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Blue Streak Robotics Begins Building ‘Bots
Saratoga’s Robotics Team Prepares for Competition Season
SARATOGA SPRINGS – For five hours straight every Tuesday night, the boys and girls of Saratoga High School’s Blue Streak Robotics Team are hard at work, designing and building robots for entry into multi-state competitions.
From conceptualization and design, to prototyping, full-scale assembly and programming, these students do it all.
“We want to expose these kids to robotics and careers in STEM,” said Preston Sweeney, club advisor and technology teacher at Maple Avenue Middle School. “It’s great exposure.”
The team, currently in its second year, is comprised of three teams in itself – two teams of ninth graders and one team of sophomores and juniors.
“I’ve always been interested in engineering, specifically robotics and aerospace,” said Paul Harrington, an 11th grader. “This year, we’d like to get more than one robot built and participate in the competitions more fully and maybe get some more people on board. We’re kind of a small team right now.”
During the competition season, Blue Streak Robotics will play against other teams from around the region in game-based engineering challenges through VEX Robotics, the largest and fastest growing middle and high school robotics program globally. Roughly 4,800 teams from 20 countries comprise VEX and play in over 300 tournaments worldwide.
Typically, the teams build robots to perform critical tasks in competitions – the more tasks the robot completes in the allotted time, the more points the team can earn, and the highest scoring team is the winner.
“Almost every single part of our robot has been torn apart and re-built like five times so far,” said Amanda Davis, a ninth grader. “The robot has to be able to take cubes and stack them on poles in under two minutes, so we have to make the robot fast and really tall.”
However, conceptualizing and building a robot that performs specific tasks is easier said than done.
“At first, it’s hard but once you think of the idea, it’s actually harder to implement it,” said Harrington. “You can come up with the idea for how you want the robot to move, but the much harder part – the part that takes days and hours of time – is figuring out how to make the robot and motors move to do up and down or side to side motions the way you want it to.”
In just eight weeks, the robots Blue Streak builds will be put to the test at the first competition of the season – The Oswego Nor’easter. The competition will be held at SUNY Oswego on Saturday, Nov. 22.
Blue Streak Robotics will then host the Saratoga Skyrise Challenge, the first VEX competition in the Capital Region, at Maple Avenue Middle School on Saturday, Dec. 13.
“We want to be successful and we want to have fun,” said Sweeney. “I want the kids to enjoy themselves. There is a little bit of pressure, but it’s all about having fun and learning.”
So Long, Regents
La Salle Institute Does Away With State Tests
TROY – In the midst of heated debate regarding education curriculum between parents, school districts and New York State, one area school has decided against participating in the Regents Examinations beginning this school year.
La Salle Institute, an independent, Catholic college preparatory school for young men in grades 6-12, recently announced the elimination of grade 9-12 Regent Exams. The move follows La Salle’s decision last year to eliminate the grade 3-8 exams.
“It was discussed over a number of years here,” said Principal of La Salle Institute, Brother Carl Malacalza, FSC. “The thing that stalled it a bit in the end, in terms of the decision, was the fact that Common Core corrected some of the issues that myself and the teachers felt were present with the Regents program.”
After analyzing parent focus groups, having numerous discussions with educators, and reviewing the options available with the Regents Exams and Common Core, Malacalza said school officials felt their students are receiving the Common Core education, but without the testing, which is the best option for the students.
“The Regents forced you into a curriculum that really touched on so many topics, that a teacher couldn’t really prepare students without a lot of drill and a lot of test preparation,” said Malacalza. “The kids weren’t really learning what they needed to learn.”
Regents Exams for all subjects – English, foreign language, mathematics, social studies and science, have been eliminated at La Salle Institute. Malacalza said the decision was motivated by the school’s mission to best prepare students for higher education. Scores from Regents Exams have not been included on La Salle’s student transcripts for the last five years, and Malacalza said most colleges and universities haven’t asked to see them. La Salle’s Class of 2014, comprised of 90 graduates, was accepted into 176 different colleges.
Doing away with the statewide standardized testing also allows for more instruction time, adding two additional weeks of instruction at the end of the year and during the course of year, when that time would otherwise be allocated for test preparation. Malacalza said more instruction time is the main advantage of this decision.
“We’ve made a commitment to Common Core without the testing,” said Malacalza. “We’re trying to get the students engaged in learning. We’re going to do it at a pace that we think is going to meet the needs of our kids. We’re going to grow, but we’re going to grow at a pace that creates excitement and learning for our kids.”
Public school districts such as Saratoga Springs, Schuylerville and Ballston Spa, don’t have the option to eliminate Regents Exams from their curriculums.
La Salle Institute is currently planning an open house for those interested in learning more about the school on Wednesday, Nov. 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Schuylerville Begins School Year with Added Security Measures
Intercom, Camera Installed at Elementary and Middle Schools
SCHUYLERVILLE – Students in the Schuylerville Central School District began the school year with an added layer of security, particularly in the district’s elementary and middle schools.
After the morning bells ring, signaling the start of the school day, all doors are locked. Visitors and those who arrive after the bell must buzz to get in, and are video-recorded as they speak into an intercom. A security camera at the door will allow a school secretary to view the visitor on a screen inside the main office.
“We control who comes and goes,” said Peter Riggi, Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. “It’s pretty cool, actually.”
The video intercom entry system, called AIPHONE, was installed at the entrance of the elementary and middle schools and is one of the many examples of how schools are boosting security as the new school year begins across the country.
The AIPHONE and security camera combination is another measure to ensure each school’s entrance is secure. Entryways at Schuylerville Central Schools are already equipped with a window security film applied to the glass doors that helps deter the glass from breaking.
“It’s not bulletproof, but it’s darn close,” said Riggi. “Its intent is to slow things down so that building occupants can lock down and call the authorities. It makes it much, much harder to get in through the entrances when the doors are locked.”
There’s no question school districts everywhere have been focused on security and crisis planning since the 1999 Columbine shootings – one of the deadliest episodes of school violence. But the 2012 December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six educators, brought a wave of heightened security efforts.
“Security has been an ongoing concern,” said Riggi. “Over the years, we’ve taken measures like locking doors and securing entrances. Basically these last two measures are enhancements on everything we’ve been trying to do.”
Keeping students safe at school is priceless, but added security measures can be costly. Riggi credits help from New York SAFE Act and the state department of education in implementing these safety enhancements.
“The whole process is part of the New York SAFE Act and the state education department aids the expenditure,” said Riggins. “And they’ve added a 10 percent incentive on top of that to schools. They’ve made it appealing, from a financial perspective. With all of the demands on schools and expenses and money…security is an expense, but the state helps.”
While the new security enhancements at Schuylerville will take some time to get used to, the district is asking for cooperation as this video intercom entry system is implemented.
“The new system is not meant to discourage parents from visiting their child’s school,” said Dr. Ryan Sherman, Schuylerville Schools Superintendent. “It’s being put into place to ensure the security of our schools and safety of our students.”
Mini Me Pups Pet Boutique Wraps Up Successful First Summer in Saratoga
Store Offers Clothing, Toys, Accessories and Treats for Dogs
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Downtown Saratoga Springs is known for being dog friendly. From restaurants, shops and hotels, you can bring your four-legged friend just about anywhere; and with plenty of pet stores around, dogs can enjoy a shopping experience, too.
The newest pet store in Saratoga’s shopping district is Mini Me Pups Pet Boutique located at 454 Broadway in the Down Street Marketplace. The boutique opened in April and owner Jill Rodriguez says she couldn’t be happier with the success of the store’s first Saratoga summer.
“I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback,” said Rodriguez. “People love the products, the design of the store and the customer service. I’ve gotten positive feedback, so I’m really happy about that.”
Rodriguez describes the store as a lifestyle boutique – between apparel and home décor, there’s something for every dog lover; especially if pet owners like to coordinate with their furry companions.
“It’s playing on the idea that dogs look like their owners,” said Rodriguez. “It’s coming in to buy cutesy, frilly things for small dogs and big dogs.”
Combining her background in fashion merchandising with her love for dogs has been something Rodriguez has always dreamed of doing. She previously worked as a retail buyer in New York City.
“When my husband and I moved to Saratoga, it’s so dog friendly and there are a lot of pet stores, so I questioned if it was going to work out,” said Rodriguez. “But it fits because I offer a lot of things that people can’t find anywhere else. I travel a lot and the ‘I Love My Dog’ collection is all from Italy. So it’s stuff you’re not going to find in PetSmart or any of the other boutiques around here.”
From hand-knitted sweaters from Bolivia, Harry Barker brand toys and collars made out of recyclable materials to designer inspired “KoKo Chewnel” and “Chewy Vuitton,” the amount of unique products in Mini Me Pup Pet Boutique differentiates the store from its competitors.
Rodriguez also says she often tests products on her four rescue dogs before they hit the shelves. The hidden harness, a stylish dog coat with a built-in harness, is one of the most popular items in the store.
“I spend a lot of time researching items to bring in,” said Rodriguez. “Things can get pricey for pets, so I like to bring in a lot of good quality products. I like to bring in functional things too. With treats and products, I try them on my dogs first so when people come into the store, I can give them feedback.
Rodriguez’s goals for her store are to continue providing unique, quality pet items and to generate community support for animal rescue organizations. Rodriguez and her husband also host fundraisers and events at the store to raise money for local pet rescue groups. They’re currently planning their first “Scaredy Cats and Dogs Halloween Pet Costume Contest” on Saturday, Oct. 18 with proceeds being donated to the Benefit of Paws.
“I just hope everything works out and that we can continue to have events and bring in products people love,” said Rodriguez. “That’s all I hope for. If everything works, then I’m happy.”
Mini Me Pups Pet Boutique is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the week except for Tuesday. Visit their website at www.minimepups.com or check out www.Facebook.com/minimepups for more information.
Renovations Improve Ballston Spa School
Malta Avenue Elementary Reopens In Time for School Year
BALLSTON SPA – A new school year marks new beginnings, and students and staff at Malta Avenue Elementary School in Ballston Spa are starting off the year in a newly renovated school.
Thanks to a $57 million facilities improvement project the Ballston Spa Central School District approved in 2012, Malta Avenue Elementary received a variety of improvements over the last 12 months. A grand re-opening and ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the school Wednesday, Sept. 3 with dozens of students, staff and family in attendance.
“I’m so happy to have this finally come to fruition,” said Sharon D’Agostino, principal at Malta Avenue Elementary School. “Our building is absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t be more proud to be principal of it. We have finally completed our year-long field trip and I’m happy to say, we are home at Malta.”
Malta Avenue Elementary School is comprised of three buildings -- Chapman Street is the oldest of the three and was constructed in 1900, Pine Street was built in 1913, and Grove Street was constructed in 1928. The elementary school is housed in the Pine and Grove buildings with three classrooms in the Chapman Street building. District offices comprise the remainder of the Chapman Street building.
The Pine Street building was completely renovated into ten 21st Century classrooms and five academic support spaces; all three buildings were equipped with handicap accessibility, including the installation of an elevator; the playground was expanded by almost 100 percent with new play equipment, fencing and a retaining wall; asphalt sidewalks were replaced with concrete sidewalks; the basement of Chapman was waterproofed, allowing extra storage space; windows in chapman were replaced; and a new electric service was installed.
"It's a difficult time for schools, but we have outstanding support for the district at the state level and in our community," said Joe Dragone, BSCSD Superintendent.
A Place to Call Home
Local Initiative Building Homes for Working-Class Families
SARATOGA SPRINGS – For most people, Saratoga Springs and affordable housing aren’t synonymous. Whether renting or buying, living in Saratoga Springs can be a challenge for low- and middle-income families.
In an effort to bring affordable housing to Saratoga Springs a new project between the city; Habitat for Humanity of Northern Saratoga, Warren & Washington Counties; Rebuilding Together Saratoga County; and the Saratoga Builders Association, will construct two homes to house three working-class families in downtown Saratoga Springs.
The homes, to be located at 25 Cherry Street and 195 Division Street, will be constructed on foreclosed property owned by the city.
“This affordable housing initiative will return the property to the tax roll and ensure the improvement of these vacant lots,” said Michele Madigan, city finance commissioner. “It will also increase the property value.”
Madigan says this project is a great opportunity to bring three families in the heart of Saratoga, a place where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to live.
“They’re close to downtown; they’re close to schools and recreation fields and services and walkable to the downtown area,” said Madigan.
Barry Potoker, executive director of the Saratoga Builders Association, has pledged 50 percent of the skilled labor and materials for the project; and Michelle Larkin, executive director of Rebuilding Together Saratoga, will help with volunteer management.
“The project took over a year to put together,” said Tammy DiCara, board president of Habitat for Humanity of Northern Saratoga. “It’s a partnership. We would not be able to do this project without having the help of the (SBA) and (RTS.)”
Construction on the two homes could start as early as this fall and continue through winter.
Habitat for Humanity is currently screening families earning between $28,000 and $42,000 a year to help build the homes and occupy them on a lease-to-own basis. The families will be required to contribute at least 500 hours of volunteer labor. Once constructed, families will pay anywhere from $650 to $700 in rent. Habitat for Humanity will serve as the mortgage holder.
“It’s a great opportunity for these families,” said DiCara. “And anytime we can have this type of a partnership with the city and other housing groups in the area, it only makes the community stronger when we can all work together.”
Applications for partner families and information on volunteer opportunities can be found at www.glensfallshabitat.org or by calling the office at 793-7484.
More Than Just A Furry Friend
Boy with Two Rare Conditions Fundraising for Service Dog
SARATOGA SPRINGS – 2-year-old Giovanni LaBate of Saratoga Springs has faced many obstacles in his short life. While most toddlers spend the majority of their day playing with toys and coloring, Giovanni’s life has been largely occupied by hospitalizations, doctor’s visits, medical testing and daily therapy sessions.
Giovanni was diagnosed with two rare neurological conditions – periventricular heterotopia and porencephaly. Periventricular heterotopia is a condition in which the grey matter in the brain does not migrate properly during early fetal development, forming clumps around the ventricles. Most children diagnosed with this condition develop epilepsy. Giovanni began having seizures shortly after his first birthday.
Shortly before birth, as a result of periventricular heterotopia, Giovanni suffered a stroke which caused a permanent cerebral spinal fluid-filled cyst to form in his brain. The stroke itself left Giovanni with diminished use of his left arm and leg. Although therapy has helped immensely, he continues to struggle with balance, strength and coordination.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges Giovanni faces is his inability to cope with his environment. Due to the abnormalities in his brain, Giovanni over-responds to sensation and finds certain sensory input to be unbearable.
“Textures, sounds, certain lights…they’re obnoxious to him and he goes into a meltdown and he’s very hard to redirect,” said Krystyn LaBate, Giovanni’s mother. “It’s not your typical toddler tantrum, he loses touch with reality. He doesn’t even know it’s us trying to console him.”
The LaBate family recently began fundraising for a multipurpose service dog for Giovanni through “4 Paws for Ability,” an Ohio-based non-profit organization. 4 Paws is the leading provider of specialty-trained dogs for children.
The service dog will be able to alert Giovanni’s family of seizures, give him the ability to play more independently and partake in more activities. The dog will be able to provide mobility assistance and assist with behavior disruption. When Giovanni is presented with sensory input that he cannot handle, his parents will be able to give commands to the dog such as touch, kiss or deep pressure, which will help Giovanni and prevent sensory overload, allowing him to better cope with his environment. The dog will also provide Giovanni additional comfort while in an over stimulating environment.
“I was absolutely blown away by what these service dogs can do,” said Krystyn. “One thing we feel really good about is his connection with animals. We have two small dogs and he loves them.”
It will cost 4 Paws for Ability $22,000 to raise and train a service dog to support Giovanni. To enable them to help as many children as quickly as possible, 4 Paws asks each recipient family to fundraise to assist in placing the dog. By using this unique fundraising model, each family is able to receive a service dog within one year. The LaBate family has committed to raising $14,000.
“As soon as we fundraise the amount we’ve committed to, they will select Giovanni’s dog and begin the training process,” said Krystyn. “It takes 12-15 months to train the dog for Giovanni’s specific needs and once the dog is trained, we go to Ohio for two weeks and go through a certification class as a family.”
To learn more about Giovanni and how to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.facebook.com/giovannisjourney or his website -- www.giovannisjourney.com. You may also make a donation in his name by sending a check with “Giovanni LaBate” written on the memo line to:
4 Paws for Ability
253 Dayton Ave
Xenia, Ohio 45385
For more information on 4 Paws for Ability, visit www.4pawsforability.org.
Learning Looks Great!
Girls Design Dresses With Help from Miss Scarlett Boutique
SARATOGA SPRINGS – There’s no question little girls love playing dress up and they have their own opinions when it comes to style. When you mix the two together, you get Miss Scarlett Boutique’s Girls Design a Dress event.
A handful of young girls showed up at the boutique, located at 19 Fila Street in Saratoga Springs, to play fashion designer for the day. The girls were able to pick from more than 50 fabrics and trims to create a custom dress that is their very own.
“It has owls, flowers and zigzags,” said 8-year-old Eliza of her dress. “I wanted to have a dress of my own design. I picked this fabric because I like animals and the zigzags went with it.”
Snacking on cupcakes and lemonade, the girls designed their dresses and got a taste of what Miss Scarlett Boutique owner, Jennifer Marcellus, does every day.
Marcellus opened up Miss Scarlett Boutique in Saratoga Springs five months ago and designs children’s clothing for wholesale retailers.
“We started doing dress parties because it seemed like a fun and different thing for kids to do,” said Marcellus. “We’ve done about six parties here so far and then I’ve done a couple of private parties also.”
How it works is the girls are given a paper doll for a model; using mock patterns, they design a dress, cut it out and glue it onto the doll. Marcellus then takes the designs and the dresses are made and ready for the girls to wear in two weeks. Girls anywhere from six months to 12-years-old can create a dress for $38.
“It’s neat for the girls to do something that’s a do-it-yourself project,” said Marcellus. “I think every little girl wants to be a fashion designer. “
Marcellus said the best part about the event is seeing how creative the girls are when it comes to designing their dresses.
“There was one design I absolutely loved,” said Marcellus. “A girl used a sample fabric that I never used in my collection because I didn’t know what to do with it and she used it and made this fantastic dress out of it and I thought it was so cool!”
Breaking the Cycle through Chess
The Giving Circle Sets Up Chess Program for Students in Uganda
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The village of Kagoma in eastern Uganda is an area of extreme poverty. One of the poorest places in the country, residents earn their very modest incomes by working in sugarcane shambas. However, Saratoga’s The Giving Circle, a non-profit organization, is looking to break the cycle and give the children of Kagoma the opportunity to flourish outside of the sugarcane fields.
“It’s probably in the top 10 percent poorest villages on earth,” said Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle. “They work for slave wages, $8 a month. These people are called ‘the forgotten people’ by the Ugandans. Boys start cutting sugarcane by the age of 5…the only end to the cycle of slavery in this village is education.”
Through The Giving Circle’s primary school in Kagoma, the Kagoma Gate School, students are participating in a “MiniChess” project ran by the Kasparov Foundation, a South African-based mini-chess firm, and The Giving Circle.
Ann Fantauzzi is a retired teacher of 34 years with the Saratoga Springs School District who now spends her free time working with The Giving Circle. She said she got the idea to install the program at Kagoma Gate from watching the Women in the World Summit last year.
There, Fantauzzi met Phiona Mutesi, a 14-year-old chess prodigy from Uganda and her instructor, Robert Katende. She also met with Marisa van der Merwe, founder and owner of the MiniChess program in South Africa.
“I stayed for a week in South Africa looking at the program, seeing how it works, the year by year progress and I said, ‘This is exactly what our school needs,’” said Fantauzzi. “She [Merwe] teaches it to 4 and 5-year-olds, she starts pre-primary in Africa. Knowing that our students had no schooling at all, we thought it would be perfect for them.”
The MiniChess program focuses on early childhood development, linking mathematics, science and life skills development through chess-related activities. Studies show the program develops and improves logical thinking, problem solving, creativity, planning skills, concentration, reading, and emotional maturity.
“We put the program in and Katende teaches the children,” said Fantauzzi. “He drives three or four hours a day, every week from Kampala to go to Kagoma Gate. This program is flourishing and the kids are blossoming into not only good students, good chess players, but they’re learning English and it’s only been a year and a half.”
Last May, six students from Kagoma Gate were invited to Kampala, Uganda to attend a banquet honoring world-renowned chess player, Garry Kasparov. It was the first time they had the opportunity to leave the sugarcane plantation. They even got the chance to put their chess skills to the test and play against Kasparov.
“Because of this school and because of education, they have a chance to be something other than slaves,” said Bertrand. “Little girls have a chance to be something other than child brides. Boys and girls have a chance to be something else.”
The Giving Circle is currently campaigning to raise funds to continue the chess program. To make a donation, please visit www.TheGivingCircle.org/Donate-Now.htm.
Clothing the Community
Schuylerville Store Offers Quality, Used Clothing at Modest Price
SCHUYLERVILLE – A new store in Schuylerville where customers are shopping for clothing items by Nike, Ralph Lauren, and Coldwater Creek to name a few, is getting a lot of attention; especially since they’re only paying $2 or less for each item.
The Way, located at 3 Green Street, is a community-centered retail store founded by the Schuylerville United Methodist Church. The store sells quality used clothing items at a fraction of the price big-box stores sell them for. All adult items are sold for $2, while children’s items are only $1 with sales tax included. The store invests 10 percent of the proceeds from every sale back into the community.
“Our goal is to provide gently used clothing so that people can come in and shop,” said Schuylerville United Methodist Church Pastor Al Johnson. “It doesn’t matter if they drive up in a BMW or if they walk in from the food pantry across the street. They’re valued as a member of the community and we want them to know that people care and are willing to sort clothes and put them out on racks so that they can have a shopping experience at an extremely modest price. “
The Way opened its doors Saturday, Aug. 2 and sold $254 worth of merchandise on its opening day. Johnson says at least $25 of that will go toward a local food pantry, volunteer fire department, or a children’s sports program.
“On opening day, one of the volunteers was helping a customer and that customer, a lady, said ‘This is so wonderful. I can’t afford clothes like this and I just can’t believe I’m able to shop in a store like this and buy the clothes I’ve wanted for so long, but couldn’t afford,’” said Johnson. “That’s exactly what we want to be able to do.”
Johnson says The Way is far from a rummage sale. All shirts, pants, dresses and shoes are carefully inspected and organized, making sure only the best gently used items are on the racks.
Johnson says he and his wife, Dee, named The Way after their neighboring business, Subway, coupled with the faith significance as well. Their logo is an arrow pointing upward. They also started a similar store in Mooers, New York with the Mooers United Methodist Church called “Souled Out.” Johnson said Souled Out was extremely successful and decided to bring that model to SUMC.
In the next five years, Johnson hopes the store’s proceeds grow to make significant financial contributions to help the local food pantry and volunteer fire department; but he also hopes the store will speak highly of the volunteers who donate their time.
“I hope folks can see that people of faith are genuinely interested in their neighbor and in giving back to them,” said Johnson. “The Bible says love God and love thy neighbor and that’s exactly what we want to do.”
Those interested in making donations can drop them off at the back porch of the Schuylerville United Methodist Church. Eventually, Johnson says he’d like to get a donation box set up at the store.
The Way is open every Friday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information on the store, visit www.thesumcway.org