Joyful #BetterTogether

Dec 14, 2022

Fond Farewell to Ms. Surdi! 

This year is Cindy Surdi’s 20th year at Cooke! Prior to Cooke, she had a long career with the Archdiocese (specifically St. Anthony’s school). It’s hard to believe that she is retiring, and I don’t think any of us can imagine the school without her. She has spent her life dedicated to working with children, be it in school or other educational programs (she spent many years working with baseball programs). Now I imagine she’ll dedicate that passion to her own grandchildren. 

Cindy planned to retire several years ago. In fact, she bought a house near the beach way out on Long Island. She figured she’d only have to commute a little while, finish out the year, and then spend her days at the beachher favorite place in the world. But Alas, COVID struck and the world went into chaos. For school personnel and administrators, COVID posed the most difficult thing to navigate, and for the next several years, we were stressed out beyond belief. And while Cindy could have easily said she was retiring, she didn’t. Instead, she said “What do you need?” She stayed. She ran the grammar school though its most difficult time. She stayed for the extra two-plus years so Cooke could provide in-person learning and extend our stay at 219 Stanton Street. I am sure I speak for all parents, students, and staff when I say “thank you.” Cindy put the interest of others ahead of her own. And she did so without even thinking about it. Cindy’s go-to phrase is, “how can I help?”

Back in 2012, Cindy and I had the pleasure of coming together to open 219 Stanton Street. An undertaking I have nothing but fond memories of. While she had been here for years prior, it was the first time we worked directly together. She had been a site supervisor, a CSE liaison, and even a purchasing agent in prior years. While we knew each other in passing, we hadn’t really worked together. It took about five minutes to realize how lucky I was to be working with Cindy. Her passion and joy were infectious. Her relationship with staff opened the doors to great collaborations and made it easy for us to hit the ground running. 

I will never forget the endless moving trucks that came to 219 Stanton Street as we were about to open the new school year. It is no joke when I tell you that Cindy lifted just about every box off that truck (as the movers were too slow). Her work ethic was and is astounding. Nothing was beneath her; she did what needed to be done. We always joked about how we had a pencil in one hand and a plunger in the other! Cindy gave her entire being to the school. 

Cindy has the reputation of being one of the nicest people in the world, and indeed it is the truth. I am envious of her constant optimism and rosy outlook, which helped us get through many a day over the years. 

Throughout Cindy’s career, she has touched thousands of students. How many town meetings, publishing parties and recesses has she attended? How many runny noses, accidents and scraped knees has she dealt with? It has been a long career serving our most vulnerable of populations. I hope Cindy often reflects on how much she has helped and influenced our community. The foundations she established will continue to live on. 

Thank you, Cindy. We thank you for everything you have done over the years. And we hope you will show up for a few happy hours in the future!


Transitions’ Functional Technology Class: Podcasts & Business Planning

Transitions students are wrapping up an exciting unit on podcasting and business planning. In conjunction with their weekly classes at St. John’s University, Functional Technology teachers David Heh and Eric Roque, teach students how to create podcast scripts, record audio and write business plans. Students are creating business plans (and podcasts) in the areas of photography, jewelry-making, video gaming and clothing merchandising.

    In last week’s class, students finalized slide shows to present their business pitches to students and faculty at St. John’s University. They created slides highlighting their business’s mission, budget revenue and expenses and marketing strategy. Functional technology skills taught in the class include merging data to create charts in Google Sheets, using Google Slides and importing photos to showcase sample products (e.g., shirts/hoodies and other merchandise). Students are also working on their presentation skills and will ask and answer questions during their St. John’s University technology class.

    Through this Transitions/St. John’s University partnership, students are advancing their knowledge of applied technical/digital skills in ways that support their vocational aspirations and foster their entrepreneurial spirit.

    Cooke’s New Internship Host Sites

    New business partners are opening their doors to Cooke interns, and students are gaining valuable vocational skills in the clerical/digital and maintenance fields. At Transitions, there are three new partner organizations: Gleason’s Gym, Empowered Sports & Fitness and Northwell Health.

    At Northwell, students will have the opportunity to work on clerical tasks across a variety of departments, including discharge, food service and security. It will be a fantastic way for them to apply newly-developing skills in areas such as digital/technology, problem solving and collaboration.

    The Upper School is also working with a number of new internship partners. Juniors and seniors are learning retail skills at Beacon’s Closet and the CVS Workforce Training Center; serving lunches at Trinity SAFH and packaging Japanese meals at My Happy Tummy Club; and developing digital clerical skills at Silicon Harlem. Our interns are learning to work as teacher assistants at Gigi’s Playhouse and are helping in park beautification projects with Morningside Park.

    De-centering Christmas Celebrations in Schools

    Christmas is often the center of holiday celebrations and decorations in public spaces in the month of December.  De-centering Christmas means being more inclusive.  It means including other holidays as well and acknowledging that not everyone celebrates in the same way (or at all).

    Questions to Consider:

    • Which holidays are acknowledged in our school, hallways, and classrooms? What are the ways they are acknowledged?
    • How are teachers incorporating holidays into classes? Are teachers incorporating this in an educational and culturally responsive way, or do we perpetuate a preference for the dominant culture’s holidays?

    Example: math word problems themed around how many Christmas presents Timmy can buy with X amount of money, vs. an educational piece around how Christmas is celebrated in different cultures and what that means in reference to our learning goals.

    • How do we balance honoring and celebrating students, families, and teachers and their cultural and religious values with a commitment to inclusion for all and not preferencing one culture over another?
    • Is our school participating in tokenism and/or perpetuating surface-level or incorrect understanding of holidays?           

    Example: if our school acknowledges Hanukkah but not Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, we likely do not have a good understanding of the significance or meaning of different Jewish holy days.  

    Example: are we asking students from non-dominant cultures to take on the responsibility of educating their classmates, while assuming that students from dominant cultures don’t need to educate or explain things to others? Why?

    • What are ways to support students, families, teachers and community members who may experience increased challenges during the winter?
    • How often are we disrupting our school’s routine in order to celebrate or acknowledge holidays? Why? Is the disruption in routine worth the benefit? What are the benefits if any?

    Example: do we have holiday parties, assemblies, or special schedules? Are classes doing activities unconnected to their learning goals around holidays?


    • Ensure all students see their authentic selves reflected in their classrooms and schools, feelings of belonging improve learning.
    • Highlight the cultural history/significance behind a variety of holidays, (e.g., How is New Year’s Day celebrated in different cultures?) 
    • Monitor your questions to students for assumptions: “What was your favorite present?” assumes all students received gifts. 
    • If you choose to read holiday books, choose one for each holiday celebrated during that time.


    • Refer to the upcoming vacation as “Christmas Break.”
    • Create displays and decorations with only traditionally Christmas symbols and representation.
    • Center Christmas films, stories, and songs in class without context.
    • Only discuss holidays in December.

    Additional Resources and References:

    What We Know About Belonging from Scientific Research

    De-Centering Christmas Celebrations in Our Classrooms | Literacy Partner

    Rethinking holidays in schools | Unconditional Learning

    The Christmas Dilemma | Edutopia

    Avoiding the Holiday ‘Balance Traps’ | Learning for Justice  

    Resources compiled by Beth Sullivan, ELA/SS Curriculum Director, and Dana Pelerin, Chair of Vocational Services and JEDI Participant.

    Cooke’s Ring Day Celebration

    Ring Day is a special joy-filled celebration for our seniors, their families and our staff and faculty. The Members of the Cooke community know they are witnessing a very special season in our seniors’ lives! We presented our seniors with their class rings to honor their hard work and we  look forward to seeing them continue to shine!

    Some memorable quotes from the day highlighted our students’ journey and how they have persevered:

    Ms. Clancy talked about the long path back to in-person instruction and how these seniors had persevered through it all. “You all did it! You are seniors, you are our mentors. We have all been around for a ride and made the most of it.”
    – Mary Clancy, Associate Head of School

    “We will remember all the good times we’ve had when we wear our rings. We made it. We may have been told that we couldn’t do things but this ring shows we can do anything we put our mind to.”
    Camili Hernandez, Senior Speaker

    “This is a memory ring. A reminder of your years here at Cooke.” She ended with a quote from the Lord of the Rings “The road goes ever on…” 
    – Cassie Manzo, Assistant Head of School

    Important Dates:

    December 23: Noon Dismissal

    December 26-January 2: Winter Recess (School Closed)

    December 31: #SupportCooke (Last day to make a year-end gift to Cooke for 2022)

    January 2: New Year’s Day (School Closed)

    January 3: School Resumes

    January 13: Staff Professional Development (Noon Dismissal)

    January 16: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (School Closed)

    Visit Cooke’s Parent page and stay up to date by subscribing to school calendars using your phone or computer. Go to:


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