Principal Tears Down Walls
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By Cathy Pelletier
After 20 years as an educator, Tony D’Alessandro is still driven by passion.
Now serving his second year as Principal of Prince of Wales School, one of the first things he did was tear down the fence that separated the public Pine Street school from the community.
When POW students have their Halloween parade, it’ll be through Thorold’s downtown – just like last year – based on his strong belief that the school forms a part of the larger community.
D’Alessandro was thrilled when the United Way approached him about hosting a needed program for youth aged 10 to 14.
“I jumped at it because I felt it would benefit our kids as well as the kids from Richmond Street School, Clancy,” and other from area schools, he added.
The Thorold After School Program, or TASP, held its grand opening a month ago and runs five days a week at the school from 3:10 to 5:10 p.m.
“Every night, they’re fed free snacks, helped with their homework and there’s a free recreational activity as well as access to computers,” he explained.
Designed as a drop-in centre, “it’s not child care,” he hastened to add, although schedules are flexible and “they can go at any time.”
Students sign up for certain programs but can later “switch as they get involved in what’s important for them.”
Formerly hosted at the Nick Basciano Centre, the program was moved to Prince of Wales this year. According to Frances Hallworth, Executive Director of the United Way, “the after-school program was such a success that we didn’t have enough space for all the children that were coming.”
She added that the District School Board of Niagara and United Way have a long history of partnering. "The After School Program is one example of how we work together to bring programs to children and youth in their own neighbourhoods.”
One month into the program, TASP is averaging about 45 students per week night. Each day, fresh snacks are provided, prepared by Kernahan Park Secondary School students, and the YMCA of Niagara leads youth in active games, sports, fitness, and team-building activities, while Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers help with homework and lead educational games, science experiments, trivia, and crafts.
Each Monday, volunteers from The RAFT teach children to “become a somebody and make your community better for everyone” through a program called, Who Is Nobody? On Tuesdays, they instruct a fusion of dance styles from hip hop to jazz, and even Broadway in their Dance Party with Alice program.
Performers from the Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects share their passion for acting through the Downtown Drama program Wednesdays, and The RAFT brings “science experiments, nature hikes, and all things water” on Thursdays. A program called Cooking Up Fun finishes the week on a practical note in the kitchen on Fridays.
“It’s a neat community type of thing and making it (POW) a more open place so people can see what’s going on here,” said D’Alessandro.” It just started and it’s gotten rave reviews. The kids love it and they’ll survey the kids before the next block starting in January,” he added, for suggestions to improve TASP.
“They may do zumba or yoga or activities for the kids according to their needs.”
Under his leadership, POW has also made great strides in technological teaching tools, boosted by an $8,000 donation from a friend of a staff member. D’Alessandro was able to purchase 25 Netbooks (portable laptop computers) for students to carry throughout the building, along with a Smart Board. Coupled with the school’s recent update to wireless Internet access, “It’s allowed us to double our computer usage,” said the principal. “We made changes to our lab and our library to make it more welcoming and a hub of learning. Kids can take these and go anywhere in the building. Hopefully, it will be a better way for some (students) to learn, that wasn’t available before.”
The new Netbooks also make presentations easier. By connecting with LCD projectors, cameras can be attached to a laptop and projected onto a screen.
“The whole visual enables kids to see it interactively on the screen bigger than life, all at the same time.”
Even recess is being revamped at Prince of Wales, thanks to six Brock University student leaders who are “looking at how we can get kids more involved” on the playground. “They teach the kids games to play and rotate through the non-traditional activities.”
Last week, 50 students all jumped rope, or played with enormous Frisbees simultaneously, creating a sense of camaraderie among students while enhancing physical fitness and fun. The older students are then trained to mentor the younger ones, creating more student bonding and leadership skills among seniors.
“The kids are really pumped up for next Wednesday,” he said, awaiting the Brock students’ return.
Currently, they come on a weekly basis but that will soon be increased to three times a week.
Each Tuesday morning, the school offers free parenting programs by psychologist Carol Purslow, and parents are invited in for monthly assemblies as well.
The Village Church comes in on a regular basis through their Random Acts of Kindness program, and retired teachers, seniors and other volunteers come in and help with the school’s Breakfast Program. “Kids with a full belly are more productive.”
In addition, “We have 20 Brock placement students who come in to get volunteer experience helping kids read, write, do math and just show the humanistic side that they care.”
Last year, a group of Brock students descended on the school, making it one of D’Alessandro’s most memorable moments in his career.
“They all got off the bus and the next thing I knew we had 102 Brock students come and eat lunch with our kids.”
Besides lunch, they brought along Santa Claus plus presents for each POW student, then stayed to share activities and crafts.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Our kids can be proud of Prince of Wales; our rich history, and everywhere we go we’re walking billboards for the school, here and out in the public,” said D’Alessandro. “We’re working hard to show everybody – come in and see the great things that are going on.”
Admittedly, like other schools, there are challenges, he added, but “Staff rises to meet the needs of kids, day in and day out, bar none. It’s a unique place. Last year, we did our Christmas concert outside on the front stoop. We like to try things that are different. This is the city’s oldest school next to the high school and it’s the most visible if you’re coming into Thorold.”
With 170 students currently enrolled, “We’re not huge by any stretch but we’re mighty. We have 22 established partnerships with groups that we help them and they help us. We’re trying to reach more kids and this is win-win for our kids.”
More information about the TASP is available by contacting Lindsay Mackinnon at The RAFT (905-984-4365) or Amanda Thompson at the United Way (905-688-5050, ext. 108).
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