Ogden Elementary School fosters a family-like community

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Over the past 10 years, Dr. Dina Anzalone, the principal of Ogden Elementary School in South Valley Stream, has, by all accounts, turned the building into a loving community, and has maintained its family feel, despite the obstacles brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

When Anzalone was offered the job a decade ago, she was hesitant, because, by most accounts at the time, parents were unhappy and staff morale was low due to the school’s lack of a community environment.

“I was thinking, what did I get myself into?” Anzalone recalled. Since then, she has focused on listening, and building relationships to turn the school community into what many Ogden staff, kids and parents would call a family. “This building is such a happy place from the minute you walk in the door,” Anzalone said, “and that’s not something that happened overnight.”

Working closely with parents has been a large part of rejuvenating the school’s reputation over the years. “If you can’t build trusting relationships with people,” Anzalone said, “you can’t make anything happen.”

Ogden has maintained a sense of community through the height of the pandemic and social distancing. Over the past two years, school officials were challenged to think outside the box in order to maintain a sense of normalcy, with a goal of continuing to host programs and events that students could enjoy.

“The main takeaway, I feel, from Ogden, is what a partnership we have between PTA and Dr. Anzalone and her staff and teachers,” said Nicole Eliopoulos, a co-president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association. “The collaboration is incredible, and we are very blessed to work with such an amazing administrator.”

Anzalone worked with ideas from parents, staff and students to plan 2020 virtual events such as a Valentine’s Bake War, a Family Paint Night, a Shark Tank Invention Fair, an online Scholastic Book Fair, a Family Yoga Night and others.

Last year’s non-virtual but socially distanced events included a Thanksgiving Day Parade, a Drive-By Trunk or Treat, a Holiday Electric Light Festival, which will be happening again this year, and a Winter Wonderland Skate Night.

Some of the ideas came from Ogden’s third- to fifth-graders. “The students also know that their voices are heard here,” Anzalone said.

The Ogden PTA has enthusiastically supported the events with money and manpower. The biggest recent fundraising event was the Fall Y’all festival on Oct. 28.

From one end of the campus to the other there were attractions including inflatable slides, pedal-powered go-karts, a DJ and a live band, games of cornhole and gaga (a variant of dodgeball) and food — barbecued burgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, cotton candy, ice cream, apple cider. The outdoor event felt like a return to normal, attracted 450 or so parents, students and staff with Covid restrictions eased.

Jackie Froymovich, a PTA member, has been involved in the district for 15 years. Her daughter, Claudia, a third-grader, cannot get enough of Ogden, her mother said, and wishes she could sleep there.

A large part of Froymovich’s motivation to be involved in the PTA is her love for the school. She noted the family feel, and credited it to Anzalone, whom Froymovich described as “warm, loving, enriching [and] inclusive.”

Ogden’s upcoming events include the Nov. 23 Thanksgiving Day Parade, for which parents will decorate their cars as they did in 2020, and the Dec. 21 Holiday Electric Light Festival, another 2020 event.

In keeping with the contemporary themes of diversity and inclusiveness, Anzalone said, “We do work hard, when we can, to accommodate the needs of all our students and to respect their differences.”

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