Introducing New Principals at Astoria Blue Feather and AHRC Middle/High School

AHRC New York City’s Education Department wants to formally recognize our two new principals for the 2019-20 school-years, Sandra Evangelista and Christopher Uccellini.

Sandra has been promoted as Principal to Astoria Blue Feather Early Learning Center (ELC) in Astoria, Queens. Sandra has worked at Astoria since 2005. Initially, she was hired as a Special Education teacher but quickly was promoted to a supervisory position as the Disabilities/Education Coordinator for Astoria’s Inclusionary/Head Start Program from 2006 until 2015. In 2015, Astoria closed its Inclusionary/ Head Start Program. Sandra then became Astoria’s Program Coordinator and was instrumental in helping the school make a smooth Transition dedicated to educating preschoolers with disabilities.

Her leadership and long tenure made her the ideal candidate to serve as Astoria’s Principal when Denise Polanco took up the mantle at Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School this summer.  “Sandra is a dedicated, bright and hardworking individual. Her work ethic and excellent skills are outstanding. We are indeed fortunate to maintain the continuity and leadership that Sandra provides for our children, their families, and the staff,” said Christina Muccioli, Vice President of Education.

Christopher Uccellini has been working in the education field for years, serving as a third-grade teacher in 2006. He quickly rose through the ranks while working in the public school systems in Long Island. After obtaining his School Building Leader Certificate in 2012 he was hired as an Assistant Principal in Garden City, NY and then as a Principal in the Hewlett-Woodmere public school system.

Chris joined AHRC NYC in January 2019. “We were immediately impressed with Chris’s knowledge base and professionalism and realized early on that he would be an asset to the Education Department and to AHRC NYC.  It was hoped that he would become a principal in our school-age program when an opening occurred,” said Christina Muccioli. Chris was initially hired as an Education Training Director and it was in that role that he supported the implementation of the school-age curriculum and advanced professional learning and development for the staff.

It is our good fortune that Christopher Uccellini accepted our offer to serve as Principal of AHRC Middle High School in July 2019. Chris has set high standards for the school, staff, and students. Increased enrollment, higher expectations and more post-secondary opportunities for students with autism spectrum disorder are Chris’s goals. We are confident that Chris will achieve them!

Celebrating the Graduates of AHRC NYC’s School-Age Programs

“Pomp and Circumstance” rang through Kings County on June 25 and June 26 as students from Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School (BBF) and AHRC Middle/High School (MHS) celebrated their graduation days. Both ceremonies were filled with emotions, music, and recognition of the great strides made by remarkable children and young adults.

Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School

On Tuesday, June 25th, Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School honored its 2019 graduates during an hour-long ceremony.  Staff occupational therapist, Le’Ann Huggins, welcomed families, friends, and administrators to the event and introduced the students. Students, Janay Adamson-Thomas, Eric Cortes, and Mohammed Farooq, led the attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Gilberto DeJesus Jr., Gary Meany, and Allen Williams Jr. sang the National Anthem.

Father Michael, whose church has supported BBF for years and helped maintain a beautiful educational environment, gave an Invocation in which he recognized the accomplishments and dedicated staff, students and their families.  Former BBF parent, Lauren Ramirez, spoke on the importance of continued advocacy during the Transition from elementary school to middle school.

Following a musical performance, Vice President of Education, Christina Muccioli, honored retiring principal, Zoe Ann Deeds.  Through tears, Christina presented Zoe Ann with a feather-adorned plaque to recognize the 11 transformative years that Zoe Ann helmed BBF. Zoe Ann then presented the staff and student awards for stand-out citizens within the school.  The students then received their diplomas and celebrated with their families at a reception sponsored by the school’s generous PTO.

AHRC NYC’s Educational Services department wants to recognize the following students for their successful graduation from Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School: Janay Adamons-Thomas, Elefterios Akriotis, Eric Cortes, Dominik Cygert, Gilberto DeJesus Jr., Mohammed Farooq, Uzziah Gaffney, Jayden Graham, Mackenzie Jackson, Zoe Lawrence, Gary Meany, Ryan Ng, Kendally Rochez, Yadan Royer, and Allen Williams Jr.  And, one final time, we would like to say our deepest thank you to Principal Zoe Ann Deeds, whose legacy will not be forgotten.

AHRC Middle/High School

The following day, five graduates from MHS were presented with their diplomas. Robert Bright III, Sean Fischer, Kevin Guo, Montae Peterson, and Nicholas St. Clair were celebrated for their achievements as they prepared to enter a new phase in their lives.

The MHS Choir, accompanied by their music teacher, on piano and Michael, a student, on drums, opened the festivities with a performance of “Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent. The choir later provided their renditions of the upbeat pop jams “Drag Me Down” by One Direction and “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake.

The graduates were all presented with special commendations from Office of the Attorney General of New York State, celebrating their community partnerships such as the one with Pace University. MHS also recognized Poly Prep Country Day School and Maimonides for their volunteering and employment initiatives, respectively. Finally, the school presented Karen Zuckerman, Director of Volunteering Services and Corporate Engagement, with a plaque honoring her commitment to developing volunteering opportunities for the school, including at Poly Prep.

Christina Muccioli thanked Madelin Rivera, Interim Principal, for her consistent passion and stewardship during a transitional year for the school. Finally, Christina congratulated the parents and graduates and encouraged them not to become strangers. “AHRC is here for you for a lifetime,” Christina said. “We want you to keep in touch with us. You are a part of the AHRC family and we want you to always remember that.”

Team-Building Event at Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary Brings Staff Together

Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School held its first Team-Building Day on the afternoon of November 15, 2018.  Despite the snowy weather, the event, led by John Goodson, Assistant Director of AHRC NYC’s Educational Services, was a great success.  Staff participated in four team-building activities, (Story Starters, Four Corners, Building Bridges, and Silent Tower) which were intended to encourage collaboration, teamwork, and professional respect.

Team Building Exercises

Story Starters promoted conversations among staff about personal details of their life, including recollections of memorable childhood vacations, high school dances, and different learning institutions they attended.  They were then asked to reveal interesting anecdotes that had learned to the larger group.

During the Four Corners exercise, staff members were asked to move themselves to one of four labeled corners, (Structure, Relationships, Meaning, and Action) that best aligned with their reasons for working for AHRC NYC and in Special Education. Members of each of the corners then provided advice for the other corners about how best to work with them.

Building Bridges required two teams to build half of a bridge without seeing the other team’s work.  At the end of the activity, the partition was removed to see if the bridges could meet and function as a pathway.

The final activity, Silent Tower, asked small groups to build marshmallow and toothpick towers without speaking.

The staff acknowledged having learned about each other as a result of Team-Building Day and discussed ways that they could apply the information to their work in the school’s classrooms. The success of the inaugural day of team-building exercises has inspired John to replicate the event at other school sites during the coming school year.


A Trip Around the World with Students from Brooklyn Blue Feather

On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, the students of Class 216 at Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary School took a trip around the world! Speech Therapist, Erin Spilberg and Behavior Trainer Assistant, Louann Cadle, utilizing the principles of collaboration, embarked on a journey with their students. Their destination was one of the countries that comprise the western hemisphere, specifically focusing on a social studies unit: Geography and Early Peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Through the use of books, maps, and the internet students became knowledgeable and better prepared to choose a country to conduct research. Students studied a country’s topography, climate, natural resources, its history, and basic facts that a tourist might need to know if visiting.

The project culminated in a presentation to school staff and classmates. As the students made their presentations an appreciative and loud round of applause could be heard in the halls of the school. And like most world travelers, the students needed a passport.  So each student created a passport complete with a photo.  As a consequence, through the use of each other’s research projects, the students were able “to travel” to many countries around the world. To demonstrate what they learned, these “travelers” were required to state three facts about the country. As a reward, their passports were stamped allowing them to continue their journey to another country. Wow, what world-weary travelers are the students of Class 216!

Movin’ On Up at Brooklyn Blue Feather

June 27, 2017 was the Brooklyn Blue Feather Moving Up Ceremony. The Class of 2017 had students who will be going to our middle school, District 75, and other nonpublic schools (NPS).

It was a wonderfully attended ceremony and several awards were given out to very deserving students. It was our 10th graduation ceremony at is current location.

Flying High with Wings for Autism

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.

Now Boarding…

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.

Girl Scout and Boy Scout Receive Rare Awards for their Work at Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary

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

Principal, ZoeAnn Deeds with Kristen Alvy

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

Vincent Cirino, David Kim, and Zoe Ann Deeds
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!

Teens Take the Met

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.” 

Art Teacher, Priscilla Palmieri, with AHRC Middle High School student, Ricardo Montanez, at Teens Take the Met

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.

Future Collaborations

“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.

Wings for Autism Soars to New Heights in Second Year

Wings for Autism was an uplifting experience for the families of AHRC NYC's schools

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.

The Chandler family is ready to fly

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.

Staff from AHRC NYC's Schools were on-hand to assist families as they practiced airport check-in.

“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 GoodsonTraining Director for AHRC NYC’s Educational Services, during an interview with Newsday, which covered the event.

Checking In

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.

Benjamin Greer and his dad, arrive at the terminal

Now Boarding…

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.

Salvatore Shurott a student of AHRC Middle High School with mother, Vicky and his brother

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.

Families took their seats on the plane

Thank You for Flying with Us

Delta Airlines staff
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 ChuzanCaitlin 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.
The staff of AHRC NYC's School Age Programs
We also thank all of the AHRC NYC staff who volunteered their time to assist the families.