New preschool opens at Gustavus Adolphus Church

Open Arms Director Misa Anderson in one of the new preschool’s classroom spaces (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Open Arms Director Misa Anderson in one of the new preschool’s classroom spaces (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
With the number of young families on the rise in the city, Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church on East 22nd Street has opened its doors to Open Arms Preschool, a new ministry at the church, which is now accepting enrollment for a summer program for children 18 to 29 months.
The church previously had a senior center, which had offered programming for the last 40 years, but when the Stein Center opened on East 23rd Street in its new, permanent home, the administrators at Gustavus Adolphus saw less of a need for the services their center provided.
“The generation before us recognized that care for seniors was vital for the community and provided those services,” Pastor Chris Mietlowski said. “In the process of discerning the next step for our congregation, we noticed that families were not leaving the city and were instead staying here to raise their families so there is a growing need for early child care.”
The program in the summer is a playgroup-type experience targeting a younger age group than the usual preschool age, so the children are there for only a couple of days a week and the parents can stay throughout the classes. “We’re creating a place where parents or caregivers have a gentle separation to get kids ready for a real preschool setting so parents don’t feel like they’re ripping the band-aid off,” said Open Arms director Misa Anderson, who has more than 20 years of preschool teaching experience. “We want to create a lifelong love of learning so we want kids to have a positive first school experience with things like story time and music.”

A classroom at Open Arms (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

A classroom at Open Arms (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The only religion in the curriculum is based around the holidays like Christmas and Easter and there are some Christian-based decorations up like a Noah’s Ark hanging in one of the classrooms, but most of the class time is focused on playgroups and other non-religious activities.
Mietlowski said that the space that used to be allocated for the seniors has been converted to modern classroom spaces with brand new equipment and furnishings. The renovations included a smaller and bigger classroom, which hold about six and 10 students, respectively.
Open Arms is currently open for enrollment for the summer program, which runs six weeks from June 30 to August 8. Mietlowski said that the dates have flexibility, though, since families aren’t always around for the whole summer, and families can instead sign up for the program for three weeks of their choosing. Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday schedule options are available.
He added that there’s also a plan for a program in the fall for slightly older children, ages two and three. The program will include enrichment classes such as cooking, music, yoga and sign language, which would be available to both the younger and older children.
Tuition for the full six weeks is $625 and for a three-week period, it’s $325.
The school is at 155 East 22nd Street and more information is available by contacting Anderson at openarmspreschool@gmail.com or (914) 806-3949.

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East Village nursery school has sudden growth spurt

Sara Curry Preschool at Little Missionary’s Day Nursery Director Eileen Johnson, a Stuyvesant Town resident, says the school now has a mix of Lower East Side and Stuyvesant Town students. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Sara Curry Preschool at Little Missionary’s Day Nursery Director Eileen Johnson, a Stuyvesant Town resident, says the school now has a mix of Lower East Side and Stuyvesant Town students. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
Even before Mayor de Blasio announced a plan that would more than double the amount of pre-K seats throughout the city, a local nonprofit nursery school was working on its own goal of doubling in size to meet the needs of a neighborhood teeming with families.
That school was Sara Curry Preschool at Little Missionary’s Day Nursery, which is already prepping its St. Marks building to add more classroom space. By September, the school will be ready to accommodate a total of 100 kids, its director, Stuyvesant Town resident Eileen Johnson said.
During a recent stroll through the building, which is over a century old, Johnson discussed how the place has changed over the years.
At one point it was the working and living quarters of its founder, Sara Curry, also known as the little missionary, who, like a more recent tenant in the building, a Hare Krishna group, would serve soup to hungry East Siders. The Hare Krishnas have been gone for years though and tenants who replaced them, members of a graphic arts team, have also moved.
The school is the landlord, and taking the space back for more classrooms has been a goal for a while, but, said Johnson, it wasn’t financially possible until now.
“We couldn’t have been able to run the school without the rental income,” she said.
Part of the reason, explained Johnson, is that tuition at the school has always been kept under market with the rest of the needed cash coming from fundraising.

Eileen Johnson in her office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Eileen Johnson in her office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

So naturally, there’s also a fundraising effort going on now, with a total goal of $200,000. Some of that money — around $50,000 — has already been raised through a street fair, raffles and donors. An awards ceremony event will take place in May and there’s also currently an Indiegogo campaign to bring in an additional $20,000.
For this the school has gotten some support from actress and East Village resident Rachel Weisz, who narrated the Indiegogo video. Her son was a student until he aged out of the program. The campaign will continue through May 11 and as of T&V’s press time on Wednesday, has raised $7,651.
Once the money’s raised, there will be numerous improvements made to the building, which was opened as a school in 1896. One of the jobs is to put the offices on the fourth floor, since by law, buildings without elevators can’t have classroom space on the fourth floor. Staircase railings will have to be made more sturdy, a full fire alarm system will have to be installed, plumbing upgrades are needed and the classrooms will then need new paint and furniture. If possible, Johnson said she’d like to put a garden or some sort of recreational and learning space on the roof.
Additionally, along with making improvements to the building, some of the money raised will go towards tuition assistance. At Little Missionary’s, tuition costs $1,600 a month for the full five-day a week schedule. There are also after school and summer programs offered.
For the school, the move to double in size reflects how the surrounding neighborhood has changed. More families have moved in, but also, as the school noted in the Indiegogo campaign, more local tuition-based schools have been priced out. At one time, Sara Curry taught 200 students in the building, which has five floors, including the basement, which is also used for class and play space. After her death the school continued but by the 1990s, it fell into a state of disrepair and was in danger of closing. By 2001, the school had a mere eight students. But then the school underwent a restructuring and has seen its student body grow ever since.

The school building on St. Marks Place (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The school building on St. Marks Place (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Initially it was just children from the Lower East Side, and they still make up the majority of students, but in recent years, there’s also been an influx of children from Stuyvesant Town and the East Village.
Then last year, St. Marks Place between First Avenue and Avenue A, where the school building is located, was co-named Sara Curry Way. Meanwhile, the school itself has gone through a couple of name changes. Johnson, who came aboard as director in 2004, explained, “We started out as Little Missionary, but then people thought it was a religious school. So I said why don’t we call it Sara Curry Preschool at Little Missionary?” The name, however, hasn’t really stuck. “Honestly everyone just calls it Little Missionary or Little Mish,” said Johnson. “It’s defaulting back.”
As for the nursery school’s resurgence, Johnson credits it to the curriculum, which includes dance, music, including use of instruments, art and cooking. “It’s not just some place you can stick your kids so you can go to work,” she said. “It’s really high quality programming.”

 

State English test blasted as unfair

Students, along with their parents, protest outside PS 40 on Friday morning, after taking tests that parents said had age inappropriate questions and didn’t reflect the school’s curriculum. Protests also took place at other schools. (Photo by Gabrielle Kahn-Chiossone)

Students, along with their parents, protest outside PS 40 on Friday morning, after taking tests that parents said had age inappropriate questions and didn’t reflect the school’s curriculum. Protests also took place at other schools. (Photo by Gabrielle Kahn-Chiossone)

By Sabina Mollot
Following the lead of a principal in Brooklyn, who held a protest outside her school over state English language tests that have been blasted as unfair, other schools have followed suit, with parents organizing similar protests on Friday morning.
At the heart of the matter, frustrated parents said, was that the recently issued tests had nothing to do with the Common Core curriculum students have been taught and had age inappropriate questions. Additionally, in some cases, a multiple choice question would have more than one answer that seemed like it could be correct. There’s also been a lack of transparency, test critics have charged, with no one allowed to see the tests after they’re taken. Yet another complaint was there was product placement in questions, with references to brands like Nike, Barbie and McDonald’s.
On Friday, parents and students at PS 40 participated at the protest, with the crowd stretched along the block on East 20th Street. Some of the kids carried signs that read: “Our kids deserve the best, we need to see the test.”
Council Member Dan Garodnick was also on hand, saying he too wanted the state Department of Education to make the test available to see. “It will help create a better test in the future and reduce the enormous stress on kids and teachers if they know what this is supposed to be like,” he said.
PS 40 PTA Co-President Kirstin Aadahl, who has a daughter in kindergarten at the school, said she hoped to see some change by the time her child is old enough to be taking the state tests. “I don’t want her to be studying for a test that’s meaningless,” said Aadahl. Last year the test had similar problems, she added. “PS 40 did well but many scores went down.” Then this year, teachers were told not to “discuss specifics” of the test.
Students take the tests in English language as well as math. The math tests are scheduled for April 30, May 1 and May 2. The tests don’t factor into students’ grades, but do have an impact on how teachers and schools are evaluated and also could help determine what middle or high schools a student is next placed in.
Another parent at PS 40, Linda Phillips, said she’s noticed that the teachers have been under pressure as well as students. “They’re being judged by this and we feel for them.”
Yet another parent, Deborah Koplovitz, slammed the test as being “a complete waste of energy” and said school funds should be spent elsewhere. “There should be more teachers, more paraprofessionals, more nutrition assistance for schools that make it better for children to learn,” said Koplovitz.
Still, parents at the school insisted it wasn’t testing they were against in general or the school’s curriculum, but simply this

Parents with Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Parents with Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

particular test, which was contracted to a firm called Pearson.
“The tests are not a good measurement of the skills or abilities of the students,” said Kara Krauze, another parent. “It’s harmful to subject students to testing that doesn’t represent their capacities.”
Another protest-site school was PS 59 on East 56th Street, which like PS 40 is in Education District 2.
That school’s principal, Adele Schroeter, had penned a letter along with another principal, Lisa Ripperger of PS 234, after tests were taken, urging other schools to participate in the protesting. In the letter she noted how few of her students opted out of the test this year, since administrators had felt confident that the test would be improved following other problems with the test given last year. But, she said, it wasn’t.
“Frankly,” said Schroeter, “many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing and deep comprehension for something quite different.” (See full letter here.)
A spokesperson for the state Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment on the protests.
While not done at every school, the protests may also be a sign that educators are no longer afraid of retaliation if they’re openly critical of an official policy. At least that’s the opinion of Shino Tanikawa, the president of Community Education Council District 2.
Referring to the principals’ widely circulated letter, she said, “I don’t think the two principals would have spoken out under Klein or Walcott but we now have a true educator as our chancellor.”
Tanikawa added that she was hoping “for a sea change.”

Dolan: Epiphany a ‘light in the world’

Cardinal Timothy Dolan with Epiphany students during a 125th anniversary event for the school (Photos by Mollie O'Mara)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan with Epiphany students during a 125th anniversary event for the school (Photos by Mollie O’Mara)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, made a special appearance at Epiphany Church last weekend to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of the parish’s school.

During a mass held on Saturday night, Dolan showered praise on the school, which has been doing well financially, unlike so many other Catholic institutions in New York City, which have seen attendance and interest dwindle.

For the last three years we have been going through the painful but necessary process of making painful decisions to close and merge schools,” Dolan said.

As we’re getting somber news, we’re here now talking about a school that works. (Epiphany) not only works but flourishes and prospers as a light in the world. It does my heart good to come here. I needed this.”

After the mass was a reception in which Dolan spent time greeting and hugging the students, parents and parishioners that wanted to meet him, while holding a beer in his hand. He also put his red skullcap on students’ heads when posing for pictures.

He’s a very warm and caring individual,” said Jim Hayes, who’s been the Epiphany School’s principal for more than 30 years. “He made sure that everyone who wanted to meet him got a chance to talk to him.”

He also called the service by Dolan “beautiful,” adding that it had always been part of plan to have the cardinal be part of the 125th anniversary celebration.

It was one of the nicest liturgies we’ve had here in a number of years,” said Hayes. “The church was packed and it was a wonderful experience for everybody.”

Monsignor Leslie Ivers with Cardinal Dolan at Epiphany Church

Monsignor Leslie Ivers with Cardinal Dolan at Epiphany Church

Hayes has known the cardinal for about four years but the principal said that this is the first time the archbishop has lead mass at the church.

Following the service, parishioners and parents attending a reception expressed their appreciation for the school and for Dolan.

He could open for Bruce Springsteen,” said Michael Gargiulo, who has been a parishioner at the church

for more than 50 years and whose now-grown children went to Epiphany School.

He’s got a common touch; he’s relatable to people.”

Gargiulo, who moved to the neighborhood when he got married, said he and his wife had initially planned to move again to the suburbs. They never made it out of the city though and both of their kids ended up at Epiphany.

This was the foundation to build on for a good education,” Gargiulo said. “The best aspect of this school is the involvement of parents and families with the school. That’s what makes it great.”

Ed Maher, who lives in the Lower East Side and currently has a daughter attending the school, said that he comes to Epiphany events for the sense of community.

We don’t really have a community in our neighborhood downtown so we come up here for that,” he said.

Chris McCartin, who also currently has a child enrolled and lives farther downtown, agreed that the school offers a more small-town experience within New York.

Coming here (to school events) reminds me of my little town on Long Island,” he said. “It’s a no-nonsense education with a lot of great people.”

Cardinal Dolan with Epiphany School teachers

Cardinal Dolan with Epiphany School teachers

 

Epiphany School celebrates 125 years, Cardinal Dolan will attend anniversary event on Jan. 18

Epiphany School's principal of 35 years, Jim Hayes, at a 125th anniversary event for alumni in November (Photo courtesy of Epiphany School)

Epiphany School’s principal of 35 years, Jim Hayes, at a 125th anniversary event for alumni in November (Photo courtesy of Epiphany School)

By Sabina Mollot

In a day and age when many Catholic institutions, in particular churches and schools are disappearing, one has managed to not only remain financially secure but thrive, and is now celebrating its 125th anniversary.

That institution would be the Epiphany School, where enrollment recently increased by 5 percent and

Cardinal Dolan, pictured during a visit to Immaculate Conception Church in 2010, will be visiting Epiphany. (Photo by Andrew Park)

Cardinal Dolan, pictured during a visit to Immaculate Conception Church in 2010, will be visiting Epiphany. (Photo by Andrew Park)

where Cardinal Timothy Dolan will help celebrate the landmark anniversary with a special mass and reception later this month.

Jim Hayes, the school’s principal of 35 years, told Town & Village that he credits the school’s continued growth to a few factors.

One is a foundation that holds frequent fundraisers for parents and alumni. Another has been a steady level of support, financially and otherwise from parents, in part possible due to the school’s lower than average tuition for a parochial school — $7,000. Then there’s the recent launch of a program for three and four-year-olds at the school’s 28th Street building, which also houses grades 4-8. Students in grades K-3 learn at the 22nd Street facility near the church. The new program, meanwhile, has attracted more students, so much so that there’s a waiting list. In total, Epiphany has around 600 students, up from 250 in 1980.

This has meant, said Hayes, that the school is financially independent from the church, other than the fact that the church owns the school’s buildings.

Previously, the school’s student population had mostly come from Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village but at this time, kids from the ST/PCV community make up only about 40 percent of the student body. A small percentage of the students come from the outer boroughs, but most are still walking distance from school, and the new program for younger kids has attracted more families from the Murray Hill, Kips Bay and Turtle Bay neighborhoods.

“There are more and more kids from the East Side up to the 40s and 50s,” said Hayes. As for those in ST/PCV, the dwindling enrollment from there has mainly to do with rising rents, a pattern school officials first noticed a decade ago. “The writing on the wall has been there for a while,” said Hayes. “Those guys are getting priced out.”

Meanwhile, being situated near Gramercy Park, the school has always had a steady stream of Gramercy students. Gramercy Park itself hasn’t changed much though all the recent development of condo buildings in Gramercy has brought more families to the area.

For them, despite the crowding and other challenges faced by local public schools, the biggest draw to Epiphany is still the religious curriculum, said Hayes.

“We haven’t given up our Catholic identity,” he said. “We teach religion every day.”

Interestingly, at this time, ten percent of the school’s students aren’t even Catholic, but are, among other faiths, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. Those students, said Hayes, “learn about the Catholic faith as a subject the same way they’d learn about literature. We’re not trying to convert them.”

And the diversity hasn’t seemed to hurt the school’s fundraising efforts.

A recent walkathon raised over $100,000 for the school’s foundation. A 125th anniversary reception for alumni in November attracted 350 people with many tickets priced at $125. For the past few years, there’s also been a car raffle. For this revenue earner, the foundation has managed to get a Mercedes at cost and then make money through the sale of $100 raffle tickets. Last time, 700 tickets were sold. Through these and other various fundraising efforts, which include golf games and basketball games, the school’s foundation has been pulling in $750,000-$900,000 a year.

Guests, mainly alumni, pack a reception for the 125th anniversary of the school, held in November. (Photo courtesy of Epiphany School)

Guests, mainly alumni, pack a reception for the 125th anniversary of the school, held in November. (Photo courtesy of Epiphany School)

John Link is the director of development for Epiphany’s foundation, which was launched in 1999. Since then, he said the foundation has held different types of fundraisers in the hopes of attracting supporters who are newer to Epiphany and the area and tend to give more as well as the more longterm supporters like parents and alumni who have less money but tend to give small amounts consistently. The latter group also tends to be helpful in the volunteering department, noted Link.

“They want to volunteer and they’re just very passionate individuals,” he said.

As for the money that gets raised, Hayes said Epiphany’s been able to provide educational tools for students, like iPads to do their work on as well as Smartboards in every classroom — items that are normally reserved for much pricier private schools. At Epiphany, all sixth, seventh and eighth graders get their own iPads to use, while for those in the younger grades, it’s one iPad for every two kids.

“So we’re really pushing the envelope with technology,” said Hayes.

The only challenge the school is currently facing, he said, is that more space is needed for more would-be students. For parents looking to get their kids to the top of the waiting list, it helps, said Hayes, to have some ties with the parish, or if they’re new to the area, ties to the parish where they’re from.

Epiphany kids, noted Hayes, tend to be involved in programs beyond their classes, like basketball on Saturdays or mass on Sundays.

“It’s a seven day week with basketball and mass,” he said, explaining what he feels the school’s identity has to separate it from other religious schools. “Other schools might not be so community based. Maybe they’re more transient-based. We’re like a suburban school in Manhattan.”

Epiphany students at a food drop event (Photo courtesy of Epiphany School)

Epiphany students at a food drop event (Photo courtesy of Epiphany School)

Anyone interested in attending the mass and reception to be attended by Cardinal Dolan, which will be held on January 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Church of the Epiphany at 375 Second Avenue and 22nd Street, should call the school’s Office of Development at (212) 473-6158. Tickets are $60. Those looking to attend the mass only with Dolan should contact the church at (212) 475-1966 ahead of time.

This will be the last of the school’s 125th anniversary events, with the main one being the alumni reception in November, held at the Yale Club. (The Church of the Epiphany this year is celebrating its 146th anniversary.)

Epiphany School first opened its doors on September 10 of 1888 by principal Sister Mary Verena Fitzpatrick. On that first day of school, there were 84 girls and 60 boys.

 

 

CECD2 to hold meeting on opening of new school

Community Education Council District 2 has announced that it will be holding a Zoning Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30 p.m. to explore zoning issues for 2012-2013, including the opening of a new school P.S. 281 at 35th Street and First Avenue.

The meeting will be held in the P.S. 40 auditorium (20th Street between First and Second Avenues).

The agenda will include:

  1. Review of the P.S./I.S. 281 facility
  2. Discussion of the possible grade configuration of the building
  3. Discussion of programming for building (Pre-K, G&T, Language, etc.)
  4. Review of zoning milestones and timeline
  5. Public comments

Public comment is welcome on P.S. 281 as well as all District 2 zoning matters.

For more information on CECD2, which has an advisory role in DOE issues, visit the board’s website.