Crystal Ponto has been working with the Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES alternative education program since its inception and before it was known as Compass.
Ponto was in the first year of her career working as a teacher’s aide when BOCES reached out about an opportunity to work with a new after-school alternative education program. She signed up. Twenty-six years later, and Ponto is still a staple of the Compass Program.
“Every single kid is here for a different reason,” Ponto said. “Part of the staff’s job is to find out what their motivation is and how we can get that student to buy in to what we are selling.”
What are they selling? The importance of education.
“There are a lot of people in this hallway who have been here for a long time. You don’t sign up for this job and take it lightly,” Ponto said.
According to Ponto, there has been a lot of innovation throughout the Compass Program over the years.
“We’ve done some fun stuff,” Ponto said. “We started the Lift Backpack Program for kids who have food insecurity issues at home. We began sending backpacks full of food home with students on the weekends.”
Other initiatives Ponto is proud to have helped develop include the Fairytale Festival, Compass Awards Night, the Academic Fair and the Compass Christmas Store.
“The Compass Program is all about teamwork,” Ponto said. “We support and encourage each other. We cheer each other on, and we show up for each other. We are always in a forward motion here and eventually we will get there.”
Ponto said that the best thing about being with BOCES for this long is that she is now teaching the children of her students. One former student recently told her that she remembered when the class went to the mall to sign people up for the Dolly Parton Library. Now, she has her own child and they too have signed up for the program.
“Reading is great for our kids,” Ponto said. “It’s an escape from reality for them.”
Compass provides a safe space for students who aren’t successful in traditional school settings. In the past, students have had the option to return to their home district.
“The reality is that most kids don’t choose to go back,” Ponto said. “They find a comfort here, and a success here, and so every year our senior class grows a bit bigger.”
After 26 years with Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES Ponto will be retiring in June. Fortunately, she will continue to work with BOCES through the eLearning program.