Community & School News February 2016

Important School Dates
February 1 – High School’s Chancellor’s Conference Day (No School for Non-D75 Public High School Students)
February 2 – Spring Term Begins for Public High Schools
February 8 – Lunar New Year (Public Schools Closed)
February 15-19 Midwinter Recess (Public Schools Closed)
February 15 – Presidents Day (Catholic Schools Closed)

Groundhog Day
Winter was off to a mild start this year, but will it last? Staten Island Chuck, the Staten Island Zoo’s famous resident groundhog, will once again emerge from hibernation on Groundhog Day to make his seasonal prediction. According to tradition, if Chuck emerges from his burrow and fails to see his shadow then spring will arrive early. However, if he comes out and is frightened by his shadow, causing him to return to hibernation, then winter will persist for six additional weeks.

We’re really crossing our fingers that Chuck misses his shadow, since he’s got an 80% accuracy rate! Want to meet him? The Groundhog Day event at the zoo is free and open to the public, with doors opening at 6:30am and Chuck’s prediction at 7:30. This year’s ceremony will include music from Patrick & The Rock-a-Silly Band.

Schools Closed for Lunar New Year
New York City recently became the second major urban school district in the nation, after San Francisco, to close on Lunar New Year in the official school calendar. Public schools will close on February 8 for the Lunar New Year. Students will not lose any instructional days as a result of the new holiday.

“New York is a city of inclusion and acceptance and we must recognize all major faiths and cultures. By making the Lunar New Year an official school holiday, we are demonstrating that New York has respect for Eastern traditions. No longer will Asian students and families have to choose between their heritage and education,” said Public Advocate Tish James in a statement.

Celebrated by millions of people worldwide, Lunar New Year is considered a very important holiday in China, Vietnam, Mongolia, North and South Korea, and other parts of Asia. It is considered an opportunity to reunite with family and celebrate traditions dating back over 4,000 years. Each year is depicted by an animal, according to the Chinese zodiac. This will be the Year of the Monkey. Click here for info on fun Lunar New Year events nearby.

National Wear Red Day
Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day in February for rocking your red. Friday, February 5 is National Wear Red Day, a day designated by the American Heart Association every year to raise awareness of heart disease in women. Heart disease affects more women than men and is sometimes called the “silent killer” because its symptoms may be unnoticeable. Heart disease and stroke kill 1 in 3 women, yet the disease is 80% preventable. Show your support for the cause by wearing red on February 5 and sharing your pictures on social medial using the hashtag #GoRed. You can also make a donation to the cause. Click here to learn more about National Wear REd Day.

Pre-K Applications
You never thought the day would arrive so quickly, but it’s time to sign your child up for pre-k! If you have a child who was born in 2012, he or she is eligible to attend a free, full-day pre-kindergarten program in September. The pre-k application period is already open, having begun a month earlier than in previous years. You have until March 4 to sign your child up. Families may apply to programs at NYC Department of Education district schools, Pre-K Centers, and full-day NYC Early Education Centers (NYCEECs) using a single application. For more information on the process or to link to a Staten Island Pre-Kindergarten Directory, click here.

Tobacco-Free Staten Island
Did you know that Staten Island has the highest smoking rate in New York City? According to a 2014 Community Health Survey by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 16.6% Staten Islanders are still lighting up. The Tobacco-Free Staten Island Coalition, a new anti-smoking group comprised of the NYC Treats Tobacco project, community members, elected officials, and partner organizations, is hoping to drastically reduce that statistic. The group met for the first time in December to discuss reducing youth initiation of tobacco products, improving services to encourage quitting, and creating more smoke-free environments. They are currently exploring the use of educational events, voluntary community policies, and legislative action to achieve these goals. The Coalition was organized by Tobacco-Free Staten Island, a grant project housed at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Staten and funded by the Bureau of Tobacco Control for New York State.

Tax Credit for College Students
Few things are as expensive as college tuition, but the American Opportunity Tax Credit is giving families a break. Worth up to $2,500 a year, the tax credit eases tuition costs for middle-class students. The credit was first introduced in 2009 but was recently extended to 2017. According the internal Revenue Service (IRS), families with a gross income of less than $180,000 annually (or $90,000 for single-filers) are eligible.

Well-known for its affordable tuition rates, City University of New York (CUNY) expressed their praise for the decision to extend the credit in a statement recently, quoting the original author of the credit New York Senator Charles Schumer. “With tuition costs continuing to rise, middle-class families should be able to take advantage of any savings they can get, and that is why I pushed to make sure the American Opportunity Tax Credit was included in this must-pass tax package,” Schumer said.

Your Vote Counts
Whether you really “Feel the Bern” with Bernie Sanders or wish to “Make America Great Again” with Donald Trump, your opinion won’t count if you aren’t registered to vote. The primary election, which is when the presidential candidate for each political party is selected by registered voters, will be held on April 19, 2016. If you aren’t yet registered to vote, it isn’t too late. Applications must be postmarked no later than March 25th and received by a board of elections no later than March 30th to be eligible to vote in the Primary. Staten Islanders may register in person at the Richmond County Board of Elections Station (located at 1 Edgewater Plaza), but your application must be received no later than March 25th.

If you are registered to vote but not with a specific party, we have some unfortunate news for you. The deadline for New Yorkers to change their political party passed in October. This means that all New Yorkers currently registered as “independent” will not be eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential primary election. In addition, if you are registered as a democrat, you will only eligible to vote in the democratic primary; conversely, if you are a registered republican, you can only vote in the republican primary election. All registered voters, however, are able to vote in the general election in November. New York is one of 11 states requiring this type of closed primary election. Of those 11, our state has the earliest change-of-party deadline.

Not sure if you are registered to vote with a specific party? Or whether you’re even registered to vote at all? Click here to find out, plus get links to voter registration forms and other important voting information.

Have You Been Exposed to Asbestos?
Do you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos? A recent report from the Environmental Working Group indicates that from 1999 to 2013 more than 12,000 New Yorkers lost their lives to an asbestos-caused disease — one of the highest totals in the country. Asbestos is a human carcinogen known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, a terminal cancer of the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen, as well as other cancers and respiratory diseases.

Everyone has the right to know if they have been exposed to this deadly mineral. Most at-risk for the disease are trade workers such as insulators, plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, sheet metal workers, auto mechanics, refinery and factory workers and shipyard workers. Here in Staten Island, there are many people working in these trades. Thankfully, we have the lowest number of asbestos violations of the five boroughs. Want to know if you or someone you care about may have been exposed? Go to www.mesotheliomahelp.org to view a handy map marking all current asbestos violations in New York City. Click here to link directly to the map. This website offers a wealth of knowledge about asbestos exposure and the diseases caused by it.

NYC Reads 365
Bookworms rejoice! New York City public schools are supporting literacy through a new program aiming to promote daily reading for every student, both inside and outside of school. Through the program, called NYC Reads 365, all pre-K-12 schools will receive ongoing resources to promote regular reading – new and age-appropriate reading lists, engaging posters and bookmarks, and training for school staff and parents on strengthening students’ reading skills and encouraging a love for reading. Students and families can also find convenient reading lists and extensive reading resources at the new NYC Reads 365 website. Launched in November, you may have already seen the colorful posters hanging in your own child’s school. Every DOE school showcases a borough-specific poster depicting iconic landmarks engaged in reading, designed by artist Robert Pizzo.

Distracted Driving
Everyone knows it’s illegal in New York to use a hand-held cell phone while driving, but did you know that probationary and junior drivers or those with learner permits who break this law will have their driver license or permit suspended for 120 days?

Reading or answering texts while stopped at a red light is also a no-no, and will result in a $50 to $200 fine and 5 violation points on your license, as well as surcharge of up to $93—for a first offense. What’s more, chances are there are little eyes in your backseat soaking in all your habits, which will have a stronger influence than any lecture you can give them when they are behind the wheel. Click here for more information on distracted driving from the DMV.

Flu Vaccine Shot Down
If you have a child in a preschool or daycare center, you might want to stock up on some sanitizer. Kids attending these institutions are not required to receive a flu vaccine. Although a mandate had previously been approved by the Department of Health and was scheduled to take effect in January, a judge recently ruled that the city health department did not have the authority to make this decision after all. The ruling was made after a group of parents who disagreed with the mandate filed a lawsuit against the city.

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, expressed her frustration with the ruling in a statement. “I am extremely disappointed by today’s decision,” she said. “Influenza kills an average of 24,000 people each year in the United States, and the virus is spread easily in child care settings to children and their families. The vaccination requirement will save lives.”

STEM-Learning with the Staten Island Museum
Sometimes the best kind of learning is the kind that happens outside of the classroom. Sixth graders from Intermediate School 24 would certainly agree after a recent visit to the Staten Island Museum. The kids participated in Con Edison’s STEM Days Out, a fun program designed to expand awareness in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Staten Island Museum educators taught the young enthusiasts about concepts related to chemical reactions, physical change, motion, and other topics by using microscopes, scales, levies, and various tools to complete assigned tasks. The curriculum also included mini-lessons covering different types of scientists and what they do; a guided tour of fossil exhibits; and fun educational activities to tie everything together.

“This is a great program. Thanks to Con Edison’s STEM program, my students had an opportunity to conduct hands-on science experiments which reinforced topics learned in class,” said Raymond Cottrell, science teacher at IS 24.
The Staten Island Museum says the remaining Con Edison STEM Days have already been booked for school visits, but parents can contact the museum to learn more about similar STEM classes for their kids. The museum also offers Super Science Saturdays, essentially STEM programming for the public, which runs every 3rd Saturday of the month. Be sure to check SI Parent’s calendar to get the scoop on all upcoming events at the Staten Island Museum.

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