As Give Something Back strengthens its partnerships with community-based organizations around the country, passionate leaders in those communities become a crucial part of Give Back’s program. In Queens, NY, Newtown High School’s partnership with Give Back has been made possible by Jennifer Schneider, a ninth-grade school counselor, and Principal John Ficalora, who are leading examples of the advocates that are supporting Give Back scholars today.
Jen Schneider’s rootedness in Queens and her lifelong connection to Queens College, a Give Back partner college, began with her mother’s career at Queens College, where she worked as a librarian for forty years and ended her career as Chief Librarian. Schneider’s childhood among books grew into a love of reading and research. Jen went on to attend Queens College herself, where she studied English and secondary education.
In her senior year at Queens, Schneider volunteered as a peer advisor for a school counseling program and fell in love with counseling. Ultimately, this experience led her to search for a way to combine her major in education with her interest in psychology.
Jen was not the only member of her family to see education as both a rewarding and powerful career. Her sister now teaches kindergarten, her brother teaches fifth grade and her sister-in-law also works for the Department of Education. After a number of years teaching, Jen returned to Queens College to acquire a master’s degree in psychology.
As part of the Give Back scholarship, scholars are required to give back to the community through a service project or informal volunteering. Jen’s experience in combining her interest in positively impacting her community with a meaningful and successful career will be a positive model for the Give Back scholars selected from Newtown High School.
With her seventeen years of teaching, Jen is not the only experienced educator among Give Back’s allies at Newtown High School. John Ficalora, the principal and former attendee of Newtown High School, is a lifelong Queens resident and, now, leader. Ficarola has served Newtown High School’s teachers and students for fifty years, as a math teacher, an assistant principal and as principal for the past twenty years. Ficalora is known as a passionate advocate for public education and his incredibly diverse student body. He was immediately a supporter of Schneider’s efforts to build a partnership with Give Back.
“When I met Jen in her office, she was mentoring a college student who is interested in counseling,” Ficalora said. “Our students are really good kids. They don’t come from a lot and so they need Jen’s encouragement that they are capable, that they can do great things, and that they can learn and succeed.”
Both Schneider and Ficalora believe in the work of Newtown High School and the potential of its students. Schneider calls Queens the “United Nations of New York.” Something that keeps her motivated as a teacher is the promise she sees in her students.
“Our kids are sponges, they want to learn and there are so many things they want to know,” Schneider said. “They care and they come to school desiring to do their best.”
For Give Back, individuals such as Schneider and Ficalora are powerful allies. They do the important work of identifying students who qualify, encouraging them to apply for the scholarship and, once scholars are accepted, mentoring them and guiding their high school choices. Give Back is extremely thankful for its new community-based organization partners and look forward to continuing work with them.