Did you know that I.S.34 is the only intermediate school on Staten Island whose building at 528 Academy Avenue was once another school? For 36 years, our building was Tottenville High School which in 1972 moved to its new site in Huguenot.
Tottenville High School was erected in 1935 and 1936 during the era known as The Great Depression and is the sister school of the old New Dorp High School, (now Staten Island Tech.) The mayor of New York City at the time was the legendary, Fiorello LaGuardia who was well known for his reading of the funny papers to children on the radio.
After years of campaigning for a high school on Staten Island’s south shore, the cornerstone of the new school was laid in the spring of 1935. The cost of the school was $1,000,000 and it featured a spacious auditorium, large, airy classrooms, and separate gyms for both boys and girls. A motorcade traveled from the Staten Island Ferry to Tottenville carrying Mayor LaGuardia and other dignitaries to the ceremony.
The school’s construction progressed rapidly and in the fall of 1936, although the work was not yet finished, the first classes filed into the beautiful modern edifice. Tottenville High School’s first commencement from this building took place in January 1937.
During the spring of 1972, events moved very quickly in anticipation of the departure of the high school and the opening of the new intermediate school.
Dr. Anthony J. Polomene, who was appointed principal of I.S.34, moved quickly in selecting his staff. They went right to work that spring and summer to prepare the building for its fall opening. The fruits of their labor were realized in September, 1972 when I.S.34 opened its doors to three hundred and forty-nine, 6th and 7th graders.
In the first school newsletter, Dr. Polomene indicated that I.S.s34’s beginnings were auspicious. He credited his hard-working staff, the great kids, their parents, and the supportive Tottenville community. He stated the school’s prognosis was for an excellent future. From the outset, a common thread pervaded the “old building”- that I.S.34 was something special and that it would evolve into the finest Intermediate school on Staten Island.
Many loving hands transformed the building into a home away from home, a safe haven, a place where children would be ensured of an educational environment, where they would have fun, where they would learn to be charitable, and where they would create a lifetime of wonderful memories.
1972-1973 was an extremely busy year. Traditions such as the school colors (blue and white) and a mascot (the eagle) were chosen. The school newspaper was designed the “Totten Crier”, a name which would last until 2006 when it was renamed the “Totten Times.” “The Eagle” was the name given to our schools’ magazine.
The yearbook was named the “Southern Light” because of the fact that Totten is the southernmost school in New York State. In its first edition in 1974, Dr. Polomene’s message to the graduates included references to the “Southern Light.” Alluding to the graduates, he said “… Young people, for us, your teacher, you are the Southern Light.” He continued, “Be disciples of what you have created… resolve to become beacons of your Southern Light.”
From the outset, the “Southern Light” has always been a labor of love on the part of the students and staff members including in its production. From 1974 to 1998, twenty-five volumes were printed in our Graphic Arts Shop under the direction of Mr. Sam Votta.
That first year featured concerts, a five fits festival, a student play “Annie, Get Your Gun”, and a staff play “Holiday in Spring.” This staff play was written and produced by members of the Totten Community. It was an example of the team work that 37 years later still exists at I.S.34.
Our first science fair, fashion show, and Earth Day were also held in the spring of 1973. The first Earth Day in the United States was held in 1970. 20,000,000 Americans turned out to raise public awareness of the environment and to protest again pollution. Our students spent the day cleaning the community and its beaches.
On January 8, 1973, the Community School Board-31 convened an open meeting. On their agenda was a resolution to name I.S.34R. The names considered were Paul Zindel, Alan Blair, South Richmond, and Totten Intermediate School.
The name chosen was Totten, in recognition of the family which traced its beginnings on the South Shore of Staten Island to colonial times. The Tottens were influential in creating the community which bears its name. They were farmers, fishermen, and merchants. They also were involved in maritime trades, such as shipbuilding, ship repair, and sail making. The Tottens were also responsible for the establishment of the Methodist Church on Staten Island. The played a major role in establishing the lucrative oyster industry in Tottenville.
Totten I.S.34 was officially dedicated on Tuesday evening, April 12, 1974. This historic evening was sponsored by our PTA under the direction of its president, Marie Donoghue. The evening was broken into two parts- “Expo 34-Totten on Display” was the first part followed by entertainment by our band, chorus, drama class, and cheerleaders. As part of our 25th Anniversary celebration in 1997, we recreated the “Expo” idea, calling it “Expo 97- Totten on Display” in honor of the original production.
Thursday evening, June 20, 1974, witnesses Totten’s first graduation. A total of 148 graduates received their diplomas from School Board 31 member, Michael J. Petrides. The salutatory address was given by Nancy D. DeTeresa and the Valedictorian that evening was Cynthia Olsen. These girls also received the first general excellence award and 24 graduates received the first Totten Honor Keys. This graduation and the one to follow were the only two conducted in our school auditorium.
Totten’s first full-term class graduated in 1975. On Friday evening, June 20, 1975, 283 graduates received their diplomas from principal, Anthony J. Polomene. The graduates sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the “Grand March” from Aida served as the recessional music. Forty graduates were awarded the Totten Honor Key.
In 1980, Dr. Polomene ended his tenure as principal of I.S.34 to become a supervising principal. In the so called, “Year of the Principal,” Dr. Polomene was temporarily replaced by Vincent Gattulo, until the appointment of Mr. John A. Russo was made official. Upon Mr. Russo’s retirement in 1990, he was temporarily replaced by Stanley Katzman, until the appointment a few months later of Frank P. Moschella. In 1998, upon Mr. Moschella’s retirement, Mr. Jeff Preston became principal. Mr. Preston has been the longest serving principal in I.S.34 history.
Our first two assistant principals were Anthony Palladino and Antoinette DeGaetano. These two very interesting people were followed by ten more assistant principals; Mr. John Boyle being the senior assistant principal at the present time.
Over the years, much of our school’s history can be found in the additions of the Totten Crier. The Crier first appeared in April 1973. The paper was named in a school-wide contest and the winner was sixth grader, Teri Maklari, and the faculty advisor, Mr. Arnold Kravetz.
The Totten Crier introduced us to our staff over the years and it covered stories about activities such as Eagle Day, Culture Day, Big Guy’s Night, school sports, eighth grade activities, to the choice of friends.
Little Known Interesting Facts About Totten:
Did you know that, Totten- I.S.34 has been in this building longer than Tottenville High School was?
Did you know that when I.S.75 opened in 1986, the plan was to close Totten completely? Principal John Russo, the PTA, and the Tottenville community fought against this plan and won.
Did you know that the building was 75 years old in 2010? The entire auditorium, seats and all were renovated, but the original chandeliers remain. We have been so fortunate to keep these beautiful antiques intact for 75 years.
Did you know that Mr. Mark Cananizzaro, Totten alumnus, class of 1978, was an assistant principal at I.S.34? He is presently the principal of I.S.75.
Do you know that the I.S.34 faculty is made up of nine Totten alumni? They are Anne Verderber (1977), Margaret Kay, (Corrigan) (1978), Anton Updale (1980), Chris Rusciano (1985), Jennifer Barret (Johnson) (1987), Helen Fuscaldo (1991), Tara Wagner (1995), Marie Christina Perremuto (1996), and Daniel D’Eusanio (1997).
Do you know that our first Eagle Day was held on April 19, 1974? Mrs. Ann Coppotelli was our first eighth grade advisor. Our first Big Guy’s Night took place April 30, 1975. Big Guy’s Night was designed to get the fathers more involved in the activities of our school.
Do you know that our “snack shack” was named by Ricky Davi, beating out the other suggested names such as “Polomene’s Palace?” The snack shack was a school institution from 1978 to 2008. Mrs. Jeannette Springstead ran the snack shack for almost 30 years.
Do you know that our graduation in 1975 only had 5 special awards, whereas our graduation in 2008 had 23 awards?
Do you know that Mr. John Boyle claims that the faculty has never lost a student- faculty basketball? A member of the student team in 1989, Eddie Joyce, claims that his team beat the faculty. Unfortunately, this cannot be confirmed.
In 2001, after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the Totten community, mobilized to assist those who were directly affected by the tragic events of that day. Thousands of dollars were raised for the American Red Cross and other organizations. Cards, poems, and supplies were provided as well. Our yearbook was dedicated to the brave souls who were taken that day and our annual Eagle Day shirt was a reminder of how great it is to be in America.
This history is dedicated to more than 12,000 children who passed through the doors of Totten and the Totten staff members who played such a significant role in modeling them.
This information was provided by Phillip Verticchio.
IS 34 is one of the intermediate schools on the South Shore that feeds from P.S. #3, where some Prince’s Bay children attend. Read about Prince’s Bay history, Bloomingdale Park and Lemon Creek.
If you’re looking to sell your home or interested in buying a home in this area, give me a call at Appleseed Homes (718)966-4000 or visit my website. I have lived in this wonderful neighborhood for 40 years and will share my knowledge with you.