By Jeffrey Monacelli, Principal of Forest Avenue School
Forest Avenue School is a partnership between teachers, administration, staff, students and families. As referenced in the Verona Public Schools mission statement, it is “the center of an engaged and supportive community.” A vital arm of Forest Avenue School is the School Community Association (SCA). The SCA promotes the welfare of students in the home, school and community. It is a partnership between educators, parents and members of the general public to support students and provide them with the highest advantages in physical, intellectual, social and moral education. The SCA is charged with developing programs and activities that provide for the exchange of information and opinions among educators, children and parents, the disseminating of legislative information concerning the educational process, providing supplemental educational activities and programs during school and non-school hours and encouraging parental participation in school programs and activities. The mission of the Forest Avenue SCA is built on three foundational pillars:
3) Supplement/enhance Forest Avenue School materials and SCA activities.
It’s not just a bake sale anymore. The 2018 Forest SCA is comprised of an eight member executive board and over 40 committees. Each committee has a chair and several parent volunteers. The executive board meets monthly and the committees meet numerous times to plan and carry out their events which supplement and enhance the regular school program.
The 2017-18 school year began with the launching of the Forest Avenue SCA Facebook page, introduced to keep parents informed of school information, activities and events through social media. The SCA also publishes a weekly newsletter that outlines important events taking place the following week and month. To foster a sense of community, Forest Fridays morphed out of the annual spirit wear sale. Students and staff members are encouraged to wear Forest Avenue clothing on Fridays to promote school spirit.
At the end of October, the SCA sponsored a weeklong celebration of the school’s 90th anniversary. Over the course of the week the school community participated in a series of events that included taking a picture of all the students and staff forming a “human 90”, providing historical facts from 1927 to the present via the morning announcements, conducting alumni interviews, creating a memory tree with students favorite Forest memories, burying a time capsule and planting a tree with a colorful 90 in front of it designed from rocks painted by the students. The culminating activity was having the Verona High School band and cheerleaders join the students, staff, alumni and district administrators for a celebration that included music, cheers, speeches and singing Happy Birthday to the school. There was also a surprise visit from the school’s bulldog mascot.
Through the district climate survey, the school administration learned that Forest parents were interested in enrichment opportunities for their children after school. The principal enlisted the SCA to work with Flex Academy, an outside vendor, to provide a variety of enrichment experiences for Forest students. Parents can enroll their children in these stimulating activities for a nominal fee. Classes that have been offered so far include theater, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), art and chess.
The SCA encourages community outreach. The children participate in donation and fundraising events for UNICEF, Progeria Research Foundation, Verona Fights Hunger, Heavenly Hats Foundation and Happiness is Sharing which assists families in need during the holidays. Through these activities, the children learn the value of helping others.
The SCA’s largest fundraiser of the year, which usually nets about $10,000 is supermarket scrip. This “effortless” fundraising activity does not require parents to spend money or time on the traditional fundraising methods but instead focuses on something everyone does – grocery shopping. Parents purchase scrip through the SCA that they can use at the specific supermarkets where they buy their groceries. For every dollar they spend on scrip, they get that amount back in the form of a gift card. The school then gets a percentage of the scrip that is sold.
The SCA’s generosity includes start-up funds in September and mid-year gifts in January for teachers to purchase special items for their individual classrooms. They also provide refreshments for the Thanksgiving Feast, Walk to School Day activities, cultural arts assemblies, a carnival event, the 4th grade trip to Tomahawk Lake, 4th grade yearbooks, class picture oversight, book fair, a family fun night, a family outing, the Festival of Jack-O-Lanterns, library volunteers, lunchtime crafts, a parent-teacher gathering, pre-k workshops, Secret Shoppe holiday shopping, a spiritwear sale, the 4th grade car wash to raise funds for the legacy gift, funding to offset the cost of class trips and Teacher Appreciation Week activities. These and other events that they offer enhance the teaching and learning at the school. At the end of the school year, the SCA provides the school with major gifts based on how much profit is remaining in their treasury after funding their yearly activities. During the 17-18 school year, the remaining funds were used to purchase six short throw projectors and eleven laptop computers so that each homeroom classroom is now equipped with an interactive projector and laptop computer. Prior to this, only one or two projector/computer set-ups were purchased each year. It would have taken five years to complete this initiative but with the SCA’s assistance, it only took two years.
The SCA encourages every parent to get involved with at least one activity or event during the school year. With more families having both parents in the workforce, they afford working parents opportunities to participate and be part of the community during non traditional working hours.
In January of 2015, the Forest Avenue School library was in desperate need of a facelift. The room had a worn out carpet, faded paint, old bookshelves, outdated circulation desk, old projector and laptop and an air conditioner that spewed water and did not adequately cool the room. The principal approached the SCA to see if they could assist with purchasing a few items to make the room more presentable. Instead of just purchasing a couple of items as a band-aid approach, the SCA decided to develop an ambitious fundraising plan to makeover the entire library.
The first step was to consult with a local architect, Frank Messineo of Solutions Architecture who volunteered his services to provide strategic consulting on how the library could be designed. Forest parent Teresa Boyd, co-owner of Olive Hill Design assisted with developing the color scheme for the paint and carpet. Mrs. Freda, the Forest Avenue library/media specialist consulted on what types of furniture should be purchased.
The fundraising for the library renovation project began with a generous donation of $10,000 from the Thomas J. Falcone Memorial Fund. The fund was established when Thomas Falcone passed away at the age of 35 as a result of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in his brain. He fought this condition for 20 years. Thomas Falcone’s family members have been Verona residents for 60 years. Thomas and his siblings attended the Verona Public Schools. His mother, Cathryn attended Forest Avenue School and his niece, Reese and nephew, Chase are current Forest students. The family established the memorial fund in his honor because they wanted to honor his memory and ensure that his courage would continue to inspire others. The $10,000 donation was a wonderful start for the library renovation. The SCA was determined to raise the rest of the money necessary to provide the library with a complete renovation as quickly as possible. They held two Casino Nights (one in March 2015 and another in March of 2017) which raised total net profit of $16,000. An additional $3,000 was contributed through the class of 2016 and class of 2017 legacy gifts and the 2016 Conference of SCAs Harlem Wizards fundraiser.
The new library is now enjoyed by the current Forest students and includes new carpeting, circulation desk, shelving units, reading nook, Lego wall makerspace area, laptop computer, projector, screen, air conditioner and a mural being painted by Forest Avenue art teacher Lisa Varuolo. The library renovation project was truly a school-community partnership that included support from Forest parents, staff, students and the Thomas J. Falcone Memorial Fund. This two-year community effort produced a beautiful new library that will be enjoyed by students for many years to come.
The SCA provides funding and support on a regular basis during the course of the school year to enhance all aspects of the school. The organization is made up of dedicated and supportive parents and family members who work tirelessly all year long as a partner with the school to provide a nurturing school environment as well as the funding for so many programs, events and materials that supplement and enhance teaching and learning at the school. Forest Avenue School truly embodies their motto “A community of learners”. The entire school community interacts and participates in order for the children to experience and grow in a safe and stimulating environment.
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