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Joy Distenfeld reception

Exploring Passions through Distenfeld Scholarships

“This summer camp was absolutely amazing,” said fifth-grader Conor Walden, who attended an animation workshop over the summer, thanks to the Joy Distenfeld Fund scholarship program. “Before this, all of my camps have just been fun but didn’t teach me anything and left me thinking about all the more exciting learning experiences I could have had instead.”

Fifth-grader Conor Walden’s dream job is to become an animator at Disney. Attending an animation program this past summer brought him one step closer to achieving his goal, he said. His face lit up with a smile as he showed an example of his work: a cartoon bomb that humorously turned into an onion following a countdown.

“This summer camp was absolutely amazing,” Conor said. “Before this, all of my camps have just been fun but didn’t teach me anything and left me thinking about all the more exciting learning experiences I could have had instead.”

Conor was one of eight Valhalla students who received a scholarship from the Joy Distenfeld Fund. The scholarships offset the costs of pre-approved summer enrichment programs. The fund’s stipend award program supports students’ desires to learn more about a specific field. The camps usually focus on the arts, humanities or sciences.

The fund was established in 1984 in honor of Joy Distenfeld, who was a Valhalla school psychologist for 15 years. The scholarship program is a way of continuing Ms. Distenfeld’s work of assisting students’ exploration to develop their abilities.

“Joy dedicated her life to young people,” said Dr. Barbara Horan, the Fund’s executive director. “She really wanted them to be inspired and to also be that inspiration.”

The grant-winning students assembled in the Valhalla Middle/High School library on Oct. 17 to share their experiences and discuss what they had learned.

Eleventh-grader Carter Fourie loved to write ever since he could pick up a pen. During a creative writing program, he used writing prompts that helped him develop strong characterization, consistent storytelling, accurate dialogue and meaningful imagery.

“This was a great way to get a good education from a college professor in a college environment,” he said. “It was a really good experience for me, all around.”

Fourth-grader Isabella Colon attended an acting and performing workshop because she wanted to face her fear of public speaking and learn how to improvise. Her class engaged in exercises like yoga, tongue twisters, singing, dancing and acting, where she played a girl who ran away from her parents.

“I learned that I can perform with confidence and I can keep calm if something goes wrong,” she said. “I could handle my nerves when I made a mistake.”

While sixth-grader Peter Olkhovets studied mechanics and electronics, he noted that he learned how to ask for help and how to work through problems.

Other students who participated in scholarship-funded summer programs were: fifth-grader Arnay Saxena, who learned about journalism, film-making and writing; sixth-grader Vaniah Watson, who attended a young leaders institute; senior Krista Balint who studied pre-calculus; and fellow senior Chloe Trieff, who studied photography.