North End’s Eliot School Skates Toward a Better Education

By Lindsey Kennett
BU News Service

Frank Sinatra blared from the speakers of Steriti Memorial Rink as parents held the hands of their elementary school-aged children skating around the ice. The chatter and laughter from dozens of teenagers, parents and helmet-wearing younger children filled the indoor rink, located on Commercial Street in Boston’s North End. The Eliot K-8 Innovation School’s first-ever free skate and 50-50 raffle, held on Feb. 1, offered family-friendly fun for students, parents and teachers.

“This is not a fundraiser as much as it is an opportunity for students, families and teachers to come together,” said Principal Traci Griffith of the Eliot School. “We’re doing a small raffle, but it’s really just to build and strengthen our Eliot community.”

Organized mainly as a get-together for the Eliot School community, the event also served as a fundraiser for the North End’s public school. Members of the Eliot School’s Family Council, similar to a Parent-Teacher Association, sold 50-50 raffle tickets and Fred White, owner of the North End Skate Shop and Snack Bar and also an alumni parent of the Eliot School, agreed to donate proceeds to the school.

The principal said the funds would help support school enrichment resources. “Currently we’ve been funding a literacy room, a book room so that teachers have leveled literacy-guided reading books to provide students with instruction,” Griffith said.

Stephanie Schapino Berksom, a mother of Eliot School students, described a few programs that could benefit from more funding. “PE, art, theater, and music all need to be paid for,” she said. “I feel like oftentimes, they are the first programs to be cut.’”

Van Pezzelllo, an Eliot School mother and member of the Family Council, said she was optimistic about support from City Hall.

“We have a new mayor and it’s exciting,” said Pezzello, “We’ll see where he stands, but it sounds like he is progressive and he is on the families of Boston’s side. So, I’m trying to be positive.”

Pezzello continued, “The Eliot is a great school and I think that in the past the former mayor has supported the Eliot School tremendously, so we’re hoping that this new mayor will do the same.”

Other parents expressed concerns regarding the funding of areas such as food equity and access.

“I know that there are links shown between academic achievement and nutrition,” said Schapino Berksom, who is also a professor of public health at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Although there are national dietary guidelines for food that public schools serve, that does not always guarantee the highest amount of nutrition, she explained.

She said 78 of Boston’s 128 public schools lack kitchens and get their food frozen from a facility on Long Island. “And although it meets the dietary guidelines, when food has been frozen and sitting around for that long, it loses its nutrients,” she explained.

Maximizing their children’s academic achievements was another common concern. One important way to spend public school funding is by “putting as many resources towards narrowing the academic achievement gap, in whatever way that needs to be done,” said Schapino Berksom. “I think that early education is a very important way to do that.”

Iova Dineva, another Eliot school mother and a designer at Wilson Architects, said teacher development can also benefit from increased funding. “Things like student-teacher development are paid for by the public council and by private funding,” Dineva said. Teacher development can improve the chances that her daughter will get a good education, Dineva said.

Funding for things as a simple as school supplies can also make a difference, Dineva said. “Even things like Kleenex for kids during the flu season or Clorox wipes are needed,” she said. “And then there is also extending the school day. It would be great to have targeted after-school activities that supplement the formal education that [the children] receive in the district.”

Tisha Armbruster, an Eliot School mother and a third-grade teacher at the George F. Kelly Elementary School in nearby Chelsea, cited the Eliot School’s foreign language lessons as an example of funding well used.

 “The Eliot School is constantly doing fundraisers because they need the money for programs,” Armbruster. “They have an Italian program which my daughter is in. They meet two days a week and it’s great because they actually get to learn the language.”