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.

Schmitty the Weather Dog Visits Esther Ashkenas Central Park ELC

Conversing about the weather is a small-talk rite of passage, and one of the few things all humans experience simultaneously. Despite its ubiquity, knowledge about the weather does not come naturally. It must be learned at a young age. Enter Schmitty the Weather Dog!

Schmitty the Weather Dog

Clad in sunglasses, a doggie dress, and a blue and green striped tie, Schmitty and her loyal friends, Ron Trotta and Elly McGuire joined the children of Esther Ashkenas Central Park ELC, to teach the students and staff about weather terms through sing-a-longs and other fun activities. The visit took place on on Thursday, March 17, 2016

Schmitty Knows Weather

Schmitty is a Yorkshire Terrier (aka Yorkie), one of the tiniest of dog breeds. She has frequently appeared on the daytime TV circuit, including Oprah, Ellen, and Live with Regis and Kelly. Schmitty has also raised money for victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Ron Trotta with Schmitty the Weather Dog

Together with Ron Schmitty has “posted over 500 weather pawcasts on her Schmitty the Weather Dog You Tube Channel and [they] are the weather team for the National Science Teachers Association, The National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

Schmitty’s Friends

The multi-talented Ron Trotta received his degree in math and education from Purdue University before deciding to become a meteorologist later in life. He is a world champion ragtime pianist and has had numerous interactions with former President George H.W. Bush. He currently works behind the scenes for ABC News and tours schools around the country with Schmitty.

Schmitty in Classroom

Elly McGuire is Ron’s “forever fiancé” and author of the children’s book, Schmitty the Weather Dog: Daydream (illustrated by Simon Estrada). She is a former educator and corporate executive.

Staff with Schmitty

Elly currently raises money for pet charities through her line of New Yorkie products and produces the annual New Yorkie Runway Celebrity Doggie Fashion Show during Fashion Week in NYC.

Schmitty Makes New Friends

Elly began the day by reading Daydream to an assembled group of students. The book details Schmitty’s journey from being an ordinary dog to one who can predict fog. After the reading the book Elly asked the children, “Do you guys want to meet Schmitty?” The kids answered with a resounding “Yes!” and Schmitty entered the classroom to greet the awestruck students.

Elly Reads to the children

Playing a small piano, Ron and Elly sang songs that featured a lot of call-and-response and clapping while teaching the kids important terms and facts about the weather. Among the things the kids learned were that the sun is also a star, how math is important in weather forecasting, and what a tornado is (which one student excitedly referred to as a “tomato storm”).

After the assembly Schmitty, Ron, and Elly visited each classroom of the preschool so that all of the students had a chance to meet the stars of the day!

The Dog Days of Spring: Schmitty’s Journey Continues!

Schmitty and Co. will be visiting other AHRC NYC schools in the near future, including stops at Brooklyn Blue Feather Elementary, Astoria Blue Feather Early Learning Center, and Francis of Paola Early Learning Center.

Autumn at Esther Ashkenas

Esther Ashkenas Central Park Early Learning Center is proud to share some of our fall activities:


Our Speech Therapists and a child choose books for their classroom.


Class L visits a local pet store to buy a fish for their classroom.


Following a group walk through nearby Central Park to collect leaves, Class G explores the colors of the season with a leaf project.