May 03, 2013
(Left) Mount Saint Mary College education professor Janine
Bixler helps a student write a poem during a book club at the
Newburgh Armory Unity Center. (Right) Mount teacher candidate
Philip Stewart of Wurtsboro, NY strums the blues on his acoustic
guitar, as a young student recites the poem she wrote. Looking on
is Mount professor Janine Bixler, who helped create the Saturday
book club at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center.
It might seem improbable that students enjoy spending their
Saturday mornings in a classroom. But thanks to Mount Saint Mary
College education professors like Janine Bixler and 22 dedicated
student volunteers, local kids are doing just that – and getting
excited about literature.
Mount “book clubs” are offered at the Newburgh Armory Unity
Center as part of the college’s Collaborative for Equity in
Literacy Learning (CELL). College volunteers help their young
students to explore books that reflect various cultural backgrounds
and interests of the Newburgh community, explained Bixler, director
of CELL. Children actively share their own ideas and stories as
“We’ve had some great discussions with the books,” said Bixler,
who is devoted to sharing the joy of learning and enhancing the
natural gifts of her students.
“The goal is to create lifelong readers, instead of those who
only read because they have to for school.”
Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, OFM, president of Mount Saint Mary College,
serves on the board of directors of the Newburgh Armory Unity
Center, where the aim is education and recreation.
Recently, three Mount Saint Mary College master’s candidates –
Zachary D’Alfonso of Newburgh, NY; Philip Stewart of Wurtsboro, NY;
and Brian Morgan of Poughkeepsie, NY – further spread the love of
literacy to youngsters through music and art.
After discussing how music resembles poetry, and using the blues
as an example, Stewart strapped on an acoustic guitar and invited
students to write poems and draw pictures of a time when they felt
Each boy and girl read his or her poems with Stewart’s musical
accompaniment, while peers clapped and sang along.
“Never stop reading and never stop writing,” Stewart told
Bixler pointed out that Mount volunteers hone their teaching
skills by participating in the book clubs. This and other
activities provide urban youth meaningful contact with college
students and faculty.
“Our music idea worked really well,” he said. “Now we can refine
it and put it into our classrooms. [CELL book clubs] gives us a
great opportunity to work with kids.”
The master’s degree students said that the Mount had prepared
them well for teaching in the lively Newburgh Armory classroom.
“I speak very highly of the faculty of the Mount’s education
program,” said Stewart. “Specifically, Dr. Bixler is an excellent
influence. She leads by example and models good teaching and
Morgan noted professor Dolores Berlinghoff, with expertise is
behavior management, as a major influence. D’Alfonso added that
assistant professor Patricia Ruff aided him greatly in his
evolution as a student.
Mount Saint Mary College’s nationally accredited education
program is distinctive in that fieldwork is embedded in coursework,
starting in sophomore year. The program earns high marks in
preparing well qualified teachers and administrators for New York
In addition to the graduate students, Mount undergraduates
interested in service learning projects have co-taught the Saturday
book clubs. The club for Conversations to Inspire Reading
Children’s Literature with Engagement (CIRCLE) lent several books
for use in the program, and club members have facilitated some of
Prior to presenting, the college students prepare their sessions
(Right) Nicole Zazzero of Brewster, NY (seated) reads to local
children while Rachel Sleeter of Hyde Park, NY prepares for the
book discussion to follow.
Other students volunteers who have led Newburgh Armory book club
sessions: Chelsea Armitage of Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY, a history
major; Nicole Armocida of Franklin Square, NY, a history major;
Nicole Aruilio of Carmel, NY, an accounting major; Lindsay
Bordonaro of Yorktown Heights, NY, a history major; Julianna
DeBellis of Poughkeepsie, NY, a literacy and childhood education
graduate student; Sarah Favata of Northvale, NJ, a history major;
Lauren Fiorentino of Belle Harbor, NY, a social science major;
Nicole Golder of Smithtown, NY, a Hispanic studies major; Joseph
Henain of Hopewell Junction, NY, a biology major on the pre-med
track; Donte Howell of Baldwin, NY, a math major; Katie Kelder of
Olivebridge, NY, a history – political science major; Steven
Phillips of New Hyde Park, NY, a history major; Amanda Sakac of
Warwick, NY, an information technology/education major; Rachel
Sleeter of Hyde Park, NY, a history major; Rachel Springer of Old
Bethpage, NY, an information technology/education major; Katharine
Tischer of Port Jefferson, NY, a math major; Kira Tutko of
Washingtonville, NY, an information technology/education major;
Samantha Venditti of Mahopac, NY, a social science/history major;
and Nicole Zazzero of Brewster, NY, a history major.
Other Mount education faculty who have participated in the CELL
program are Reva Cowan, David Gallagher, Jane Gangi, and Matt
Hollibush. Additionally, English professor Peter Witkowski recently
lent his skills to the program.
Bixler is working on a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience
project with assistant professor Rebecca Norman and three
undergraduate students (Zazzero, Kelder, and Asma Neblett of Port
Jefferson, NY, a communications – journalism major) involving
literacy and the Armory book clubs.
Community outreach is only one component of Collaborative for
Equity in Literacy Learning. The program also focuses on research
and professional development. The recent 20th annual Mount Saint
Mary College conference on literacy, featuring author Joseph
Bruchac as the keynote speaker, is a prime example.
Another goal, led by Gangi, is to recommend multicultural
literature via annotated bibliographies for elementary and
intermediate school Common Core State Standards.
Bixler’s work on the CELL program and her excellent teaching
skills were recently recognized with the Mid-Hudson School Study
Council’s Educational Leadership Award. The award cites superior
educational leadership and accomplishments in educational
environments, an advanced sense of creativity in meeting the needs
of students, and growth of professional communities.