Feature stories

A wonderful gift

Brooklyn PTA entrusts teachers to make spending choices

Music teacher Elana Master plays boomwacker instruments with her students.Music teacher Elana Master plays boomwacker instruments with her students.

The PTA at PS 705 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, gave the school’s teachers a remarkable gift: $750 each to use at their discretion during the school year.

“We were all pretty much screaming,” said Spanish teacher Belmarys Sosa, when the school’s treasurer announced the donation at a staff meeting in October.

Third and 4th-graders enjoy a visit to the Statue of Liberty on Jan. 25 accompaLaneek SempleThird- and 4th-graders enjoy a visit to the Statue of Liberty on Jan. 25 accompanied by teachers Betsy Lafontant, Laneek Semple and Victoria Godoy. Teacher Pepe Rebaudengo helps his 1st-graders study at their kid-size table.Teacher Pepe Rebaudengo helps his 1st-graders study at their kid-size table.

“The members of the PTA felt very strongly that one of the best ways we could meet the needs of the students was to directly empower the teachers,” said Alison Gilles, a chairperson for the PTA’s fundraising committee. “It’s been really exciting and gratifying to see how many different ways teachers have used the funds.”

Each class — including art, music, Spanish and physical education — from pre-K to 5th grade received the allotment.

Some 1st-graders find it easier to listen to their teacher, Anna Battaglia, whilSome 1st-graders find it easier to listen to their teacher, Anna Battaglia, while sitting in scoop rockers. Ball chairs with wheels can help fidgety 1stgraders concentrate.Ball chairs with wheels can help fidgety 1stgraders concentrate. Sarah Abodunrin, the UFT chapter leader and an IEP teacher, says the PTA showed it understood that “every child should have what they need and all the kids don’t necessarily need the same thing.”

Sosa used the PTA’s gift to create a “Reader’s Theatre” to “bring the language to life” for her Spanish students. They use scripts Sosa adapted from their classroom picture books to role-play and tell stories in Spanish. She purchased puppets, costumes and other props to make their lessons “animated and fun.”

Sosa’s costumed students express themselves while dancing in the “Reader’s TheatSosa’s costumed students express themselves while dancing in the “Reader’s Theatre.”

“I’m so grateful I was given the freedom to buy what I needed,” Sosa said.

Sosa also conducts a mindfulness group that includes breathing techniques, yoga and meditation. She used some of the money to purchase stress toys and teaching resources for the group.

Stacey Guarino, a 1st-grade Integrated Co-Teaching teacher, purchased flexible seating options, including wobble stools and scoop rockers for students “who have a hard time concentrating” or “just need some movement.” One of her students agreed, saying the wobble seats help her focus on the teacher because she doesn’t get as sleepy as in a regular chair.

Spanish teacher Belmarys Sosa (left) and Chapter Leader Sarah Abodunrin show offSpanish teacher Belmarys Sosa (left) and Chapter Leader Sarah Abodunrin show off accessories from Sosa’s “Reader’s Theatre.” A student uses his costume to help act out a Spanish picture book.Belmarys SosaA student uses his costume to help act out a Spanish picture book.

The gift also helped fund class trips, including a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and a “National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey” experience in Times Square.

The PTA, which met last school year’s fundraising goal of $25,000 and spent almost $16,000 on the gifts, raises money through bake sales, movie nights, a fall festival, a spring fair and auction, an art night for parents and the sale of T-shirts for students to wear instead of uniforms on Fridays.

Basic school supplies take priority on some teachers’ wish lists.Basic school supplies take priority on some teachers’ wish lists. Students use an assortment of letters to “build” words and promote literacy.Students use an assortment of letters to “build” words and promote literacy.

Its goal was to make sure funds were equitably distributed, Gilles said, to the school’s “diverse student body.”

Teachers know “how the funds could best be used to improve the experience of all our kids,” Gilles said.

As educators, the question has always been, “How do we promote each student’s success and well-being?” Sosa said, but a supportive PTA makes that goal “so much easier.”

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