Meet Our Staff!


Precious Jones-Walker
Parent Coordinator (profile)


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Meet Our Staff:

Read about some of the individuals
who are making a difference at P.S. 8

Edited by Maryanne Buechner, Pre-K Parent
Photos by Nathalie Schueller, Pre-K Parent

Melissa Browning attended P.S. 8 from Kindergarten through 7th grade and arrived here again in 2005 to teach third grade. “I”m thrilled to be back and to see the school thriving,” she says. “You just have a feeling that good things are happening. It’s a strong community.” Community happens to be the theme of the third grade social studies curriculum. Ms. Browning and the other third grade teachers have teamed up with the Guggenheim Museum (where, incidentally, Melissa worked for three years before coming to P.S. 8) to implement a cross-disciplinary unit on world issues. In this unit, students are assigned a geographical location, its variables (climate, economy, food, language, education, gender roles, family, and culture), and given a specific problem that that community is facing (e.g. an earthquake or a flood). The students then devise a plan to solve that problem and make a mural to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking skills.

It’s an innovated, “problem-posing” way to teach, one that appeals to Browning’s sensibility as an educator. “Cross-curricular activities are great because you draw on so many of the students’ strengths by fusing social studies with writing, research, and art,” she says. “By dealing with real issues you are giving students responsibility. You’re upping the expectations and they respond to it because it’s real and they love to be the bearers of information. When you let them, they really find their niche. Some gravitate to social studies, some to geography, others to art.”

Ms. Browning grew up in Brooklyn Heights, immersed in the art world–her parents run the World Music Institute–and she now lives in Fort Greene. She earned her master’s degree in Childhood Education from Hunter College and her undergraduate degree in Sociology from Bard College where she also studied printmaking and Italian, and was a competitive figure skater. (She still teaches skating after school.) In her spare time, Melissa loves to cook and travel. “It took me three years to refine my recipe for pizza dough,” she says with a laugh. “I even grilled pizza once.” This summer, Melissa spent a month in Italy, traveling by train from Florence to Sicily where she found the Renaissance art and Baroque architecture much more sumptuous than the pizza. “In Rome the crust was too thin and topped with a fried egg! They used canned mushrooms on the Calabrian coast.”

Megan Davis
Rm. 102 Where she lives: Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
At P.S. 8 since: 2006

Ms. Davis, who teaches in the Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classroom with Ms. Patterson, comes to P.S. 8 all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, where she taught third grade and kindergarten. Yet her actual hometown is Clover, South Carolina, a place she describes as “a very small town. We had one stop light, one high school, and being the mayor was a part time job.” Although she’s a long way from home, and New York has been an adjustment, P.S. 8 finds her dedication to teaching well at home. “I absolutely love teaching kindergarten,” she says. “When kids are excited about school and what they are learning, they will likely put forth their best effort and try something they normally might not.” Like most devoted teachers, Ms. Davis acknowledges the rewards of teaching: “It is so wonderful when the children are reading and writing at the end of the year, and I really enjoy watching them grow.” Ms. Davis lives in Dyker Heights and loves spending time with her pets, a cat and a Jack Russell terrier that she rescued from a shelter three years ago.

Officer Cynthia Dyke
School Safety Agent since: 1996
Assigned to P.S. 8 since: 2003

Anyone who walks the halls of P.S. 8 knows Officer Dyke. She is the friendly lady in the blue uniform greeting children and grownups with a cheerful “Good morning!” and “How ya doin’?” from her desk by the school’s front entrance or while standing guard by the side door. Her chief responsibilities as school safety agent, she says, are simple: to keep her eyes and ears open as kids and grownups come and go, and to make sure that all is as it should be. She’s worked at other schools, including Pacific High School on Schermerhorn Street, but says she prefers being at an elementary school. “It’s the little kids,” she explains with a smile. “I love them.”

Officer Dyke completed her training at the New York City Police Academy in 1996–she is certified for Special Patrol–and keeps her skills fresh by attending monthly seminars offered by the NYPD on such topics as how to spot abuse and alcoholism. She has a very busy life outside of school too: a prayer leader and active member of the Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church in Crown Heights, she writes letters to prison inmates and volunteers at two nursing homes.

Jonathan Garbar
3rd Grade
Rm. 310 Where he lives: Manhattan
Teaching since: 2001
At P.S. 8 since: 2004

Mr. Garbar, “Mr. G” to his students, started at P.S. 8 teaching phys-ed and Spanish. In 2005-2006 he taught 2nd grade in the Collaborative Team Teaching classroom with Ms. Gentile. In 2006, Mr. G and Ms Gentile looped with their students–that is, they moved up to 3rd grade right along with them. The advantage of looping, he says, is that “we already know the kids and they know us. We know their strengths and weaknesses, and the kids are comfortable in their environment right from the beginning.” Mr. G completed his bachelor’s degree at the University of Delaware and earned his master’s degree in special education/bilingual studies at Pace University. On weekends, he enjoys going to jazz clubs and poetry lounges and visiting with family in New Jersey. He also coaches soccer at Benjamin Banneker High School in Brooklyn. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in late August 2005, Mr. G reached out to the P.S. 8 community to collect donations of toys, books and clothing, then rented a U-Haul to deliver the goods in person to families who had lost everything.

Marybeth E. Gazlay
Science, all grades
Rm. 302 Where she lives: Carroll Gardens
Teaching since: 2005
At P.S. 8 since: 2005

Ms. Gazlay, a former substitute teacher at P.S. 261 and P.S. 58, took over the Science program at P.S. 8 in the fall 2005. “I am thrilled to be at P.S. 8, and I love to hear the students tell me how much they love science and wish they had science every day,” she says. She meets with 3rd and 4th graders twice a week; Pre-K, K, 1st, 2nd and 5th grades once a week. “Quite often the students will bring science-related books to class to show me, or they’ll bring in experiments that they want to try.” A graduate of SUNY Albany, Ms. Gazlay majored in teaching and minored in business. Her previous jobs include teaching sign language and independent living skills to developmentally disabled adults; serving as a program director at a Boys and Girls Club on Long Island; and working as a corporate recruiter. Ms. Gazlay will graduate from Long Island University in January 2006 with a master’s degree in childhood education. “I love to play and coach sports, especially soccer, basketball, softball and tennis,” she says. She assists Mr. Garbar with the P.S. 8 basketball team. Ms. Gazlay also loves to travel, and has sailed to the British Virgin Islands. She has also visited Sicily, Paris and London; Edinburgh, Scotland; Rio de Janeiro; Jamaica; Turks and Caicos and Mexico.

Noelle Gentile
3rd grade
Rm. 310 Where she lives: Brooklyn
Teaching since: 2005
At P.S. 8 since: 2005

Ms. Gentile teaches in the 3rd grade Collaborative Team Teaching classroom with Jonathan Garbar. A former teaching artist for the Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Ms. Gentile taught social studies through drama at P.S. 115 before coming at P.S. 8 in the fall 2004 to student-teach in Ms. Jerry’s class. “I’m very excited about being at P.S. 8,” Ms. Gentile says. “I really do love the school, and I feel that I’ve found a home here.” She loves teaching 3rd grade, she adds. “It’s amazing to watch the students develop both academically and socially,” she says. One of Ms. Gentile’s passions is musical theater, and she incorporates the performing arts in class when she can. For example, the students sometimes act out stories, or do “poetry with movement.” In her spare time, Ms. Gentile enjoys spending time with her family. She also likes to perform–she has appeared in some short independent films–and continues to do film work.

Melissa Irslinger
Rm. 103 Where she lives: Manhattan
Teaching since: 1998
At P.S. 8 since: 2005

Ms. Irslinger, a Long Island native and one of several newcomers to
the P.S. 8 faculty in 2005, says she is pleased to be part of such a “great community.” Known by her students as “Ms. I,” she taught as a substitute for K-8 while earning her master’s degree in education at Hunter College (something she accomplished in just 18 months) before becoming a full-time kindergarten teacher in 1998. For three years she taught 4- and 5-year-olds at Plymouth Church School, a private nursery school in Brooklyn Heights. A strong part of the kindergarten curriculum at P.S. 8, she says, is the Breakthrough to Literacy program, an introduction to reading that uses “shared reading” books–enlarged-text picture books designed for group reading exercises–computer activities and take-home books to familiarize kids with words and sentence structure. Ms. I is also excited about the regular “publishing parties” that she and the other kindergarten teachers have been hosting and plan to continue throughout the year. These special events, to which parents are invited, give children the opportunity to share their drawings and the stories they have composed to go with them. (Students start by jotting down the first letter of each word of their story; gradually they learn to sound out, and write down, complete words and, in time, complete sentences as captions to the drawings.) When Ms. I isn’t teaching, she is often at her second job as a fitness instructor at New York Health & Racquet Club, teaching Pilates, sculpt and spinning classes and working as a personal trainer.

Monique L. Jerry
2nd grade
Rm. 202 Where she lives: Clinton Hill
Teaching since: 1997
At P.S. 8 since: 2002

Ms. Jerry likes to teach her students to make how-to books, which they write, illustrate, “publish” and then share with classmates. “They can be about anything–such as, how to wash a car or how to brush your teeth–and they really have a great time with it,” Ms. Jerry says. Her goal is to have all her students reading chapter books by the end of the year, so that they are prepared for 3rd grade. Ms. Jerry loves to read herself, especially historical fiction; she recommends Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. She also enjoys going to the movies. She is a graduate of CUNY Hunter, where she earned her master’s degree in Elementary Education. She loves teaching second grade, she says, “because the kids are so enthusiastic about learning. They are like sponges at this age, and so eager to please the teacher, which is great.”

Precious Jones-Walker
Parent Coordinator

If your child attends P.S. 8, or you’ve visited the school as a prospective parent, chances are you’ve encountered Precious Jones-Walker, P.S. 8’s Parent Coordinator since 2003. A near-constant presence in the school’s hallways and classrooms, Precious helps spread the word about upcoming events, galvanizes parent volunteers, gives guided tours on Open House days and organizes workshops on literacy and other topics. “She’s diplomatic and she gets things done,” says Kindergarten parent Joyce Farley. “Without her gentle prodding and reminding,” Farley adds with a laugh, “I probably wouldn’t be as involved in the school.”

Her personable manner and attention to detail, others say, also help keep parents in the loop. “Precious is exceptionally communicative and organized,” says Irene Vernadakis, another Kindergarten parent. “That calendar of events that went around last week–that was all Precious. She’s a great resource.”

One of the most important parts of her job, Precious says, is to serve as a liaison between parents and school staff. For her, that means being accessible to parents, and making sure that their concerns–about academics, about after-school programs, about classroom discipline, about anything, really–are heard. “I try to talk to every parent, and make them feel comfortable, to let them know that they can talk to me about anything,” she says from her first-floor office in the Parent Room, next door to the school’s main entrance. “Some parents say to me, ‘Please tell me if my child isn’t eating lunch,’ things like that.” Precious says she often shadows Assistant Principal Olivia Ellis, attending teachers’ planning meetings so that she can inform parents about what to expect from the curriculum.

Precious is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied fashion merchandising. She later worked as a project manager for an architectural interior design company. She has also worked at Polytechnic University in the alumnae and development relations department, doing fund-raising.

Precious served as PTA vice president from 2001-2002, then took over as president from 2002-2003. “Nobody wanted to be on the PTA back then,” she recalls. “We’ve gone from having six to ten parents at meetings to 60-something.” Her son Marcel attended P.S. 8 from 2nd through 6th grade, graduating from the school in 2003. Son Christian has attended P.S. 8 since fall 2004, when he started pre-K. Her youngest, daughter Paige, will start pre-K in fall 2007.

Before Principal Seth Phillips and Instructional Specialist Olivia Ellis arrived in Spring 2003, Precious says parents felt alienated by the school’s closed-door policy (parents and care givers were told to drop kids off at the front door, rather than walk them to their classrooms). Soon after Mr. Phillips took over, the place brightened and became more parent-friendly and more community-oriented, she says.

A native of Brooklyn, Precious loves to travel. Her favorite authors include James Patterson and Mary Higgins Clark. She is working on a children’s book with her husband. “The kids at P.S. 8 make me happy,” she says with a grin. “They really keep me on my toes.”

Teresa Kravitz
Art Where she lives: Brooklyn Heights
At P.S. 8 since: 1998

Ms. Kravitz taught fifth grade at P.S. 8 for six years before becoming the art teacher in the fall 2004. She meets with each class once or twice a week in her art room on the third floor, except for the two pre-k classes, which receive instruction in their own classrooms on the first floor. Ms. Kravitz says she typically has the younger students work on projects that let them practice fine-motor skills, such as cutting, tracing, pasting and sculpting with clay. Older students also work with clay, doing both flat relief and three-dimensional forms; they draw perspectives and portraits and are introduced to inks and watercolor washes. Students in 2nd through 5th grade study children’s book illustrators, discuss the various techniques and then illustrate their own books. At the start of the 2005 school year, Ms. Kravitz started integrating what students were learning in social studies and science into the art curriculum; when pre-k and kindergarten students are learning about aquatic animals, for example, she instructs the students to draw or sculpt those types of creatures. “Wherever I can integrate social studies and science, I’m doing it,” she says. Ms. Kravitz earned her master’s degree in education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. On weekends she likes to listen to live music and attend creative workshops in painting and drawing.

Jessica Levy
1st Grade
1-210 Where she lives: Brooklyn Heights
Teaching since: 2002
At P.S. 8 since: 2005

Ms. Levy co-teaches first-graders in a Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classroom with Karen Ruiz. A Brooklyn Heights native, Ms. Levy earned a degree in communications at Boston University, then worked in advertising and marketing before deciding that she wanted a more rewarding career. “I have always related well with children,” she says. So she returned to school to study literacy. While pursuing her master’s at Brooklyn College, she was a student teacher at The Packer Collegiate Institute, a private school in Brooklyn Heights. She joined the P.S. 8 faculty in 2002. Ms. Levy particularly enjoys teaching the first grade: “It is a crucial year when most children learn to read. It’s so exciting to watch it ‘click’ for a child, and so much fun getting the kids excited to learn.” Ms. Levy says she loves the warmth of the P.S. 8 community, and enjoys living in Brooklyn Heights, in part because it reminds her that the relationships she forms with her students are likely to continue even after they leave her classroom. (While out and about in the neighborhood, she often bumps into kids from school, and they invariably run up to give her a hug.) In her free time, she enjoys live music, the theater and movies, and spending time with friends and family on Long Island’s North Fork.

Matthew S. Levy
1st grade
Rm. 209 Teaching since: 1995
At P.S. 8 since: 2004
Where he lives: Manhattan

Mr. Levy grew up in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn and attended Oberlin College in Ohio, where he majored in history. He holds a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education in New York. His first full-time teaching job was at P.S. 35 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where he taught 1st grade for eight years. Since coming to P.S. 8 in 2004, Mr. Levy says, “I’ve seen the school really come together as a community, to really coalesce as a learning environment. The kids are excited to learn, and I’m excited to be here.” Mr.Levy says his favorite part of the first-grade curriculum is the non-fiction writing unit. Over the course of two months, each student writes a “How To” book; they choose topics–cats, for example, or skiing–and then write what they know about them. After they’ve completed that, each student then writes an “All About” book, which requires more research. “I try to teach my students to take risks as authors,” he says, “to put themselves out there–which is hard for a 6-year-old, but important to learn how to do.” In his spare time, Mr. Levy enjoys hiking and reading; he particularly likes the works of Eugene O’Neill. He is a member of the School Leadership Team, which meets once a month to discuss school policies and procedures.

Jeremy Manger
2nd grade
Rm. 309 Teaching since: 2005
At P.S. 8 since: 2005

Mr. Manger worked in advertising before switching to a career in teaching. “I wanted to do something I enjoyed, and I wasn’t enjoying advertising,” he says. He started by taking a few classes at Bank Street, which convinced him to pursue a master’s degree in education, which he completed in summer 2005. He is dual-certified in both general and special education. “When I started the program I thought I’d teach 5th or 6th grade,” he recalls. “But then I did some student teaching in a first-grade classroom and I loved it. Watching kids learn how to read, seeing that moment when they get it for the first time, I thought was the coolest thing.” Mr. Manger taught kindergarten at P.S. 8 for one year before switching to 2nd grade in fall 2006. “I am so impressed with the caring and hard-working attitude of these 7-year-olds,” he says. Their ability to work independently is the biggest difference between 2nd graders and kindergartners, he notes: “I told them to write down their hopes for the year, and they did it!”

One of Mr. Manger’s favorite units is the study of family and community. “We spend a lot of time defining community and comparing and contrasting family structures and attitudes and beliefs,” he says. “Our classroom is based on respect and acceptance.” Mr. Manger, who was born in New Jersey and is adopted, noted that his own parents are divorced. “I know that’s a real thing for some kids at P.S. 8, and I remember growing up and looking at family trees and thinking, my family isn’t like that,” he says, adding that his two brothers are also adopted, one from Colombia and the other from South Korea. “I think it’s important to realize that everybody has a different family dynamic.” In his spare time, Mr. Manger loves listening to music, especially Bob Dylan and Wilco. He also enjoys running and biking. In summer 2006 he completed the New York City Triathlon with his wife Amanda. “The swim in the Hudson River was the easiest part because of the current,” he says, “but the most disgusting because of the floating debris.”

William Maxcy
Magnet Grant Specialist Where he lives: Bradley Beach, New Jersey
Teaching since: 1996
At P.S. 8 since: 2000

Mr. Maxcy taught computers and technology at P.S. 8 during the 2003-2004 school year before turning his attention to matters of the magnet grant, funds awarded to P.S. 8 in 2004 to support its new mission, to offer opportunities for Research, Exploration and Design. Mr. Maxcy tracks how the grant money, which amounts to $800,000 spread over three years (2004-2007), is spent. He says he’s excited about his new role, and hopes to help the school utilize the funds to “build an enriched learning environment for all the children.” The grant supports new arts and dance programs, as well as the new “enrichment clusters,” which give students a chance to focus on specific interests such as cooking, knitting, arts & crafts, health & fitness and movie production. Mr. Maxcy likes baseball (he roots for the Yankees) and taking his family to the beach, which is just a two-block walk from their house.

Lesley L. May (formerly Ms. Pollak)
Rm. 109 Where she lives: Brooklyn Heights
Teaching since: 1994
At P.S. 8 since: 2003

What’s most gratifying about teaching pre-k, Ms. May says, is watching students at this age become increasingly independent while also learning how to behave as part of a community, with consideration and respect for others. “I’m always pleased when they learn to ‘use their words’ without being prompted,” she says. Ms. May, “Lesley” to her students, completed her undergraduate studies at Marymount Manhattan College and earned her master’s degree at Bank Street College of Education. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, baking, antiquing and spending time with family and friends.

Stephanie Parsons
Literacy Coach
K-5th grade


Stephanie has been running parent workshops at P.S. 8 since 2004, offering ideas on how to get kids excited about reading and writing, and continues to offer these strategy sessions once every couple of months. But in 2006 she took on a greater role as P.S. 8’s literacy coach, upping her presence at the school to three days a week and hopping from classroom to classroom. Her job, essentially, is to teach teachers–that is, help them help their students improve their reading skills and their reading comprehension. During a typical classroom visit, Stephanie will conduct a group lesson then work with students one-on-one. “The work the teachers do here is really good,” she says. “I’d like to bring top-drawer, cutting-edge methods to their practice.” It’s important to get kids to engage in a story, she explains, because “comprehension isn’t just about remembering what happened–it’s also about interpretation and analysis, which are two big words, but which can happen even at a young age.”

Stephanie is originally from California. She studied art, photography and sculpture in college, then moved to New York to study acting at David Mamet’s school. She later went back to school to get her master’s in elementary education at Columbia Teacher’s College. She taught 1st grade for four years at P.S. 321. From 2002 to 2006, Stephanie worked as a staff developer for the CTC’s Reading and Writing Project. She is the co-author of Poetry: Powerful Thoughts in Tiny Packages (2003) and the author of First Grade Writers: Units of Study to Help Children Plan, Organize, and Structure Their Ideas (2005). She is now working on a book for 2nd-grade teachers. On days when she is not at P.S. 8, she is often traveling to do private consulting work at other school districts in Houston, Portland, Ore., and other cities across the U.S.

Seth Phillips


Mr. Phillips was named Principal of P.S. 8 in May 2003. His mission coming in? “To build a place where people would want to send their children.” At the time he arrived, enrollment had dipped down to 245 students. By 2006 it had soared to 428, and New York City Mayor Bloomberg had declared the school a success story and role model.

Mr. Phillips lives with his wife and three children in Cobble Hill, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he grew up. He graduated from Haverford College and earned his master’s degree in education at Fordham University. He began his career in education as a classroom teacher in Washington Heights, teaching 1st grade for one year and then 2nd grade for eight years. “I never really planned to be an administrator,” Mr. Phillips says, “but after 10 years in the classroom I needed to do something different, to learn in a different environment.” He took a job as a staff developer for the Dept. of Education, which entailed visiting struggling schools throughout the city and working directly with teachers to help them to be more effective in the classroom. During that time he earned his certification in school administration.

In 2000, Mr. Phillips became assistant principal at P.S. 94 in Sunset Park. When he was appointed to take the helm at P.S. 8, the District 13 was being reorganized as part of a new Region 8, and Carmen Farina–a vocal champion of P.S. 8 whose own grandchildren were zoned for the school–was the incoming regional supervisor (she was later named Deputy Chancellor and retired in 2006). It was a heady time; prospective parents who had been accustomed to asking, “Is this school right for my kids?” started asking the tour guides at Open House, “How can I be sure that my kid will get in?” The tremendous turn-around–and, notably, the receipt of a three-year magnet grant in 2004–has garnered much media attention for the school, including several articles in the New York Times and other local newspapers, as well as featured spots on ABC’s Good Morning America and in local TV news reports.

Mr. Phillips says the coverage has been great, generally speaking, because “it has been so positive” and acknowledges everybody’s hard work. But the flip side, of course, is the added pressure that comes with being under a microscope. “We’re seen as an example of how a school can turn around,” he notes, “but that also raises expectations.” All in all, Mr. Phillips says, “I think we’ve done a pretty good job.” He hastens to add: “And I didn’t do it alone.”

Tracey A. Posluszny
English as a Second Language (ESL)
Pre-K through 5th grade Where she lives: Carroll Gardens
Teaching since: 2003
At P.S. 8 since: 2003

Being a successful ESL teacher, Ms. Posluszny says, is about more than just teaching students to speak a new language. It is about helping them adjust to their school environment and feel part of the school community. “Because I am an out-of-classroom teacher, my goals are set specifically around each child,” she says. Sometimes that involves in-classroom instruction, known as “push in,” in addition to small group or individual work outside the classroom, called “pull out.” When a classroom teacher is absent, Ms. Posluszny sometimes serves as the substitute for the day. She earned her bachelor’s degree in comparative literature at Bryn Mawr College and is currently studying for her master’s degree in the field of T.E.S.O.L (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Long Island University. When she has free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, running, swimming and biking, and in 2004 completed the Five Borough Bike Tour.

Julie Ross
2nd grade
Rm. 202 Where she lives: Bensonhurst
Teaching since: 2003
At P.S. 8 since: 2006

The professionalism of the P.S. 8 faculty is what Ms. Ross finds most striking about P.S. 8. “The teachers here really care about bettering themselves as teachers,” she observes. “It’s inspiring.” Ms. Ross, who teaches in the 2nd-grade Collaborative Team Teaching classroom with Ms. Jennings, says she became a teacher because she wanted to make a difference. What makes 2nd grade special, she says, is that students at that age and stage are so excited about learning. Ms. Ross studied international business at the University of Central Florida and received her master’s degree in education from Brooklyn College. Her hobbies include music–she plays the piano–and reading, and on weekends she likes to go to the beach, shop and go out to eat.

Karen Ruiz
1st Grade
1-210 Where she lives: Manhattan
Teaching since: 2005
At P.S. 8 since: 2006

After years of working in public relations, Ms. Ruiz decided it was time to do something more meaningful. She knew she enjoyed working with children–she had been a Big Sister to a 9-year-old girl while she was an undergraduate majoring in communications at the University of Rhoda Island, and had taught a children’s yoga class–and so decided her new career should involve working with them full time. In 2005 Ms. Ruiz became a New York City Teaching Fellow; she taught first grade in Far Rockaway, Queens, before coming to P.S. 8 in 2006. Ms. Ruiz teaches with Ms. Levy in the first-grade Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classroom while working toward her master’s degree from Pace University and a dual-certification in childhood and special education.

Ms. Ruiz says she loves teaching first graders because they are always excited to learn. “Many people don’t give a five or six-year-old enough credit for knowing things, but they actually know so much,” she says. “What they don’t know, they’re eager to learn. A child can amaze and inspire you with their abilities, ideas and stories.” Ms. Ruiz says her favorite moments are when children interrupt lessons to share an idea or make a suggestion. Often “it’s something that is unexpected and definitely not planned, but it turns out to be better than anything you could have imagined,” she says. “That child has just brought a whole new dimension to the lesson.” At P.S. 8, Ms. Ruiz observes, everyone is there for the children. “The staff works hard to ensure that the kids learn in an enjoyable and memorable way,” she says. “Everyone is always sharing ideas.” P.S. 8, she adds, “is a school that I look forward to sending my children to…when I have some!”

Carolyn Saffady
1st grade
Rm. 205 Where she lives: Carroll Gardens
Teaching since: 2004
At P.S. 8 since: 2004

Ms. Saffady’s first-grade classroom is usually teeming with living things–she’s had snails, pillbugs, sowbugs and even a Madagascar Hissing Roach. When her first-graders study butterflies, Ms. Saffady has them write butterfly poetry, work butterfly-related math problems, create butterfly art and read Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons and other books. The real butterflies–brought in when they are still caterpillars–are kept in a tunnel-shaped pavilion that hangs from the ceiling lights. It’s usually around February or March, Ms. Saffady says, when first-graders reach a new level of self-awareness. “That’s when they began to see themselves as active learners, to understand how they learn as individuals,” she says. Ms. Saffady earned an undergraduate Fine Arts degree from SUNY Albany, and a master’s degree in education from Long Island University. Before she arrived at P.S. 8 as a student teacher in January 2004, she worked as a graphic designer and large-format digital printer. She has two daughters who are P.S. 8 students. “I shifted into education so that I could be with my own children during the day, and I love that they both attend the school,” Ms. Saffady says. On weekends, she likes to take her girls to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or to one of New York City’s many zoos. But her weekends are busy in other ways too, she adds with a chuckle: “I fold a lot a laundry.”

Alison B. Schwartz
Rm. 110 Where she lives: Wantagh, Long Island
Teaching since: 2000
At P.S. 8 since: 2002

Ms. Schwartz (Alison to her students) taught kindergarten at P.S. for three years before switching to pre-kindergarten in the fall 2005. As an undergraduate at the University of Buffalo, she majored in early child development, then earned her master’s degree at Hofstra University. “I’ve always been interested in working with kids,” she says, “and teaching is a natural fit.” Alison says she is thrilled with the changes she’s seen happen at P.S. 8 since joining the faculty in 2002. “The school is a completely different place,” she says.”There is so much more involvement on everybody’s part, students, teachers, parents? It’s incredible to see.” One of Alison’s hobbies is photography, and she likes to snap pictures of her students in the classroom and create slideshows that she can share when parents visit.

Anne C. Taranto
4th grade
Rm. 308 Where she lives: Manhattan
Teaching since: 2003
At P.S. 8 since: 2005

Ms. Taranto grew up in Brooklyn Heights, and tutored P.S. 8 students while attending high school at St. Ann’s. She received her bachelor’s degree from Duke University, where she majored in Disabled Children in Society, an interdisciplinary major she designed herself that included courses in anthropology, public policy, education, sociology and psychology. Upon becoming certified as a general elementary education teacher, Ms. Taranto moved to Honolulu, where she taught science to K-6th graders for one year and then 3rd grade for one year before returning to New York City and landing her current position. “When I moved back here, my mom, who still lives here, said she’d heard that P.S. 8 was a great school. So I called. (Assistant Principal) Olivia Ellis answered the phone and said why don’t you come in for an interview, and here I am.” An exciting part of the 4th grade curriculum, Ms. Taranto says, is the study of the history of New York State. The course begins with the Native American tribes who lived in the region–the Iroquois and the Algonquins–and continues with the Industrial Revolution on into the early 1900s. A resident artist from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum visits the class each week to work on related art projects, such as clay bas-reliefs (3-D displays) of scenes from Native American life. Ms. Taranto is an avid sailor; she sailed double-handed and single-handed boats while on the sailing team in college. “I’m really impressed with the school community as a whole,” she says of P.S. 8. “Everybody is so supportive and upbeat. I’m happy to be a part of it all.”

Claudia Vecchio
Rm. 101 Where she lives: Manhattan, Upper West Side
Teaching since: 2002
At P.S. 8 since: 2006

“I believe teaching is about guiding students, not dictating,” Ms. Vecchio says, “and a little silliness goes a long way.” What she finds most rewarding about teaching at P.S. 8 is being part of the community. “The school is such a happy place,” she says. “People are friendly and they make you feel appreciated and welcome.” Her favorite part of the kindergarten curriculum is Writing Workshop, she says, because it is structured in such a way that she can make her lessons specific to each child. Her favorite time of year? “I love January and February, because the students seem so grown up, and it’s when they start to really grasp some of the kindergarten concepts.” She continues: “Kindergarten is special in that there is so much social growth and maturing that goes on. This is the year that they start to hear sound and recognize letters, but it is also the year they learn to socially interact.” Ms. Vecchio, who attended Southern Methodist University as an undergraduate and received her master’s degree from City College of New York, comes from a family of teachers–her mother, aunt and uncle all teach. Her hobbies include swimming, reading and playing Scrabble; on weekends she likes to clean (“weird, I know,” she jokes), hike and spend time with friends.

Gregory S. Williamson
1st grade
Rm. 210 Where he lives: Brooklyn Heights
Teaching since: 2002
At P.S. 8 since: 2003

Mr. Williamson, who teaches the first-grade Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) class with Ms. Patterson, grew up on Henry Street, just a few blocks from the school. He describes P.S. 8 as an “excellent educational environment.” His top priority as a teacher is to help his students develop the skills and confidence to begin reading and writing independently and for sustained periods of time. “That’s the foundation for continued growth in the later grades,” he says. Each year his first-graders embark on some kind of nature study. In 2004, it was snails; in the fall 2005, the students collected leaves and created leaf identification booklets. Through hands-on exploration, Mr. Williamson says, “the children learn a great deal, and have a lot of fun too.” Mr. Williamson likes to exercise. He works out every day, and during school vacations, teaches tennis professionally on Long Island’s east end and at resorts in the Caribbean. He attended Hobart College, where he earned a varsity letter for tennis, and received his master’s degree in early childhood education from St. John’s University. He says that eventually he would like to pursue a career in school administration.

??? DID YOU KNOW ???

Box Tops for education fund-raising program benefits PS8! Be sure to clip the Box Top coupons from consumer product packaging and drop them off in the Parent Room



(Read the Timely Notices)
Mar 1 (Thu)