What began as just a little walk ended up being not so little. Staff and students at Howard Haber Early Learning Center kicked off Autism Awareness Month with an Awareness Parade. The staff and students at Howard Haber received an outpouring of love and support not only from the immediate families of HH students but also from the community.
The police officers of the 45th Precinct came to secure the route and interact with the children. Some officers walked with us while another rode with lights and played music through their speakers while talking with the kids.
NY1, News 12, and the Bronx Times came down to walk with us and cover the story.
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.
Students at AHRC Middle/High School were given the gift of music this holiday season. Sing for Hope, a non-profit seeking to expand opportunities in the arts in New York City, donated one of their famous pianos to the school in the fall and formally christened the instrument with a ceremony on Thursday, December 14th.
About Sing for Hope’s Pianos
“We get artists that come in to paint about 50 pianos that get placed in public spaces during the summer months, and then the pianos are donated to schools,” said Daniel Smiertka, a representative from Sing for Hope. “Usually the students don’t have access to instruments like this because pianos are a lot of money to buy and maintain.”
You may have seen a Sing for Hope piano before without realizing it. In June 2017 they were found in all five boroughs, usually in frequented areas such as Central Park, Grand Army Plaza, and the boardwalks in Rockaway Beach and Staten Island, (several were installed at Liberty Plaza near AHRC New York City Headquarters). Each piano has a unique design reflecting an artist’s personal vision of the Sing for Hope mission.
MHS’s piano was designed by Jennifer Kakaletris Boyar and was previously located at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza near the United Nations complex. It has Keith Haring-inspired lettering and designs, with Lady Liberty and the phrase “Art for All” spread throughout.
“I saw the pianos first on the street years ago, and this past year I was inspired to give a piano submission and it’s been awesome,” Jennifer said. “I’m so honored it’s here, it’s so cool. While I was working on it I thought about where its final home was going to be, and it looks great here.”
We’re All in the Mood for a Melody
MHS Principal, Andrew Winfrey said that the school applied for the piano over the summer, and it was delivered in early October. At the ceremony on December 14th, the piano was introduced to the school at large by Frank Malloy IV, Sing for Hope’s Program Manager, and Neil Davis, a New York City-based singer-songwriter.
“I’ve gotten to volunteer at hospitals and schools underserved with music,” Neil said. “I love the mission and as an artist myself it’s always nice to get [the music] out of you and bring it forward for other people.”
Neil first led all students in a musical scales exercise to warm up their vocal chords. He then played an original song that had plenty of collaborative singing before finishing up with a few songs in the Christmas canon, such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and Wham!’s seminal “Last Christmas.”
“We’ve done so many different schools and seen so many positive reactions,” Neil said. “You realize how universal music is.”
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!
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.