BY CAROL MCILMURRAY
Lana Benim, Pys.D is bringing an educational-based daycare to New City’s former St. Augustine school building and it has brought the attention of parish members and townspeople who are concerned the former catholic school will be turned into a Yeshiva or a private school seeking taxpayer money.
The town of Clarkstown is still to approve the daycare’s Certificate Occupancy due to public outcry at August 9 town meeting which resulted in the Town Council requesting written confirmation from Clarkstown School District that the daycare, with an age cut-off limit of six-year-old, would not be seeking school taxpayer money.
The St. Augustine Parish has been receiving many phone calls and questions from parishioners wondering who is running the Benim Scholastic Academy and if the daycare is affiliated with the Hasidic community. “This is not a yeshiva, it’s an non-denominational educational-based daycare, we have no religious affiliation.” Benim continued, “I am not and will not be seeking any money from Clarkstown School District to run my year round private daycare, it is 100 percent funded by parents.”
Benim added, “The only reason we have an age cut off 6-year-old is because kindergarten is not mandatory in New York State and wanted to include students who have late birthdays.”
Benim explained that she wanted to put her name on the daycare so parents know there is a face and person behind the care and oversight of their child and it was not just a generic institution.
Benim, a mother of three, is sending her two youngest children to the full day year-round daycare. Benim continued that she named it an ‘academy’ to denote the level of instruction and education the children would be receiving in the daycare setting.
Benim attained her Masters in Clinical Psychology and Education from Columbia University and her Doctorate from Fairleigh Dickinson in School Psychology. Sue Sanchez and Gabriella Fink-Mullady will lead instruction and oversee individual student care in the daycare, both instructors have Masters level educations. The daycare is just two classrooms at present. Each classroom is painted in a whimsical theme with activities areas for reading, writing, and fine motor skill development. The two rooms assigned by age with 2-3 year-old in the ‘Farm Room’ and the 4-5 year old children placed in the ‘Aqua Room’.
Benim explained she never thought this controversy would arise when she started the steps to create the year-round daycare.
“The first 5 years of education are more important than where a child attends college. Neural connections are developed at this time and can set a child up for independence and accomplishment for the rest of their lives,” Benim stated.
St Augustine’s K-8 grade school closed in 2013 after being opened for 52 years. The former school building still holds regular CCD classes and bible study.
Lino Sciarretta, Attorney for the Town of Clarkstown said in a telephone interview that a special permit issued by the town board is required before the building inspector goes inspect the building and issue a certificate of occupancy. Sciarretta said in the interview he does not expect there to be any issues at the September 6 th town board meeting.
The August 23 town board meeting was cancelled without reason listed this week on the town of Clarkstown website. The meeting has been rescheduled for Sept 6, the same day the daycare was set to open. The daycare has an open house scheduled for Sept. 3. Dr. Benim invited members of the community to come and see her daycare for themselves.