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The Advanced Placement Program has grown steadily at Aquinas since the first AP course was offered in 1980. The percent of Aquinas AP students scoring 3+ on AP Exams has been consistently higher than New York State and national norms. Currently, from a total of 120 Aquinas AP students, 27 are AP Scholars recognized by the College Board for exceptional achievement on these exams.

The strength of the AP Program is of great interest to two foundations which have provided generous and consistent funding to Aquinas through the years.  First, the Charles Hayden Foundation,  in the past a bricks-and- mortar supporter of our beautiful facility, is now focusing educational grants on programming. Having funded a very successful summer math program at Aquinas in 2014, the Hayden Foundation raised the ante with a $25,000  grant for the AP Program this year. Having this funding assured, we proposed and received a matching grant from our faithful supporters at the Miles Hodsdon Vernon Foundation. 

The description of the project reads as follows in the proposal: 

The goal of this project is to increase the percent of July 2015 and July 2016 AP Exam scores of 3+ compared with results over the previous 3 years. Research has shown that these scores are predictors of success in higher education. The population served will be approximately 120 Aquinas students enrolled in AP courses in the 2014-2015 and 2015-16 school years. Thestrategy will be to form a consortium of Aquinas AP teachers to plan and implement ways to help students develop the skills of analytical thinking and precise expression required for success on the AP Exams. Teachers will encourage students to seek extra help when needed ... AP students will be asked after each AP Exam to list the factors that were most helpful to their learning in that course. When exam grades are posted in July 2015 and July 2016, results will be studied in the light of teacher input and student reflection to discern best practices for the future. 

The fruits of renewed focus on the AP Program are already in evidence. Juniors Rosalie Dang and Chelsea Rosario, pictured above,  entered into the 2nd Annual Columbia University Young Doctors Science Competition on Saturday, December 6 2014 and won first place.  They were required to make a 3-D model of the digestive system and a poster board presentation of a disease of the digestive system.  Rosalie and Chelsea’s 3-D model was life size and they focused on Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome, a disease which results in tumors that form in the pancreas and duodenum. Rosalie and Chelsea’s presentation included an interactive video component. They had to present to multiple judges that moved through the room.  Both Rosalie and Chelsea are in the AP Biology class. 

Aquinas AP teachers and students are grateful to the Charles Hayden Foundation and the Miles Hodsdon Vernon Foundation for providing the resources to strengthen this vital program.  For students, these courses provide a unique opportunity to face new challenges, learn new skills, and make a serious commitment to higher education. 

When Cathy Duffy Heller 1974 told Sr. Margaret Ryan that she wanted to do something special for Aquinas NOW, rather than wait for some future bequest, it didn’t take long for Aquinas’ President to hone in on the library which had not been thoroughly renovated since 1939. Soon afterwards, a check for $100,000 from the Duffy-Heller Charitable Trust set in motion a splendid transformation of a space that is central to the entire school community.

Reconstruction of walls, re-wiring, air- conditioning and heating, chandeliers and sconces, new librarian station and window treatments, carpeting - all provide a setting of beauty and brightness for treasured books and Twenty-First Century technology.

Aisha Negron 2014 says, “The in-the-wall bench or sitting area is a creative little space that makes you feel cozy. It’s a great place to let yourself sink into a great book.” Her classmate Yetunde Aremu adds, “The Aquinas High School Library functions as a retreat for the ever-present bookworm and offers a sense of hospitality to all its visitors.”

The words of Librarian Celine Geiger confirm the students’ assessment: “Aquinas’ renovated library has created a welcoming, cheery environment for students whether they are reading books or searching the internet. They especially enjoy the comfortable and quiet atmosphere the library offers during lunch periods and after school.”

Cathy Duffy-Heller has made a dream come true. Sr. Margaret recalls Cathy’s high school years: “ Her contribution to Aquinas High School as a student leader has been matched by her generosity as an Alumna. It’s a great joy for me to see the promise of those early years fulfilled in a continuing relationship that has borne much fruit for Aquinas.”

Each summer finds Aquinas students entering into learning experiences beyond the confines of the classroom and beyond the boundaries of nation and culture. Whether the journey is to another city street or to another continent, a new world is experienced. Those who direct these adventures and those who fund them contribute immensely to the human spirit.

Porto Alegre

This summer I was privileged to make an adventurous excursion to Porto Alegre, Brazil, a city located in the southern state Rio Grande do Sur. The Porto Alegrans are welcoming and friendly people who are eager to communicate with us despite the huge language barrier. Luckily, our USA group of 12 was provided with three Brazilian coordinators fluent in English and Portuguese. During my stay, I had very cold nights since it is winter during the month of July. We ate delicious foods similar to those found in Hispanic cookbooks, and played a lot of soccer, volleyball, and ping pong. Watching the sunset every evening gave me a sense of connection with nature and of belonging to Brazil. Urbanization is prevalent in Porto Alegre, but its residents show simplicity and a sort of grace that makes them shine. The typical hot green powdered drink called chimarrão was shared with friends while we supported a volleyball team or just walked along the street. My group and I planted a vegetable garden for the barrio children living close by the Bruno YMCA. After that, we began the sporting events with the central YMCA through JABS, a youth sports competition in Brazil. JABS events took us to a town called Canela where we visited chocolate stores and beautiful lakes with swan boats. We went to parties where the Americans and Brazilians danced and ate traditional food. My journey was full of smiles and laughter; the only time I cried was with my Brazilian coordinators and friends when it was time to leave. This experience has made me more adventurous, curious, and eager to explore Earth’s beauty. I love Brazil!

Othanya Garcia 2011

New York

This past summer I spent my time volunteering here in New York and learning about “green” initiatives and in various cities. At the Fordham University Science & Technology Entry Program, the directors came up with a new service project activity that was to introduce us to innovations in sustainable living. The S.T.E.P. Program set up service sites at different areas such as Bedford Park, Bronx River, and the South Bronx. Before each group went to one these sites, a speaker from Sustainable South Bronx Project introduced us to practices in sustainable living. Some of the innovations were rainwater conservation for everyday use. My group got involved with gardens on the roofs of buildings, providing numerous health benefits for cities. With our counselor, we spent a week learning about, exploring, and helping to create green roofs. The work we did was very tedious in the summer heat, but it was worth the experience. Green gardens put plants on the roof that require little maintenance to provide more plants and combat the high carbon dioxide levels present in urban areas. With the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation, we cleaned and weeded green roofs. We also toured facilities that had other innovations in green construction such as solar panels, eco- friendly bamboo flooring in the apartments, and a rainwater conservation system that purified the water and used less city water for an entire building.

After a week of volunteer service, my group finished our project with a power-point presentation to present our experience and what we learned about sustainability. What remains with me from this summer learning experience is a conviction that the future is filled with new possibilities for making a sustainable and healthier Earth.


Keira Henry 2011

While drivers at the corner of 182nd and Belmont were coping with holiday traffic toward Arthur Avenue, algebra students at Aquinas High School were exercising the same skills engineers use to manage traffic.

Engineers Teaching Algebra has been implemented in over 1,000 schools in 38 states, promoting the development of practical math skills that are used to govern parts of our everyday lives. The goal of the program is to answer the age old question about algebra, “When am I ever going to use this?” The students were asked to examine phase schemes for traffic flow at intersections. With the statistical information provided, their task was to determine the proper light timing to allow fair and safe traffic flow through the intersection. Before the pencils and calculators were put to work, the Aquinas engineers-forthe-day had to use logic and reasoning to take a guess as to what the timing scheme should look like. The point wasn’t to see if there were any psychics in the class, but to teach the students to pre-check their work by determining what range of outcomes would make sense. The answers the students calculated were right on the money, according to the teacher, Mark Love, who had begun his career as a roadway engineer. When it was done he showed them the technical formula actually used by engineers to solve the problem. “Is this hard?” he asked them. The visually complex formula turned out to be exactly the same as the work they had already done, and it had seemed so clear and easy! Aquinas Math Teacher, Christina Estridge, said, “This program is truly effective in helping students see how what they learn in math class is really useful in everyday life.” Excellence in mathematical reasoning and scientific inquiry has been center stage at Aquinas in recent years. The Aquinas Initiative for Math and Science Careers, begun in 2007 with a grant from the William E. Simon Foundation, is now funded by the Thomas H. Maren Endowment for Math and Science. Engineers Teaching Algebra is one of many strands of the Initiative, affecting all four years. A school-wide venture at Aquinas, MegaMath, provides a challenging Problem of the Week for each math course in the curriculum. Students submit their work and every correct solution earns a chance in a raffle held at the end of the semester.

Math Department Chairperson, Sr. Bea McMahon, says, “For young women of today, expertise in math and science is a doorway to exciting opportunities. Awakening that excitement now, seeing students develop their skills to their full potential, is the spark that ignites the teaching/learning of math and science at Aquinas High School. We are indebted to the Thomas H. Maren Foundation for the endowment that makes this spark a perpetual flame.”



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