Written by Mary Ellen Porrazzo, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 15 February 2013 00:00
Spend a few minutes with Principal Lisa Cacchioli and three words come to life. “A Caring Place,” which is etched on the red awning over the Nicholai Street entrance to Trinity Lutheran School, is transformed from a gentle greeting into a warm embrace of every student inside.
Add a dedicated staff and you have a center of learning combining cutting edge technology, educational basics and deep moral values.
“I firmly believe in respect for everyone at all times,” Cacchioli said.
That respect is evident in the comfortable lobby that greets visitors with a wall of wisdom that changes in theme each month. January – new beginnings. February – the heart. In an interview before a tour of the school she clearly loves, Cacchioli praised a talented parent for assembling the sayings, scripture and artwork, noting, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Students at Trinity Lutheran range in age from 2 to 14 – kindergarten to middle school. In addition to Hicksville, they come from Westbury, Plainview, Jericho, Hempstead, Levittown and Syosset. The school was founded in 1952.
After greeting each one at 8:15 a.m., Cacchioli makes the daily announcements on the public address system before she shares a literary treat with kindergartners, first- and second-graders. Each day she reads a page or two of Charlottes Web.
“They love it,” Cacchioli said. “Reading is so important. It changes lives.”
One innovative class is devoted to study habits. A popular one, it focuses on the importance of organization and note taking. Cursive is also taught as is sentence diagramming and grammar, subjects that sometimes take a backseat in this age of fast communication.
Computers are also an integral part of the curriculum. She proudly showcased a fully equipped computer room, filled with students glued to their screens working on “endangered animal research,” according to instructor Mr. Stainkamp.
“Kids just love computers,” he said, explaining their project will evolve into a PowerPoint presentation.
Smart boards fill many classrooms, but not all. Cacchioli said a fundraiser is being planned for later this month to bring smart boards to every room. “We need more,” she said, eying eight.
Keeping her students in shape is a high priority for Cacchioli, as is giving back. Physical education teacher John Asenza described “Hoops for Heart ” that has students engaged in “anything that has to do with jumping” as a way to stay fit and help the community at the same time. The student’s efforts, Cacchioli explained, raise money that is donated to the American Heart Association.
“We have amazing students,” she said with contagious enthusiasm, as she navigated the picture-filled walls upstairs and down. Visiting one classroom, a 2-year-old, Nicholas, spontaneously hugged her.
Later visiting the multipurpose room, Cacchioli offered words of encouragement and caution to a class of preschoolers who turned the large room into a temporary tricycle track zooming round and round on shiny three-wheelers. In another room she was serenaded by Mrs. Evers’ class of 4 year olds, who belted out a patriotic song while one student held the American flag.
With the exception of the young ones in the Early Childhood Center, every student wears a uniform, providing “consistency,” Cacchioli said, along with easing the pressure of the age-old question – what do I wear today?
“Our community,” she said of Hicksville, “has always been solid and hardworking,” two traits she instills in her students. “I am here all the time,” she said, and teachers stay late, providing role models for the children.
Students also stay late to help one another. Their peer tutoring program involves middle school students assisting the younger ones in reading, math and other subjects
Character-building takes countless forms from words of the month – friendship, perseverance and integrity, for example – to the adoption of a charity by each class, to the Wednesday worship service in the chapel led by Pastor Henn or sometimes a parent.
Lighter moments of the week include pizza day every Friday, but this day – a bitter cold Monday – featured the gentle aroma of homemade chicken soup and garlic bread.
A graduate of C.W. Post, Cacchioli later received her masters in education from Queens College, following a brief time as a bond trader on Wall Street. After having two children – a daughter, 22, and a son, 20 – she knew her love was education and she began teaching, “a calling,” she said. She served as interim principal for a year three years ago after teaching for some 10 years, then returned to the classroom for a year before being named principal.
“Our teachers are phenomenal,” she said. Many stay decades. The director of the Early Childhood Center, Mrs. Rausch, is stepping down this year after 36 years. “I’ve taught hundreds of kids,” she said as she held a tiny pair of plaid high top sneakers preparing to return them to the rightful owner.
Clearly comfortable in any classroom or enthusiastically greeting teachers or students in the hallway, Cacchioli said all she has to do is spend time with her students and her day is brighter.
“I feel like I was led to this,” Cacchioli said.