Students co-author Jamaica Estates book

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Students from the Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates have a new accomplishment to add to their list of achievements – author.

The students co-wrote the Arcadia Publishing book Images of America: Jamaica Estates with their moderator, Carl Ballenas.

“I wanted the honor society to go beyond the curriculum and so what we wanted to do was learn about our own backyard,” Ballenas said.

The project began by students looking into the history of the parish. From there, the honor society created brochures with the information they learned and passed them out.

By the time the students had finished the research, they had more than 200 photographs and Ballenas felt bad that they would lose all the information they had found. So, since he had already co-written two books for Arcadia, he contacted them about using the materials for Jamaica Estates. He said they were very receptive to the idea.

Honor society member Gabrielle Ulloa said that she was happy and shocked when she heard about doing the book.

“It was a really exciting moment,” she said.

Another member, Amne Madi, said that she loves to read so she thought it was amazing to get a chance to write a book.

Tahina Felisca said that she also thought it was great since the students got to have their name in a book, which is “going to be forever.”

The students said that they had to do a lot of research, including looking at newspaper articles. They also had to compare information from different sources and find out what was accurate.

Student Alex Samaroo said that one of the interesting facts they discovered was the founding of Jamaica Estates, which was in 1907.

Julio Ulloa said that it was cool to see the book, which came out on March 8, published. He said that the students can now see it in the library and will be able to one day show their children what they did.

“It’s really something to be proud of,” Gabrielle Ulloa said.

On March 21, Ballenas and the Aquinas Honor Society participated in an author talk and signing at the Barnes & Noble in Fresh Meadows. Students took turns reading excerpts from the book before people lined up to have them sign copies.

Julio Ulloa said that it felt pretty exciting and made him feel like a movie star.

Councilmember James Gennaro, who wrote the introduction to the book, was on hand at the event to present the students with a proclamation. He said he “wanted to thank you in a very special way for capturing the history of our great community in a very profound way.”

Ballenas said that he has been “totally thrilled” by the experience of writing a book with his students. He also said it was “phenomenal” to see them sign books and have the pleasure of accomplishing something so significant. He also enjoyed seeing the students get applause and congratulations from the audience members.

“You can’t erase that from their minds,” he said. “That will be etched into their memory their whole lifetime.”

Ballenas said that he hopes his students took away an appreciation of what’s in their backyard and their roots. He also hopes that they will continue to educate and preserve information and pass that along to other generations.

For more information on Jamaica Estates, visit