If you happen to be at Daly Elementary School on Fridays, don't be shocked if you see several dashing young men in uniform in some classrooms, hallways, and eating lunch with students in the cafeteria. A new program has brought four cadets from the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point to Daly to mentor and assist four and fifth graders. The program was initiated by Mike Murray, the academy's life skills advisor and basketball coach, and Mrs. Elaine Ajello, interim principal of Daly, and has been a rousing success since its inception in December. The cadets - Philip Curran, Joseph Azzata, Josh Ervasti and Erick Amiscosa - volunteer each Friday morning, despite very demanding academy classes and responsibilities. Not only have they rapidly become highly popular with the students, but the teachers say they look forward to their visits as well. "The program is making a big difference," said Mrs. Ajello.
The specialized education and training of the Merchant Marines lends itself extremely well to benefit elementary school children. For example, the cadets have shared study skills and time management techniques with students, as well as modeled good manners. The cadet volunteers have done an array of activities, from helping students with classroom work to giving them a chance to lead marches. Over lunch, they are often bombarded with an array of questions, and as they converse with students they share academy principles, like striving for personal excellence in academics and athletics. First Classman Phil Curran said he recently spoke to the children about one academy student's honor offense - the cadet had lied - and told them about the repercussions. "When we work with groups of children in the classrooms, the conversation becomes so meaningful," Curran explained.
Mrs. Ajello said these young men make wonderful role-models for children, and also fill another subtle need. "Students sometimes see a boundary between themselves and teachers, but these cadets really straddle that line," she mentioned. Fourth and fifth grade classes were chosen, Mrs. Ajello explained, because "these children are on the cusp of leaving here, so we want to provide as much additional advice, guidance, and role-modeling as possible before they move on." Moreover, "It is a partnership with the outside world, bringing it in to our children," the principal added.
Mike Murray and the cadets feel they benefit greatly from the program, too. "It feels so good to give back," said First Classman Joseph Azzata. "At the academy, our motto is 'Service Above Self.' Here, we get to put those words into action." Both Curran, as battalion executive officer, and Azzata, as company commander, are responsible for the training of several hundreds cadets, yet find time to volunteer with children. "The cadets' uniforms show they are serving their country, and this program shows they are serving the children. It is an example of volunteerism to our students," Mrs. Ajello added. "This program is part of character education."
All involved hope that the beneficial partnership between the Merchant Marine Academy and the Daly School will continue to march ahead for years to come.