Tag Archives: School

Northern Queens parents gain no traction during meeting with BP Katz over school program


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Whitestone and Flushing parents were sent back to the drawing board after meeting with Borough President Melinda Katz to discuss their desire to create a gifted and talented program for middle schools in the northern and central Queens area.

Lisa Fusco and a growing number of parents are building a case for the creation of gifted and talented programs for middle schools in their district. During a meeting with Katz and education officials on Wednesday, the parents were told that the district’s superintendent was the only one with the power to extend the program from its limited elementary school reach to middle school.

“They’re giving us the run around,” Fusco said. “We’ve spoken to [Superintendent Danielle Di Mango] before and that hasn’t gotten us anywhere. We’ve tried everything else.”

Mango declined a request for comment.

Fusco’s fourth-grade daughter is enrolled in the gifted and talented program in P.S. 79 and — unlike in many other school districts — the program does not continue into middle school within District 25, which covers most of central and northern Queens. Neighboring districts 26 and 30 provide the program to students in middle school. More than 150 parents have signed a petition to bring the program into their middle schools in places like Flushing and Whitestone.

The gifted and talented programs are meant to provide extra services for students who show academic promise and get bored easily in a traditional classroom setting. Parents must sign up their children for tests to get into the program by November, and children are tested in January and February.

“We have made some real strides engaging community leaders,” Fusco said. “And we will continue to push for the program in our communities.”

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Whitestone and northern Queens residents push for expansion of school program


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Parents in Whitestone and Flushing are trying to give the city a new lesson plan.

Lisa Fusco, from Whitestone, and 150 parents in northern Queens signed a petition to the city Department of Eudcation demanding the creation of gifted and talented programs for the middle schools in their  district. Several of the parents are also meeting with Borough President Melinda Katz and Department of Education officials on Dec. 10 to discuss the issue.

District 25 is bordered by Flushing Meadows Park to the west and Bayside to the east, and it encompasses Pomonok to the south up to Whitestone and College Point.

The large area has six middle schools, but none of them have gifted and talented programs. For Fusco and others, that’s a problem.

“Our children are in the gifted and talented program in the elementary schools and we would like them to continue this wonderful program into middle school,” said Fusco, whose fourth-grade daughter is enrolled in the program in P.S. 79. “It would be such a shame if they had to stop this program.”

The gifted and talented programs are meant to provide extra services for students with a high aptitude who get bored easily in regular classes, according to the Department of Education. Parents must sign up their children for tests to get into the program by November, and children are tested in January and February.

While the program is usually meant for elementary schools, the group’s request isn’t unprecedented. School District 26, which runs along the border with Long Island, and District 30, Long Island City and Astoria, both have middle schools that offer the gifted and talented program.

“I don’t understand why the DOE lacks a citywide policy on [gifted and talented programs] and why it provides [gifted and talented] classes in one district and not another,” said Morris Altman, the president of the education council in District 25.

Justin Chang, from Whitestone, has two boys who are enrolled in the program at P.S. 79, and he worries about what his kids will do if there is no equivalent teaching method being used in the local middle schools.

“They are different and they need help in a different way,” Chang said. “I would just hope they consider opening the program for our district.”

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Opening ceremony held for new school in Ozone Park


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

School is officially in session for a lucky group of Ozone Park kids.

Queens Explorer’s Elementary School held a ribbon cutting ceremony on Dec. 2 to formally celebrate the opening of the new campus. The school, which is also known as P.S. 316 and located at 90-07 101st Ave., opened up for its first school year in September.

“It’s a beautiful building that will inspire our young people to reach their full potential,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich. “This school is a tremendous investment in our community and a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. Clearly, the architects, engineers and contractors really went out of their way to build a school that we can all be proud of.”

The school will house pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.  It’s designed to serve up to 450 children.

As of now, the school only has pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes, but it will continue to grow as those classes move to the next grade. As those children finish their year, a new grade will be developed until pre-K through fifth grade is housed.

Photo courtesy of Councilman Eric Ulrich

Photo courtesy of Councilman Eric Ulrich

The new school cost about $38 million and took a little over a year to build. It occupies the plot where the former St. Stanislaus Catholic School was.

There is also a new playground that is currently under construction across the street from the school.

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DOE protects Bayside schoolchildren from non-existent construction project


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Aasha Mahadevan

As a new school year starts, students at a Bayside elementary school will find their school shrouded in scaffolding and mesh for a building project that doesn’t yet exist, according to city officials.

The city put the scaffolding up last school year at P.S. 162, according to a DOE spokeswoman, who said the project is still in its planning stage and designs for the project haven’t been made.

“This is really depressing for the children who are just going back to school and they have to go through this ominous entrance now,” said Beatrice Gallagher, who lives near the school. “Why has no work been done but they have the scaffolding up? That’s their job and they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing for us.”

The K-5 school, which was built in 1936, was chosen for an “exterior modernization project” that would replace and repair the roof, parapets, windows and exterior masonry.

The DOE spokeswoman said the scaffolding was erected for safety reasons even though the school is “safe” with no danger of falling bricks or debris.

The city doesn’t have an estimated completion date — or estimated start date — and the school declined to comment.

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Stats show universal pre-K’s limited reach in western, central Queens


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo by Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio

Only 30 percent of 4-year-olds in parts of western and central Queens got into the pre-K of their choice, the lowest percentage of matched applicants in all of New York City.

Parents in Queens District 24 — Corona, Glendale, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, Long Island City, Maspeth and Middle Village — must now search for an alternative to public schools.

According to the Department of Education, the majority of parents with 4-year-olds — 70 percent — in the district recently received letters informing them that the public pre-K of their choice was already full.

In comparison, in Manhattan’s District 1 only 10 percent of applicants were unmatched and, overall, 38 percent of applicants throughout New York City were unmatched.

“Every single school in this district is overcrowded,” said Nick Comaianni, president of School Board District 24. “In the past we’ve actually had to get rid of pre-K seats to make room for kindergarten to fifth grade.”

As the city changes gears for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s aim to make pre-K universal, the DOE is using community-based organizations like local YMCAs and mom-and-pop pre-K programs to scoop up the applicants that didn’t get into a public school pre-K.

But Comaianni, who has been president of the board for 11 years, believes that the mayor’s office and the DOE are moving too fast.

“Someone should’ve done their homework before pushing pre-K through so quickly,” he said, noting that since the schools in the district are already overcrowded, there is no extra space for more students. “You can’t have pre-K if you don’t even have second grade.”

The DOE is opening up 53,000 full-day seats through community-based organizations in time for the new school year in September. While this will still leave some toddlers behind, by next year there will be 73,250 seats, enough to put every 4-year-old in New York City in school, according to education officials.

Which is just fine, Comaianni said, but warned: “In our haste to open these seats let’s hope we have qualified people who can teach pre-K and it’s not just a baby-sitting center.

Queens by school district:

Source: Office of Student Enrollment

 

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Street Talk: Do you think more should be done to keep students with special needs safe in school?


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

street talk

Kids with special needs need to be able to be tracked when in school. I think Schumer’s “Avonte’s Law” is a good idea and is necessary.
Ken Kupetski

Yes, I believe more should be done because it’s too dangerous out there, even for kids without special needs.
Caitlin Neil-Karhut

Yes, I used to work with kids with special needs and some are not able to fend for themselves, so keeping students safe should be the priority right now.
Esther Park

Definitely, more needs to be done. What happened to Avonte should never happen again.
Kevin Collins

Yes, I do feel there isn’t enough being done. There isn’t enough funding for schools and I feel there should be longer hours in school, so teachers can help the students even more.
Arthur B.

I believe schools aren’t doing enough for kids with special needs. It is always better to have more protection.
Julia Vennitti

I believe it is the school’s responsibility to make sure students are safe, so I feel they need to figure out a better and safer plan to keep kids in school when they are supposed to be in school.
Maya Schallcross

Yes, I feel the more protection the better; the most important thing is that these kids are safe.
Juliet Hainline

 

-BY KATELYN DI SALVO

 

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Federal, state and city officials: ‘Make Lunar New Year an official school holiday’


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

State lawmakers have strengthened a renewed push to make Lunar New Year an official school holiday, garnering support from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Students shouldn’t feel like they have to choose between celebrating their heritage and missing a day of school,” the newly-risen speaker said.

The City Council plans to introduce two resolutions, calling for schools to close and metered parking to be suspended on one of the most important holidays of the year in Asian communities, Mark-Viverito said.

Multiple other measures have been introduced in the state and federal levels that call for a similar break for families.

A bill that would establish Lunar New Year as a school holiday for districts with an Asian-American population of at least 7.5 percent has been introduced in the State Senate and Assembly for years.

Flushing is the only neighborhood in Queens to meet the criteria, along with Chinatown in downtown Manhattan.

While it has made no movement in the past, elected officials gathered Friday in downtown Flushing to declare 2014 the year of action.

“This is the year and this is the time we believe it’s going to happen,” said Councilmember Paul Vallone, who is drafting a bill that would suspend metered parking that day.

About 14 percent of city students in the school system are Asian-American, Mark-Viverito said.

Officials have long argued absence rates in some city schools climb 80 percent on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Though observing students are “excused,” the absence is marked on their record.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, who spearheaded the Assembly’s attempts during her last tenure, proposed a resolution in Congress this month, asking local education agencies that include the city’s Department of Education to close schools that day.

“One day, we’ll look back and see that we made history,” said Councilmember Karen Koslowitz.

 

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Community board chair fires back at Walcott over school employee threats


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s schools chancellor chastised a community board leader after residents allegedly threatened his employees at a rowdy Bayside meeting last week.

“I would never allow anyone to be treated in this manner and would expect that you have the same standard,” Dennis Walcott said.

The head of the city’s public education system expressed his “extreme dismay” at a heated Community Board 11 meeting last Monday, when one male and one female resident allegedly verbally threatened two School Construction Authority (SCA) officials.

An older man approached Chris Persheff, the SCA’s Queens site selection manager, called him a liar and threatened to break his legs, The Courier reported last week.

After that, an unidentified person allegedly followed Persheff’s partner, Monica Gutierrez, by car until Gutierrez pulled into an empty lot, city reps said.

The SCA officials were pitching a plan to build an elementary school for 416 students at 210-11 48th Avenue when the May 6 meeting grew contentious.

They plan to file a police report and might take legal action against the alleged belligerents, Gutierrez said.
The altercations occurred after the meeting had adjourned.

In a letter, Walcott said Community Board 11 Chair Jerry Iannece “enabled this behavior by not drawing any boundaries to the abuse.”

He said the proposed new school would alleviate overcrowded facilities in the area. But enraged residents said it would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic congestion and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

Iannece fired back in a letter, defending his decade-long, “impeccable” reputation for fairness and order.

“As an uncompensated volunteer who has spent countless hours for the betterment of my community, I take personal offense by your remarks,” he said. “It is an affront to me and to all community board chairs, [who] do so much for our city.”

The community board’s education committee said bringing P.S. 130 back to their district would relieve area school congestion. The 200-01 42nd Avenue school is located within District 26, but has mostly served students from District 25 for at least two decades.

Moving the school back to its original district has long been deemed unviable by education officials.

Iannece invited the schools chancellor to review the meeting’s recorded minutes, which he said include a “poor presentation” by the SCA officials.

The two residents’ identities were not known as of press time.

“Although I can appreciate your desire to protect the staff,” Iannece said, “misplaced anger, compounded by erroneous accusations, doesn’t help.”

 

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City may take legal action after contentious Bayside community board meeting


| mchan@queenscourier.com

The city might take legal action after two school construction officials were threatened Monday at a contentious community board meeting.

Bayside residents were enraged at a proposal by the city’s School Construction Authority (SCA) to build a 416-seat elementary school at 210-11 48th Avenue.

They said it would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic congestion and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

But two attendees took it too far, said Monica Gutierrez, one of two SCA representatives who pitched the application at the May 6 hearing.

Gutierrez said a woman in her 60s approached the pair of speakers after the meeting adjourned and verbally threatened them. Someone then allegedly followed Gutierrez in a car until she pulled into an empty lot.

“She said, ‘You’ll have what’s coming to you. You’ll see,’” Gutierrez said. “When you threaten somebody, there are repercussions. They’re not above the law. They acted very barbaric.”

An older man also approached Chris Persheff, the agency’s Queens site selection manager, at the end of the meeting. The man called Persheff a liar and threatened to break his legs, according to the manager.

“I’ve done this a lot,” he said. “Usually the audience can sort of separate whatever I’m saying with the issue at hand. I’ve never had this personalized before like this.”

Gutierrez said the angry resident “tried to be all up against” Persheff. She said she grabbed the man and told him to calm down.

“It’s too vulnerable of a position to be in,” Persheff said. “It’s just unacceptable.”

Community Board 11 Chair Jerry Iannece said emotions were high, but the threats were uncalled for.

“The residents are very frustrated. They’re skeptical about what they don’t know,” he said. “But I don’t condone violence in any form. There’s no place for intimidation.”

Gutierrez said the city may take legal action against the alleged verbal assailants.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Education said the department is “taking appropriate action.”

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott expressed his “extreme dismay” of the fracas in a letter to Iannece. He said the community board chair “enabled this behavior by not drawing any boundaries to the abuse.”

“I would never allow anyone to be treated in this manner and would expect that you have the same standard,” Walcott said.

Persheff said he would file a police report but had no further comment.

The two residents’ identities were not known as of press time.

“We’ve been in bad neighborhoods, low economic areas, and they treat us with respect,” Gutierrez said. “Yes, they voice their minds, but they respect people.”

“It’s sad,” she continued. “These people are adults, and that’s how they are treating people. We’re just out there trying to do our jobs.”

 

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Bayside residents oppose school in place of Keil Bros Garden Center


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Build a school, say Bayside residents, just not in our backyards.

Community Board (CB) 11 voted against a controversial proposal to build an elementary school in the place of a popular garden center after enraged residents who live near the 210-11 48th Avenue site vehemently opposed it.

“This area is saturated with schools, and we can’t stand it anymore,” said resident Mandingo Tshaka. “Hell, no. That’s all I’m going to say.”

The owners of Keil Bros Garden Center and Nursery have struck a deal with the city to sell their entire Bayside property, including a home next to the store, for an undisclosed amount.

Ronald Keil, vice president of the family-run business, cited “the changing nature of the retail world” and “increasing costs of doing business” as reasons for the sale.

“Basically, it’s an uncertain economy,” he said.

Residents said the 416-seat school would destroy their quality of life, worsen parking and traffic congestion and lead to dangerous crossing conditions for students.

“It’s really a disaster in the making,” said Toby Pagano, 64, of Bayside. “I would be horrified, but not surprised, if there was an accident.”

There are 21 elementary schools in the district and 12 within CB 11’s jurisdiction, according to Susan Seinfeld, district manager of Community Board 11.

Local educators said the majority of them are heavily congested, with registration growing every year.

At least three schools have had to put classrooms in space originally meant for libraries or music, Seinfeld said.

“There’s an opportunity for a school to be built,” P.S. 41 Principal Sari Latto said. “We’re hoping that will alleviate some of that overcrowding.”

No designs for a new school have been laid out yet, according to School Construction Authority officials. The site selection process began in 2008 and honed in on the disputed site last month.

According to Keil, the city approached his 83-year-old business within the last two years. He said he and his brother are exploring options to continue the store in another part of Queens.

The garden center will be open for regular business for the rest of the year.

CB 11’s advisory vote now heads to the City Council for a final ruling.

“I do get the need for new schools,” said resident Carol Shriver, 55. “I understand that. But this is wrong. This is just the wrong place to build a school. They’re just asking for trouble.”

 

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Corona school plans halted over street closure


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of DOE

Concerned over congestion, a Community Board slammed on the brakes when construction plans for a Corona school involved a temporary street closing.

According to Community Board 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol, the board voted down the motion 14 to 10 when the Department of Education (DOE) and the School Construction Authority (SCA) requested 44th Avenue between 97th Place and Junction Boulevard be closed for the duration of the P.S. 315’s construction, adding that the proposal also included 97th Place be turned into a northbound one-way street.

Expected to be completed by 2015, P.S. 315 will cost $40 million and house 1,100 students. According to a DOE spokesperson, Community Board 4’s vote against the street closing does not stop SCA from continuing with the project. The spokesperson added that the DOE has submitted a request for street closure with the Department of Transportation (DOT), which has not yet approved.

Recognizing the desperate need for a new school in the neighborhood, fraught with severe overcrowding, Cassagnol said it’s not the school itself the board is against, but the street closure that the SCA feels is a necessary part of its construction.

Cassagnol alleged that several community board members were displeased with the design of the school, stating that while the design was beautiful, it did not conform to the aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood. The school’s location had also formerly been disputed over. According to Cassagnol, Community Board 4’s former District Manager Richard Italiano proposed several alternate locations for the school that were all turned down by city officials.

Representatives from the SCA could not be reached for comment as of press time.

School bus drivers threaten to strike after holiday break


| brennison@queenscourier.com

File photo

After the new year, kids may be looking for a new way to get to school.

Yellow school bus drivers have threatened to strike when children are scheduled to return to school after the holidays. The city’s contract with Amalgamated Transit Union’s Local 1181 is set to expire in June and a bid, open to all suitors, was issued to secure a new contract.

“Going through with the strike now would be unfair to our kids and absolutely unacceptable,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The union is upset that the bid does not include language that will guarantee current drivers a job in the next contract, something Bloomberg said was deemed illegal.

“The union is protesting a job guarantee the DOE is not allowed to provide,” the mayor said.

The strike would affect 152,000 students and 7,700 school bus routes citywide.

The DOE has taken efforts to provide transportation if the strike does occur and sent parents a letter on the step that will be taken.

Metrocards will be provided to students who receive yellow bus service and to the parents of children in grades kindergarten to second grade and parents of children with special needs.

Those in areas where public transportation is not readily available will be reimbursed by the DOE for any transportation costs.

Field trips that required a yellow bus will be cancelled in the event of a strike and after-school programs will remain open.

The union also threatened to strike in November of 2011 over similar circumstances, but the work stoppage was averted.

Calls to the union for comment were not immediately returned.

Sunnyside will get new school to assist growing population


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

RENDERINGS COURTESY OF MACRAE-GIBSON ARCHITECTS

A Queens neighborhood desperately in need of class space for its booming student population is getting a state-of-the-art $57.3 million facility.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE) said the agency is in the early stages of developing plans for a new school to be located at 45-46 42nd Street in Sunnyside, between Queens Boulevard and 47th Avenue. The 75,000-square-foot structure, called P.S. 313, will seat roughly 430 students in grades kindergarten through five and is expected to be completed in June 2014.

“It’s going to be a fantastic addition to the area,” said Gavin Macrae-Gibson, whose company Macrae-Gibson Architects is designing the school. “The site has been empty for a while. Overcrowding in Queens is quite dramatic. It’s hard to find these sites.”

The building will include a gym, cafeteria, kitchen, administrative and medical suites, 20 classrooms, specialty art and science rooms and a library. It will also have a rooftop play space and a separate early childhood play area.

The site is located in a densely-packed urban block, surrounded by seven- and five-story brick residential buildings and some smaller single-family residences. According to Macrae-Gibson, the architects used a contextual approach to designing the school’s layout and look, integrating it seamlessly into the neighborhood.

“It’s a pretty urban and dense neighborhood, well-defined,” said Macrae-Gibson. “A school has to fit in to its neighborhood. It wants to look like it’s part of the context but stand out.”

Parents fume over dwindling gifted and talented program


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Expanding demand and dwindling supply of middle school gifted and talented seats in Long Island City have parents fuming over the possibility of their children getting dropped from the program.

Kids from P.S. 122 and P.S. 150 were previously promised seats through 8th grade, filtering into the middle school program at P.S. 122. In line with new gifted and talented programs across the city, the proposal for District 30 aims to increase the number of seats in the district by forcing students to retest after elementary school to determine if they should remain in the accelerated class.

“It’s not fair to just tell parents ‘OK well you’re going to have to retest in 5th grade and make all these kids compete with one another,’” said Isaac Carmignani, co-president of Community District Education Council 30. “That wasn’t what they were promised.”

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Education (DOE), the switch is to create a more equitable admissions process by allowing students who may not have performed well on the kindergarten exam to have a second chance in fifth grade.

The spokesperson said the number of gifted and talented students in District 30 is relatively small compared to other districts.

School District 30 currently has approximately 120 seats per grade for gifted and talented students. The new program, according to the DOE, will add 60 new seats.

“As with any competitive admissions process, the highest scoring students would have priority for placement in these programs,” said the DOE spokesperson. “Students would be placed in descending order based on the admissions criteria established for the program.”

Carmignani said parents fear that if their kids are removed from a gifted and talented program, they won’t be admitted into a top city high school and possibly a stellar college.

Melissa Lee, the parent of a kindergartner and a first grader in P.S. 166’s gifted and talented program, believes the DOE needs to provide a seat for every eligible student, regardless of when they apply for the program. Lee added that 40 percent of the gifted and talented students in the district are from ethnic minorities, something the city agency should give high importance to giving the recent reports illustrating that enrollment for minority students at top high schools is incredibly low.

“If the DOE is really trying to recruit more of these kids, why not nurture it now?” said Lee.

Back to school…back to fitness


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

BY BARBARA BRENSEKE

With the start of school approaching, parents will once again be faced with the chaos and craziness of early mornings, homework projects, scout meetings, sports practices and games, as well as, the constant chauffeuring that comes with having kids. The good news is that although you may look a bit crazy when you’re running around the house you are actually getting some exercise.

Even if you have a good start in January and keep your resolve through the summer, come fall – with its endless procession of holidays – even the most dedicated can stop making fitness a priority.

Remember, back-to-school craziness affects parents and kids as schedules change and hours get filled with everything from soccer practice to music lessons. It’s easy to let exercise slide when things get busy. But it is possible to find time for fitness.

Instead of thinking, “I’ll start over in January,” use these three Rs to make September a time to renew your fitness goals.

Re-assess: Consider what you have accomplished so far and what new action you need to take to stay on course with your goals. In addition, evaluate your schedule. How can you fit fitness in with activities and obligations that start in the fall while staying motivated with fewer daylight hours? Fitness centers often create new schedules this time of year. Learn something new…a new exercise class or sport or find a nutrition or health education seminar to attend.

Re-connect: Find ways to re-establish that emotional high toward your goals and keep the momentum going. One-way to do this is to sign up for an event that will complement your health and fitness goals, or help you achieve them. “An event can be a 5K Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot, 10K, a triathlon, half-marathon or more extreme events like the Warrior Dash or Spartan Race. This will keep your motivation high throughout the year and will help you stay on track with the kind of lifestyle behaviors that lead to achieving your desired goals. Accomplishing these events also leads to more confidence that will help with the goal-setting, goal-achieving cycle.

Re-assert: Change your mindset from making a resolution to making a commitment. A personal commitment is much more powerful than a resolution, which is often thrust upon us by outside expectations. A resolution is deciding to do or not do something; a commitment is a promise or obligation.

Think about the personal responsibility between the two. When people “promise” or make an “obligation” it puts their credibility on the line, and maintaining one’s credibility has a huge impact on motivation.

As the saying goes, “Just Do It!”

Barbara Brenseke is a strength and conditioning coach and the owner of Train For The Game LI in Bellmore. Barbara has been featured on WALK-FM 97.5 in addition to being published in several Long Island publications.