Staten Island Academy is highly regarded for its progressive and unique curriculum. Striving to teach subjects that are often considered out of the mainstream, yet an equally important part of a child’s education, the expansion of the ASL (American Sign Language) program in the Lower School reflects a desire to be inclusive and the development of a wider range of learning.
While some people approach ASL as an interesting challenge, others must incorporate it in their daily life. Mrs. Rifi, Kindergarten teacher, ASL teacher and parent of three SIA students, was born into a family with two deaf parents. Sign language was her first language. She believes that teaching children ASL as young as three or four years old “is very beneficial to them, helping them express themselves in different ways.” She tells her young students that instead of acting out, to use sign language to communicate, “I am mad.” Another benefit to teaching children ASL at a young age is helping them speak out when they are scared to do so verbally.
Learning ASL – even at a beginner level – enables students to develop the skills to communicate with people who do not use spoken word, and to reflect on one’s own life. Mrs. Rifi’s efforts, and the success of the program altogether, have prompted the hiring of a full-time ASL teacher, Aurelia Casey. Now taught throughout the Lower School, young students are able to connect with those that they otherwise would not be able to. Through this more interactive approach to learning, lower school students can take the knowledge they have accumulated and apply it outside of the classroom, communicate with others in a new way, and laugh while doing it!
You may have seen a group of sweaty kids running laps around the soccer field or the campus. Have you ever won was SIA’s legendary Cross Country Team in action. This year, we were led by fearless captain Sam T. ‘19 and cross country enthusiast Ethan P. ’20 (yes, that is me). Though our Tigers didn’t win first place, they didn’t go home with their heads drowned in defeat. Our Tigers went home in triumph, having made major accomplishments this season. Through hard work and dedication (from most), each team member crossed the finish line at least five minutes less than they did for their first meet. From wearing short shorts to wondering if Gio and David were lost or kidnapped, our Cross Country Team bonded over many memorable experiences. Though the team will have to part with their captain since college is taking her away, they will carry on her legacy and continue sprinting across that finish line in Van Cortlandt Park.
Ethan P. ‘20
Known for its long tradition, its one-of-a-kind culture and its distinguished alumni, Staten Island Academy has been a staple in our community for almost a century and a half. When Mr. Albert Cauz became the Head of School seven years ago, he had a new vision for the school, one that was innovative and ingenious. He got to work quickly and assembled a committee who formulated a five-year plan with three crucial objectives. First, a new academic building was to be built to sustain the fast-moving educational climate around us. Next, an increased endowment for financial aid was to be established to make it possible for any qualified student to get equal access to our integrated curriculum. Lastly, adding more specialists to our growing Patrick Academic Resource Center (PARC) rounds out the Renaissance Campaign. These three tenets would emphasize SIA’s “school metric.” Standardized test scores tend to track income and background of the school students are coming from. Mr. Cauz believes the best metric for quality of an independent school is relationships; relationships among students and relationships between students and teachers.
The Renaissance Campaign is literally a “rebirth” of core educational values and skills fine-tuned to modern times. Mr. Cauz wants the campaign to emphasize three different ideals that he believes makes a great student and a successful adult. The first is discrete skills, the ones that aren’t outwardly apparent. He wants critical thinking and intellectual curiosity to become part of the school, for students to grow into natural problem solvers, ready for everything that the world has to throw at them when they graduate from SIA. Next, he wants to emphasize the importance of mastery and show students that grades are not everything and knowledge is key. Lastly, it is important for students to realize that failure is temporary and can be prevented in the future. The central academic building will put emphasis on those three important principles.
Inside the building will be eight new classrooms, one flexible space and several learning hubs. The purpose of the new building is to create comfortable spaces and instill confidence in students to push limits and set high standards. The learning hubs will be in the center of four of the new classrooms and self-directed and will feature writable walls and private study rooms. Mr. Cauz wants to integrate all different curriculums and have resources at arms reach. Besides the new building, there will be a new change to the curriculum. For juniors and seniors, there will be an optional year-long senior signature project which will be similar to a college thesis. This will prepare those who are ready for intensive research and passion-driven projects that they will encounter at the next level of education.
The goal is simple. Strong academics. Strong admissions. Strong financial aid. Mr. Cauz and the Board want to “create an energy where we are going to be considered one of the top independent schools in New York City.” So far, we have reached over 60% of our ten million dollar goal. The intention is to break ground on the project by summer of 2020.
While I won’t be here to experience the place I love flourish and thrive, I know that the Lower and Middle Schoolers are lucky to be in a place that cares about their education, their relationships and their happiness. I can’t wait to watch SIA alumni run the world one day, knowing it all started at the little school up on the hill. Below is one possible conceptual design of the project in the Renaissance Campaign.