New tools help students learn

Occuptational Therapist Ralph Avellino helps Juan Carlos Aldea service a bike inside PS 811's new shop. A $2,000 grant will go towards new tools for the students. By Phil Corso
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A new $2,000 grant has helped one Little Neck school get in gear as it continues to prepare special needs students for real-world job opportunities.

The grant comes courtesy of the Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program, which awarded 25 schools in New York, including Little Neck’s PS 811, at 61-25 Marathon Pkwy.

“By supporting schools in New York, we are rallying behind a cause that is important to both our customers and employees, and we’re helping to build a stronger foundation for the children who will be tomorrow’s employees, homeowners and community leaders,” said Marshall Croom, chairman of Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation, in a statement.

The school’s in-house bicycle repair shop used the money for tools and storage to make its new program more dynamic for both its students and the community.

Principal Penny Ryan said it was a win-win situation because not only do the students benefit by learning a new trade, but local bikers also have a no-cost alternative for servicing their bikes.

“We try to design programs that fit the desires and needs of the students,” Ryan said. “We’re so excited and grateful to have Lowe’s working with the school.”

Students work closely with occupational therapist Ralph Avellino, who guides different lessons in teamwork and independent problem-solving. Avellino said the initiative included much more than fixing bikes and filling tires with air.

“It’s here to get the kids jobs and teach them skills,” Avellino said. “Hopefully, we can get more kids involved as the program grows, with help from this grant.”

Fewer than 10 students work regularly in the bike shop currently.

Assistant Principal Janet Healy applied for and received the grant from the Lowe’s program and said the money was going to a worthy cause. She donated her own Schwinn bicycle to the shop for servicing and said it came back in top-notch shape.

The shop was established last year and operated with only “nuts and bolts” in the beginning, recycling used parts taken from faculty and student bicycles and Avellino’s personal tools. One year later, with help from the Lowe’s grant, it has acquired several community bikes, new tools and more space to work.

“Now they can do a more complete job,” Assistant Principal Diana Parisy said. “The goal is to allow them to use their time here to prepare for a field they enjoy.”

Parisy said the program was working with local bike shops in the area to explore internship possibilities so students can take their learned skills into the working world.

Avellino said it typically takes three to four hours for his students to progress from needing hands-on instructions to independent work on the bikes. With a background in construction, he said working hands-on with the students was like a second career for him.

And, according to Ryan, the results are there.

“To see the kids grow is extremely rewarding,” Ryan said.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Posted 6:55 pm, March 21, 2012
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Reader feedback

Joan Washington from Rockaway says:
Kudos to the administration and staff of PS 811! We all know how important it is to give our young people real-life skills to compete in today's job market. I can see PS 811 is on the right (bike) track!
March 23, 2012, 11:45 am

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