Family Connections Offer Lesson at Century-Old Staten Island School

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Vincent Sadowski, principal at St. Patrick’s School on Staten Island, leads a school community where many of today’s students are following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents.

“The best part of St. Patrick’s School, the unique part, is the family connection – the amount of alumni that send their children here. The parents of about 30 to 40 percent of our students went here,” Sadowski said in an interview with Catholic New York, adding that the grandparents of several students graduated from the parish school.

“There is a lot of family involvement; they are very committed to the school,” said the principal, who added that volunteers are never in short supply.

The school opened in September 1919, so staff, students and parents are marking its 100th anniversary this year. With 396 students in pre-K through grade 8, St. Patrick’s is located in the historic Richmondtown district.

The school has strong and faithful ties to the 157-year-old parish community. St. Patrick’s Church is just a few blocks away on St. Patrick’s Place. The Sisters of St. Dorothy served the school from its start until last year. The last nun to serve as principal was Sister Mary Ferro, S.S.D., who retired in 2008 after a 22-year tenure. The anniversary activities have included a Mass celebrated in the fall by Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara, followed by a breakfast. There will also be an anniversary barbecue in June, and Cardinal Dolan will celebrate a Mass to mark the centennial next fall.

The school offers a range of academic, sports and extracurricular programs. Among them is the daily STEM Lab (for grades 5-8) that began four years ago when Sadowski came on board as principal. Once a week, kindergarteners are in the STEM Lab for introductory projects.

“It gets them to think critically. They have the Sphero robots, and the students can program them with their iPads,” Sadowski noted. “We have two new 3-D printers in there, also. We have six lab tables, and two collaborative STEM tables, and 15 microscopes.”

Danielle Tornabene, the STEM Lab teacher, noted the students learn from their mistakes; she reminds them that the best part of STEM Lab is “you get to do it again. They are very enthusiastic, and the parents love it.”

“After we do a project, everybody gets a chance to present theirs,” Ms. Tornabene noted during one of her classes. “The (STEM Lab) program is growing. The students really get to think outside the box.”

One of her students, seventh-grader Gabrielle Williamsen, 13, said she has enjoyed many of the projects, including building a tower made from spaghetti last year.

“I enjoy mostly working as a team with my classmates, and learning all the interesting projects that we do,” Gabrielle told CNY moments after she and two fellow students gave a class presentation with the cardboard prosthetic hand they created.

“Ms. Tornabene is a great science teacher…Our prosthetic hand is made out of cardboard, string, glue and duct tape, and straws.”

Also of note is the school’s after-school theater arts program; students performed “Cinderella” in November, and the next planned production is “Grease Junior” in March.

Nicole Grasso is the school’s theater arts director. “The students work hard. We try to make it as professional as possible,” said Ms. Grasso, noting how many parents volunteer their time and talents to help with production. “It’s a lot work, but it’s fun.”

With her were eighth-graders Sofia Borgognone and Timothy Gannon, both 13, who played Cinderella and the prince. “I loved it. It was a lot of fun. I was sad because it was over,” Sofia said.

Timothy noted, “I’ve made friends that are four years older than me, and I’ve made friends that are four years younger than me.”

Leolanie Jensen is president of the school’s Parents Organization. Her seventh-grade son, Keoni, 12, is a STEM Lab student and has participated in theater arts, playing the coachman who held the glass slipper before Cinderella tried it on. His smiling mom was very proud of his portrayal.

“And he loves science—science is one of his fortes,” said Mrs. Jensen, adding that her family is very happy to be part of the school’s 100th-anniversary celebration. “I think it’s amazing; it’s so nice,” she said of the school community.

The pastor, Msgr. Jeffrey P. Conway, said the school plays a big role in the life of the parish. “We are a successful school. St. Patrick’s has a lot of people who stay. People put down their roots and they stay here.”

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