In MERRICK LIFE 4/1/2010
by Giita Haynes
Bangkok, Mumbai, Soweto, Guatamala City, Sao Paulo.  These are only half of the cities Katie Fallon traversed while doing undergraduate thesis research.

Ms. Fallon hails from Merrick.  After attending The Progressive School of Long Island, and Calhoun High, she went on to study International and Public Policy at Princeton, where she won a grant from the Circumnavigator’s Club to do research on slums.  It was Katie’s intent to find out how formal land rights can change slum conditions.


Her research took her all over the world.  She saw poverty and resilience in the face of overwhelming hardship on four continents.  Touching down in Guatemala City, Guatemala; Lima, Peru; Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Paris, France; Soweto and Johannesburg, South Africa; Mumbai, India; Chaing Mai and Bangkok, Thailand; and Hong Kong, she said she was surprised to find that in all of these diverse places, people were not very different from each other. “When I interviewed people, I expected there to be rather large differences in hopes, dreams, and life persepectives, but almost everybody I interviewed dreamed of the same things–having a safe space for their children, being able to earn income in a safe way. . . The kids I met in every community loved playing soccer, [eating] candy, and having their pictures taken.  At the end of the trip, I felt like the world was so small and welcoming.”

How did a girl from Merrick become so cosmopolitan?  “My interest in urban planning developed when I was younger and would go to Manhattan. I loved how efficient, busy and diverse the city seemed.”  In contrast, she had her first experience of an international city in Panama, where she volunteered in 2005.  “The contrast between Manhattan and Panama City really struck me. I began studying international development in college and focused my studies on urban cities in the developing world.”  However, she accredits her interest in international studies at least in part to her roots at The Progressive School of Long Island, where she attended kindergarten through sixth grade.  “In  elementary school I learned so much about the world that I have felt compelled to travel whenever I have the opportunity to.”

Katie with a girl she works with in Nicaragua

And she does.  The world felt so welcoming that Katie is now a Princeton in Latin America fellow in Nicaragua.  As project development coordinator for the Nica Hope center of the Fabretto Children’s Foundation, she assists families who live and work in the trash dump of Nicaragua’s capital.

But, it is not unusual for Progressive School alumni to become interested in the international community, and to do social service.  In fact, it is almost the norm.  Students who have graduated more recently from this Merrick school have become involved in diverse activities, both locally and abroad, and they all accredit their choice to do so at least in part to their roots at the Progressive School.

Danielle Jurman, a high school junior, spent four weeks in Ghana last summer, where she helped build a kindergarten for a community outside of the city “Cape Coast. ”

A junior at Stuyvesant High School, Dan Mendelsohn still finds time in his busy schedule to run “Reading Reflections,” an organization that collects donated books and distributes them to underfunded libraries, after-school programs, and other places where children and adults need reading material.

Sara Macias took the road less traveled, and forewent her plans to go straight to college after high school.  Instead, she is spending her first year after graduation in Israel doing service work through the Young Judea program.

Julie Teplitz, still a high school student, started the initiative for the first Relay for Life ever to take place in Merrick.  She and her mother organized a highly successful fundraising event last fall to help fight cancer, to celebrate the survivors, and to commemorate those who have not survived.

In looking at the activities that take place at the Progressive School, it makes sense that graduates of the K-8 curriculum spend their time in this way.  On any given day, walk into the school, and there is some kind of project going on — the sixth grade is holding a bake sale to raise money for Haitian relief, or the third grade is raising money for children with leukemia, or a student is collecting old sneakers to donate to the needy.  Awareness of the local and global community is consciously fostered in the Progressive School curriculum, as is the mentality that, as Danielle Jurman puts it, “no person is too small to make a big difference.”

From the very start of kindergarten, students learn by doing, and learn to identify with and care about people from different cultures.  Taking it a step farther, the middle school students have a weekly class period devoted to volunteerism.  This course is taught by Mark Amiama, who also teaches social studies and current events, and for him, these subjects are very much related to each other. “We try to bring out a relationship in how students perceive today’s world and yesterday’s world. . . and how we can affect change in our school community, local community, and world community”  In coordination with the other middle school subjects, Mark helps students connect their interests with world affairs.  For example, after reading Bound for the North Star: True Stories of Fugitive Slaves in English class, two students have been building an ongoing relationship with the UN, their focus being to increase awareness of child labor and slavery.  This is the type of leadership that students exhibit at the Progressive School.

So, it is really no surprise that Ms. Fallon travels all around the world, that Sara Macias payed attention to her interests and stepped off of the heavily trodden footpath that most high school graduates follow unquestioningly, that Dan Mendelsohn and Julie Teplitz take time to give back in their communities, and that Danielle Jurman took the leap to work abroad during a time when most other teens are sleeping in and going to the movies.