Ministry Spotlight – Martin de Porres Schools
by Mr. Kevin Reismiller, Director of Pedagogy and Principal of MDP Residential High School
In 1972, Mr. Bill Jesinkey, serving as a public school guidance counselor, armed with a grant from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, secured space in a Dutch Reformed Church in Astoria where he formed the first program for “lost children.” This ultimately led to the creation of the Martin de Porres School for Exceptional Children (MDP) serving the underprivileged, the underserved, and the misunderstood of NYC’s public school system. Bill’s quote, “If we don’t stand for our kids, the chances are that no one will” still fuels us today to provide programming for students that are deemed too difficult to manage in regular or traditional special education settings.
Our young people don’t need to be fixed or cured in order to be properly educated but rather connected with on a personal level. Our approach is guided by building trusting, meaningful relationships with each student, recognizing their unique history, needs, talents, and preferences for a tailored Lasallian education. Brothers Joseph Garito and Kevin Finn, as well as longtime faculty and staff members, provide wonderful examples of fraternity, and shape our reality of the Lasallian family in our Elmont Elementary/Junior High School campus, Valley Stream High School campus, and Ozone Park Casa De La Salle educational residence.
In addition to core academic subjects, Martin de Porres provides its young people with life skills as part of their curriculum. The Science lab provides for practical experiments to help students investigate their world and become critical thinkers. Culinary students gain practical kitchen skills to provide themselves with nutritious meals and basic proficiency for a culinary arts vocation. Students explore coping skills specific to their emotional well-being through the guidance curriculum. Our school-wide positive behavior program helps our students and clients understand that they have the power to engage in those coping skills and make good choices. In tandem with a token economy system, good choices lead to earned Martin de Porres Dollars which students budget and use at the school store for practical needs or the desired treat.
The COVID-19 health emergency, while disruptive, never deterred us from our mission. While much of our curriculum was available digitally, the pandemic hastened us to bolster our abilities for online education. Our staff was incredibly flexible in gaining the necessary skills to help students succeed virtually. Every MDP client received a Chromebook for digital learning, and students that found more success with traditional methods were provided workbooks, updated regularly. COVID-19 made clear the disparities in internet access for our clients, so we went to work to ensure every family was outfitted with portable Wi-Fi access. When needed, our staff assisted families with housing, transportation, nutrition, and connections to outside services including medical, psychological, and respite care. Our students continued to receive counseling, speech, occupational and physical therapy in COVID safe ways to maintain as much consistency as possible. When it wasn’t possible to celebrate our 2020 graduates due to restrictions, our MDP staff traveled Long Island and the five boroughs, celebrating the milestone with a car parade!
As our community slowly returns to normal, we were proud to celebrate this year’s graduates in person, as well as our MDP family, for all we’ve accomplished so that they may have a brighter future!