Network Ambassadors Program Lead Campus Visits for Legislators to Foster Awareness of Nonpublic School Education
Riverdale, N.Y. – Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) and lay leaders representing Teach NYS, an education advocacy group and division of the Orthodox Union’s Teach Coalition, recently hosted Assemblyman and Chair of the Committee on Education Michael R. Benedetto at his very first visit to the school.
Assemblyman Benedetto was accompanied by Avi Spira, a member and grassroots advocate for Teach NYS. As part of its advocacy efforts, Teach NYS coordinates visits by local legislators to Jewish schools so they can learn, in person, about the unique needs of both the students enrolled there and their families.
Assemblyman Benedetto represents New York’s 82nd State Assembly District, which comprises Co-op City, Throggs Neck, Westchester Square, City Island, Country Club, and Pelham Bay sections of the East Bronx.
Following a 35-year elementary and secondary school teaching career where he received multiple achievement awards, Assemblyman Benedetto was elected to the New York State Assembly in 2004. As a legislator, Assemblyman Benedetto has focused on educational and child protection issues and has been an ardent supporter of union rights.
At the conclusion of the visit, Spira and Assemblyman Benedetto sat down for a Q&A about the legislator’s impression of SAR and his short-term legislative priorities. Following is a transcript of their conversation, edited for brevity; listen to the full interview here.
Avi Spira: What motivated you to run for office?
Assemblyman Benedetto: I’ve often thought about that. I suppose I was becoming a “person” in the 1960s. 1960 was the election of John F. Kennedy as president. TV, which was in its infancy, was operating for almost as long as I was alive, at that point 12, 13 years. TV was covering all of the political events like the Democratic primaries and the Democratic National Convention, and as a kid I watched these and I found them fascinating. That piqued my interest in government and I’ve only wanted to do two things in life: to teach and to be in public service. I’ve had the good fortune to do both.
Spira: Was this your first visit to a Jewish day school?
Assemblyman Benedetto: I’ve been to many Jewish day schools on a variety of visits as part of my job and it’s my delight. It’s always been a good experience.
Spira: Coming to SAR, what was your initial reaction to the school?
Assemblyman Benedetto: SAR is something you’ve never seen before in a school. This school is open. Kids are roaming around every which way, good noise is coming out from all areas, and it’s all blending wonderfully. The kids are not disrupted; they’re learning, they’re interested. It’s a wonderful thing to see.
Spira: What are your takeaways from this visit?
Assemblyman Benedetto: We’ve got to give more money to these schools, especially the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] programs. Because these kids are alive. They have lights in their eyes, they’re learning. Schools should be educating the leaders of tomorrow; the people who are going to advance our society’s wonderful achievements in the future, in science in particular.
Spira: In addition to having a strong, vibrant public school program, why do you believe that a strong and affordable nonpublic school education is important for New York State?
Assemblyman Benedetto: I went through a private school education. For better or for worse, I think mostly for better, there are elements in both that work. We all know children have so many different needs and it’s so important to identify the needs of individual students and to teach them accordingly. When you have a school, be it public or private, that encourages and fosters a variety of teaching and learning experiences, that’s what we want in our society. We need enough schools that can address today’s multiplicity of teaching needs.