Community Gathers for Bank Street Celebration

On April 30, over 300 guests gathered for the Bank Street Celebration, the College’s signature benefit designed to celebrate the community’s many contributions to the field of education and raise funds to support its vital work. Held annually, the Bank Street Celebration showcases the profound role that education plays in building a better society.

This year’s event was held at Gotham Hall in Manhattan and honored Bethlam Forsa, CEO, Savvas Learning Company; Nancy Rauch Douzinas, Board Chair, the Rauch Foundation; and Betty Pforzheimer, Former Chair, Bank Street College of Education Board of Trustees. Their inspiring work, which spans several decades, embodies Bank Street’s commitment to making a difference in the lives of children, teachers, and families.

Celebration attendees, many of whom were educators from all corners of the field, mingled over refreshments and hors d’oeuvres in the mezzanine before the dinner ceremony in the grand ballroom. 

Tony Award-winning actress, Laura Benanti, and 10-year-old School for Children student, Maia Ilundain, emceed the evening and entertained guests with a comedy sketch followed by a performance of the School for Children Chorus, accompanied by Rachel Price.

Victoria Hamilton, Chair of the Board of Trustees, welcomed guests and presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Betty Pforzheimer, Former Chair, Bank Street Board of Trustees, for her unwavering dedication to high-quality educational opportunities. During her nearly 40 years of service to Bank Street, Pforzheimer held many leadership roles and co-chaired The Campaign for Bank Street, which raised more than $25 million. She currently serves on the board of New Alternatives for Children, a social service agency she helped found. Additionally, she and her husband Carl, have created scholarship and fellowship opportunities at Wellesley College, PACE University, and the ACLS that help students in the humanities to succeed.

Upon receiving the award, Pforzheimer said, “Bank Street is a beacon. Its insistence on quality shines throughout. I have served on many boards, but few have the same shared sense of direction than this board has. This board holds its staff and administration in such high esteem.

Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, GSE ’00, delivered a compelling speech about the value of Bank Street’s approach, which included anecdotes from two teachers—Keyona Morrison, GSE ’23, co-teacher of 3-year-old students at Riverdale Neighborhood House in the Bronx, and Molly O’Brien, GSE ’16, a founding teacher at Design Works High School, a new public secondary school co-developed by New York City Public Schools, Bank Street College of Education, and Pratt Institute.

Polakow-Suransky spoke about some of the transformative techniques Morrison learned in Bank Street’s Early Childhood General Education Advanced Standing Program that she now applies in her classroom. “She learned about turning the tables in her class upside down so her students could do what she called Michelangelo paintings. In one of her Bank Street classes, her instructor had the students look outside at the brick buildings and notice how the bricks are layered and packed. This skill of close observation of both the world around us and the children we work with is at the heart of a Bank Street education. If teachers have the space to observe and reflect, they can individualize learning for each child in a way that responds to their unique developmental needs.”

Polakow-Suransky also discussed the new approaches to math education that O’Brien learned through the Leadership in Mathematics Education Program. He said, “What Molly came to understand is that collaborative problem-solving involves more than proximity to a classmate. It involves rich tasks that are open and challenging and invite productive struggle. It involves getting to know the people around you—building trust—and respecting different learning styles. And it takes time. Now, as a ninth-grade teacher, Molly is practicing what she was taught. Her students’ parents are telling Molly about how their children are suddenly saying math is easy, and Molly’s point is that math isn’t easy—it’s just meaningful.”

The evening continued with inspiring words from the event’s honorees. First up was Bethlam Forsa, who was introduced by Andrew Colon, an eight-grade student at PS 171, the Patrick Henry Preparatory. As chief executive officer of Savvas Learning Company, a global, next-generation learning solutions provider for K-12 education, a dynamic and visionary leader whose career in education and publishing spans over two decades, Forsa is committed to the idea that a quality education has the power to shape lives, inspire new ways of thinking, and build better communities.

Forsa said, “The power of a great teacher to change the trajectory of a single student’s life is enormous, and it can have a lasting, memorable impact on a child…. The best way to make a difference in the world is through quality education to do this. I and everyone else at Savvas have dedicated ourselves to supporting teachers by developing and delivering engaging, high-quality learning solutions that enable them to help all students succeed. I’m an optimist about the future in education. New development in digital technology holds the promise of personalized learning like we’ve never seen before, but it’s so important that we ensure all students have access to those resources.”

Next, Amy Stuart Wells, Dean, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, introduced honoree Nancy Rauch Douzinas, President, Rauch Foundation, whose work has fostered systemic regional change in early childhood. Today, Rauch Douzina’s two daughters lead the foundation and Nancy remains a prominent advocate for philanthropy’s capacity to raise awareness of regional needs and spark change through cross-sector partnerships and policy discussion.

Rauch Douzinas said, “At the Rauch Foundation, we have worked, been aware, and understood the great significance of the preschool years, and this issue has been the most important focused area for the foundation since the 1990s. Compared with other developed countries, the United States lags far behind, and research has provided significant proof of just how poorly funded early care and education in this country has been. We also supported many non-profits who work directly with young children, and since 1994 the foundation has granted $21 million for early care and education on Long Island…. I just want to say thank you to Bank Street for this honor and to all of you here this evening for your support of Bank Street. It is definitely an institution that is doing and will do very important work for this country’s children, parents, and future.”

Following the honorees, featured speaker Richard Batista, GSE ’23, New York City Public Schools math teacher, took the stage to share his experiences in the Leadership in Mathematics Education Program.

Batista described his childhood as a “story of isolation, poverty, homelessness, struggles, identity crisis, and sense of belonging—a story of a child born into a family of immigrant Caribbean parents looking to find the American dream.” He said, “And, here I am in front of all of you this evening as a proud Bank Street alum. Because of Bank Street, I was able to continue on a new generational cycle. I became a better math educator, shaping students’ mathematical experience into one that has meaning and substance, connecting students and mathematical learning to real-life social injustices that affect all of us living in this country. My experience at Bank Street has allowed me to gain the strength, the courage, and the knowledge to take on the next journey in my professional career—and be an agent of change.”

The Bank Street Celebration culminated in a paddle raise led by auctioneer CK Swett, who engaged the crowd with great enthusiasm and humor. Funds raised will help Bank Street continue to promote its powerful vision of education—based on more than a century of experience—in ways that meet the needs of today’s learners.

Planning for the event was supported by Bank Street’s Development and Relations Office (DARO) and a host committee of board members, including Charlie Bendit, Shokry Eldaly, Russell Granet, Fern Khan, Marianna McCall, and Kate Sussman. The celebration raised over $1,000,000 in donations.

Reflecting on the evening, Marcela Hahn, Vice President of Development, said, “I am so grateful to all our friends and supporters, especially our Board of Trustees and honorees, for their generosity in helping us achieve our fundraising goal. A special thanks to colleagues across Bank Street who were part of our success. We were thrilled that so many alumni from both the School for Children and Graduate School showed their support.”

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