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P.S. 11 In The News...


Staten Island educators strive to fit 9/11 into curriculum

Published: Friday, September 10, 2010, 8:46 AM     Updated: Saturday, September 11, 2010, 7:41 AM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Try talking about death, destruction and terrorism to a 10-year-old. It isn't easy.

Shannon Rinelli knows. The fifth-grade teacher at PS 11, Dongan Hills, raises the subjects with her classes year after year when she talks about the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

"I feel it's important for them to know the history of their city," she said.

Educators are on their own when it comes to addressing 9/11, however. A spokeswoman for the city Department of Education says there is no citywide curriculum. Instead, the DOE allows schools to determine the best approach for treating such topics with their students.

Many tread lightly, focusing on positive lessons while maintaining the meaning of the day. 

On Wednesday morning, for instance, with no politics -- and sparing them the gruesome details -- Ms. Rinelli explained the facts, with extra focus on the aftermath, during which she herself volunteered to hand out food to first responders.

"An attack on the Twin Towers caused them to collapse. But afterwards, a lot of people needed help," she explained to her class. "So, on Sept. 11, we remember all the people who were hurt and killed. It's also a day to celebrate how we can help other people."

Her students proceeded to decorate leaves, explaining how they can be good leaders for the rest of the student body. On Monday, they will construct a Tree of Hope on school grounds.

The staff at PS 30, Westerleigh, take a similar approach. Clare Mitchell, a reading teacher, spoke of a book she has in her classroom titled "September 12" that discusses how the country healed.

"We have a lot of children of firefighters, police officers and Marines," she said.

So, to mark the anniversary of the attacks, the principal selects three of those students each year to read a message over the loudspeaker thanking their heroes for keeping them safe.

A large mural that takes up the entire hallway wall outside the third-floor library also helps teachers describe what happened. Painted in 2007 by the wife of New York City Fire Chief James Leonard, it is dedicated to Firefighter Thomas Hannafin, a former PS 30 student who died on 9/11. An addition was painted by Firefighter Gerry Bonner later that year.

"Many times, we underestimate the ability of the little ones to learn and comprehend, because they really do understand a lot," Ms. Mitchell said. "I find that if you don't discuss it, then it's like a mystery. The lessons help them understand they really are connected."

The staff at Barnes Intermediate, Great Kills, have a slightly more somber affair each year. Ever since they erected their own 9/11 memorial in their school yard in 2002, they have gathered each year to say a few words about their loved ones who were lost. The ceremony has grown more touching over the years, with people from the neighborhood joining in.

This year it was held on Wednesday, and drew nearly 60 people.

"Everybody says something and we reflect and tell our stories and share our sorrows," said Eileen Barra, a mathematics teacher whose husband, a firefighter, survived the collapse. "It's a gorgeous, gorgeous moment that helps us heal."

Teaching the moment has become more difficult in recent years, however. Closer to 2001, students joined teachers at the ceremony. Her current students were babies when the attacks occurred, and have only heard about what happened.

So instead the staff focuses on being good role models, teaching students to respect those who have fought for them. They are also working to get students involved in planning the 10th anniversary, by having them design T-shirts they'll wear next year.

"The kids aren't as close to it," she said. "It's just like us with World War II. My parents were very close to it, but we'll never know that feeling because we weren't around."

*Eileen Barra's FDNY firefighter husband was not at the World Trade Center during the attacks of 9/11 but was called into work immediately thereafter. His location was unclear in a story about educators discussing the attacks with schoolchildren, published in yesterday's Advance. 


Out with the chalk, in with the mouse, at PS 11 in Dongan Hills

Published: Thursday, April 01, 2010, 11:47 AM
Marjorie Hack 
smart1.jpgBorough President James Molinaro and PS 11 Principal Erica Mattera are interviewed by student reporters at the Dongan Hills school —Nour Elgamal, 9, of Concord, snaps a photo, while Kameira Assalone, 9, of Dongan Hills, and Daniel Acheampong, 10, of Clifton, ask the questions.DONGAN HILLS

The days of solving math problems in front of the class using dusty white chalk, wiping down the board at the end of the lesson, and clapping the erasers for the teacher after-school are in the rear-view mirror at PS 11 — a school on Jefferson Street in Dongan Hills that was built in 1900 when actions like this were standard procedure.

Thanks to the donation of eight more SMART Boards by Borough President James P. Molinaro, the school has taken another leap into the 21st century and now has this cutting-edge technology available in all 17 of its classrooms, plus the science lab, library and intervention services room. The Borough President funded them all. 

The SMART Board is a large interactive whiteboard that uses touch technology to detect user input — e.g. scrolling, right mouse-click — in the same way normal PC input devices, such as a mouse or keyboard, detect input. A projector is used to display a computer’s video output on the whiteboard, which then acts as a large touchscreen. Among other things, students use the boards to craft and present Power Point demonstrations and manipulate math problems so the steps are all visible; teachers can use them to project video clips that brighten up an otherwise dull lesson. 

smart2.jpgBorough President James Molinaro answers questions posed by student reporter Kameira Assalone. She had prepared them in advance and written them in her notebook.The boards are quickly replacing the old-fashioned chalk board in schools Islandwide, but they don’t come cheap. According to Molinaro, the boards he’s purchased for PS 11 run anywhere from $7,000 to $8,000 apiece. 

But the price is worth it, he acknowledged during a visit to the school last Wednesday. “There’s so much interaction that children can do,” he said. 

Principal Erica Mattera agrees. She said her school’s newest boards, which should be delivered in May or June, will be similar to the model used in the first-grade class. “That’s the best,” she said. 

Molinaro got a look at one of his SMART boards in action in the school’s library, when a fifth-grade class presented information about their school in a digital Power Point demonstration narrated by a most dynamic Michael Sorensen of Dongan Hills, whose father, Glenn, made time to attend. 

Molinaro learned that the school received a bricks-and-mortar addition in 1919, along with a doorbell. It was named for Col. Thomas Dongan, an Irish Catholic, and its mascot is a bald eagle, which flies strong and free. The school also uses a hot-air balloon as an inspirational logo to urge students to rise higher. 

 “SMART boards are opening many new doors for us,” Jasmin Montes of Dongan Hills told the Borough President. “This is a little school where we accomplish big things.” 

Molinaro, who’s just started his third term as borough president, said he’s always focused on quality of life issues that impact children, seniors and those with disabilities. He reminded the fifth-graders that “boys and girls are our future” and urged them to “work hard and be whatever you want.” 

“You have to believe in yourself. There is no one better than you and you are no better than anybody else. No one is perfect,” he said. 

Molinaro reminded the youngsters that they will likely face criticism and disappointment as they move through life, but “challenge is what gives you the value in life.” 

The SMART boards are one way he is giving the school’s 300 students a leg. 

“This is one of the best mornings I’ve spent in a long time,” noted Molinaro, who also took time to answer student questions like what he wanted to be before he grew up (a baseball player and a firefighter), and how he got involved in politics (he complained a lot and his wife urged him to stop talking about what should be changed and go out and do it). 

Students from the school’s newspaper club — Daniel Acheampong, from Clifton; Kameira Assalone, from Dongan Hills and budding photographer Nour Elgamal, from Concord — also got a one-on-one interview with Molinaro. They plan to report on his visit in a school newspaper that will be published later this year. 


Horton hears a Who here, there and everywhere

Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 6:25 AM     Updated: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 6:31 AM
Carol Ann Benanti Carol Ann Benanti 
03ins.jpgDeputy County Clerk Ronald Arabia, sitting third from left, poses with PS 11 teacher Karen Marino, Principal Erica Matera and a second-grade class on Dr. Seuss Day at PS 11 in Dongan Hills.STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — As a way of celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2, First Lady Michelle Obama joined National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, along with members of Congress, NEA leaders and hundreds of local students, at the Library of Congress for the kickoff of NEA’s Read Across America Day. Now in its 13th year, the program focuses on motivating children and teens to read through events, partnerships and reading resources. 

05ins.jpgView full sizeFrom left, Assistant Principal Adam Baskin; Deputy County Clerk Ron Arabia; Principal Erica Matera, and second-grade teacher Karen Marino with reader Noah Liebman in front.On the local level, PS 11’s Principal Erica Matera participates each year by inviting Ronald Arabia, Staten Island’s deputy county clerk and former NYPD detective, to the Dongan Hills school, where they commemorate Dr. Seuss Day and listen to students read from their favorite Dr. Seuss books. 

Mr. Arabia notes that the funny thing here is that as an adult he learned something new that day — just because of the national program. He hadn’t realized that the red T-shirts seen at amusement parks with the legend “Thing 1, Thing 2” originated from Dr. Seuss. Calling it awesome, Mr. Arabia notes that he simply loves the fact that kids and adults can learn from one another. 

Good things are happening on Staten Island, just look at P.S. 11

Published: Saturday, January 23, 2010, 7:34 AM     Updated: Saturday, January 23, 2010, 10:28 AM
Melissa Chapman Melissa Chapman 

(left to right-Mr. Anthony Vanacour, Commander William Lee Birch, Vice Commander Satiris Fassoulis)

With so much devastation; the earthquake in Haiti and Heidi Montag's 10 plastic surgeries in one day(okay not quite earth shattering ) the economy and health care mired in a major rut it's hard to feel enthused and hopeful about the messages feverishly invading our kid's thoughts.

Do they feel safe with their feet firmly planted on the ground, can they sense our anxiety and feeling of helplessness when natural disasters simply usurp us adult control and send us into a tailspin of epic proportions? Is the absolute inane sensationalism over this 23-year-old's multiple procedures quietly inciting our kids to believe that their only access to notoriety is via their skin-deep facial features?!

Well not if Staten Island's P.S. 11 The Governor Thomas Dongan Elementary School on Staten Islandhas anything to do with it; with innovative; out-of-the-box programming spearheaded by their truly innovative principal Ms. Erica Mattera, these students are consistently reminded of our nations' resilient past and encouraged to make the very most of their freedoms, feel passionate about their rich history and their ability to go out into the world and effect change.

In fact P.S. 11 held a World War II Veteran’s Assembly for second to fifth graders on Friday January 8th. Commander William Lee Birch, Vice Commander Satiris Fassoulis and Mr. Anthony Vanacour spoke of their experiences in WWII including being Prisoners of War, establishing camaraderie with their fellow soldiers, and learning the true meaning of freedom.

The students asked thoughtful questions that sparked meaningful discussion. They even learned that Commander Birch’s great grandfather, seven times removed, was President John Adams and his uncle, six times removed, was President John Quincy Adams! The children were absolutely mesmerized by the fascinating tales that the veterans told and developed a deeper appreciation of the meaning of freedom which was so eloquently expressed by Commander Birch and the others.

World War II warriors talk about tough time

Published: Thursday, February 11, 2010, 9:40 AM
Diane Lore Diane Lore 
Veterans.jpgPS 11U.S. Air Force veteran Satiris (Sonny) Fassoulis, right and also pictured on the cover, speaks to students at PS 11 in Dongan Hills about his experiences during World War II. With him are veterans Anthony Vanacour, left, and William Lee Birch. 

When they study about World War II in history class, students at PS 11 will have had a first-hand account of the war from three men who were on the front-line of battle. 

    The Dongan Hills school recently hosted the veterans, who talked about their experiences with second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. 

    Air Force veterans, Commander William Lee Birch and Vice-commander Satiris (Sonny) Fassoulis, and Army veteran Anthony Vanacour, are affiliated with the New York Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War. They explained to students how they developed a camaraderie with their fellow soldiers and spoke about not taking freedom for granted. 
   “People do not understand the true meaning of freedom until it is taken away from them,” Birch said, as he described what it was like being a prisoner of war. He said he became emaciated from the poor diet and lack of water and poor sanitary conditions. Upon being united with his wife, he discovered that she, too, had refused to eat while he was missing. “It was like a reunion of two skeletons,” he said. 

   Fifth-grader Hunter McBride asked the veterans for their opinion on video games about the war. Vanacour said he was somewhat offended by the games because they trivialize the experience, but said that the U.S. is a free country so Americans have the choice to buy the games. 

    “Freedom means we have a choice to buy the games, but personally I’m offended by them,” he said. 

    A third-grade student was curious to know what the world would be like if the Allied Forces didn’t win the war. Birch said there would have been a good likelihood “we’d all be speaking German.” 
   The vets’ visit was arranged by PS 11 Principal Erica Mattera and social studies teacher Patricia Schwarzkopf. Mrs. Mattera said she got the idea after seeing an invitation in the “Principal’s Weekly,” a newsletter from City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, that highlights curriculum and professional development opportunities and special events. 

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