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A School Graduation Proceeds Rain and Shine

IMG 4906The rain couldn't put a damper on anyone's mood at the Scarsdale Alternative School's senior graduation. Due to SAS's small size and personal nature, its graduating ceremony was touching and personalized. Each of the A School teachers presented on a handful of advisees, telling wonderful stories about each student until all 28 have been uniquely celebrated. Well, in this case, 29. Director of the A School and A School teacher, Howard Rodstein, graduated with the class of 2017 onto retirement. It was a very emotional occasion, filled with tears and hugs. Underclassmen also contributed by presenting gifts to the seniors and organizing the event. Though the ceremony had to be moved inside in the middle, it continued to be lovely. Senior Aaron Hirsch closed the ceremony with an address to his classmates, explaining as best as he could what the A School truly means.

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Same-Sex Parenting in Westchester

samesexparentsWhen I set out to write an article on same-sex parenting in Scarsdale, I did not expect to come back completely empty-handed. I received referrals for same-sex couples living in other nearby towns and I had people write to me saying they didn't know of any personally in Scarsdale but they'd be welcome and accepted with open arms. When I finally found a dad who was raising kids with his husband in Scarsdale and was willing to chat with me he ilet me know that there are actually four other gay couples raising children together within his area of Scarsdale. Is there anything that Scarsdale, as a village, can do to encourage more same-sex parents, parents-to-be and couples to move here? Is Scarsdale a "gay friendly" place to raise a family?

I had the opportunity to speak with him as well as two lesbian couples who are raising their kids in Edgemont and Mt. Vernon. Their names have been changed for privacy. Here is what they shared:

Lilly and her wife and moved to Edgemont in 2000; shortly thereafter their first child was born. "We moved from the city with the intent of having kids. We considered going to towns that had more diversity and other families with same-sex parents," she said. "We considered the river towns in Westchester as well as Montclair, New Jersey. We ultimately settled on Edgemont because we thought that even though we'd likely be the only same-sex couple here, we knew the schools were top notch and felt that although not diverse, people would be accepting of our less traditional family," she added. This actually turned out to be true on all fronts; Lilly and her wife have found Edgemont as a whole to be entirely accepting of their family and for the first 15 years here did not meet another gay couple in Edgemont.

Phoebe has been surprised at the number of gay couples she has met here in Westchester. She and her wife moved from Brooklyn after their first baby was born; like most, they needed to get out of the city and into the suburbs. "We picked lower Westchester for the commute and because it's a larger, educated population so we thought we'd probably feel less discrimination towards and more acceptance of our family," she said. They scouted the area, picked a home in Mt. Vernon and soon after had their second child. Their kids are now three and one and they are thinking of moving before the kids start elementary school to be in a better school system within Westchester.

I asked both women and the Scarsdale man how it has been so far raising kids in lower Westchester. "Starting in Kindergarten, we made it clear to the teachers that our child has two mothers," said Lilly. "From there it just became known and there was never a need to proactively announce it. No one ever flinched at all." Lilly and her wife were particularly impressed with Edgemont schools when it came time to make cards for mom/dad holidays. "They'd suggest that our kids make something for a grandfather or uncle for Father's Day and for Mother's Day they would come home with two cards, one for each of us." As far as other kids in Edgemont, "...we found that kids' values often reflect parents' values," Lilly responded. They did have fears that their kids would be bullied or singled out for having two moms but this never happened. "There have been some uncomfortable situations, like kids asking how it's even possible to have two moms," she added. She thinks Westchester County in general is accepting of LGBT families but that homophobia does still exist.

Phoebe and her wife have been pleasantly surprised with their reception in Westchester. "We've met quite a few gay couples and met two PTA heads at private religious schools that are both same-sex parents. I run the LGBT Tri-State Facebook group which has put us in touch with similar families all over Westchester. We've met LGBT people who live with their families in Yonkers, Dobbs Ferry, Eastchester, Tuckahoe, White Plains...they're everywhere." She added, "I don't think we are facing anything different here than we'd be facing anywhere else." Phoebe did once recall going to a fundraiser where a guy who had too much to drink cornered them and asked when he could meet the father. "I think he meant it as a joke," Phoebe said, "but it definitely set us back a bit." Although Phoebe didn't think it's specific to Westchester, she said that one of the hardest things for gay couples with kids is if your child doesn't biologically resemble you. This is likely an issue for parents of adopted children who are a different race or ethnicity. "People often feel like they have a right to ask uncomfortable questions."

The Scarsdale man thinks that Scarsdale is a fabulous place to raise kids as a same-sex couple. He has absolutely no complaints and believes the situation couldn't be more ideal. As a member of the community, he thinks it's a total non-issue being gay in the community. It has been remarkably inclusive. At school he has noticed that mother's day is referred to as parents' day and various inclusive book suggestions have come home that they appreciated.

Are there other towns in Westchester that seem to have more gay couples? Lilly responded, "We have friends in New Rochelle who are gay and they're definitely not the only ones in that town like we are in our town. The river towns have more diversity and more same-sex couples. That being said, I was recently out walking our dog and I bumped into a couple of guys who are a gay couple in Edgemont. They don't have kids and as far as I know they are the only other same-sex couple in-town." Phoebe lives in Mt. Vernon but sends her daughter to preschool in Bronxville. "Bronxville has never really felt comfortable for us," she said. "It has always seemed kind of stuffy. Everyone seems to love Pelham!" The Scarsdale man said that Montclair, NJ is becoming a hub for same-sex couples raising kids.

Noel D'Allacco sits on Rob Astorino's LGBT Advisory Board for Westchester County. Although not gay herself, she has been on the board for 3-4 years and advises the County Executive in cases of possible discrimination. There have been almost no issues during her tenure on the board. However during this year's gay pride parade in White Plains, cars were vandalized with hateful messages against gay people. "The biggest issues in Westchester County surrounding gay people are really with the youth counseling services and supportive things like that," Noel voiced. She encouraged anyone seeking support and a community to check out the Loft in White Plains.

So, it seems that Scarsdale remains a progressive community that has been inclusive and accepting of families with same-sex parents and would be welcome more same-sex couples/LGBT families. The Scarsdale man said that it would help for straight couples to proactively discuss the possibility of kids having two moms or two dads with school-age children. He isn't sure what the community could do to invite more same-sex couples to consider Scarsdale as a place to live and raise a family but he thought this article could help position Scarsdale as an inclusive and comfortable place to be gay and raise a family. Mostly, he wanted to say a big thank you to Scarsdale for doing exactly that.

Residents React to School Facilities Survey

taskvideoA survey about school facilities that was sent to district residents following a presentation by the new district architects has some recipients frustrated and perplexed. At the Board of Education meeting on May 22 school architects BBS proposed to build two large additions to Greenacres School, extending the school to Putnam Road and Huntington Avenue. No measurements and few details were provided, and it was not clear what would be done to the remaining portions of the building. The architects did project that the work would take two and a half years and said that the children would remain in the school during the renovation.

At the meeting, many community members and several members of the Board of Education asked why the possibility of a new school had been taken off the table

The survey confused many who were expecting to answer questions about the future of Greenacres School – but found that the survey did not single Greenacres out or offer a new school as a response to any of the questions. The survey questions treated all elementary schools as equals and failed to note that extensive work has already been done to upgrade and expand the other schools while leaving Greenacres for this next bond offering.

Instead of addressing the issues at Greenacres, it posed general questions about enhanced music spaces, cafeterias/learning spaces and security vestibules, features that were not previously on any list of district priorities as defined by past building committees. It also included a question about building a large cafeteria at the middle school but did not mention that the individual dining rooms in each of the four houses of the middle school would be closed.

Questions were asked about enhancing the Learning Resource Center at the high school and installing district-wide air conditioning. Again, these two items seemed to be ideas generated by the administration without consultation with the community.

At the May 8 meeting of the Board, Dr. Hagerman said that he had hired a "PR firm" to send out surveys to the community following each presentation from the architects. This might be key to why the surveys did not ask the questions people wanted to which residents wanted to provide feedback. Normally a research firm, not a public relations firm would be retained to assess public opinion. In this case, the survey might be more of a tool to sway public opinion then to discern the will of the community.

A new group called the Greenacres Elementary Task Force has produced a video about the proposed renovation that has already received 1,700 views. You can see it by clicking here. They are advocating for the district "to innovate not renovate" and have drafted a petition asking the administration to provide a cost analysis of a new school vs. a renovation including the cost to relocate the students off-site. 

It appears that many younger parents who were sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the school board and the administration to propose a solution for the aging school have now become alarmed because the proposed renovation will leave their children in the school during the 2.5-year construction project.

The school board meets next on the night of June 12 and many are expected to comment.

Scarsdale Forum's Education Committee Solicits Residents' Views

Scarsdale-Forum-Final-Logo-Very-SmallThe Education Committee of the Scarsdale Forum has created a survey to solicit Scarsdale residents' views about school topics that they want the Education Committee to research and report upon. The results of the survey and any reports that the committee writes will be available to the public after their completion on the Forum website. According to Education Committee Co-Chair Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez, 'the Education Committee wants to write reports that are relevant and useful to the Scarsdale school administration, the Board of Education, and all Scarsdale residents. The survey can be accessed here.

At its Board of Directors meeting on June 8, 2017, incoming Forum President ML Perlman nominated Fox Meadow resident Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez and Greenacres resident Carlos Ramírez as co-chairs of the Forum's Education Committee; the Forum's Board of Directors approved their nomination. This will be Kirkendall-Rodríguez' second year as co-chair of the Education Committee. Ramírez is a member of several committees in the Forum including the Education Committee.

Kirkendall-Rodríguez holds an AB in Russian and Soviets Studies from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, an MBA in Finance and Emerging Markets from The Wharton School, and an MA in Russian and Eurasian Studies from the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania. She is a Raoul Wallenberg Fellow from Hebrew University. During her undergraduate and graduate studies, she studied in Germany, Israel, and Russia. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian and has conversational Hebrew, German, and Italian. She runs her own firm, MRV Associates, where she consults and trains on bank regulations, risk models, and capital markets globally. She has published over 150 articles on financial, energy, and education topics. At Fox Meadow Elementary, she has been one of the co-chairs for the Multicultural Fair for two years; she is secretary of the Old Scarsdale Neighborhood Association. She volunteers interviewing prospective students to Harvard College.

Carlos Ramírez earned his Master of Science in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Rose. He holds a Master of Science in Internet Business Systems and a Bachelor of Science in General Accounting, with a specialization in Computers and Information Systems from Mercy College. Presently, he is working on his Master in Educational Leadership and Administration at Pace University, and is pursuing a PhD degree in Educational Leadership and Administration at Concordia University. He is also an accountant. Earlier this year, the New York State Association of School Business Officials named him Advocate of the Year for his work with public schools. He is fluent in English and Spanish and has conversational Portuguese. Ramírez is Interim Director of Technology and CIO of the Greenburgh Central School District. Under general supervision of the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction he administers, plans and coordinates the daily technological functions of the school district. Previously, Ramírez served as Coordinator of Technology Policy for the New York State Education Department in Albany. Ramírez is an active member of the Greenacres Neighborhood Association.

Kirkendall-Rodríguez and Ramírez thank Forum President Perlman and the Board of Directors for their appointment. They look forward to serving the Scarsdale community. They encourage residents to complete the school topics survey and to join the Education Committee. The Education Committee co-chairs may be reached at ScarsdaleMayra@Yahoo.com.

Seniors Step Out into the Work World

senioroptionsTo give students to real-world experience and avoid the "senior slump", Scarsdale High School has developed a program called Senior Options. This program has students select internships and occasionally independent projects for their final month of school. The program has only a few restrictions: the internship must be unpaid, you cannot work for a family member, and you must complete certain time requirements. This leaves students with the ability to select almost any job that they'd like, which opens up a bunch of new and interesting possibilities. The Senior Options page describes itself as a way to "Allow students to extend the skills and knowledge that they have developed in school by applying them in areas of personal interest."

The program has guidance every step of the way. Not only do students work closely with their "sponsors" (employers), but they also check in every week with a teacher they select who serves as their mentor. This teacher makes sure everything is running smoothly, that they have selected a worthy workplace, and that the student is actually working for the required hours. In the early stages of the process a "case manager", a teacher who doesn't necessarily know the student, also checks to make sure that the student is proposing a worthy internship.

I am working here at Scarsdale 10583 for my Senior Options, and have interviewed a few other seniors about their internships. Their responses are below:

plannedparenthoodMollie Kerr: Planned Parenthood

Where are you working for senior options and what are you doing there?

I am working at the administrative offices for Planned Parenthood of the Hudson Peconic. The Hudson Peconic is made up of four counties. Suffolk, Rockland, Putnam and Westchester. There are estimated 2.93 million people living in those four counties combined. I am working with the public affairs department. The Public Affairs Department is in charge of any rallies, events, or outreach that Planned Parenthood is doing.

How did you choose this place?

I chose Planned Parenthood for many reasons. These reasons include, my passion for women's rights, I might want to explore a career similar to this, and in our current political state it is more vital than ever to help Planned Parenthood.

Is it what you expected it to be? Were you surprised by anything?

I was surprised that there was a lot more computer work then I had thought. A lot of my day I am spent in my cubicle going through a huge box of petitions and entering them into the computer. It is mind-numbing tedious work. However I try to be more positive about it seeing how it's a good sign there are so many petition signatures and the more names I enter, the more proof of PP support there is.

What is your favorite part about working there?

My favorite part has been being able to talk to other students and seeing their own desire to help. Going out to events and meeting people who genuinely want to know what you're doing, and why you're so passionate about something has been very meaningful.

emilycakeEmily Schwartz: Provisions Bakery

Where are you working for senior options and what are you doing there?

I am working at Provisions Bakery in Pelham, NY. Everyday I am baking cakes, cupcakes, and other pastries for the bakery.

How did you choose this place?

I talked with my mentor (Natalie Farina), and I explained how I wanted to work in a bakery. Mrs. Farina has had students work at Provisions in the past, and I was so excited to find a bakery that I could work at.

Is it what you expected it to be? Were you surprised by anything?

Working in the bakery has been so much fun! I knew it would be long hours, and a lot of time on my feet. Frosting cakes and cupcakes requires a lot of concentration. It has defiantly taught me a lot about being patient, even when things don't work out. I was surprised how important it is to be precise when baking. 2 days ago I was making a cake but I wasn't as careful as I should have been making sure the top was leveled out. When it came time to frost the cake, it was uneven.

What is your favorite part about working there?

My favorite part has been being able to create beautiful cakes and cupcakes on my own! Even in just a little time, I have learned so much, and I am so excited to make my own cupcake flavors and frostings later on during Senior Options.

josiebwayJosie Blatt: Independent Musical Project

What are you doing for senior options?

I'm in the A-School and the Senior Options process is a little different here. We do internships every January and have that sort of experience already under our belts by the time we get to senior year. As a result, The teachers encourage A-School students to do independent projects. I'd say about half of us wind up doing independent projects and half do classic Senior Options. For my project, I decided to write a musical.

Why did you choose this project?

I love musical theater and have wanted to try and write a musical for a while, but I just haven't had the time. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to attempt this project. I don't expect to finish writing a musical in a month, but I'd definitely like to finish at least a few of the songs.

Is it what you expected? Were you surprised by anything?

To be honest, it's a lot harder than I expected. I have a pretty strong background in music, but I'm less experienced with lyrics, storyboarding, and dialogue, which are obviously important components in a musical.

What is your favorite part about the project?

It's amazing to able to express myself in this way. Like I said before, I wouldn't normally have the time to do this sort of thing and it's wonderful the project is so open-ended. There are guidelines, but for the most part I was let loose and told to be creative. It's such a unique setting and I'm so glad to have it.

museumofnaturalhistoryKaren Zaklama: Museum of Natural History

Where are you working for senior options and what are you doing there?

I am working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I am working two different positions- in the mornings I work with teaching volunteers and speak in particular exhibits with tourists, students, and other visitors. In the afternoon, I work in the volunteer office on a variety of projects. I either help to organize files or give tours of our temporary exhibits.

How did you choose this place?

When looking for an internship, I knew I wanted something interesting, science related, and vibrant. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time at this particular museum, and decided that giving the job a shot would be fun.

Is it what you expected it to be? Were you surprised by anything?

I had few expectations about the whole thing, just because volunteering offices are so variant. I did expect, however, that it would take a very long time to grasp all of the information necessary to teaching museum exhibits. However, I found that I learned relatively quickly amongst the other volunteers. I was also surprised at how valued volunteers are at the museum, and the dependence visitors have on volunteers, whom the public perceive as "experts."

What is your favorite part about working there?

My favorite part about working at the museum is learning all of the secrets. I have learned about the various science labs, private hallways, nightly events, visitor incidents, and curating history that adds to the complete environment of the museum. I think having the opportunity to speak to a scientist devoted to artifact presentation or look at articles dating back to the 1800s on African taxidermy adds a richness to my understanding of how scientific and historical information is communicated.

Do you have a Senior Options experience? Please send a description and a photo to scarsdalecomments@gmail.com and we will include it in this article.

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