January 24, 2006
A unique partnership between St. John’s University and St.
Brigid’s School in Manhattan’s East Village is reaping significant
benefits for faculty, students and their parents alike. Forged in
2004, the open-ended partnership is the result of ongoing
conversations between long-time colleagues Dean Jerrold Ross of St.
John’s University The School of Education and Secretary for
Education Catherine Hickey, Ph.D., of the Archdiocese of New
Seeking to reverse enrollment declines at St. Brigid, a pre-K
through 8 elementary school serving a diverse population in one of
the City’s rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, and responding to the
lack of permanent certification of its teachers, St. John’s
The School of Education is providing personnel and resources for
on-site staff development, student testing, parent education, and
tuition scholarships for teachers needing to earn the advanced
degree required for certification.
An immediate outcome of the partnership is the creation of a
research database that includes the children’s test scores, a
long-term program of literacy and math instruction, and inventories
of their learning styles. The School of Education Professors
Francine Guastello, Regina Mistretta and Karen Burke, C.S.J., are
relating student profiles to influence classroom design and
instruction. With all published research supporting the need for
parent involvement, the school/University partnership now includes
evening workshops for parents to learn how to assist their
children’s reading, writing and mathematics skills. According to
Dr. Hickey, “All involved in the entire teaching/learning process
have been enriched by the expertise and the commitment of the St.
Professor Guastello, a former Catholic school principal, now
associate professor of literacy at St. John’s, believes that St.
Brigid’s “now stands as a beacon of hope in the East Village. The
School of Education has ‘adopted’ St. Brigid’s School in an effort
to enrich their academic programs and attract students to this
culturally rich school,” which, she says, reflects the diversity of
the East Village. She along with Professors Mistretta and Burke
have “embarked on a Vincentian mission,” she explains, sharing
their expertise in literacy, mathematics and learning styles,
respectively, with the faculty, students and parents.
To date, the school has been entirely re-painted in vivid colors
and re-lighted. A former art classroom was re-designed by the St.
John’s team as a teacher resource/multipurpose room. Professor
Guastello was able to obtain equipment for the new room, including
overhead projection screens, from Catholic schools in the Diocese
of Brooklyn that were slated for closing.
With help from the principal’s son, Professor Guastello
refurbished the overgrown schoolyard during the summer, weeding,
mulching and planting flowers. They moved a statue of St. Brigid
that stood in an outside niche in the now-closed church to the
center of the schoolyard.
“St. Brigid’s should provide educators with a model for
reinvigorating certain Catholic schools, with an emphasis on
academic skills and religious values,” according to Dean Ross. “We
consider this project part of the obligation of a Catholic
university to intervene in the education of young children.”