Feature stories

Night glow

Light It Up Blue Autism Walk at Queens school brings community together

Second-graders show off their face paintings.Erica BergerSecond-graders show off their face paintings.

Bright blue glow sticks lit up the evening sky as 800 students, parents and community members circled the PS/MS 124 track in South Ozone Park, Queens at the Light It Up Blue Autism Walk on April 28.

Teacher Alexi Girlando’s hopes were high when she ordered 400 T-shirts and 400 glow sticks for the event. But she was thrilled when 800 showed up.

Guidance counselor Thomas Heaton sets up balloons to welcome walkers with help fErica BergerGuidance counselor Thomas Heaton sets up balloons to welcome walkers with help from a student.

“The shortages didn’t matter because there was so much community spirit,” she said. And there was plenty of paint for the face painters, ink for tattoos and chocolate lollipops her mother had made.

As the sun sets, hundreds begin the autism awareness walk around the PS/MS 124 tErica BergerAs the sun sets, hundreds begin the autism awareness walk around the PS/MS 124 track.

The event began at 6, but the walk itself didn’t start until sundown when blue tea lights lit the path around the track.

“It was a great night and brought the school and community together,” said 2nd-grade teacher Erica Worrell. She said her 2nd-graders became more accepting of differences after talking in class about autism and watching a Sesame Street episode with a new character, Julia, who is autistic.

Girlando was thrilled that 150 parents, many of them new immigrants, participated, along with 60 teacher volunteers who were there with their families.

PS/MS 124 holds a fund-raising walk with a special focus each month — March, for example, was for multiple sclerosis — but this was the first walk at night open to the entire community.

Mason jars with the label “your change can make a change” in each classroom netted $1,600 through April. The proceeds from the walk doubled that.

Chapter Leader Joanne Simmons and students hand out glow sticks in preparation fErica BergerChapter Leader Joanne Simmons and students hand out glow sticks in preparation for the walk. Teacher Alexi Girlando, the organizer of the event, hugs a student while giving Erica BergerTeacher Alexi Girlando, the organizer of the event, hugs a student while giving out lollipops.

“This school is not just about good grades but about doing something for someone else,” said parent Roslyn Akbarally. “It’s about raising well-rounded children.”

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