Jenna Marrazzo does everything you’d expect of a 4th-grade teacher: planning lessons, grading assessments, conferencing with students. But outside her classroom at PS 42 on Staten Island, Marrazzo also advises a highly motivated team of elected officials in government — student government, that is.
In her first year at the Eltingville school during the 2021-22 school year, Marrazzo stepped up to support the newly invigorated student council, which had gone dormant during the pandemic. The 17 members of the 5th-grade council — each of them elected by their peers — hit the ground running with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school’s new soccer field and its first post-pandemic school assembly in the yard.
Then they focused their energy on community service.
“Our school philosophy is to give back to those in need,” says Marrazzo, a Staten Island native who says she has looked forward to a career in teaching since she was the same age as her young students. “The learning experiences kids are getting from being on the student council and getting out to help in the community are lessons they’ll take with them to middle school and high school and beyond.”
Marrazzo — who describes herself as “very, very organized, because that’s the best way for me to work” — helped students brainstorm about their expectations for the council’s plans. Council members agreed to pair school spirit days with a canned food drive and took turns promoting it on the school’s loudspeaker, leading to more than 1,500 pounds in donations to City Harvest.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, students wanted to do something to help the Ukrainians, Marrazzo says. She reached out to Volunteer Heart Ambulance of Staten Island, which suggested a donation drive for medication, blankets, scarves and other in-demand items. Members of the student council created fliers, placed donation boxes at each of the school’s doors and helped to load the volunteer ambulance with supplies to ship overseas.
“At the end of the school year, I asked them, ‘What memory of being in the student council will you hold close to your heart?’ And they all said the donations for Ukraine,” says Marrazzo.
This school year, the council has expanded to include 4th-graders, creating a new dynamic because “the fourth grade looks up to the fifth grade and wants to follow in their footsteps,” Marrazzo says. She is already planning a holiday toy drive and a partnership with local nursing homes where students can visit residents.
“Not everything has to be about academics — these are life skills they’re learning,” she says. “It’s about things that will have an impact on students and make their years at PS 42 memorable.”
PS 42 encourages students to feel a special kinship with Jackie Robinson, who famously wore #42 when he made history as a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player. Shortly after its new crop of members was elected, the council took a field trip to visit the Jackie Robinson Museum in lower Manhattan. Members learned about Robinson’s “nine values to live by”: courage, determination, teamwork, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment and excellence.
Marrazzo hopes her work with the student council encourages its members to embody those values.
“You’re a leader and a role model,” she says she tells council members. “Your voice represents yourself and your classmates, and you want that voice to be heard.”