STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — It isn’t often you get City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, and Catholic schools superintendent Dr. Timothy McNiff together in the same room, on Staten Island.
The troika of education officials converged upon St. Charles School in Oakwood Thursday for a tour of the school, to get a firsthand look of how well the city’s universal pre-K program is working, as well as how state technology funding is being used in the classroom.
Accompanied by Zoilita Herrera, regional Catholic schools superintendent for Staten Island; Christine Cea, Staten Island member of the state Board of Regents; Michael Coppotelli, associate superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese; Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island); James Cultrara, director of education for the New York State Catholic Conference; the Rev. Louis Jerome, pastor of St. Charles, and Principal John J.C. Kiernan, they visited two pre-K classes, and a fifth- and sixth-grade class, where the older students were busy working on computers.
In a sixth-grade classroom the entourage observed students using their Google Chromebook laptops and Achieve3000, a program for reading and English language arts.
Walking around the classroom, looking over students’ shoulders, Fariña spied a row of paperback books on a ledge. She picked up a copy of Elizabeth Speare’s “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” that students recently completed, and told the class it was one of her favorites.
“Keep reading,” she said, giving the class a “homework assignment” to read the historical novel “My Brother Sam is Dead” on their own. “This is my all-time favorite. I must have read it at least 10 times,” she said.
They also visited a computer lab, where students can work independently on desktop computers. Fifth-graders were working quietly on reading and science assignments.
Ten-year-old James Hunt said he enjoys working at his own speed. He was working on a reading assignment involving making healthy food choices. “It’s more interesting than a textbook,” he said.
Catholic schools, including St. Charles, receive federal and state aid for textbooks and computer software and technology, explained Coppotelli, who is a graduate of St. Charles.
Downstairs, officials visited two pre-K classes, where 4-year-olds worked busily at different “skill” tables, covered with toys and manipulatives. At one of the science tables, they watched the kids learn about size and measurements as they played with different-sized dinosaurs. The largest was marked at 12 inches, the middle-size at 4 inches, and the smallest at 2 inches.
Staten Island leads the city in the number of children registered for all-day free universal pre-K classes, one of the hallmark programs of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration.
Written by Diane C. Lore
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