August 07, 2013
A double alumna of St. John's University is one of 11 New York City
educators to receive the inaugural
Big Apple Award, presented jointly by Mayor Michael Bloomberg
and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
Following a rigorous evaluation process, Catherine Downey ’07Ed,
’08G, who teaches fifth grade at P.S. 128 in the Bensonhurst
section of Brooklyn, NY, was chosen from among 2,000 nominees for
the prestigious award.
program recognizes the city’s best teachers while encouraging a
larger conversation about excellence in the classroom. Honored in
June with a ceremony at Gracie Mansion, the Mayor’s official
residence, Downey and her fellow recipients each will receive a
$3,500 classroom grant to enhance their work with students.
At St. John's Staten
Island campus, Downey served as an undergraduate student worker
and a graduate assistant for The
School of Education. She also served a two-year term as
Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), the international honor society for
Susann Ragone, Assistant Dean in the School, worked closely
with Downey throughout her time at St. John's. "I can't say enough
about her,” Ragone declared. “I'm not surprised to learn that she
earned this award.”
Downey traces her interest in education to the influence of her
mother, who has taught at St. Anselm’s School in Bay Ridge,
Brooklyn, for many years. "I remember watching her correct homework
in the evenings,” Downey said. “Some of my friends were in her
class, and they loved her. She always considered her students her
Today, many of Downey’s students require ESL services and,
consequently, a visually creative approach to classroom
instruction. "Without a command of the language,” she noted,”
social studies content can be quite difficult to understand.”
A recent lesson illustrates her approach to clarifying challenging
concepts. To explain the Mayan caste system, Downey randomly
distributed chocolates of various sizes to students, who were
assigned to different castes. She then instructed the students in
the lower castes to relinquish their chocolates to higher-caste
classmates, an exercise that helped them to understand the system.
(No tears were shed during the lesson—a testament to Downey’s skill
in classroom management.)
In addition to her work in the classroom, Downey is a member of the
P.S. 128 leadership team and coordinates the after-school program.
She also regularly volunteers for special functions including
school spirit events, movie nights and state test preparation
sessions. And, at St. Anselm’s, Downey’s choreography enlivens
student theatrical productions.
The benefits to studying at the Staten Island campus are many, said
Downey. "You know everyone on campus, which is great,” she said.
“Your advisors really guide you in the right direction. They have
an open-door policy and are very nurturing. I think other schools
aren’t as warm and personal—at St. John’s, I really felt like part
of the family."
Downey, Ragone stressed, was instrumental in helping KDP to win an
ACE Award for
chapter excellence. "She would develop an idea and see it through
from start to finish," she said. Downey’s efforts included
collecting used prom gowns for a local organization that donated
them to girls who otherwise would be unable to afford them.
"Katie was a very well-rounded student," Ragone said. "Her
enthusiasm and dedication had such an impact on her fellow students
and professors. They obviously realized there was something special
about her even then."