Staff in the Spotlight
At 7am we open our doors to students who start their days an hour earlier. We welcome them into our classrooms to engage them in math games and routines for academic intervention. Fifteen staff members joined the Morning Academy team this year. This dedicated team is an integral part of our school community, and that’s why they’re the focus of our SPS Spotlight!
Ada Leung has been teaching elementary school for more than ten years. When she taught math during summer school she learned how to engage students in math through projects. She saw students negotiate content and problem solve through teamwork. That experience made her believe that hands-on learning was a great way to build a student’s math knowledge. When she heard that Morning Academy would focus on hands-on learning, she joined the team! She hopes to instill joy and confidence in all her MA mathematicians.
This is Jennifer Chubak’s sixth year working at PS 169. She says, “having taught only lower grades, morning academy gives me an opportunity to work with fourth graders and really get a sense of what math skills they're building upon through the grades. It's especially rewarding for me since my morning academy group is made up of many of my former kindergarten and first grade students. It's been so great getting to know them all over again and see how they've grown. As a teacher, mornings can sometimes feel chaotic, but morning academy is a stress-free start to the day. This is especially thanks to the help of the amazing math coaches who plan everything, check in with teachers, and make the activities engaging and exciting for students.”
Erin Berte joined the team to help our community address the needs of our struggling mathematicians. She started her 18th year of teaching here at SPS, and feels that “it's important for children to feel supported and confident.” She loves it when students say, "Oh!" when they finally understand a math concept or figure out a way to solve a problem. It reassures her that they are learning!
Lauren Malone and Sarika Narang are going on their 4th year in teaching. Lauren shares,“What makes teaching Morning Academy gratifying is seeing how excited my students are each and every morning. On the first day of Morning Academy, my students were extremely anxious and had no idea what to expect. However, by the end of the first session, the students were already saying that they wanted to come back. It is great to work so closely with a small group of students and really get to know them. Morning Academy has been a great opportunity to build a sense of community and tolerance among students. I have seen one student gently encourage and coach his struggling peer through a math problem. Students are also learning patience by giving their peers think time. Students hold each other accountable when they are absent and entice them to come by telling them how much fun they are having.”
Rosie Nunez and Kimberly Quezada are math cohort leaders. Rosie sees the importance of this work because it provides mathematicians with foundational tools to solve math problems. She pushes students to be more efficient using these tools so that they are prepared to gain access into more complex concepts to tackle harder problems.
Helen McMahon has been teaching for the past 16 years, from pre-K to first-grade. She says, “There is something that we always need to consider: There will never be enough time to accomplish what you set out to do. (I write that because I know we all are positively ambitious!) And that is why The Sunset Park School offers Morning Academy.” After the first day, Helen shares their big smiles! (below)
For Brooke Tarullo, she finds it gratifying to see struggling learners enjoy math! She’s taught small groups in the past over her 13 years in teaching experience, but the focus on math
pushes her to use her brain in a different way.
Jeannette Echeverri has served English Language Learners for nine years. She feels that through Morning Academy, students will learn to persevere through each math challenge, and understand that it is OK to ask questions, talk about their challenges, use multiple strategies, and learn from each other. Morning Academy is establishing a culture of learning and it is evident through our students and teachers.
Chiahao Lin is new to teaching and is excited about how to teach math using hands-on activities. He shared, “From what I observed in the past few weeks, I think many students are willing to come to the school in the early cold morning and eager to do the math simply because the learning is fun.”
Mira Rubens has been teaching for 17 years. She shares, “I always thought I ‘couldn’t’ do math as a child, because it wasn’t easy for me. But as I began teaching it, I realized I could understand it, just like my math whiz friends can. Now I want to encourage all children to know that math is all around us, it’s not necessarily a foreign territory, and it is fun. Though it’s hard getting up so early for Morning Academy, I am so gratified every Monday and Wednesday morning, when my small group of third graders show some confidence with math and numbers. The time flies by, as we count to 100, backwards and forwards, “Around the Circle,” and play other math games.The students tell their friends, “Morning Academy is fun! You should come!” Some of them have even played “Closer to 10” at home with family. The PD from Christina and Jenn that focuses on the math concepts, as well as the planning time, make the actual class time a complete learning experience.”
Our own math coaches have been vital in the design and orchestration of the program. All MA teachers feel that this work was a much easier lift than what they had expected because of the support they received from our coaches. Rosie shares, “We've planned together, practiced ideas together, and all materials have been made available to us. They check in to see if we need anything or if we have concerns/questions.”
Jenn DiTomasso and Christina Perkins are so gratified when they see all our students excited to attend Morning Academy! Their hope is that these students will make great strides in mastering the necessary foundational skills they need to be successful in math.
Melissa Hart and I have been working each year to make Morning Academy impactful on the lives of students who give us their time. From monthly perfect attendance awards to luring in students on time by giving them hot chocolate—we all do everything we can. We couldn’t be prouder to be working alongside these amazing staff members that make this work gratifying and successful.
Staff in the Spotlight
One of the first things you’ll notice when you walk into Sunset Park School is how beautifully maintained this 101-year-old building is. This is due entirely to our school’s talented custodial team: (from left to right) Richard Arnold, Hector Ortiz, Kurt Matthews, Eric Aviles, and Juan Matamoros. This hard-working team is an integral part of our school community, and that’s why they’re the focus of our first SPS Spotlight!
Hector Ortiz has worked as a custodian for seventeen years—almost four years of which he’s spent at SPS. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and is of Puerto Rican descent. Kurt Matthews has been working at SPS for the last four years. He was born in Brooklyn, and his parents immigrated to the United States from Trinidad. Richard “Richie” Arnold has worked as a custodian for twelve years and has been with SPS for nine of them. Juan and Eric are new to the team with less than two years. They were both born in the US, but their parents immigrated here from Puerto Rico and Ecuador.
Our entire custodial team takes great pride in their work and feel that providing a welcoming, clean building is essential to running a successful school. “When the teachers come back from break and they have these big smiles on their faces and tell me how clean the building is, it makes me feel good about my work here,” said Kurt. And this team has worked hard to get the building to where it is today. “I do this work because I know how important it is to make the school better for the kids,” reported Hector. “I would want my own kids to have a clean, comfortable building to go to, and our students should have a great experience too.”
Kurt Matthews was recently invited to SPS Kindergarten classrooms to tell students about his work. “I was teaching them what custodians do. It made me feel great. Now Kindergarteners stop me in the hallways and say, ‘Hi, Mr. Kurt!’” The children included Kurt in their final project about important workers in our school community.
As one of the newest members of the custodial team, Eric is grateful to be in a school where his hard work is acknowledged. Over the summer, Eric and Juan helped beautify the staff lounge. Eric appreciated being thanked for his work in an email that the Principal sent to the staff. “I hope that other new custodians experience the same kind of thing at their schools,” he said.
Recently, some allegations were lodged against our custodial staff in the press. Our custodians were deeply saddened by these allegations. Richie shared, “As a minority, I feel sad that somebody would think I would say something like that. I wouldn’t want somebody to say something like that about me since my family immigrated here too. I don’t want the kids to look at me like I’m some kind of monster who would want that. I don’t wish that on anybody.” Juan added, “We work so hard and it’s sad to hear that people would believe that we said those horrible things. I don’t want the community to think that we are two-faced and that we say things behind our students’ backs. We’re not like that.”
Kurt summed it up, “We just work hard for the kids. That’s it. I have four of my own and here I feel like we have 1600 kids to care for.” The rest of the team agreed.
We couldn’t agree more! Big thanks to Sunset Park School’s incredible custodial staff for everything they do for our students, our teachers, and our entire school community every day.