An after-school enrichment program in 15 elementary schools across the archdiocese, and an enhanced special education program at three elementary schools on Staten Island and two in the Bronx, will launch in September.
Dr. Timothy J. McNiff, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, announced the augmented pilot programs May 8. They will operate under the auspices of Pathways to Excellence II, a three-year strategic plan for Catholic Schools in the archdiocese.
“This excites me,” Dr. McNiff said. “We have a very good school system and we have good schools. But you cannot stay status quo, because schools are always evolving, as are children. We’re seeing where there are opportunities of need and we’re adjusting accordingly.”
The After-School Enrichment Program, available Monday through Friday to full-time students in kindergarten through eighth grade, will allow students time to play, work and learn with their peers, affording peace of mind to parents whose schedules necessitate a later pick-up time.
The 15 schools the program will be piloted in across the archdiocese’s nine regions are: St. Charles Borromeo, Guardian Angel, and Our Lady of Queen of Martyrs, Manhattan; Christ the King, St. Joseph, and St. Philip Neri, Northwest/South Bronx; Nativity of Our Blessed Lady, St. Clare of Assisi, Northeast/East Bronx; St. Anthony, St. Paul, Rockland; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Ulster/Sullivan/Orange; St. Denis-St. Columba, Dutchess; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Northern Westchester/Putnam; Sacred Heart, Staten Island; and Our Lady of Victory, Central Westchester.
While activities may vary from school to school, among them are:
• Academic Clubs: general tutoring, reading or math-specific tutoring, homework club, foreign language, journalism
• Performing Arts Clubs: theater/drama, dance, piano, choir
• Sports/Games: basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, golf, taekwondo, chess
• Other Activities: coding, robotics, arts and crafts, cooking, sewing, leadership/government
• Quiet time for students to do their homework
• Unstructured play time, and, weather-permitting, outdoor play time
“Our belief is that the words learning and fun can absolutely co-exist in the same sentence,” Dr. McNiff said.
The Enhanced Special Education Program will be piloted at Our Lady Star of the Sea, St. Adalbert’s, and Holy Rosary, on Staten Island; St. Frances de Chantal, Northeast/East Bronx; and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Northwest/South Bronx.
It is designed for inclusion of special needs students, no matter how they learn.
While all the schools make accommodations for students with special needs, a targeted investment is being made in the five schools.
In a survey administered to more than 500 parents/guardians across the archdiocese, families from the Bronx and Staten Island had the most need for an enhanced special education program.
While its schools already offer programs that can adapt instruction to each child’s level of learning, the pilot will also offer families:
• a dedicated Resource Room and Integrated Co-Teaching Model (ICT), where certified special education teachers can help children who have a learning disability, speech and/or language impairment, mild autism and other health impairments, and who are significantly below their grade levels, improve their learning.
• The Wilson Fundations Program, a provider of research-based reading and spelling programs for students in kindergarten through second grade. It offers a multisensory, structured curricula.
• A rotating educational coach who can assist children with the social learning components related to their disability.
• Professional development for current teaching staff members to augment their ability to work with children with learning and physical disabilities.
Subsequent town hall meetings were held for parents in the Bronx and on Staten Island. “Many parents are looking to have their children experience a Catholic education in an inclusive model, meaning they want their child in the traditional Catholic elementary school, but to have certain accommodations available to assist their child,” Dr. McNiff said.
“These would be children who, as an example, may have challenges with reading, learning math concepts or other learning disabilities, but it’s not to the point that they cannot function in the traditional classroom, but they need something extra.”
A model is already in place, Dr. McNiff said, at St. Adalbert’s on Staten Island, which has offered the inclusion method for a number of years.
“What it will necessitate,” the superintendent of schools said, “is our ability to hire a full-time special ed teacher and a part-time school psychologist” at each of the five schools.
The job description for the special-ed teacher will be three-fold, he explained: “one, work their way into the traditional classroom and assist these children while they’re in the classroom; two, be available in a separate resource center for those times when a pullout program is needed; and three, do continuous professional development for all of the other classroom teachers working with special needs children.”
The school psychologist has a two-fold mission, he said: when behavioral or emotional problems occur, to be there to assist both teacher and student, and provide continuous professional development for the classroom teachers.
“This is not going to just benefit the children who have these learning needs,” Dr. McNiff said. “The diversity that they bring to our schools is going to benefit all children. You have to know how to embrace, accept and work with diversity, which certainly includes people who learn and work differently.
“It’s what our Catholic faith asks and expects of us.”
Information: Bilingual Parent Call Center, (646) 794-2885; catholicschoolsny.org/after-school; catholicschoolsny.org/special-ed.