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!

Come One, Come All to the Howard Haber Summer Carnival!

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 MuccioliVice 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.

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.”

Wings for All at Newark Liberty Airport

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 ArcUnited 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 DamianiCEO 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. GoodsonAssistant DirectorEducational 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.

May 18th Airport Rehearsal Event: Wings for All

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 john.goodson@ahrcnyc.org or 212-895-3386.

Delta Airlines and AHRC NYC Education Department Partner for 6th Annual Wings for Autism Airport Rehearsal Event

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.

Wings for Autism helps families of loved ones with Autism to practice the steps of airline travel in a safe and supported environment

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.

Transition News from AHRC Middle High School

written by Estefania FloresTransition CoordinatorAHRC Middle High School

Students at AHRC Middle High School are learning new professional skills every day! Here are some examples:

CVS Pharmacy

For the past five months, every Tuesday and Thursday, Jalyn C. has been enthusiastically working at the Fort Hamilton CVS Store.  He has a number of responsibilities there. He makes sure that all the items on the shelves are faced, whereby each item is moved to the edge of the shelf, giving it a look of being fully stocked.

Jaylyn also makes sure that the shelves are free of all dirt and dust. On Thursday with the help of Jessica VanArnum, BTA Specialist, they unpack new merchandise and place them on the proper shelves. This has been an extremely valuable learning opportunity for Jalyn, giving him actual working experience.

Marshall’s

New students are beginning their vocational training at our Marshall’s Department Store. We are continuing our partnerships which now focus on students that have shown proficiency in our internal school internships and now have graduated to external opportunities.

Students Olivia and Patrick began practicing how to fold clothes at the school. They quickly got the hang of it and are now going to Marshall’s once a week to perform this task and more. Students are assisting Marshall’s staff in the stockroom unpacking their merchandise and distributing them to different locations at the store. Congratulations to Ronny, Steven, Olivia, and Patrick for their achievement and their continued success at Marshall’s.

Maimonides Medical Center

There are four different work locations at Maimonides Medical Center for MHS students. One student is working in the finance department sorting patient files and putting them into the proper folders. Aser F. is currently working in the rheumatology department alphabetizing patient files to be filed in their records, and three other students are working in the ophthalmology department sorting and stuffing envelopes that have to be sent out to the various patients of the hospital.

Every Thursday they stamp and sort the various foreign language newspapers that are then distributed to the patients in the hospital. Our students continue to build their skills across different settings.

Home Depot

High School Class 203 is thrilled to be participating in our new Home Depot workshops. Students are learning how to install light fixtures and ceiling fans. All the students are looking forward to their next visit where they are going to learn new skills. This workshop teaches our students about various home safety devices and products that Home Depot sells. This shows them how some of the products are assembled and what they are used for in one’s home. Thank you to the Home Depot Store located in Red Hook for creating this great opportunity and for raffling off fire extinguishers, non-electric light bulbs that glow by the touch of the hand, fire and smoke detectors.

Minkos

Minkos students are busy at work completing jobs for AHRC training department, HASC, Brooklyn Blue Feather, and the Quality Assurance Department.

Students have completed a multitude of copies, bookbinding, shredding, proclamations, and laminating works.

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol Visits Francis of Paola Early Learning Center

The weather outside was frightful, but the children’s cheer inside of Francis of Paola Early Learning Center was only delightful. On December 18th, 2018, the school held its annual Winter Carnival and was paid a visit by its local Assemblyman, Joseph R. Lentol. The assemblyman came to meet with the children and staff members as well as view the ways technology is being used in the school as a result of a grant Francis of Paola received from the New York State Assembly.

As part of the Winter Carnival, children created fake snow, played winter-themed games with one another and with their teachers, and learned about what winter weather entails and which holidays are celebrated in late December. Assemblyman Lentol joined in on the fun by joining the kids in their games and asking them what they were looking forward to during the holiday season. Teachers at the school showed the assemblyman various videos, photos, and lessons that have been uploaded to iPads that were provided to the school thanks to the Assembly’s grant.

Later, Assemblyman Lentol joined over two dozen children and teachers in a classroom where a SmartBoard has been set up. The SmartBoard allows for interactive and engaging lessons. The assemblyman sang a number of holiday songs with the children and was introduced to the kiddie-song sensation “Baby Shark,” which all of the students enthusiastically knew the words to.

It was a pleasure to attend Francis of Paola’s Winter Wonderland Celebration,” Assemblyman Lentol said. “I was thrilled to see the students interacting with the new technology.  It showed me and I am sure others would agree that technology exponentially helps a student’s learning ability so it’s important that we invest as much as we can in using technology in the classroom.

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.

 

Wings for Autism Soars in 2018

On Saturday, April 28th, AHRC New York City, in collaboration with The ArcDelta 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 MaugerTraining 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!

Now Boarding…

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 GoodsonEducation 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!

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