Joyful Graduation Celebrations at LSSNY

On June 29th, after a year of hard work and achievement, some 36 students from nursery school through college were recognized at a touching graduation recognition ceremony hosted by Children’s Services. Children from many local schools, including Saint Gregory the Great School, P.S. 149 Sojourner Truth, and DeWitt Clinton High School received certificates, presents and applause from a loving crowd of parents, friends and extended family. LSSNY’s Director of Support Services, Margaret Johnson, set the tone for the evening saying, “We are here for a night of love and praise and family and fun!”

As a special treat, five members of the JetBlue organization were on hand to distribute 10 bicycles to children who did exceptional work in school this past year. Don Klair, Maintenance General Manager; Vanessa Carrera, AOG (Aircraft on Ground) Controller; Karen Roa, Maintenance Control Duty Manager; Jan Lorenzen, Senior Engineer and Bernice Stevens, Senior Analyst Corporate Communications, are part of the JetBlue for Good Bike Build program, honoring Aviation Maintenance Technician Day by building bikes to donate to foster care kids. Through their partners at Together We Rise, a nonprofit that supports children in the foster care system, 10 kids walked home with new bikes and helmets.

Bernice and her colleagues announced the donation to the crowd. “We are here to honor some special students tonight,” she said as she called the children to pick up their bikes. The night was about overcoming adversity and challenges to push forth and to excell in school, with a goal of a brighter future. Damyn Kelly, LSSNY’s CEO and President congratulated the students and offered this wish for their future: “May you soar toward whatever dream you have for yourself.”

Earlier in the month, on June 22nd, The New LIFE School, a school in the Bronx for students with special needs, celebrated the graduation of nine students in its middle school graduation ceremony. For one graduate, Jahmila, being the class salutatorian was her proudest moment at TNLS. Jahmila came to TNLS in the summer of 2016; a girl with boundless energy, she initially struggled to develop positive peer and staff relationships. With the help of her grandmother, who worked with school staff to assist her transition, Jahmila acclimated well to the school’s specialized program. “Over time, Jahmila began to excel in both her academics and social-emotional functioning, and she’s now known for her infectious smile and bubbly personality,” said Rachel Kornfeld, TNLS Principal.

Students will continue to high school at TNLS, where they can choose to pursue several graduation options, including a Regents Diploma, a Local Diploma, or one of two Commencement Credentials: Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) or Skills and Achievement. Many students look forward to the culinary and barbering programs that are part of CDOS.

There were many more graduation ceremonies within our Early LIFE program as  four-year-olds moved up towards kindergarten in ceremonies within our 10 early childhood education centers.

Congratulations to all our students for the hard work and dedication they showed this year in their studies. May they have a joyful summer!

Teacher Professional Development: Innovation in the Classroom 

More and more, we hear educators talk about integrated curriculum, global classrooms and 21st century skills, but what do they mean to teachers—and to the students we serve in LSSNY’s educational programs?

Teachers at The New LIFE School, LSSNY’s Bronx school for 3rd to 12th graders with special needs, recently participated in a workshop on the use of blended learning to facilitate student-centered teaching methods. Blended learning is an education program that utilizes some online learning, in conjunction with classroom learning, to individualize student control over the time, place, path and/or pace of learning.

Marlene Lund, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Education Ministries (another ministry of Lutheran Social Services of New York) talked to some 50 teachers about ways they could adjust their mindset to incorporate the 4Cs of learning and innovation—Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity—into their classrooms. Marlene outlined ways that teachers could use blended learning to increase the amount of flexibility students have when approaching projects. She talked about integrated multi-media and technology tools that could be used in the classroom, explored the concept of multiple intelligences and student strengths, and gave an overview on key life and career skills needed for students entering the workforce.

“The teachers and support staff at TNLS showed commitment to their students and to the goals they’ve set for helping them develop not only academic skills, but strong social and emotional skills,” Marlene said.

As part of the workshop, Marlene asked teachers to respond to the following prompt: Draw, construct, and/or illustrate the traits that a student leaving TNLS will possess. After breaking up into small groups, teachers discussed what they hoped their students would achieve in the future. “It was exciting to see them look at their own learning styles and ‘create and define’ the student who would leave TNLS upon graduation,” Marlene said. “That type of reflection and goal setting is well-suited for a blended learning model.”

Teachers will now take these tools to their classrooms. Professional development workshops like these are one example of the way that new educational approaches are shared across LSSNY programs.

Family-Style Mealtime Program Brings New Flavors and Healthy Eating to Children 

Children need to be well-nourished to learn and do their best in a classroom. That’s why healthy foods, exercise and socialization during mealtimes are an important part of the daily routine of students at our Early LIFE Program. Young children often need repeated exposure to healthy foods to develop a preference for them, and our Early LIFE Nutrition Program plays a vital role in helping children grow up to be healthy adults. The program provides three healthy meals (breakfast, lunch and a snack), served family-style, during center hours, using fresh ingredients that meet USDA nutritional guidelines. Family-style mealtime helps promote healthy eating habits in a social setting so that students try new foods, share foods and socialize with each other during meals. As the Director of Health and Nutrition, Dana Yeary, points out, “With such a diverse community of children, there are equally diverse food preferences based on culture, religion and family tradition. With family-style mealtime, we are often exposing children to foods they are unfamiliar with. It may take a few tries before a child learns to like a new fruit or vegetable.” Meals are planned to include both foods that are familiar to the populations we serve and new items.

Children aren’t the only ones trying new foods. Parents are encouraged to participate in nutrition workshops, like Summer Smoothie Making, and to volunteer in the classroom during mealtimes. Likewise, teachers eat with the children. In this relaxing environment, children take turns serving themselves and sharing bowls of foods with their friends. Aminah Goldsmith, Head Teacher in an Early LIFE classroom at 510 West 145th Street, follows a familiar routine with the children. They get ready for lunch by washing their hands and setting the table. Once the food is brought in, the teacher reminds them to take the amount they want to eat and share the rest with their friends. During a recent visit, the children served themselves lasagna, salad, whole wheat bread and nectarines. Several of the children initially thought it was spaghetti, but Ms. Goldsmith talked about the differences between lasagna and spaghetti, and asked them whether they liked it. “It takes a while for kids to get used to new fruits and vegetables. They are sometimes afraid to try new foods,” said Ms. Goldsmith. Education Coordinator, Cherrie Heartfield, said of the family-style mealtime program, “Overall, I’ve noticed that the kids are eating a wider variety of foods. We take into consideration what teachers are saying about the foods that children like. They love seasonal fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe—love it!”

The meals are connected to other learning that takes place in the classroom. Several of the children were fascinated by the seeds in the cucumber slices they were eating. As Ms. Goldsmith pointed out, they look at seeds in a new way since using them during planting lessons several months ago. As a result of planting lima bean seeds, several large lima bean plants are now growing in the classroom, and students are making the connection between seeds, planting and the food they eat.

With a host of benefits—better nutrition, opportunities to socialize, academic learning and the joy of a good meal—family-style mealtime is a huge success in the Early LIFE program!


Executive Director for Residential Services, Ray Gonzalez, Attends Family Homelessness Summit

Reducing homelessness has long been a cornerstone mission of LSSNY. Under the guidance of Ray Gonzalez, Executive Director for Residential Services, LSSNY serves more than 450 residents in five supportive housing facilities. The facilities, in Brooklyn and the Bronx, serve both individuals and families, providing a host of services, including case management, daily living skill building, financial management, public benefits advocacy, job development and vocational training, crisis intervention, peer support and mental and medical health services. Mr. Gonzalez, who also manages a Non-Secure Detention for adolescent boys in Brooklyn, draws on his extensive experience as a community and housing activist to guide youth, children, families and adults to a more secure home life, with a sense of independence and dignity. Since 2000, he has helped LSSNY develop a diverse roster of housing development projects for the formerly homeless.

On June 19, Mr. Gonzalez attended a Family Homelessness Summit sponsored by the Citizens’ Committee for Children, Enterprise Community Partners and New Destiny Housing. Panel members at the summit presented research findings and recommendations from a nearly year-long task force project that examined the status of homeless families and children. Key task force findings included the fact that nearly 70% of the people in the City’s shelter system are children and their families, and that half the children in these shelters are under six years old. “It’s important to stay connected with the larger housing advocacy and development community. We share research, discuss service delivery models and form alliances and partnerships to create new projects to meet the increasing need for housing and supportive services,” said Mr. Gonzalez. “This summit was especially important because it focused on supporting the mental health and wellness of families and children within the larger homelessness system of shelters and housing.”

Speakers at the summit included researchers from the Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth and the Center for Social Innovation, and a government panel with Steven Banks (Commissioner, NYC Department of Social Services), NYC Council Member Stephen Levin, and Maria Torres-Springer (Commissioner, NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development). Service Providers discussed best practices for service delivery models and the need for aftercare and follow-up with families leaving shelters to enter stable, permanent homes, and included representatives from Monadnock Development, Gateway Housing, the Henry Street Settlement and CAMBA.

For more information on the task force findings, download the report here:

Meet Some of our Talented Summer Interns

We are fortunate that summertime brings with it a group of talented and eager student interns who work throughout LSSNY to help program and administrative staff with a host of projects. Zohaib Ahmad and Mariam Diabate are two of the interns who have joined LSSNY’s main office as part of our summer intern program.

Zohaib is an intern in the Research & Quality Improvement division of LSSNY. He is currently conducting analytical research and data analysis on the agency’s compliance data. He’s also examining the outreach and enrollment efforts of one of our newest initiatives—Health Home Care Management Services. Zohaib is a freshman at Adelphi University where he is majoring in biology. He plans to become a doctor like his father who is a pharmacologist at Rikers Island Prison Complex. Zohaib hopes to practice geriatric medicine. In his spare time, he volunteers at a nursing home.

Zohaib’s Favs
Favorite movie: Bajrangi Bhaijaan
Favorite song: Enchanted (Taylor Swift)
Favorite food: Butter chicken
Admires: His sister, who helps him all the time and provides great moral support

Mariam is an intern in our HR department. She currently attends Monroe College where she studies business and accounting. Her long-term goal is to pursue a master’s degree and then start her own business back home in West Africa. Since she started work at LSSNY, she’s been impressed by the teamwork and communication within the HR department, and says that understanding the employment practices of a large organization like LSSNY will be helpful to her future entrepreneurial aspirations.

Mariam’s Favs
Favorite movie: The Fast and Furious
Favorite song: Ma Vie A Changer (Babani Kone)
Favorite food: Rice and any African food
Admires: Her mom, for having the strength to raise three girls as a single mom.

Check back next month when we feature profiles of several other new interns, including two from Korea—Yoonhee Kim and Karen Kim (Advancement & Communications).