. It gave them the ability and the experience to interface with working adults.
Fridays at Pace
The Friday Pace group commenced their semester at Pace University. Students were thrilled to return back to this program where they are paired with a Pace student. For this semester, students will work on a PowerPoint presentation about their future and interests. All students were engaged and super motivated to begin their work. Thank you to the Pace students who volunteered their time for this program and a special thanks to Dr. James Lawler for continuing to have this wonderful program for MHS students.
Special thanks to Frank Kule¸Tranistion Coordinator, for all of his hard work on our CVS and Maimonides Internships as well as Karen Zuckerman for coordinating the resume workshop.
AHRC Middle High School‘s (MHS,) graduation ceremony was held on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, in the Regina Pacis Basilica Chapel, which sits adjacent to the school. Students, their families, teachers, and guests gathered to celebrate the milestone.
“I can’t say enough about the tremendous staff that has supported you all the way to this graduation today. It means so much,” said Gary Lind, AHRC New York City’s Executive Director, addressing the graduating class of 2017. “Your families have been with you all the way along, and the community has been here in so many ways… Thank you for letting me share this special honor with you today. Congratulations and good luck.”
“I am very privileged to be here with all of you,” said Raymond Ferrigno, 4th Vice President of the AHRC NYC Board of Directors. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I extend congratulations. AHRC was started by parents seeking education for their disabled children… The Board of Directors is by charter, a family-driven Board. We have skin in the game. We understand the challenges. And AHRC will be there in all the things you do after this.”
The Transition from School to Adult Life
Graduation is a Transition from school to the adult world. Transitions can be difficult for everyone at each stage of life, as we each undergo changes to the things we have grown accustomed to – the people around us, the places where we spend our time, and the things that make up our routines.
Students graduating from MHS, their family members, and the school’s Transition team prepare for this Transition by utilizing a person-centered process, to ensure that the graduates have received the adult placements of their choice. At MHS, preparing for adulthood begins long before the final year of a student’s time at the school, as they participate in school-based pre-vocational learning tasks, off-site internships, and explore the skills of everyday living.
Looking Ahead to Employment
Estefania Flores works as a Transition Coordinator for MHS. “The majority of my responsibility has to do with transitioning the students to the adult day programs, as well as facilitating and increasing the amount of internships that we do, and exposing our students to as much of the adult world as possible,” says Estefania. She notes that most of the internships are made as a result of informal relationships between the school staff and local business and organizations, which grow into formal internship opportunities.
The Middle High School provides a variety of opportunities for students to learn about employment, including off-site internships with local businesses, and on-campus pre-vocational activities such as the school’s Snack Shop, where students learn how to handle money using a cash register, and Minkos Copy Center, where students are trained to complete tasks similar to those of a commercial copy-making company, with some added modifications that enable them to accomplish their daily tasks. In addition to text prompts, the alternative communication system, known as the Picture Exchange Communication System, (PECs) is used throughout the copy center to facilitate clear communication among students with a range of disabilities. Tasks within the copy center include using the phone, making copies, hole-punching, laminating, shredding unneeded documents, and collating and binding documents.
“I learned how to cook things, and travel training,” says Darwyn Henriquez when asked to name skills he has learned that will help him in his life as an adult. Cooking is one of the several skills of everyday living that the students learn about at the Middle High School. The 4th floor of the school contains a working kitchen, bedroom, and living area where students practice the tasks they may one day use when living independently. As a student, Darwin also participated in an internship at the local Marshalls. “We basically folded clothes and cut up boxes, and organized clothes.” Darwin’s goals include getting a job at Best Buy and living in his own home.
As part of the 2017 graduating class, Martin Meyers has come a long way during his time at AHRC Middle / High School, and as he enters adulthood, he noted the importance of self-advocacy, saying, “You have to advocate for yourself and advocate for others. If they’re in trouble, you can have the ability to stand up for them, and do what’s right for not only yourself but for others.”
Marty has also learned several job skills, working along with his dad at a sandwich shop, cleaning and helping to prepare for catering events. When asked what advice he would provide to incoming students of the Middle High School, Marty said, “Never live in the past. Live towards the future, where bright and better things can happen.”
During the ceremony, graduating student Gabriel Maldonado, spoke about his favorite school memories and about the things he learned at MHS while attending the school. “In the future … I would like to be employed, live on my own and maintain good physical fitness. Thank you to all the teachers… my friends who have been helping me. I will always have good memories of my time at AHRC Middle High School. I hope all of you work hard to achieve your goals, and that they make you happy and blessed.”
Darwyn, Gabriel, and Martin have a lot to look forward to. In the fall they will each begin to take classes through AHRC New York City’s Melissa Riggio Higher Education program.
On Wednesday, May 10th, the students of AHRC Middle / High School, (MHS) explored the Grand Canyon, hung out with some jellyfish, and visited an underwater shipwreck. Sounds like an exciting day, right? Through the use of virtual reality equipment now available in the school, the students have new opportunities to experience simulated adventures like these throughout the school year.
“We see the value of using VR at the Middle / High School in a number of ways,” said John Goodson, Staff Training Director and Lead Investigator, Educational Services. “[Our students can experience] virtual field trips that would have otherwise been cost prohibitive, extending science and social studies lessons so that students can engage in more experiential learning, virtual travel training, and job practice.”
Yusef Nelson, the Technology Teacher at MHS, assisted students in putting on the equipment and providing instructions on how to use it, while also manning the computer screen to ensure the display was working properly. Depending on the day’s lesson, students can learn more about geography, human anatomy, marine biology, and many other subjects based on the choice of application.
“It’s a fusion of sensory and learning,” Yusef said. He is optimistic about using VR for a variety of learning opportunities. “You can upload videos for use in travel training. You can make your own videos and make it a collaborative project that the whole class can experience. They even have a meditation simulation.”
Yusef said students use the equipment roughly once per week. A viewing area is set up behind the equipment so that other students can watch the proceedings on a TV screen that displays what is seen by the student using the VR goggles and remote controls.
Omar, an MHS student, has used the VR equipment a few times since it was installed earlier this year. On this day, he used a program called TheBlu to swim with and interact with virtual jellyfish. Omar’s classmates could view the underwater ripples traveling through an invertebrate’s body.
“The first time I used [the VR equipment] I saw the Seven Wonders of the World,” said Omar with a grin, after completing his simulated aquatic excursion. “I really like seeing ancient things.”
John Goodson extended thanks to Phillip Proctor, Director, and Carol Ryklin, Technology Deployment Specialist/Trainer, from Individualized Technology Strategies for their assistance with purchasing and installing the VR equipment, as well Educational Services’ Ian Gray, Business Manager.
“We anticipate the VR becoming an integral part of the educational program at our school,” John said.
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.
AHRC New York City is proud to congratulate two young adults as they receive accolades for their work at Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School, (BBF).
Kristen Alvy Receives Gold Award
Kristen Alvy was awarded the highest honor in Girl Scouts, the Gold Award! This honor is awarded to just one percent of all registered Girl Scouts. There are many components of the award but the most important is the service project. Kristen had to plan, write and execute a sustaining community project. Her project was about literacy at BBF. Kristen spent two summers, (over 85 hours,) visiting our school to read stories to each class.
During the winter months Kristen made about one hundred work folders, collected gentle used books, organized them by reading level, and delivered them to the school. She provided the school with over a thousand books! She also created a book return box for the library. When BBF Principal, ZoeAnn Deeds asked Kristen what was her favorite part of the project, her response was “reading to the students.” Kristen plans to attend college to become a teacher. Thanks, Kristen, for all you have done for the school!
David Kim Becomes Eagle Scout
Similarly, the Boy Scouts‘
highest honor is to become an Eagle Scout
. Less than five percent of all registered Boy Scouts achieve this rank. It requires a Scout to earn at least 21 badges and to develop, create, fund-raise, and execute a sustainable community project. David Kim
, under the leadership of Scoutmaster, Vincent Cirino
, refurbished the school’s courtyard. He made the area more inviting and pleasing for the students at the school. The students are currently enjoying his efforts and the ability to enjoy good weather in a safe outdoor area. Congratulations David Kim!