Rockville Centre Education Foundation to fund hands-on learning

$68,000 donation to cover 16 initiatives for 2018-19 school year


A donation of nearly $68,000 from the Rockville Centre Education Foundation is set to fund more than a dozen initiatives in the village’s seven schools in the coming year that are designed to enrich students’ learning experience.

Guest speakers, hands-on activities, electronic building sets and a trip to a “sensory gym” are among the experiences to be covered by the donation, which will be spread across 16 grants.

“The partnership that exists between the Rockville Centre Education Foundation and Rockville Centre schools is a rare one. It’s one that we take great pride in,” Chris Pellettieri, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said at a Board of Education meeting last month, when the donation was presented. “. . . Every dollar goes back to our students. It’s really a wonderful relationship.”

Since 1991, the Education Foundation has funded initiatives proposed by district teachers and school administrators to expand educational opportunities. Its annual fundraising gala, held this year on April 14 at the Cherry Valley Country Club in Garden City, is the primary source of funding for the programs. This year’s event brought in more than $70,000, which Audra Cerruto, the foundation’s president, noted was a record.

Lorrie Brady, the foundation’s vice president and a former school board trustee, presented the check to the district. “We’re really fortunate by the support that the community gives,” she said, “so this is reflective of a real communitywide endeavor.”

About $28,000 of the money will be earmarked for the funding of a third year of South Side High School’s Z-Space lab, which will allow students there to continue using virtual-reality computers to explore a variety of subjects.

Using 3-D glasses, students can immerse themselves in pre-made or teacher-created programs. The Education Foundation agreed to fund the interactive technology for three years, and the district will take on the costs of future curriculum, software updates and professional development as well.

Nearly $8,500 will go toward the purchase of Little Bits building sets in each of the five elementary schools. The kits include magnetic pieces that students can click together, allowing them to build and invent.

“The opportunity for kids to be hands-on, engineer something, problem-solve an issue,” Pellettieri said of the options the kits offer, which, he noted, is a trend in education. “I need to be able to get this thing from here to there, or this thing to pick up this thing and bring it over here.

“Kids love to try to figure those things out,” he continued, “and for us to be able to do it in school . . . I think those are just great opportunities.”

Other grants include $6,700 for a camera in the South Side Middle School auditorium that will allow students to create live and recorded televised feeds of school events; $800 for Sam Mihara, a survivor of a Japanese internment camp, to speak to students at Jennie E. Hewitt Elementary School; and a summer program at the Rockville Centre Public Library, which includes workshops run by the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum.

Gina Lukaszewski, who teaches special-education students in kindergarten through second grade at William S. Covert Elementary School, received both grants that she applied for, totaling about $2,000. Through a program called Bakers and Shakers, in which local bakers conduct kitchen classes that incorporate fine-motor skills and safety, her students can benefit from hands-on learning.

“It’s just following directions,” Lukaszewski said. “We do a little bit of math, a little bit of science, and they explain everything, [including] kitchen safety.”

A separate $850 grant will allow the school’s special-education students to more frequently visit Sensory Beans, a children’s gym in Wantagh that encourages sensory play and developmental growth, which Lukaszewski noted that her students with special needs especially enjoy.

“My kids just absolutely loved it,” she said, adding that they went once this past year. “There were slides and swings and just a lot of adaptive resources.” The physical activity is especially important in the winter months, she said, when there is no outdoor recess.

“They just give you an opportunity to expose the students to different experiences and situations,” Lukaszewski said of the Education Foundation. “For me, I’m then able to understand who they are as individuals, and hopefully teach them a little bit better in the classroom.”

Cerruto said that that grant in particular could potentially spur the district to explore the need for a “sensory gym” in Rockville Centre. “That’s the goal of the Education Foundation,” she said. “To try and find start-up projects to inspire the district to take over them and create new programs.”