Tappan Hill School Graduation
Tappan Hill Graduation and Moving-Up Ceremony
Tappan Hill Celebrates Two Graduates and Two Students Moving Up to Other SWBOCES Programs
Steven and Leah started in Southern Westchester BOCES programs when they were in elementary school. On June 17, Tappan Hill School celebrated their successes and wished them well as they transition into adult programs.
The ceremony was also a send-off for students Larry Montaleza and Emily Levendos, who will attend other SWBOCES programs next year.
“At Tappan Hill, we see our students’ abilities, not disabilities,” Principal Phyllis Rizzi said. “We are very proud of our graduates and their accomplishments.”
To kick off the event, Steven and Christopher Thompson, who is also in teacher Errol Rivera’s class for students with multiple disabilities, recited the pledge of allegiance. Jesus Popoca, another friend in the program, waved an American flag. Brooke Slater, a younger student at Tappan Hill, impressed the audience with her performance of Andra Day’s inspirational song “Rise Up.”
Next, teacher Kathy Knudsen awarded moving-up certificates to Larry and Emily.
“Larry lives his life with a huge smile on his face and endless love in his heart,” she said. “I will miss his daily hugs, his spontaneous gifts of flowers and artwork, his huge smile, and despite my best efforts, his insistence on calling me ‘teacher.’”
As for Emily, she “entered our class on a ray of sunshine and that sunshine follows her everywhere she goes,” Ms. Knudsen said. “Emily can cheer you up when you’re not quite yourself and she can make you laugh when happiness is just outside of your reach.”
Ms. Knudsen said Emily would be remembered at Tappan Hill as the girl with the blue fingernails. But more so, “she will be remembered as the girl with the greatest personality to ever pass through this building.”
The two high school graduates – Steven and Leah – created slideshows about their lives and plans for the future.
“I go outside and look at my surroundings, play soccer with my friends, and hide and go seek with my brother Anthony,” Steven said. “I watch TV with my dog, Marshmallow, and I go to the movies with my mom, Martina, and my dad, Guillermo.”
Activities that he enjoyed at Tappan Hill include spelling lessons, being with friends, talking with staff members, helping Jesus with breakfast, and assisting Mr. Rivera around the classroom. His disliked staying indoor during the winter and playing with Play-Doh.
Steven said his future plans are to find a way to travel to outer space, be a cook at his parents’ restaurant, and travel to Canada with his family.
His mother, Martina Arellano, said he had a good experience at Tappan Hill School. “It’s a good program for everyone here,” she said.
Steven, Christopher and Jesus recently received recognition for their volunteerism with RISE, or Readiness thru Integrated Service Engagement, which is a program of Volunteer New York! They have worked with mentors on projects that included creating candy bags with inspirational notes for police officers and firefighters, as well as academic kits for families with young children.
They have spread kindness throughout the school by making and delivering arrangements of artificial flowers, which is part of the school’s pre-vocational skills program. Jesus created the graduation arrangement that was displayed at the base of the lectern.
Leah’s slideshow, which Mr. Rivera narrated, said that her mother and teacher are some of her biggest supporters.
Mr. Rivera said Leah knows her way around the building, and her life skills include peeling and cutting fruit, and helping in the school office.
“In case we need someone in the office, she’s been able to fill in with Sandra Bristow, her support staff, and to buzz people in,” he said. “So she knew the secrets.”
Leah did really well with the help of Ms. Bristow at her side, Mr. Rivera said. “We had a very wonderful year working with her and we’re really going to miss her,” he said of the graduate.
In addition to certificates of completion, both graduates received Bobby Newman awards of $100. Bobby was a special education student who died in a tragic accident. His family established the scholarship to help young men and women with special needs who are transitioning out of SWBOCES programs.
“We’re very excited to give that to them as a gift,” Ms. Rizzi said.