Coloring a Dreary Situation

By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
St. Anthony of Padua School becomes a Learning Center

ENDICOTT — Immediately after St. Anthony of Padua School in Endicott closed last June, the parishioners began to work on fulfilling a vision.

Father Clarence Rumble, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church, saw potential in the old school building and didn’t want to see it become neglected or unused. In order to materialize his vision, volunteers from the parish gathered painting supplies and many other donations and set out to accomplish the goal of revitalizing the building.

On Sept. 4, as other schools were opening for the academic year, St. Anthony’s also had a new start; it opened as St. Anthony’s Learning Center.

“Over 150 parishioners, all volunteers, scrubbed the entire school,” said Helen Taurisano, administrator of the Learning Center, explaining how the white walls and orderly classrooms were transformed into a colorful and vibrant environment to be used for the new pre-school programs and before-school and after-school care. The halls of the first floor had been turned into an elaborate and detailed Wizard of Oz mural, while all classrooms, hallways, and stairwells have been decorated in specific youth-orientated themes.

“Everything was boring and stark and this has made it fun, exciting and peaceful,” Taurisano said.

Dominik Caminiti was one of the many parishioners who donated his time and talents to help turn the school into a more child-friendly atmosphere. After helping with the initial revitalization of the building, he continued by using his experience as a carpenter to convert tall wooden shelving units into child-sized shelves.

“I’m retired,” Caminiti said. “I enjoy doing this type of work for the church, especially because it’s helping the kids out.”

Connie Richardson, classroom teacher for the four-year-olds and assistant administrator, added that when she asked her students, they said the new center was enjoyable and relaxing. “It’s definitely more colorful than most schools. It’s really beautiful,” Richardson said. “The color seems to perk them right up and even if they’re having a bad day, it seems to brighten their mood.”

Prior to the opening of the Learning Center, Taurisano began working with Father Rumble to evaluate the pre-school program and to develop new strategies to enliven the program and provide more resources to the children. As a result, Taurisano worked with staff and volunteers to design the pre-school programs now offered through the Learning Center.

“The kids now are able to move between the rooms for each activity,” Taurisano said, showing off the nap-room, the Coca-Cola themed café, and the theater room. “Kids are like sponges. They soak up everything, which is why it’s so good for them to be exposed to many activities at a young age.”

On a weekly basis the children in the pre-school classes have lessons in creative arts, music, sign language, martial arts and Italian.

“I’ve worked with kids for over 25 years, mainly in music, dance and art,” said Patrick Foti, an art teacher. “I love it. I’ve never seen a school like this before. It’s a great place.”

In addition to pre-school, St. Antony’s Learning Center offers before-school and after-school care to children, many of whom attended St. Anthony of Padua School before its closing. At 7 a.m., the first children are left at the center to relax and play before waiting for the buses to take them to local schools. After school, children take buses back to the learning center or a parish-owned van picks up the children from schools which do not bus to the area. In addition to being open Monday through Friday from 2:15 p.m. until 6 p.m., the before-school and after-school programs are open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. on vacation days and snow days.

“It’s a safe, fun environment for the kids. They are all given time to rest and to do homework, sometimes in the lounge room,” Taurisano said. “They also do activities later in the day and, of course, they all get time to enjoy their favorite room, the game room.”

Taurisano explained that the after-school program works on the understanding that each child responds differently to a long day at school.

“I like to say we focus on laps, snacks, raps and naps. Some of us have to burn off energy and, of course, most of us are hungry after a long day,” Taurisano said. “And others like to socialize with friends and staff members, while others would rather relax and enjoy quiet time.”

Before opening, St. Anthony of Padua Learning Center advertised through some local television commercials, but Debra Matts, secretary, said most of the people heard by word of mouth.

“It’s not just parish families. There’s a lot of kids from the neighborhood too. After the open house and after the pre-school classes started, there began a waiting list for the pre-school classes,” Matts said. “It’s definitely a warm environment and a place where the kids enjoy staying.”

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