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How a First Grader Brought a School Together

Success Academy – May 28, 2015

Contact: Pat Wechsler
Pat.Wechsler@successacademies.org
347-673-3614

This release isn’t to announce news. It’s about sharing a special moment, brought to us by a very special first grader — with the help of her principal and teachers.

The heroine of the tale is Sienna Tuong, a seven-year old with an idea and the drive to achieve it. After spending kindergarten at a different school, Sienna, a naturally gregarious child, had begun first grade this year at a new school, Success Academy Washington Heights, and she wanted to celebrate her new friends. Over breakfast one morning she came up with an idea—her school should hold a Friendship Day.

Sienna, who loves to participate in class, brought the idea to her principal, Kelsey DePalo. It was close to the end of school year with not much time on the schedule for “special days,” but DePalo wanted to hear Sienna out. She asked her to draft a proposal describing her vision for Friendship Day.

Even though Sienna doesn’t always enjoy writing — something DePalo knew about her — she set to work on her plan for the day. The next morning she approached DePalo with her five-point proposal: “1) On Wednesday in June; 2) Wear your favorite colors of the rainbow; 3) Make a friendship bracelet; 4) Write a book or poem about friendship; 5) Be a friend.”

But nothing worth doing in life is easy, as Sienna learned. Her next step, notebook in hand, was to present her plan to the school’s leadership team. In the school’s conference room, she and the school’s business operations managers and other adults discussed logistical questions about how the day should be structured. Sienna suggested a specific kind of beads to be used to make friendship bracelets, and she agreed to write up an informational flyer.

“I wanted Sienna to realize the power of making her dream a reality by executing a well-written and well-communicated plan,” says DePalo. “I truly believe that if we can instill this lesson in our scholars, then we are setting them up to be future world leaders.” Next, with the flair of a seasoned business executive, Sienna visited every classroom to talk up the idea to her fellow students and their teachers. The idea gained momentum, and Friendship Day quickly became the most popular topic of conversation around school.

On May 19, Success Academy Washington Heights celebrated its first annual Friendship Day. Students and teachers wore their favorite color of the rainbow, crafted friendship bracelets, and wrote poems. They gathered in the gymnasium to create a human rainbow of color. The day was wildly popular and served to knit together the community at the young school, according to DePalo. “This day feels very uplifting,” said Sienna’s father, David Toung. “In a wonderful first year of Success Academy Washington Heights, scholars from many communities and backgrounds have come together.”

Her mother Jama agreed: “Sienna opened up a whole new set of friendships — both for her, and for us as a family.”

A few days after the event, DePalo asked Sienna how the school could improve upon Friendship Day next year. Sienna, without missing a beat, was ready with an idea: “Cookies. Eating cookies with friends is fun … I can add that into the proposal for next year.”

– See more (including photos!) here.

About Success Academy

Founded in 2006, Success Academy is a free public charter school network with the dual mission of building world­class public schools across New York City and advancing education reform across the country. Success Academy operates 32 schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Admission is open to all New York City families. Students are admitted by random lottery, held each April. Across the Success Academy network of K­12 schools, 76% of students are from low­income households; 8.5% are English Language Learners, and 12% are special needs students. About 94% of students are children of color. For more information about Success Academy, go to Successacademies.org.

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  • Stay in Touch!


    Prospective Parents: If your child will be entering Kindergarten through 4th grade for the 2018-19 school year, please register below to receive more information regarding your neighborhood Success Academies.

  • Register


    Prospective Parents: Register below to be notified when the application for the 2017-18 school year becomes available and to receive more information about Success Academy Charter Schools.