Joel Salazar holding up his diploma from the East Bronx Academy for the Future.
By Sonia Barnes-Moorehead
Executive Vice President
Astor Services for Children & Families
Like every other parent at high school commencement ceremonies this spring, Eve Murphy watched with pride as her daughter, Cheyenne, clutched her diploma. But Murphy said she was especially proud of her daughter’s accomplishment, because few students had overcome as much as she had.
“I was so elated,” Murphy said. “A few years ago, I did not see this day coming.” She added that she doubted her daughter could have reached the commencement stage at Wildcat Academy without the support of a team of clinicians, behavioral coaches, and caseworkers from Astor Services for Children & Families.
The agency, sponsored by the Catholic Charities Alliance and spanning from Dutchess County to New York City, offers a residential home for children, child guidance and counseling centers, an early childhood and day treatment programs, home-based crisis intervention and school-based preventative services that enable emotionally disturbed youngsters to live at home and attend neighborhood schools. An innovative leader in services for children with psychiatric disorders, Astor Services for Children & Families became one of the first mental health facilities for children in the nation to receive accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The U.S. Department of Education designated Astor Learning Center a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
As for Cheyenne, she began battling emotional issues when she was eight years old that were causing her to be disruptive in her public school classroom. She was placed in one of Astor’s Day Treatment programs, which work with children ages 5 – 12 who display a range of behaviors that impact their ability to develop or attain age-appropriate cognitive and educational skills.
Day Treatment gives children the chance to thrive in a traditional school environment while receiving the intensive support they need to overcome behavioral challenges so they can re-enter public school and transition into their appropriate school placement. In this program, Cheyenne received psychiatric treatment as well as academic schooling, and when she was ready to return to public school, a team of Astor caseworkers and counselors continued to keep tabs on her and provide her with ongoing services.
Thanks to support from Robin Hood, Astor’s Transitions team (a group of caseworkers who work with kids like Cheyenne to help with the transition process, and who stay with them throughout their schooling), is currently tracking 153 of its former Day Treatment students as they make their way through school. This year, Cheyenne Murphy and five other young adults were the first clients since the program’s inception to earn high school diplomas.
Jurine Walker, Astor’s Deputy Director for Bronx Day Treatment and Transitions programs, said she was “overjoyed” when she heard Cheyenne would be graduating. “I’ve known Cheyenne and some of these other young adults since they were in the third grade,” Walker said. “It’s astounding to see the progress they’ve made. They have to possess a lot of strength to get to where they are today. We help them set their goals and are there to support them, but they are the ones who have to assume the responsibility to follow through.”
Cheyenne, who hopes to continue her education this fall in Boston, said she was grateful for the support she received from Astor’s Transitions caseworkers. “When I was younger, the people in Astor’s Day Treatment programs helped me get my emotions under control, and later, the staff in the Transitions program helped me set goals and focus on my schoolwork. Graduation day was a great day because I could see how proud my mom was, and that made me proud, too.”
The same week Cheyenne and Eve Murphy were celebrating their milestone at Wildcat Academy, another former Astor client, Joel Salazar, received his diploma from the East Bronx Academy for the Future in a ceremony on the campus of Fordham University. Like Cheyenne Murphy, Joel credited Astor and his Transitions caseworker, Leemarie Sanchez, with helping complete his journey through high school.
“Whenever I got lazy, Leemarie got me back on track and worked with me on my goals,” he said. Joel’s mother, Jacqueline Rosario, thanked Astor for all the support its staff had provided for Joel over the past nine years. “Joel was hyperactive as a kid, but when he came to Astor in the fourth grade, they worked with him and I saw improvement quickly. And on the day he graduated, I thanked God for Astor; thanked God for Transitions. I’d recommend Astor to any parent.”
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