Alumni Are Part of Outdoor Poly’s Success

You could say it takes a village to pull off outdoor learning on our 25-acre Dyker Heights campus. It takes the whole Poly community to make it successful—administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni.

Top row (left to right): Nicholas Edel ’15, Corinne Bongiorni ’09, Justin Ferrelli ’94, Andrew Andrade ’16 Bottom row (left to right): Kaylin Warner ’15, Kara Charles ’16, Matthew Figueroa ’08

Alumni answered when Poly Prep put out the call for “alumni faculty assistants” to help with the logistics of making in-person outdoor learning a success on the Dyker Heights campus this September. Nick Edel ’15, Justin Ferrelli ’94, Kara Charles ’16, Kaylin Warner ’15, and Andrew Andrade ’16 stepped up. In addition, two other alumni, Corinne Bongiorni ’09 and Matthew Figueroa ’08, are working in the classroom tents helping to keep the students on task, assisting the teachers who are teaching virtually from home.

The faculty assistants are working with both Middle and Upper School students. So far, they have helped to make the morning arrival process of screening students go smoothly, prepared lunches for delivery, distributed lunches among the almost 70 tents either on the Oval, tennis courts, or backfields, tagged the portable camp chairs that students use each day, assisted with dismissal to buses or cars, supported teachers in the tents, monitored restrooms, and distributed supplies.

After spending the last two decades working in hospitality, Justin Ferrelli was looking for a career change. “I began to think about education as a possible career field, and began researching teaching assistant programs,” Ferrelli said. “That’s when the faculty assistant program opportunity presented itself. It’s a great opportunity to get exposure to day-to-day classroom experience, while doing so in an environment I’m already comfortable and familiar with.”

“It feels different with everything being outside, but the soul of the school is still there regardless.”

Nick Edel was waiting to hear about physical therapy school applications when he received the notice about faculty assistant positions and knew Poly would be a good fit. “I also wanted to come back and see how all the teachers and students I know are doing,” Edel said. “It feels great to be back at Poly since it’s a lot of people I know from helping out with the football team last year and my continual work at Poly summer.” He continued, “Obviously, it feels different with everything being outside, but the soul of the school is still there regardless.”

(Left to right): Andrew Andrade ’16, Kaylin Warner ’15, and Nick Edel ’15 helping Coach Curtis distribute lunch in study hall.

“As a result of the pandemic,” Ferrelli said, “many aspects of the Poly experience, which were once afterthoughts, now require explicit planning. This includes things like lunch in Commons Hall, P.E. on the backfields, and purchasing school supplies.  As part of that planning, in the first week, I and other alumni faculty assistants have been involved in activities ranging from the bagging and distribution of lunch to the compiling of school supplies in bags that were ultimately given to students.  Other key items on our daily agenda have been helping with Movement classes in the tents, facilitating student dismissal, and ensuring social distancing.”

Edel said, “We have also tagged most of the chairs that the Upper School students are using when going around from class to class on the backfields.”

“I don’t know how I would have felt about class outside,” Edel said. “I’m used to being on the backfields so would have probably been fine with it, but who knows how I would have felt when it gets really hot or cold. It definitely would have taken time getting used to.”

Other alumni are stepping in as teachers in the tents. “Instead of teaching from a lesson plan left for me, I’m assisting the ‘classroom’ as they connect with their teacher on Zoom,” explained Corinne Bongiorni, who has also worked as a substitute teacher at Poly during normal times. “So far I’ve subbed math, English, and history classes.”

Corinne Bongiorni ’09 assisting Poly faculty conduct a math class.

“Initially I thought weather was going to be the biggest challenge,” Bongiorni said, “but, so far, the biggest challenge is underestimating exactly how huge 25 acres is. Tents are spread out over the entire backfield, on the Oval, and on all the tennis courts. It’s a lot different than just walking down a few hallways to get to your next class.

“The students have adapted really well,” Bongiorni said. “Everyone has probably experienced a minor setback like not being able to remember your password, or putting your chair down in the wrong classroom, but since this is new for everyone, it doesn’t seem as stressful. I used to love having class in the Quad in the springtime so I think I would have enjoyed more outdoor learning.”

“It feels wonderful to be back at Poly,” Ferrelli said. Although the classrooms have changed, he said,  “the dedication of the faculty and the commitment to students have not.”

Matt Figueroa ’08 subbing Middle School class.