Centre Avenue Elementary School has a ‘generational impact’ on East Rockaway


Centre Avenue Elementary School’s mantra of “better together” created long-lasting connections within the community, which span multiple generations.

The school, founded in 1924, before the invention of the film strip projector, celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month.

Years later, students can watch educational films on projectors the size of their hand. Centre Avenue has gone through structural, educational, and program changes over the years, but one thing that has stayed the same is the supportive energy that the school instilled in its students.

“The building is committed to the betterment of the students’ future,” Caila Kelly, principal of Centre Avenue Elementary School, said. “And they know that when we have to have a conversation that may not be palatable for a lot of people, it comes from a place of supportive energy and that’s what I believe kept us a generational impact for so many years.”

Kelly, who was sworn in as principal four years ago, noted that it’s the principals before her and after her that keep Centre Avenue a “special place.” She said that the close-knit culture created where the students, faculty, nurses, custodians, and “every single person that walks the hallway” is what contributed to the school’s longevity.

Kelly said she seen the academic success increase in the school over the years, which was reflected by the stat test score. In February, Centre Avenue was awarded the level 2 Thinking Map — shared visual language for learning — accreditation. Centre Avenue is one of the few schools on Long Island to gain this status.

“This accreditation comes with a lot of work with student thinking, student facing work, parent facing work, and using that to prepare the students for high school,” Kelly said.

Project-based learning is another change that was infused into the school’s curriculum under the leadership of James DeTommaso, superintendent of East Rockaway School District. This has been a common theme in the school’s STEM program where they use a more hands-on approach to learning.

“The students used a magnet to determine the level of iron that was coming out of cereal,” Kelly said. “They’re living as scientists and mathematicians and working through that kind of mentality.”

Bill O’Hara, 80, was at Centre Avenue Elementary School in the 1950s. His daughters also attended the school, and he recalls programs that were not there when he was a student.

“My daughter Colleen was in the Enterprise Program in Centre Avenue for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade,” O’Hara said. “This was for accelerated students.”

O’Hara explained that although the school did not have this program in the 1950s, he made the most of it when his daughter was in it. He would go on class trips with this program to make sure that no students get separated from the class.

O’Hara’s family is one of the many examples of how the school had a generational impact on the community. Not only did his daughters go to Centre Avenue, but his granddaughter is also a student in the school. O’Hara picks up his grandchildren from school every afternoon, and he has noted the various structural changes that the school underwent over the past couple of decades.

“The whole wing on the east end of the school is new,” O’Hara said. “And they put a circular driveway in the front of the school.”

One piece of advice that, if given the opportunity, O’Hara would tell the students of Centre Avenue is to find a “manual trade.” He noted that plumbers are becoming obsolete and that most people do not even know how to use a screwdriver. O’Hara said he would like to see an increase in general handymen.

Sue Torborg, 70, also attended Centre Avenue. She was the only student in the school in kindergarten in 1959. However, her four children all attended the school, with her oldest starting in 1982 and the youngest graduating in 2001.

“The school has really changed,” Torborg said, comparing when his first kid attended the school to now. “It’s transitioned very nicely. There’s been a lot more classrooms that had to be created to accommodate more students.”

Torborg noted that she will never forget when she received her son’s report card and it said she should encourage him to learn his alphabet and numbers during the summer. Now, she explained, the students are entering kindergarten, already knowing how to write their names.

“Also, they added on a beautiful library and a computer and technology room, which was not there when my kids were there,” Torborg said.

“I’ve lived here all my life, my mother moved to East Rockaway in the 1930s so I think the longevity has to do a lot with the people that are here at the people that contribute to the community and the school system,” Torborg said.

Looking into the future, Kelly said that the programs in the school will continue to be geared more towards real world connections and continue the tradiition of the school having more collaborative, student-centered classrooms.