Wantagh Elementary School has welcomed a new assistant principal. Long Island native Rachel Dender joined the Wantagh School District after eight years as a special education teacher in New York City.
“I knew when I started interviewing at Wantagh Elementary that this is where I wanted to be,” Dender said. “This is a position where I knew I would do well but also this community is somewhere I fit in with.”
She said she felt she related to the values of the district, especially the community and parent involvement in schools and education.
“We are thrilled to welcome Ms. Dender to our staff,” Wantagh Elementary School Principal Randee Bonagura said. “She brings a wealth of classroom experience and a deep understanding of special education practices that will benefit our school community.”
Another aspect of Wantagh that she really appreciated was how important community service and social change are to the district, she said.
“I knew that I would be a great fit for them,” Dender said. “But really they are a great fit for me.”
Dender is the founder of the Musical Movement, which produces virtual cabaret fundraisers for non-profit groups. The Movement has produced about ten fundraisers for various organizations since its origins in 2018.
“We are a group of people who want to make a change and make social change,” she said. “We love supporting non-profit organizations who are trying to do that.”
As the new assistant principal Dender aims to establish close relationships with students, staff, faculty and parents to better support the community.
Dender earned a bachelor’s degree in inclusive elementary and special education from Syracuse University. After graduating, she began working as a teacher at P94M, a District 75 school in Battery Park. Denter taught kindergarten through fifth grade students at the school which specializes in education for students with learning challenges and disabilities. She was there for five years.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher from the time that I was a little kid,” Dender said. “I just always really enjoyed helping people and as I got older I wanted to help kids and especially kids who learned things in different ways.”
While teaching at P94M, she received her master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from Hunter College.
“Everybody learns things and understands things in a variety of ways,” she said. “That’s what really drew my attention to teaching. I wanted to be that person that helps kids identify what ways they understand things best and provide them with that kind of education.”
Her last three years were spent at P.S. 142 Amalia Castro on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She taught in an ICT fifth grade class, an Integrated Co-Teaching class meaning there was co-teaching between a general education teacher and a special education teacher to provide instruction to all students. She also acted as the Individualized Educational Plan teacher, where she acted as a special education liaison.
She also took a variety of leadership roles in her past experiences such as managing individualized education programs for students, and mentoring teachers and providing them with professional development opportunities.
“I was taking on those leadership roles within the school and being a support for my colleagues and for families in the community,” she said. “Through those experiences, I realized that this was something I really wanted to do because it provided the opportunity to support kids in a bigger way.”
“I think she’s a great addition,” Tammy Genovese, Wantagh Elementary School PTA co-president said. “She’s outside every morning welcoming all the students into school. She started at the same time as the students and she picked everything up so quickly. She adjusted very well.”
This past summer, she served as the assistant director of the Explorers Program for students in grades K-8 in the Plainview-Old Bethpage School District. The Explorer’s Program is a four week program for K-8 students that engages students in STEM, music, art, social/emotional, and physical education enrichment activities.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said. “It really helped me get to where I am now.”
Although Dender said she’ll miss teaching kids, she’s looking forward to working closely with the community.
“One thing that is special about teaching is that every day you walk into a class of these kids and no matter what else is going on in the world, you’re with those kids,” she said. “They bring you joy and laughter and you’re in a different world for the day.”