Read about how New York City public school alumni are giving back to their communities!

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There’s a story behind each graduate of our city’s public schools – name an occupation and you’re bound to find an alumnus excelling in it. But it’s not just in their careers that our alumni are stars – so many are also giving back to their schools and their communities. Read about what just a few of our alumni are up to, and email us at alumni@fundforpublicschools.org to nominate yourself or a friend to be featured in one of our profiles!

 

Alumni Profiles:

 

John Reinhardt, Moving Forward & Giving Back

 

P.S. 20R, P.S. 29R, I.S. 51R, and Staten Island Technical High School Alumnus,

Program Manager for the American Planning Association

John is a proud Staten Island Technical High School graduate from the class of 2000 who went on to earn a degree from Villanova University, where he was a Presidential Scholar. After working for Booz Allen Hamilton on emergency response planning, he earned a master's in Urban Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. John now works as a Program Manager for the American Planning Association, where he focuses on international programs, including President Obama's Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas.

 

John credits the city schools with providing a strong foundation for success. In particular, he was inspired by his 5th grade teacher at P.S. 29R, Ms. Udell, who he recalls motivated her students to think critically and with concern for others at a young age. As he describes it, "the education went way beyond 'reading, writing, and arithmetic.' We did our own 'news broadcasts' to learn public speaking; we worked with grandparents from the local nursing home; we read The New York Times each day. She was training us to be not only good students, but good global citizens." Other fond memories from his days as a student include leading the first team from Staten Island to the PSAL volleyball championship as a high school senior in 2000. His younger brother Matthew, also a proud Staten Island Tech alumnus, followed in John's footsteps, leading the team to two more championships before he graduated in 2003.

 

For John, the reasons for giving back to New York City's public schools are clear: "In an age where education funding is continually under fire, I think it is our responsibility to ensure that the next generation of New Yorkers has an even better education than we had. Today's youth will need different skills - for example, technology skills - to succeed in the new economy. As successful products of the public school system, I think it's important that we give back - with our time, our knowledge, and our financial resources." John's story is truly an inspiration for today's students!

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Mary Alice Lee, Preserving Places to Play

 

P.S. 8 and Tottenville High School Alumna,

Director, NYC Playgrounds Program at The Trust for Public Land

Mary Alice Lee's desire to improve her community goes back to her time as an elementary student at P.S. 8 in Staten Island. "As a student at P.S. 8, our asphalt schoolyard was adjacent to a public park with trees, swings, and play equipment. I always wished we could play in the park, instead of spending recess with nothing to do." This childhood memory sparked a commitment to creating more open spaces in New York, which continued to grow during her time at Tottenville High School. Here, Mary Alice founded an environmental organization and was inspired by two English teachers, Ms. Strozak and Mr. Shatzman, who she says "always encouraged me to work hard, be a leader, to follow my dreams."

 

Today, her dedication to preserving New York's open spaces is taking root across the city: as the Director of the NYC Playgrounds Program at The Trust for Public Land (TPL), Mary Alice oversees TPL's partnership in the Schoolyards to Playgrounds Initiative of PlaNYC, which transforms empty, asphalt schoolyards into vibrant community parks and playgrounds - complete with amenities like sports fields, play equipment, basketball courts, gazebos, trees, and learning gardens. Through this public-private partnership, TPL has designed and built 256 new playgrounds across the five boroughs to date.

 

The transformation from empty lot to brand new playground is truly a community-wide effort, one that Mary Alice calls "democracy in action." She explains, "At each school, we engage students, teachers, parents and neighbors in a unique participatory design process, which ensures that the "users" of the park are the people who decide what should be included." Mary Alice says that one of the biggest rewards of these projects is the expression on the children's faces when they play in the playground that they helped create, proudly explaining how their ideas - to put a tree here, a spiral slide there - have been put into action. Another favorite moment happens after the playground is built, when students and the community are invited to help paint murals and plant flower gardens in the space. It's a wonderful opportunity for students to explore nature in new ways: "Many kids have never dug anything before. This is a chance to connect with nature, to get their hands dirty and meet an earthworm for the first time."

 

For Mary Alice, giving back to the school system that served her was a natural fit, in part because service in the public schools runs in her family. Both of her parents were teachers at New York City public schools - Port Richmond High School and Susan Wagner High School in Staten Island - and her sister is currently teaching at a public school in Massachusetts. And the friendships she made in the schoolyard at P.S. 8 and the classrooms of Tottenville High School continue today: she and several classmates have made a twice-a-year reunion an ongoing tradition.

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Takiema Bunche Smith and the ripple effect  

P.S. 235K, I.S. 383K, and Bronx Science Alumna,
Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Brooklyn Kindergarten Society 

Ask Takiema Bunche Smith about her public school experience in New York City, and you begin to understand why she has devoted her life to education. “Every school experience I’ve had has been formative for me in one way or another,” she says, as she begins to rattle off a long list of teachers who provided inspiration, challenge, and nurture along the way. Topping her list are Ms. Dingle, the middle school Language Arts teacher who was so engaging Takiema spent her lunch hour in her classroom; Mr. Gigler, the patient middle school band teacher in whose class she saw a real musical instrument for the first time; and Ms. Kanowitz, her 4th grade teacher at P.S. 235K, who flatly refused to budge when her mother complained that Takiema was getting too much homework. “When she complains, come back to me. Until then, let her do her homework,” she said.

 

Takiema now works as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society, providing preschoolers in public housing with a full educational experience. Takiema says her personal mission is to extend thinking about education to day one – early childhood education is too important to be overlooked. “I know that education is one of the ways that we can break the cycle of poverty,” she says, “and I feel a moral obligation.” 

 

“I want to create opportunities for children, parents and communities to thrive both educationally and personally. I believe in the ripple effect.  Developmentally appropriate curriculum in high quality early care and education settings can encourage children and families to expand and grow. I believe that educators of very young children play an important part in this process. The excitement a child experiences when discovering a new idea can draw a parent into their child's education. From this, sustained growth and change can happen.” 

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Gail Harvey, Carrying on a Family Tradition

PS 196Q, JHS 157, and Bronx Science Alumna,

New York City Philanthropy Manager for Bank of America

In her role as New York City Philanthropy Manager for Bank of America, Gail Harvey oversees the allocation of foundation grants to education and arts organizations. To these organizations, Gail’s work and Bank of America’s generosity is invaluable. But it is Gail’s personal dedication to New York City schools that really deserves attention. A graduate of Bronx Science, Gail wanted to put her business savvy to work to give more students the high-quality public education she enjoyed. The opportunity arose when a friend of hers recruited her to help open a new school, called High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media. Gail put hundreds of hours into developing a proposal to open the school, focusing on a program that would give students the skills that are really important in the workplace.

 

We often wonder what it is that makes alumni give back, but with Gail it’s pretty clear to see her inspiration. Her mother volunteered as librarian in her elementary school during a time when the school had no budget for a staff librarian. We hope this is a family tradition that continues for generations.

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Duane Cranston and the Juggling Act

P.S. 176Q and Bronx Science Alumnus,

Corporate Attorney

Despite a busy career in corporate law and the demands of being a new father, Duane Cranston (P.S. 176Q, Bronx Science) finds the time to give back to NYC public school students. How does he manage the juggling act? Participating in programs supported by his employer helps simplify some of the logistically challenging aspects of volunteering – for example, Duane volunteers with the Justice Resource Center Law Mentorship Program, supported by his employer, Cohen & Gresser LLP. Similarly, while in law school, Duane tutored elementary school students through the Harlem Tutorial program at Columbia. Duane has also been known to host students in his office for one-on-one SAT prep through the Mentoring Tree Foundation, allowing him to simultaneously handle any urgent client requests.

 

What motivates him to make this juggling act work?  Duane says he greatly enjoys the challenges and rewards of tutoring students, who always suprise him with both the wisdom they've already acquired and their eagerness to learn more. We’re sure he’ll find the same is true of his baby daughter, who he hopes will one day attend one of the city’s public selective schools, just like her father.

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Jeffrey Bernstein, growing a new school 

Far Rockaway High School Alumnus,

CEO of The Archstone Group and Chairman of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce

Jeffrey Bernstein has partnered with the Waterside School for Leadership and Principal Linda Munro since the fall of 2009 through the nonprofit organization PENCIL. The school is in its first year and Principal Munro has prioritized developing a strong and supportive culture for the current and incoming students and teachers at the Waterside School. Munro and Bernstein are currently developing a strategic plan that focuses on creating a structure for the growth of the school community.

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Frank Bisignano, expanding opportunities

South Shore High School Alumnus,

Chief Administrative Officer of JP Morgan Chase

Since 2006, Frank Bisignano and Principal Catherine Reilly of Bushwick Leaders High School for Excellence have partnered together to increase parental involvement, build technology capacity and provide student leadership opportunities. Through the nonprofit organization PENCIL, Mr. Bisignano brought Chase's financial workshop series to the school for parents. These workshops, first conducted in 2006 in both English and Spanish, yielded an unprecedented number of parent attendees and continue to successfully involve parents in the school community. Mr. Bisignano also facilitated several opportunities for students to develop leadership skills such as participation in the Odyssey of the Mind competition in Detroit; student trips to JP Morgan training center; and the Chase Your Dream financial literacy program attended by over 100 students and led by former NBA athlete and youth advocate Jerome "JYD" Williams, and youth advocate Johnnie Williams III.

 

Mr. Bisignano and Principal Reilly have also worked together to develop a computer lab for English classes to educate students about the creative uses of technology such as blogging. They currently are working on preparing this year's workshops for both parents and students. The partners’ efforts have made such an impact on the school that student applications rose from 200 in 2006 to 700 in 2008.

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Ivy Cohen, building school identity

PS 312 Alumna,

President and CEO of Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc.

Through the nonprofit organization PENCIL, Ivy Cohen and Principal Chris Ogno of PS 247 have worked together since 2005 to increase parent involvement, create an early college engagement program, and build school identity in their community. Ms. Cohen and the entire staff of PS 247 have collaborated to develop a unique program called the PS 247 College Partnership Program™. The program provides essential college engagement opportunities to students while elevating the school’s profile. By its second year – the 09-10 school year – the program had secured partnerships with 22 colleges and matched them with 30 classrooms in grades K-5th.

 

The goal is to involve each college in the school community so that students begin to see college as a natural next step for themselves. They recently held the second annual college orientation night and college fair for the parents and their children. They are working to nurture the school’s re-branded identity as The New York City College Partnership Elementary school via a newly created logo, new school signage, decoration of the school entry way as a college campus, and new website that is in development. The partners have also launched a Parent College Resource Center, where parents will have access to information about college admissions practices, various programs that are offered at the colleges and information concerning financial aid.

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Michelle Gibson, getting employees involved

Clara Barton High School Alumna, CEO of IceStone

Since 2009, Michelle Gibson and her colleagues have partnered with Principal Mabel Sarduy of PS 86 through nonprofit organization PENCIL to enhance the learning experience for students and to improve the school’s physical environment. Because Icestone is a company with a triple bottom line, which takes into account not just financial outcomes but also environmental and social performance, the partners are organizing several initiatives so that all employees have the opportunity to work with the PS 86 community. These initiatives include: a career awareness program utilizing a “concept to delivery” approach for Icestone products; working with the students to build an organic garden on the school grounds; implementing a recycling program at the school and improving the school library.

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Abbe Raven, contributing her expertise

Andrew Jackson High School Alumna,

CEO of A&E Television Networks

Since 2006, Abbe Raven has partnered with the Humanities & Arts Magnet High School with the goal of enhancing the learning experience with resources development and enrichment opportunities. HAMHS has a focus of providing students with learning experiences related to television production, the performing arts and visual arts. As a result, Ms. Raven has focused her efforts on developing the media and curriculum resources for the school. Through nonprofit organization PENCIL, Ms. Raven has provided the school with A&E history study guides and lesson plans to enhance the social studies curriculum. Additionally, college scholarship funds have been distributed to high achieving students.

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