Above and Beyond 2011


For more than two decades, ABC7 has honored amazing tri-state area students, teachers, administrators and programs whose accomplishments go "Above and Beyond" in the classroom. Here's a glance at this year's recipients... and you can watch our special right here on by clicking on the video clips of the various segments below!

Click here for a photo gallery of the recent awards ceremony!

Click here for additional links and information on our recipients!

Rushell White

School: Virgil I.Grissom Middle School (M.S. 226Q)
Location: Queens, New York

In spite of only being on the job since September, Rushell White has already begun to make a significant impact on all of those who make up the Virgil L. Grissom Middle School (M.S. 226Q) in Queens. This process began when she showed up to the first staff meeting with the names of all 137 of the school's staff members in her memory bank.
She has an uncanny way to make everybody feel special," said Francine Davis, a social studies teacher at the school. White quickly learned the names of all of her school's approximately 1500 students. "I thought it's important for you to know who they are and for them to know you know who they are."

White has initiated and implemented bold changes across the board, while reaching out to teachers, staff, parents, community leaders -- and most importantly -- students. Under her leadership, 17 afterschool clubs and groups have been established. "It's absolutely an amazing experience. It's my playground and there's so many people who have joined my sandbox to help give the students a unique opportunity in a school that they not otherwise would have."

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Danielle Madden-Buck

Program: Project Hush Little Baby
School: St. Edmund Preparatory School
Location: Brooklyn, New York

A social studies teacher at the school, Danielle Madden-Buck started "Project Hush Little Baby," to create a positive light for parents of premature babies out of a personal tragedy. In October 2009, Madden-Buck was told she would have triplets until losing one of the babies in the third week of the pregnancy.
She later gave birth to twins who were 17 weeks premature, but one soon passed away. "I know how hard it is to sit in the IC unit and not knowing if you're baby is going to come home or not," she said. "I didn't feel bad for myself. I wanted to do something to give back to the parents to make the circumstances not better, but easier for them." In the United States alone, approximately 12.8 percent of babies -- more than a million a year -- are born prematurely, according to a report from the March of Dimes.

A year later, a team of about 150 students began meeting afterschool to raise their spirits by creating items such as receiving blankets, Christmas ornaments, Halloween decorations and Mother' Day charms to the parents of the young patients at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital. "To get 18-year-old boys to sit there and color cards with crayons is definitely an accomplishment," she said. Now, her 15-month daughter, Aleigha -- her "little miracle" -- is awaiting the arrival of a baby brother later this year.

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First Team Robotics

School: Patchogue-Medford High School
Location: Medford, New York

For the past 11 years, members of First Team Robotics have been witnessing the wonders of physics and digital technology through extraordinary out-of-the-classroom applications by way of a program better known as "Team 329." Students have been reaping the benefits of being mentored by Motorola Foundation engineers, volunteers and returning alumni to create their own robots -- each with their own specific qualities -- to compete in prestigious competitions.
In April 2010, the team was at a national event in Atlanta when it met a group of students from Haiti just weeks after a horrific earthquake had shattered the entire country. Inspired by their meeting, the team decided to focus its attention on constructing water filters to help combat the rising issue of cholera among the Haitian people.

"We said, 'Hey, we built robots. We can build filters,'" said Kevin Ray, one of the group's co-advisors. "How can we excite people about science and teaching when they're dealing with the basic necessities of life?" In February, five filtering systems were sent to three elementary schools, an orphanage and a community center in Cape Haitian, Haiti. Currently, FRT students still keep in touch with their Haiti counterparts through Facebook messages.

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ECLC of Ho-Ho-Kus

Program: Learning is Unleashed
Location:Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey

For more than 40 years, the ECLC of Ho-Ho-Kus has always been looking for innovative ways to treat students with autism, Down syndrome and a variety of other handicaps. It is its pioneering spirit that has given its school in Ho-Ho-Kus the distinction of being the only known school in New Jersey to use a full-time service dog as part of students' day-to-day activities.
Three years ago, staff member Cheryl Avino of contacting the Canine Companions for Independence organization to meet a collective desire to expand upon pet therapy methodologies. A year later, the school welcomed Patrina, a golden retriever lab mix, to its staff. Just like the faculty, Patrina works tirelessly with the school's 105 children to help them through daily routines related to physical and occupational therapies and academic and behavioral support. "They're tired of working with us and they don't want to respond, so we use Patrina as a different tool to help them achieve a goal," Avino said.

The program has resulted in sustained progress for many students. It was chosen as a 2010 winner of the Innovations in Special Education program by the New Jersey School Boards Association and ASAH, a non-profit organization of private schools and agencies serving students with disabilities. In addition, the school partners with "Paws for Autism" in bringing a group of specially trained dogs into the classroom for 45-minute, weekly sessions to help students build confidence, improve social and communication skills and reduce behavior problems. "By watching her, I've learned the gifts of unconditional love, acceptance and patience," Avino said of Patrina.

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Stephen Ritz

High School: Discovery High School

Some may call it improbable. Stephen Ritz, a science teacher at Discovery High School, just calls it progress. By implementing a vertical growing technology and edible gardens at his school, Ritz and his students have been growing vegetables at the rate of 20,000 pounds a year as part of an effort known as the "Green Bronx Machine.
Ritz first learned of the vertical farming system, which can grow in practically any condition -- including indoors , in June 2009. After implementing the system into his school, a tremendous local interest in the initiative began to grow along with the plants themselves. But more than actual crops, Ritz takes pride in the other kinds of seeds that have been sown in the south Bronx. "We're not just growing vegetables," Ritz says. "We're growing citizens. We're growing graduates. We're growing an engaged community."

In two years' time, Discovery has skyrocketed up the New York City high school academic rankings from No. 569 to 29. Furthermore, Ritz's students have improved their attendance percentages from 40 percent to 93 percent -- and all of his students have recently passed the New York State Regents exams. "We're at this precipice where the eyes of the future are looking to us and demanding that we get it right," Ritz said. Although the vertical farming technology is now in four city schools, Ritz and his students have plans of spreading the initiative across the country in the upcoming weeks.

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