The Staten Island Alliance for North Shore Children and Families hosted the “We Got Your Back” event at PS 21 on Aug. 3 for incoming kindergarten students and their families.

On a sunny afternoon at PS 21 in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island, PTA President Mabel Rivera was in high spirits as she surveyed the scene in the schoolyard.

“This is a great opportunity to provide families with not just supplies they need for school but community resources,” she said, watching as children and families chatted with school staff and community members, drew pictures alongside the school’s assistant principal and loaded school supplies into their brand-new backpacks. 

“The generosity from our sponsors is such an act of love in this community,” said Rivera,  the mother of a 1st-grader at the school.

The Staten Island Alliance for North Shore Children and Families hosted the “We Got Your Back” event at PS 21 on Aug. 3 for incoming kindergarten students and their families to visit the school, meet educators and staff and connect with community organizations that provide resources and support, including NYC Health + Hospitals, MetroPlus Health, the Staten Island Mental Health Society, Literacy Inc. and others.

“We invited all the kindergarten families to a special event just for them, giving them an opportunity to learn about their new school, meet their teachers and staff and learn about all the supports and services they’re going to need as they’re transitioning to kindergarten,” said Vanessa Vargas, the Staten Island Alliance’s project manager. “It’s a really great opportunity to bring kindergarten students and their families together with the community and get them excited about their education.”

As Rivera enthusiastically greeted families in English and Spanish, her daughter Michaela munched on pizza and thoughtfully dispensed wisdom to the new kindergarteners, assuring them that the “teachers are loving” and advising them they should “never be scared to do math.” 

Wearing their PS 21 shirts, paraprofessionals Amber Orefice and Elizabeth Gonzalez mingled with families. Inside a gazebo on the school playground, assistant principal Kevin Hazzard colored with markers alongside a group of students. “No peeking over here!” he playfully scolded one of them.

As families departed the schoolyard with their new backpacks and supplies in tow, there was one more surprise waiting for them: A school bus was available for students and families to board and tour.

As her son Mohammed chose a window seat and practiced fastening his seatbelt, his mother Tamina Siddiqui said the event had left her feeling relieved and hopeful about his transition to kindergarten.

“He was nervous, so it helped to have this kind of event,” she said. “I loved it.”

The NY Early Childhood Professional Development Institute provides organizational and administrative support to the Staten Island Alliance and its member organizations to support young children and their families on the North Shore. The project is supported in part by the Preschool Development Grant Birth Through Five Initiative, Grant Number 90TP011601, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Care, and administered by the NYS Council on Children and Families.