American Dreamer Awards Honor Center for Special Services' Educational Partners
Center for Special Services American Dreamer Awards
SWBOCES Honors Nine People for Supporting Special Needs Students
Center for Special Services Hosts American Dreamer Event to Thank Educators, Community Members
Kind, welcoming, passionate, inclusive, supportive, creative and generous. These are some of the words Center for Special Services staff used to describe nine individuals who have made a difference in Southern Westchester BOCES students’ lives.
The occasion was the American Dreamer Achievement Awards Luncheon, which took place May 15 at the Valhalla Campus. The event, which is in its 27th year, recognizes educators, students and community members SWBOCES who are partners in the organization’s mission of providing quality educational services.
Culinary Arts students prepared and served the meal, which had a red, white and blue theme. It included salad with beets, jicama and blueberries; red, white and blue potato salad; panko-crusted chicken paillard; broccoli; and blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream.
Pocantico Hills Superintendent Carol Conklin-Spillane, who is retiring at the end of June, was recognized for creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for Center for Special Services students at her school.
“Carol has been an amazing partner to BOCES to me and to our students during the time that we’ve been together,” said Jessica Walker, principal of SWBOCES at Pocantico Hills. “She set a tone of inclusivity and collaboration. She made them really feel at home.”
Ms. Conklin-Spillane, who started her career as a special education teacher, thanked SWBOCES for the award. “We have made so much progress in this field. We have so much to be proud of and grateful for,” she said.
SWBOCES at St. Matthew’s Principal Will Guterman gave an award to Marcos Montiel, head of maintenance for the building.
“He is always there and willing to help our students,” Mr. Guterman said. “He incorporates our students into projects that need to be done.”
Mr. Montiel said he teaches students how to vacuum, clean windows, throw out garbage and complete other tasks. “It makes me very happy because they learn to work and do things,” he said.
Maggie Donaghy, a St. Matt’s special education teacher, presented an award to Steve Clark, store manager of CVS on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. He is welcoming and kind to St. Matt’s students, who visit frequently.
“He knows all my students by name, and when I bring in students from another class, he knows their names too,” she said.
Mr. Clark said he was thankful for the American Dreamer Award. “It you take the best part of you and you give it to somebody and they take away that part, that’s what counts,” he said.
Asia O’Kane of Mamaroneck, who graduates from Rye Lake High School next month, received an award for overcoming adversity and working hard to pursue her dreams.
“Over the years, I’ve really seen her grown into such a wonderful and passionate person,” said Scott Kaufman, principal of Rye Lake Middle/High School. “It’s a pleasure when we have the opportunity to speak about Asia. This is the product of what we aspire to do for children.”
Asia, 17, plans to major in art and design at Westchester Community College and transfer to a four-year college. She wants to pursue a career in graphic design.
Asia, who was nominated by school psychologist Rachelle Kritzer, said she was thankful for the award and proud of herself for making so much progress. “I was 100% different when I started at Rye Lake,” she said. “I did a 180.”
Mr. Kaufman also gave an award to Caroline Letendre, director for special education at Yonkers Public Schools. Although she has hundreds of students placed out of district, she knows a great deal about all of them. “I’ve seen her just speak so passionately to parents, teachers and the students and really drive education to what that student needs,” he said.
Ms. Letendre dedicated the award to others at the ceremony. “I am a big dreamer and I also believe each one of us has a dream,” she said. “So when I talk passionately, it’s because I really believe in our students and in all of you.”
Allison Emig, principal of the Decagon and lower campus at Rye Lake, also nominated Ms. Letendre.
Penny Knack, school psychologist for SWBOCES at Irvington High School, nominated cafeteria staff member Fran Lauer. Ms. Lauer goes out of her way to be kind to students, whether it be buying them lunch if they forgot their money or having informal chats, Dr. Knack said.
Tappan Hill School Principal Phyllis Rizzi and special education teacher Errol Rivera presented an award to Patti Colombo, manager of the Volunteer New York! RISE program – Readiness thru Integrated Service Engagement. RISE finds volunteer placements for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
After a successful food drive for Volunteer New York! in November 2017, RISE worked with Tappan Hill to create a mentorship program in which volunteers work with multiply disabled students at Tappan Hill. They have made neck wraps, school readiness kits and treat bags for firefighters and police officers.
Their next project incorporates the pre-vocational skills the Tappan Hill students have been developing by making floral arrangements. RISE mentors will help them create small floral bouquets for nursing homes and outreach programs for the elderly.
Ms. Colombo said she was happy to include Tappan Hill students in the RISE program. “You inspire us every day, so we are happy to dream along with all of you,” she said.
Tappan Hill School also nominated Jo-Anne Dobbins, director of special education and pupil personnel services for Elmsford schools, and district special education teacher Rachel Newman. When Ms. Rizzi inquired about an inclusion opportunity for students, Ms. Dobbins helped arrange a program in which Tappan Hill and Elmsford children participate each month in a gym class and classroom activities at Alice E. Grady Elementary School.
“It warms your heart,” Ms. Rizzi said of the unique initiative. “And it also gives us a partnership with a neighboring component district. So we’re so happy, we’re so thankful.”
Tappan Hill gym teacher Diane Storm and special education teacher Adriane Lomupo nominated Ms. Newman. “It’s a wonderful experience to see my students and her students interact. She has taken my kids and welcomed them with open arms,” Ms. Lomupo said at the luncheon. “She has treated them as her own and it’s been a wonderful experience.”