P.S. 71’s 8th grade class graduation 1st in 50 years

Principal Lance Cooper presents Anna Prestopino (left) and Justin Valespino (right) with the Triple C Award for exemplary service. - Photo by Walter Pofeldt

While the eighth grade graduation from P.S. 71 was not a first, it was a long time coming. 

Parents, students, alumni and teachers, who were thrilled at the reinstatement of middle school grades to the school, celebrated the first 8th grade graduation in half a century at Lehman High School on June 20.

Three years ago, the school reinstituted an alternative to junior high school. No longer did the P.S. 71 students need to relocate to unfamiliar surroundings and new teachers.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca, an alum of the school, echoed support for a parent’s desire to hold onto an institution they feel comfortable sending their children to. 

“Parents, there’s nothing wrong with apron strings, having nine years of stability in a K-8 school,” Vacca said,  “As a parent now, I’m going to hold onto those apron strings as long as I can.”

The additional grades have been welcomed by the administration, according to assistant principal Margaret Mirando.

“It’s great to give the parents options,” she said. 

Principal Lance Cooper opened the ceremony, speaking of the intended impact of the institution on its students.

“I sincerely hope our school has made a profound influence on you,” he said. 

Parents hail this impression, citing the uniqueness of the strong community at the public school.

 “My older children, they did well at I.S. 192, but it felt better [with Anna] to keep her in the neighborhood,” said Theresa Prestopino, attending her daughter’s graduation.

The poster-family for the school’s tight knit community, Prestopino’s daughter Margherita is a 4th grade teacher at the school and alum, and other family members have attended or worked at the school.  

“It’s a big school, but it feels like a small school,” Prestopino said.

Anna’s grandmother was herself a graduate of the school in 1957, one of the last 8th grade graduates before the elimination of the upper grades. 

“I can’t believe all these years have gone by,” the beaming grandmother said, happy to continue the family tradition. 

Gary D’Amico, the salutatorian of the graduating class, spoke in his address of how P.S. 71 has been a nesting ground and now he and his peers must move on.

“Tomorrow, our safe haven will only be a memory,” D’Amico said.  “Now, it’s our time to fly.”

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