I.S. 72 Rocco Laurie
STATEN ISLAND NY 10314 Map
I.S. 72 Rocco Laurie
A bustling small town unto itself, the Rocco Laurie school shelters four distinct learning academies under one raucous roof. Dedicated administrators express some frustration with kids who don't listen, who dress inappropriately for school, or who show disrespect to teachers and staff -- but in the main, from the empathic, blunt-spoken principal, Peter Macellari, to his four deans, they relate to individual children with humor and affection. Challenges seem to arise when large groups of students are together -- in the lunchroom or hallways, for example -- and the emphasis shifts from instruction to control.
In 2001, Macellari oversaw a deep restructuring of Rocco Laurie, which was divided into four academies. Today, the curriculum includes three foreign languages -- Spanish, French, and Italian; core subjects like language arts, math, science, and social studies; and concentrations specific to each academy. The building's first floor houses the Academy for Environmental Science (which studies Italian). American Studies and Government occupies the second floor (Spanish); Mathematical Applications is on the third (French); and Communication Arts and Humanities is in residence on the fourth floor (Spanish). Students stay on one floor for all classes, traveling to the first floor only for lunch and gym, or to visit the school's library/media center.
The benefits of the academy system are numerous. For one thing, the school has been able to largely eliminate the "controlled chaos" of the transition between classes, because students no longer have to visit different floors for different subjects. For another, each academy has a core group of teachers who get to know students well over their three years at Rocco Laurie. In addition, each academy has its own dean and guidance counselor. "They run independently with no animosity," said Macellari. "It took me until this year, but now they're behind it 100 percent."
While students learn within their home academies, after-school teams and activities are open to all. An active, energetic student organization raises funds for Penny Harvest, the March of Dimes, and breast cancer research; the group also organizes food drives twice a year and coat and toy drives at holiday times. After-school and Saturday athletics include volleyball, basketball, and softball, and a prize-winning cheerleading squad (2004 City Champions), led by Dean Lori Veit. An after-school Lego robotics workshop yielded a prize-winning team in the 2004 - 2005 school year, while the math club won the New York State competition for the second year in a row. Each academy also publishes its own newspaper.
Teaching appears to be fairly traditional, and on our visit many children appeared disengaged, with some sporting Walkmen and I-Pods during lessons. Still, the school regularly sends graduates to the specialized high schools and places in the top-10 rankings for foreign language proficiency. On each grade, each academy has at least one accelerated class -- known as "SP," for "Superintendent's Program." Children are tapped for the program in 6th grade and begin accelerated work in earnest in grade 7. SP classes max out at 38 students, unlike general education classes, which are smaller. Some 8th graders take Math A Regents exams in June, along with language proficiency exams and advanced language arts, earning credit for a year of high school English.
One dean blamed "raging hormones," inappropriate dress, and trash talk -- disrespectful communications between students and between students and teachers -- for a lot of discipline issues. Parents are called in to discuss infractions, and students receive in-house detention to discourage future problems. "I'm not gonna lie to you. It's a tough school," says Macellari. Many kids come from fractured homes or from group/foster homes and face enormous domestic challenges that undermine their academics. Most of the kids are good kids, Macellari says, who caught "tough breaks." But with students from nearly half of Staten Island's elementary schools feeding into Rocco Laurie, there's a lot of potential for conflict and squabbling.
In some academies on our visit, bulletin boards showcased student writing and art, but others in more public spaces were blank -- or vandalized with graffiti. The school is untidy in other ways, too. Many classrooms were in disarray, with scattered materials and debris. Food scraps, waste paper, drink cartons, and gum wrappers littered the hallways. And the cafeteria was close to a shambles, with food trash and other garbage on the floor. "Lunches at this place are so disgusting," laughed Dean Veit, as we walked past vending machines loaded with high-salt, high-fat snacks, which kids prefer to the warmed-up institutional fare.
The day we visited, administrators repeatedly shouted at kids to clear the hallways and get to their next class, and consistently relied on a well-amplified threat, linking good behavior with free time outdoors in an attempt to enforce decorum: "Why should I be in charge of people who don't respond? I don't wanna see none of you in the hallway -- if and when we go outside."
Rocco Laurie used to have a wide range of popular shop classes -- with metal, print, and wood shops, cooking class, and career technology -- but they have been phased out as teachers have retired, and new practical-arts teachers are few and far between. "A good carpenter makes more than a principal," says Macellari, who once taught a class in stained glass. A generation ago, people left the trades for the stability and fringe benefits of teaching, but today, he says, skilled workers can make far more in private industry than in education.
English as a Second Language: About 75 students require English language learner services. The frequency of instruction varies by need and grade level.
Special education: The school had four stand-alone special-needs classes in 2004 -- 2005, with a fifth planned for the following year. Rocco Laurie is a barrier-free school with elevators. About half of the students who use wheelchairs participate in general-education classrooms. All special-needs students take part in assemblies, trips, after-school programs, and school-wide events and celebrations.
After school: An enormous range of sports, arts, and academic programs engages more than 200 children a day after school and on Saturdays, with 150 students regularly attending the school's remedial Saturday academy. (Helen Zelon, June 2005)