By Rich Bockmann
Teachers, staff and proud students at PS 159 put the icing on the cake of their 2011 National Blue Ribbon Schools Award last Thursday with an assembly celebrating the Bayside school’s recognition as one of the best in the nation.
“Are you happy to go to school here?” asked state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), to which an excited auditorium full of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders responded with a unified and enthusiastic, “Yes!”
“Are you proud of your teachers and students?” asked the senator, one of the day’s keynote speakers.
In September, the U.S. Department of Education announced that PS 159, at 205-01 33rd Ave., was one of 315 schools in the country — and one of five in New York City — to receive the award, which recognizes schools based on overall academic excellence and success in closing achievement gaps.
The elementary school is a Title 1 school, with 33 percent of students receiving free lunches and 10 percent being English language learners, according to Principal Paul DiDio.
Former Principal Marlene Zucker, Assistant Principal Andrew Pecorella and computer teacher Greta Chow-Woo traveled to Washington, D.C., two days earlier where they were formally presented with the award.
“We were not selected by chance,” said Zucker, who retired at the end of last year after 20 years of service to the school. “The United States Secretary of Education, Mr. Arne Duncan, selected 159 … in recognition of the phenomenal education that we provide in every classroom every day.”
Students decorated their award-winning school with blue ribbons tied to the fence outside and decorating classroom doors with paper blue ribbons they signed their names to. The assembly — attended by representatives from City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), District 26 Superintendent Anita Saunders and school officials — was simultaneously broadcast to kindergarteners to second-graders in the school’s gym.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) congratulated parents, teachers and students and encouraged them to “keep this going and make sure our school continues to be recognized as one of the best in the country.
The school received the award, in part, for forming partnerships within the school community. Zucker said the school’s social worker made contact with the faculty of the private Lowell School, a block away, and arranged for their 11th- and 12th-graders to tutor PS 159’s kindergarten and first-grade students.
“They’re in such close proximity, it’s a great partnership,” she said. “Our teachers volunteered, and [Lowell students] were like big brothers and sisters who worked with our lower-grade students. They read to them, helped them with their homework and just talked to them. The kids looked forward to their visit every day.”
Student Council President Mileni Casal thanked her teachers and the myriad of support staff members who made the award possible, and encouraged her fellow students to keep the effort going.
“This award proves that when you work hard and do your very best work, great things can happen,” the fifth-grader said.
After the assembly, students were treated to cupcakes topped with blue icing.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.