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.
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.
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.
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.
The children at Astoria Blue Feather were in for a surprise when they returned from this year’s spring break. Due to the generosity of the Metropolitan Building Managers of New York in cooperation with the Scandinavian American Building Managers Guild, the entire school received a full remodel over the course of a week, at no cost to AHRC New York City.
From fresh new paint to buffing the floors and everything in between, Astoria Blue Feather got an unexpected head start on providing better education to dozens of children.
“It’s overwhelming to see how so many are able to pitch in to make this school the best looking preschool,” Denise Polanco-Nieves, Principal, said. “To me, everyone that has come to donate their time for this, I see them as angels.”
Making A Difference
Curt Bergeest, a Residence Manager for a building in Manhattan, was among the leaders in this charitable endeavor, and has done similar work in the past. “We usually work with Ronald McDonald Houses, cystic fibrosis foundations, places like that,” Curt explained. “Mary and Steve Weafer [whose son attended Esther Ashkenas Central Park Early Learning Center and the AHRC Middle High School] contacted me about this school, and we have this group of wonderful men and women who volunteered to help out.”
In addition to a complete remodeling of the school, the volunteers donated a voluminous amount of school supplies, including crayons, copy paper, pencils, and notebooks. Many of the building materials, such as paint, were donated by generous vendors that included Belfor Property Restoration and Franklin Lennon Paints. Many volunteers are members of the 32BJ SEIU union.
“It’s easier for us to come out here and just do the work rather than donating money,” Thomas Louie, one of the volunteers and a former teacher, said. “You can see the change that takes place. It’s a proactive approach, everything gets done right away. The kids will come in on Wednesday [April 19th] and just be shocked at all the work.”
A Complete Transformation
Indeed, the school looks completely different. The old yellow halls are now painted a calming blue. New light fixtures brighten up the classrooms. Bathrooms have been freshly scrubbed and windows freshly cleaned.
Upon returning from spring break, one child said “Oh wait a minute, the classroom looks different, it was yellow and now it’s purple. But nobody told us!” Another remarked, “It’s so pretty! I saw colors on the window: blue and red, blue and red.”
“They surpassed our wildest dreams,” Christina Muccioli, Director, Educational Services, said. “The volunteers came in here and said ‘We’ll paint!’ but they did so much more than that. They did extermination, they brought in program supplies. There was a plumbing company, replaced radiators, supply companies. They truly are angels.”
AHRC New York City extends its deepest thanks to Curt, Tommy, and all of the other volunteers and organizations for donating their time and materials to transform Astoria Blue Feather and allow us to better educate children with disabilities.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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.