14 School at Northeast graduates defy the
Students with poor academic history
persevere at facility
with alternative approach to education
June 25, 2009
By Jackie Sher
On Thursday, June 25, a
group of 14 students will graduate from The
School at Northeast. These students haven’t
always followed the typical path to a diploma –
many of them come to the school with a number of
problems, including learning disabilities,
family instability and truancy.
Despite all that was
working against them, the Class of 2009
persevered with the help of the school’s
alternative educational approach, which features
small classrooms, individualized instruction and
therapeutic support for students who tend to
struggle in traditional classroom settings.
The school currently serves
152 students in grades 6-12 at its Hamburg
Street facility. Students are referred there
through school district committees on special
education, county departments of social services
and departments of probation. The school has
been at its current location for 24 years and
has been in operation for approximately 35
Terry Mango, one of the
vice principals for The School at Northeast said
a typical day at the school is that there isn’t
She said that the school
functions like any other school – for some
students, the bell rings at the end of class and
students move on to another classroom to study
another subject. There are also students who
stay in a “self-contained” classroom all day –
according to Mango most students do – where they
have one teacher for all of their subjects.
“Those are for kids with
more intensive needs . . . Some of them don’t
transition well. Their limitations are so severe
that they need a lot of extra time and
one-on-one classrooms,” said Mango.
Among 2009’s 14 graduates
are Nick James and Reniquiwa Bell.
Nick James, 18, of
Schenectady, has attended The School at
Northeast for seven years and will be the first
in his family to receive a high school diploma.
He has been working at Combo’s Fish Fry on Crane
Street in Schenectady for the past year and will
be employed there full-time after graduation. He
hopes to some day go to college and eventually
open his own Italian restaurant.
“He has a good sense of
humor. There were ups and downs, and sometimes
it was a struggle,” said Mara Gallagher, James’
Gallagher said there were
times when James would stop going to school.
Staff at The School at Northeast kept reaching
out to him, and now he has many connections at
“He really views Northeast
as a family,” said Gallagher.
She said that some of his
best qualities are his sense of humor and his
“He’s been through a few
difficult years. His mom’s health and his
grandma’s health fluctuate. It seems like one is
always sick,” said Gallagher.
“I think this is like a
safe place for him, and he loves coming to
Gallagher also said that
the people James has worked with in the
restaurant have introduced him to other members
of the community, including business owners who
have encouraged him to pursue his dreams.
“I think they’re a positive
resource for him with encouraging him to
graduate,” said Gallagher.
Amy Major, James’ teacher,
worked with him for his senior year in a
self-contained classroom all year.
“It’s a challenge, but he’s
improved so much even from just September to
now,” said Major.
“He’s focused, and he was
so determined to graduate this year and get
everything done. He was more focused on his
school work and coming to school more often than
he used to,” said Major.
She also noted that he was
always a “hothead,” but that over the years he
has worked on his temper, and the way he deals
with his feelings has improved dramatically.
Major said that while James
doesn’t like to show it, he’s a very caring
“When he found out that I
was pregnant when I told my class, he made sure
that nobody would bump into me, and if there
wasn’t a seat in the room he would tell someone
to get up or get me one,” said Major.
Another student, Reniquiwa
Bell, used to fall asleep in class.
“The first thing I did when
I came in was put my head down and go to sleep,”
She was failing her classes
when a light finally clicked in her head. Not
only did she start staying awake in her classes,
she started excelling academically.
“If I miss school, I come
in the next day and I make up my work like
that,” said Bell.
Her teacher, Colleen
Garbarini, said that Bell is constantly trying
to improve herself.
“She really struggles with
academics but tries her damndest, but this year
especially, whenever she was done with her
normal academic work, she was asking, ‘Is there
a book I can read? I need to improve my
reading.’ She is seeking out ways to better
herself, which is tremendous,” said Garbarini.
Bell also worked as a
teachers’ assistant in the art department for
students in grades beneath hers and worked at
PetSmart for several weeks doing “everything but
work on the cash register.”
Garbarini describes her as
the “mother of the classroom,” often times
“reading the riot act” when students were out of
line and showing them the ropes.
“She definitely has grown
in terms of her maturity, for the most part I
definitely will miss her spirit. She is bubbly
and most of the time she is a really hard
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