Cardinal O’Connor School ‘Shows Us What Catholic Schools Are All About’

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Evan Breen and Anthony Romeo entered John Cardinal O’Connor School in Irvington with a learning need to enhance their reading skills. Now, the eighth-graders enjoy reading and are waiting to learn if they’ll be accepted at Iona Preparatory School for the fall term.

Evan and Anthony are two of the 70 students enrolled at the John Cardinal O’Connor School for children with learning needs.

“Before I came here, it was really hard for me to read. When I came here, they slowed it down and took me step by step to help me read. Now, I love reading,” Evan said.

Anthony added, “I like reading now and it made me develop more ability I didn’t know I had. Overall, it’s a great school.”

Cardinal Dolan visited the school Jan. 27 during Catholic Schools Week.  He celebrated Mass for students, staff and guests at Immaculate Conception Church before touring the school and attending a reception there.

Cardinal Dolan, in his homily, said he was happy to be visiting because of his love for John Cardinal O’Connor School. The cardinal noted that Jan. 27 was also the feast of St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline Sisters and a Catholic school teacher herself.

“I guess the real reason I’m so happy to be here is because the Cardinal O’Connor School shows us what Catholic schools are all about,” he said. “It’s a place of love and it’s a place of teaching.”

The John Cardinal O’Connor School was once St. Ursula’s Learning Center in Mount Vernon for children with emotional needs before becoming a school for students with learning needs and moving into the former Immaculate Conception School in Irvington in 2009.

The school’s 70 students are enrolled in grades two through eight in the school, which costs $15,310.

The student to staff ration is 6 to 1 this academic year. Staff will assist students battling issues such as dyslexia, speech and language problems, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and social anxiety, to gain confidence and build their knowledge and skills to study successfully at their grade level.

The school day begins at 8:20 a.m. and concludes at 2:30 p.m. Students will take reading and math in the morning, plus one other class before taking a 20-minute lunch and 20-minute recess.

Students have three periods of instruction after lunch and recess. They are given instruction in social studies, science, religion and writing workshop. The school offers enrichment programs such as art and music once a week, physical education three times a week and an optional band program once a week.

Teachers are certified in special education and use multisensory teaching techniques where two or more senses are used in the learning process. 

Once students complete eighth grade, they’ll attend public schools in their home district or Catholic high schools such as Mount St. Michael Academy in the Bronx, Iona Preparatory School and The Ursuline School, both in New Rochelle, Sacred Heart High School in Yonkers, and Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale.

“We give them the skills and strategy to take with them to high school to be successful and to self-advocate for what they need to learn,” said Kristen O’Leary, who has served as principal for five years.

“For me, it’s a blessing to come to work every day. It’s amazing to see the children coming up the hallway and coming to our office to say how successful they were on a test.”

Many students have set their goals beyond high school.

“The majority of our children would hope to go to college, if not a four-year school, at least two years,” said Kimberly Cinguina, the school’s assistant principal. “They’re high functioning kids with a great deal of potential.”

Students come from Westchester and Rockland counties as well as the Bronx and Manhattan.

Evan Breen and Anthony Romeo are both from Westchester County and believe they’re well prepared for high school.

“The school has really helped me,” Anthony said. “I’m really surprised it did. I think I’m ready for high school too and that’s what I was most scared about.”

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