IN CLASS: This feature is part of an ongoing education column highlighting the various activities that engage school communities.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Amid a global pandemic, a new special education school opened on Staten Island for the 2020-2021 school year to serve school-age and preschool students with autism and other disabilities.
As coronavirus (COVID-19) positivity rates continue to decrease, the AHRC James P. Murphy Staten Island Preparatory School, operated by AHRC New York City, opened its doors last week for a Family Fun Day for families of currently enrolled students, as well as an open house for prospective students.
“It’s a proud moment today, because it’s been almost a full school year with our school community and families to come and see the school and see all of the wonderful things that the children get to do each day,” said Principal Chris Uccellini. “So we felt it would be a great opportunity to open our school to families and even to prospective families to come see us, say hello and let the borough of Staten Island know that we’re here. We’ve been very proud of what we’ve been able to do during a pandemic.”
The school is located at 23 Summit St. in Tottenville, at the former Our Lady Help of Christians School, which closed in June 2019. It is AHRC NYC’s seventh school across all five boroughs and serves students ages 3-12.
The Family Fun Day on Thursday allowed students and families to meet staff, teachers and administrators — while also touring classrooms, physical therapy spaces and more. Students showed off their artwork and schoolwork to their parents, while others played sports, games, and arts and crafts in classrooms and the school gymnasium.
For parent Jeanine Diaz, a school like the James P. Murphy Staten Island Preparatory School was needed in the borough — and she said it has immensely helped her 7-year-old son, Christian.
“His speech exploded while he was here, just his socialization and all-around a lot of things have just really developed within the last year,” she said.
He transferred from a New York City public school, where Diaz said he refused remote learning, calling it a “battle.”
“It just wasn’t something for a child like him, and his sister, who is neurotypical, has problems with it — so a child like him really struggles when there’s no interaction,” Diaz explained. “It was hard. But thank God we were able to get him in here. It really has been fantastic for him.”
And it wasn’t easy to open a brand-new school building, especially during COVID-19, Uccellini said.
“When we were able to open in September, live no-less, as a brand new building, it really was just an unbelievable feeling to be able to bring these children into the building for the instruction they need,” Uccellini said.
When the school had to close due to COVID-19 cases, he said they always managed to come back and return all students to their classrooms for in-person instruction by minimizing exposures, deep cleaning the building, and following all health and safety protocols.
As this school year comes to a close, he said he hopes the school will continue to expand.
A New York State-approved non-public school that is contracted with the city Department of Education (DOE), students are referred to attend the James P. Murphy Staten Island Preparatory School. Students are screened, and the school evaluates IEPs to ensure the school can meet the needs of each individual student. If it can, students then receive an acceptance letter to attend the school, Uccellini explained.
It serves students with disabilities — predominantly, individuals with developmental disabilities and intellectual disabilities. There are two preschool classes for kids ages 3-5 with ratios of 6:1:2 (6 students: 1 special education teacher and 2 paraprofessionals) and 8:1:2, and nine school-age classrooms for kids ages 5-12 with ratios of 8:1:3 and 10:1:2.
Once fully enrolled, the school will serve 96 students.
In addition to its teaching staff, the school has a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, school social worker, school nurse, school psychologist and a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA).
The James P. Murphy Staten Island Preparatory School is one of seven AHRC New York City schools serving special education students. The next major goal, Uccellini said, is to open a middle/high school on Staten Island to serve students ages 13-21.
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William Hu, a high school senior from Staten Island, was one of five recipients of a 2021 MATHCOUNTS Alumni Scholarship. The $3,000 scholarship is supported by Raytheon Technologies and the U.S. Department of Defense STEM.
Hu was chosen for the scholarship out of 176 applicants, ranging from high school seniors and college students who formerly participated in a MATHCOUNTS program. Hu founded a local math club that helped establish a new MATHCOUNTS Competition Series chapter for Staten Island.
This year’s scholarship winners were honored during the MATHCOUNTS National Competition, a virtual celebration of STEM taking place May 8-10.
“We are so proud of these five incredible alumni,” said Kristen Chandler, executive director of the MATHCOUNTS Foundation. “They illuminate not only the impact MATHCOUNTS can have on students, but also the impact MATHCOUNTS students can have on their communities in a variety of ways.”
Created in 2014, the MATHCOUNTS Alumni Scholarship recognizes outstanding alumni whose experiences in MATHCOUNTS were influential.
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