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Cathedral School Celebrates Anniversary

Nursery school highlights 45 Years in education

The children and staff at Cathedral Nursery School have a reason to smile and it’s not because of the warmer weather. The organization celebrated its 45-year anniversary on the week of May 27 with cake-cutting ceremonies and a visit from a magician, School Director Diane Cina said.

The Rockaway Avenue school, which currently has over 275 enrolled students and 30 teachers, was founded in 1968 by the Cathedral Women of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, according to Cina, who has been director for 12 years.

“It probably was parishioners who got together and said they needed a program and this is how it developed,” Cina said when asked about how the program originally began. “It started with one class with about 12 children.”

The nursery school now has 22 classes in total that gather for half-day schedules, according to administrator Cathy Sammon. Students met in the Cathedral House until 2003 when the church said it would tear it down, Cina said. That is when they moved to their current location in the cottages they renovated behind Saint Paul’s. They share the space with the Garden City Senior Center, according to Cina.  

In February, the school installed a new security system with cameras and locks in every classroom and a bell at the entrance of the school that only allows people in after they are seen by the school’s faculty, according to Cina. She said this was done in response to the deadly school shooting in Newtown, CT last December that killed 20 children and 6 adults.

Programs are chartered by the New York State Board of Regents and include Mommy & Me, TOTS, “Early Steps,” nursery and pre-K, as well as an annual summer camp, Cina said. The school is not-for-profit and is recognized as a 501(c)3 organization, she said.

“Honestly, I would say the most popular program at this point is the young children, the toddlers,” Cina said. “Parents are looking for places for them earlier and earlier.”

One student favorite, Cina said, is the “Let’s Share A Story,” session during classes, which started about 10 years ago. This is when seniors come in once a week to read a book to the children, Cina explained. Everyone enjoys the time spent together, she said.

“The seniors are our neighbors here,” Cina said. “They occupy one of these cottages. So it was really something obvious to us to bring them in and to introduce them to the little ones and the little ones to the grandparents.”

Sammon said most of the readers have come back to the program continuously over the last decade.

One of Cina’s friends has a grandson in the program who, when he was out with his grandmother, ran over and hugged a woman Cina’s friend thought was a stranger, she said. It turned out to be his reader in school, Cina said.

“It was really so sweet and again the seniors enjoy it…we [also] involve [the seniors] in other things,” Cina said. “We have a little Christmas social for them and the children make cards and little things. Now we’re inviting them to our birthday party next week because we are celebrating a whole week’s worth of birthdays.”

Kristine Henry, who has sent her three children through the school over the last seven years, said the program is important.

“It’s such a wonderful relationship between the seniors and the little kids that they get to do that with each other every week,” she said in a phone interview. “I feel like both completely benefit from each other.”

In addition to this, the nursery school promotes charity and community activism through its work with organizations such as “Coins For Kids” for the American Red Cross and the Alford Family Foundation, according to Cina. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, students and teachers sent over 100 bags of clothing to the Garden City Rotary Club as a part of the relief effort, she said. Cina has received positive feedback from parents regarding these actions, she said.

“The parents definitely appreciate [the charity work] especially because [the idea of giving] becomes a visual when [the bags of donated items are] all piled in the hallway,” Cina said, adding in that teachers discuss the programs with their classes.

For its “birthday party,” Cina said, the school invited several distinguished guests to cut the cake including a senior citizen from the village, parents and the mayor of Garden City.

“We will also have celebrations in all of the classrooms; all around a birthday theme,” Cina said, the week before the festivities began.

Since the school moved to its current location 10 years ago, it has taken out an annual lease for the property from the Village of Garden City since the land is publicly owned. In a phone interview, Garden City village administrator and treasurer Robert Schoelle said he does not anticipate an issue with this year’s lease renewal. Cina declined to comment.

Either way, Henry, who said her youngest daughter is going to be graduating from the school this year, also said she was lucky to send her kids to a program like Cathedral Nursery School.

“You feel like you’re leaving your children with a family member…They’ve become a family,” she said.