Kids

Residents of the Huntington area gathered at the annual East Northport Volunteer Fire Department’s fair last weekend. The fair had rides for all ages, games with prizes, raffles, live music and food for all to enjoy.

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BOCES center builds labyrinth to promote mindfulness

The new labyrinth opened at the end of May. Photo from Charlie Tedesco

By Rachel Siford

Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ Centereach Academic Center has taken a creative approach to promoting mindfulness.

The center, which caters to students who require special education or who have severe behavioral issues and learning disabilities, recently opened a labyrinth on its grounds. A labyrinth is a type of maze, or purposeful path, that promotes reflection and meditation within a structured environment.

Principal Susan Goltz said students can get easily frustrated and will sometimes leave the classroom because they are so overwhelmed with their feelings. She and her staff wanted to find a more acceptable way for the students to cope.

“We felt that having a labyrinth on school grounds would give them the opportunity to deal with feelings and teach them mindful strategies,” Goltz said.

Goltz added that students’ emotional issues could lead to interruptions in their education, causing them to fall behind in some subjects.

The school’s faculty and staff want to teach students to use the labyrinth while in crisis.

Mindfulness, which promotes a meditative practice with Buddhist roots, has been a growing trend in the mental health field. It is the state of being aware of the present moment and being able to acknowledge one’s feelings and thoughts.

The labyrinth’s official ribbon cutting was May 29. Goltz said feedback from students to date has been very positive. She plans on giving out a survey to students before and after their use of the labyrinth when school is back in session.

Charlie Tedesco, guidance counselor, had a pivotal role in the research and planning of the labyrinth.

“Sometimes it’s only a matter of having a small challenge to set off a student’s emotional frustration,” Tedesco said in a press release. “The labyrinth project was initiated so students could do something by themselves or they could be accompanied by a counselor. The walking area helps relieve stress and has a calming effect.”

Research from Boston’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, which researches, treats and prevents stress-related illnesses, has shown mindful walking can help reduce anxiety and stress.

“There are several statistics that point to individuals becoming grounded, more centered and focused when they do mindful walking,” Tedesco said.

The labyrinth was designed by the staff and was based on other examples they had seen. Middle Island-based William Moloney Masonry won the bid to construct the labyrinth, and the center secured $25,000 in state funding with help from state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport).

“It is a tool that our students will benefit from,” Goltz said. “Learning how to use mindful thinking in a controlled environment is something they can take into life.”

Three decades later and Middle Country sign language club is thriving

The Middle Country Public Library’s Flashing Fingers club following a performance at Brookhaven Town Hall last month. Photo from Kristin Shankles

For four years, Molloy University senior and music therapy major Anna Delgado, of Selden, fought to make American Sign Language a course that fulfills the university’s language requirement. Now, ASL is offered at her university. But that may not have been the case without her experience with the Middle Country Public Library’s Flashing Fingers and sign language programs.

Delgado, followed by her younger sister, Calli, joined the library’s sign language programs in second grade and advanced to the Flashing Fingers club, which Jennie Sardone created more than three decades ago.

Thirty-three years ago, Sardone entered the Middle Country Public Library and inquired about starting sign language programs there. Today, Sardone’s sign language programs are still thriving.

“We started with only a few children, really seven, and over the last 33 years, we’ve had hundreds of children,” Sardone said.

Mary McLaughlin, Youth Services librarian, said thousands of children went through the programs. McLaughlin, who handles booking events for Flashing Fingers, also said kids must finish Sign Language One, Two and Three before advancing to the Flashing Fingers group.

“In the beginning, the children learn signs, they learn to communicate with deaf adults or other people who are learning sign language,” Sardone said. “So we’ll start easy, with colors, emotions, animals, family, numbers, the alphabet, things like that.”

Sign Language One, Two and Three are held in the fall, winter and spring, during the school year, alongside Flashing Fingers. Once a child registers for the sign language courses, they only need to sign up for the Flashing Fingers club.

McLaughlin said the group performs at around three big events each year, in addition to smaller performances for parents. Tracy LaStella, coordinator of Youth Services at the library, said organizations also request the group to perform at various events.

On Thursday July 16, the group performed at a Town of Brookhaven meeting and had local politicians moving to the music. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and members of the town council awarded the group its own day. Now, July 16 is Middle Country Flashing Fingers Club Day in the Town of Brookhaven.

The Flashing Fingers club performs a song. Photo from Tracy LaStella/Middle Country Public Library
The Flashing Fingers club performs a song. Photo from Tracy LaStella/Middle Country Public Library

The group sang, signed and danced to a variety of new and old songs that followed last academic year’s “happy” theme. Previous themes include disco and Disney.

Around two years ago, the club performed “Fiddler on the Roof,” which was one of Alexandria Gibaldi’s favorite performances. Gibaldi, of Centereach, who is going into her junior year in high school, started the sign language programs as a second-grader. She said “Fiddler on the Roof” was the first play the group performed.

According to LaStella, Sardone and McLaughlin, around 25 of nearly one hundred children in the program attend performances and Gibaldi is always one of the 25.

“I have a lot of stuff going on, but I usually make time for it because I know it’s important,” Gibaldi said. “I know it’s for Ms. Jennie and for the program. So I want to make sure I look good for the library and so I make sure I go.”

The group also performs at Veterans and nursing homes. Gibaldi said giving back to the community by performing for these individuals is one of the reasons she enjoys Flashing Fingers, as seeing people happy also makes her happy.

Jacqueline Schmitt, of Holtsville, is another Flashing Fingers member. She joined the club in the middle of last academic year. In addition to learning sign language, participants can meet kids from several local elementary, middle and high schools.

Thus far, the club’s end of year performance in May was Schmitt’s favorite. The end of year performance let club members show off what they have learned. Twelfth-grade students perform a song of their choice as a way to say goodbye to the club and its instructors at the end of the year.

Since Sardone teaches all children going through the sign language programs, the end of year performance is bittersweet.

“When they are seniors, we … cry,” Sardone said about herself, McLaughlin and LaStella. “We’ve been together for so long and … I’m happy they’re moving on, but I miss them.”

Anna Delgado remembers performing Carrie Underwood’s “Ever Ever After” from the “Enchanted” soundtrack for her final performance as a Flashing Fingers member. She was determined to learn and perform the song on her own.

Calli Delgado, who is entering seventh grade, has yet to perform a solo at the end of year performance, but like her sister, she used what she learned outside the club at school functions and talent shows.

“It was weird because a lot of people didn’t know what I was doing,” Delgado said about her first experience signing for a school event. She also signed at her school’s talent show. With the help of Sardone, Delgado performed her first solo of “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole at a school talent show. Although she doesn’t know if the club has influenced her plans for her future, she loves the program and mentoring younger members.

Anna Delgado said she credits the Flashing Fingers club and her love for ASL to Sardone.

“This kick-started my love for American Sign Language,” she said. “It changed my life; it changed my passion; it changed the direction I wanted to go in my life.”

Fire district offering $1,000 reward

The Lake Grove playground that was set on fire on Sunday, July 26. Photo from Centereach Fire District

The Centereach Fire District is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for burning down a playground at Eugene Auer Elementary School.

On Sunday, July 26, Centereach firefighters responded to a call for a fire behind the Lake Grove school, according to a press release from the fire district. The plastic playground was fully engulfed, but the fire quickly put out. However, the playground was destroyed.

“This wasn’t just any playground,” Fire Commissioner Julia Wilson said. “The community pitched in, joined together and raised money to erect it.”

The Suffolk County Police Department is investigating the Sunday night incident.

The board of fire commissioners unanimously voted to offer a $1,000 reward at their meeting last week. Anyone with information related to the crime, is asked to call Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477) or submit the information electronically at www.tipsubmit.com.

Camp counselors and young campers yank on a rope in a tug-of-war exhibition at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michaela Pawluk

By Susan Risoli

Benner’s Farm doesn’t slow down for the summer.

Dave Benner gives some of the farm guests a ride across the property. Photo by Susan Risoli
Dave Benner gives some of the farm guests a ride across the property. Photo by Susan Risoli

Since 1751, this working farm in Setauket has been an oasis for anyone who cares about a way of life that surprises as much as it teaches. Bob and Jean Benner bought the 15-acre property in 1977. They still run the place, but now their sons Dave, Sam and Ben handle much of the outdoor work, while daughter Kirsten, who used to teach in the farm’s community education program, now lives in New England.

The Benners host a summer camp for children, toddlers to teens, including a full-day showing of how to care for the animals and the gardens. Times Beacon Record Newspapers spent a day at the farm for a firsthand look at life as a Benner.

7:50 a.m. The Benners and their staff of counselors are getting ready for the campers. Some of the children have seen farm animals up close.

“They have backyard chickens and such,” Bob Benner says.

Most, however, have never been at a place like this, and Benner calls it “amazing, to see how quickly they warm up to it.” Today, the children will do farm chores and help feed the animals.

Pancake the chicken and her baby, Waffle, go by. This chicken has flown the coop, preferring to hang out with the cow. She’s actively raising her chick.

This is unusual behavior, Benner says, as modern chickens have been bred to spend more time laying eggs for profit and less time nurturing babies.

Pancake walks briskly, clucking constantly to Waffle, who runs on teeny legs to keep up.

“She’s showing the chick how to eat and how to be,” Benner says.

There are always some chickens that forsake the safety of the coop for an independent life in the open, says Benner. And when they do, “they have to live by their wits.”

8:30 a.m. The lambs are getting antsy.

“Their stomachs are talkin’,” says Sam Benner.

Camp counselors and young campers yank on a rope in a tug-of-war exhibition at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michaela Pawluk
Camp counselors and young campers yank on a rope in a tug-of-war exhibition at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Michaela Pawluk

One runs to the fence and makes a tentative baa. Soon, three others follow. Now the group is singing a loud, indignant chorus of appeal for their breakfast. Benner tells them they have to wait until the campers get there.

Farm life is satisfying, says Dave Benner, but the hours are long. When it’s time for “spring baby-watch,” he says, “any time the animals go into labor, we have to be there to help ‘em, for as long as it takes.”

Each animal has a distinct personality. Take Shrek, the little pig born in April. “Shrek is a handful,” Benner says, looking over at the piglet that, in the span of about a minute, has pushed his nose through the fence, run around his pen, rooted in the dirt and enthusiastically munched a snack.

10 a.m. The campers are here. Some are gathering hay from the barn. The littlest ones sit on counselor Michaela Pawluk’s lap, as she teaches them how to milk Zoe the goat. The milk is used to feed baby animals, Pawluk says, or is made into cheese.

Other kids wield rakes and shovels. Counselor Nick Mancuso is helping them make a feng shui-themed rock garden.

All the children have a multitude of questions. Nine-year-old Teppei says the animals “are funny sometimes. The chickens look like they’re playing running bases, because they’re running back and forth.” Teppei says he was surprised “at how big cows can get, at a really small human age.” He drew that conclusion after meeting Minnie, the Benners’ massive two-year-old cow.

2:30 p.m. Afternoon on the farm is a time for noticing — the feel of the strong sun, the sound of water rushing out of a garden hose into the goats’ drinking basin, the fragrance of oregano as a breeze blows across the herb garden.

Grown goats and sheep are out of the barn, grazing on the grass. Their babies rest in the shade, leaning on each other with their eyes closed. Minnie the cow is like a big puppy, licking the arms of any human she can reach, her soulful brown eyes trusting and calm.

7 p.m. Campers are long gone, and grown-ups are gathering on the farm for an outdoor bluegrass concert in the pasture. The sheep are starting to hunker down in groups.

Minnie and Shrek are beside themselves with joy as people gather to admire them. But soon, even they will settle down for the night. Tomorrow will be another busy day.

Historian pens new book on local amusement parks of yesteryear

Actors, including local resident Jane Owen playing the notorious outlaw Belle Starr, pose in front of the bank at Dodge City in Patchogue. Photo from the Eaton family

Living in Suffolk County, we’ve all heard of Splish Splash, Chuck E. Cheese’s, Dave and Buster’s, Boomers, Adventureland and the Long Island Game Farm. But how many of us have ever heard of Frontier City, Fairytown USA, Dodge City or Turner’s Amusement Park?

Photo from The History Press
Photo from The History Press

Historian Marisa L. Berman’s latest book, “Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories” (The History Press) takes us on a nostalgic journey to explore the kiddie parks of Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk that are now just a distant memory. According to Berman, this book is “a celebration of the amusement parks that Long Islanders have loved and unfortunately have lost. … [It] will tell the story of Long Island through the memories of its children.”

Berman’s first book centered on Nunley’s Amusement Park in Baldwin, which she often visited as a child. At book signings, according to her second book’s introduction, many people would mention other parks on Long Island that they had fond memories of and she “quickly realized that there were many more stories that needed to be told.”

The author reached out to sources on Facebook and received many photographs, stories and memorabilia from people who had visited these parks. After much research and numerous interviews, the book finally came together.

All of the 33 amusement parks featured in the book opened in the 1940s and ‘50s, with the exception of Playland Park in Freeport, which opened in 1924 and closed in 1931. Berman attributes this to the many veterans who moved east from the city to Long Island to raise their families after World War II and the need to “entertain the masses.”

Each park is described in vivid detail, from inception to closing, from admission prices to rides, including what is in that location today — almost always a shopping mall or store. The wonderful black-and-white photographs, 80 in all, pull everything together.

Many of the kiddie parks featured a petting zoo, carnival rides and a train, but each had its own special niche. In our neck of the woods, there were western-themed parks like Dodge City in Patchogue, on the corner of Sunrise Highway and Waverly Avenue, and Frontier City in Amityville, on Route 110, complete with a bank, jail, cemetery, general store and sheriff’s office.

Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA
Children ride the miniature train at Lollipop Farm in 1952. Photo by Kathryn Abbe, courtesy of SPLIA

Fairytown USA in Middle Island, which was located across from Artist Lake on Middle Country Road, consisted of a storybook-inspired village and sections with themes like Planet Mars and Mother Goose. Farther west, Lollipop Farm in Syosset had a miniature train that carried children around the four-acre farm. The train miraculously survived, stored in pieces in a barn, and was recently lovingly restored by the Greenlawn-Centerport Historical Association.

The majority of the defunct parks’ artifacts, however, have been lost forever. Mostly family-owned and operated, Berman attributes the parks’ demise to the decline of the baby boom in the mid-1960s.

By the end of the book, Berman will have the reader yearning for a simpler and more innocent time, “a time when there was nothing better than your parents bringing you to your park so you could play and just enjoy being a kid.”

Todd Berkun, founder of the Facebook page “Long Island and NYC Places That Are No More,” sums it up perfectly in the foreword: “Whether you spent time in these parks growing up or live on the Island now and have wondered about their glorious past, this book is for you. As a testament to an era of great fun and enjoyment on the Island, this work describes a vibrant and important part of Long Island’s history.”

“Historic Amusement Parks of Long Island: 118 Miles of Memories,” $21.99, is available at local retailers and online bookstores. It is also available through Arcadia Publishing and The History Press by calling 888-313-2665 or by visiting www.arcadiapublishing.com.

The Terryville Fire Department’s annual carnival put smiles on people’s faces last week, with fast rides, fun games, energetic music and delicious food.

The Cole Bros. clowns have some fun with the audience. Photo from Cole Bros.

By Rachel Siford

The circus is coming to town or to Suffolk County that is. The Cole Bros. Circus TO THE MAX show will be making several stops in our area in the next few weeks. First stop will be next to the Center Moriches High School, 313 Frowein Road, on July 30 and 31 with shows at 5 and 8 p.m. The troupe will then move on to Farmingville’s Pennysaver Ampitheater at Bald Hill on Aug. 1 and 2 with performances at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. The final stop will be in Middle Island at 1251 Middle Country Road, on Aug. 8 and 9 with shows again at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. The Middle Island and Farmingville shows are hosted by Fire Marshal’s Benevolent Association of Brookhaven Inc. while the Center Moriches show is hosted by the South Bay Home Association.

German Fassio balances high above the ground. Photo from Cole Bros.
German Fassio balances high above the ground. Photo from Cole Bros.

The shows will feature a variety of acts including the Aguilar family on the high wire, the magic of Lana & Co. complete with grand-scale illusions, feats of equilibrium, aerial ballet with Cloud Swing and, of course, clowns. Led by Max the Clown, Cole’s Clown Alley will play a hilarious Game of Throwns.

Along with elephants, Nerger’s Tigers will be showcasing Bengal and Siberian tigers, and Clever Canines will also be performing. ThunderDrome will entertain the crowd with motorcycle tricks, and the circus will finish off each show with a bang, literally, with the Human Cannonball shooting out of the World’s Largest Cannon at 5g velocity.

Before every show, there is a tent raising where Cole Bros. Circus sets up 40 tons of equipment and 2,000 seats for each location. Forklifts are needed to set up colorful vinyl that rise to the top of the five-story-high king poles to create the canopy. Patrons are welcome to come to the tent raising and also to view the exotic animals before the show and to see the performers practice.

Tickets are available at www.gotothecircus.com or by calling 1-888-332-5200. General admission is $21 for adults ($16 in advance), children (ages 2-12) tickets are also $16. Free tickets for children are available on the website. General admission may be upgraded to reserved seats.

A recently released quail sits on a log at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

A record number of bobwhite quails were released this year, and many of the students, teachers and parents who raised the birds helped welcome them to Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown on Saturday.

For 12 years, Eric Powers, a biologist and wildlife educator, has been at the forefront of organizing the annual quail release at Caleb Smith and other parks in the area. He described this year’s event as the largest one yet, as a record number of schools raised the quail chicks and 1,400 quails were released.

“The idea of bringing back the quail is to bring balance back to our ecosystem,” Powers said at the rainy morning release.

Unlike nonnative guinea fowl, which “eat good wildlife” like salamanders and dragonflies, northern bobwhite quail are native to Long Island and play a vital role in controlling tick populations without harming other native species, according to Powers.

Children and parents watch quail being released. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Children and parents watch quail being released. Photo by Talia Amorosano

Those in attendance included volunteers, students, teachers and Long Island comedian Joey Kola, who said that he “saw this program and jumped on right away” after personally experiencing Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a tick-borne illness transmitted to humans through a tick bite.

Attendees initially gathered inside the park’s nature museum, where they learned about the quail, viewed preserved eggs and touched feather samples before listening to Powers’ talk.

“What we see is we get this immediate clearing of ticks [after the quail are released],” Powers said, but “cats are outright hammering these birds.”

Powers described indoor-outdoor cats as the biggest threat to quail upon their release, and suggested people make use of what he referred to as “catios” — enclosed patios where cats can get outside without hunting native animals.

However, because this is the first year the Caleb Smith quail cage has reached overcapacity — forcing a few hundred quail to be released earlier — Powers is optimistic the quail population may begin to take hold on its own if school and community participation continues to increase.

Kids and adults alike were certainly enthusiastic about the release, as they gathered in the pouring rain to watch 500 birds abandon their cage and taste freedom for the first time. The quail were tentative at first, but as soon as one group took flight others ran through the crowd and into the woods. The remaining quail were released later on in the day.

A few observers got a truly interactive experience when frantic quail landed on their umbrellas and even perched on their arms. And after the initial release, teachers and students took boxes of quail to various locations around the park and carried out their own private releases.

Only time will tell how many of the birds will survive in the wild, but with increased community awareness that quail have the potential to lower the population of disease-ridden ticks, and a better understanding of the dangers posed to quail by cats, it seems likely that the birds most recently released will have a better chance of survival than those released in the past.

Kids buddy up at kidOYO camp to learn more about the coding world at a special summer camp workshop hosted at Stony Brook University on Friday afternoon. Photo by Rachel Siford

By Rachel Siford

Stony Brook University is hosting a different type of camp this summer.

kidOYO teaches kids between ages 8 and 15 how to code their own websites and games, using Java, Scratch, Python and HTML.

“Code. Make. Learn.” is kidOYO’s motto — geared to teach kids to code and create on their own.

“The kids learn how to map controls, sense the movements and think about it in a logical way,” co-founder Devon Loffreto said.

Loffreto, a graduate of SBU, and his wife Melora Loffreto founded the camp in 2001 and came to Stony Brook University three years ago because of its position as one of the top computer science schools.

“This area has a huge interest in computer science,” Melora said. “The support of the university has been tremendous.”

Some kids stay just one week, and others participate for the full five weeks. This week, 33 students entered the program along with 10 Stony Brook University computer science student mentors to help them.

Chairman of the Computer Science Department for 17 years Arie Kaufman welcomed the crowd to the newly built computer science building. This group was the first to have a demonstration there.

“I want to move Long Island to the point where everyone from ages 4 to 104 knows how to program,” Kaufman said. “This is a happy occasion for the new computer science building.”

For the first time since the camp was started, participants will be able to continue their websites and work at home. Their profiles will keep track of what they do with badges they get for different accomplishments. There are also challenges and tutorials on the website to keep them engaged.

Students made mods for Minecraft, a popular video game, meaning they wrote code modifications for the educational version of the game Minecraft. One student even made the mod downloadable so anyone can add his mod to his or her own game.

“This generation is one of the most powerful ever because of the tools they are given,” Loffreto said.

Another student built a script in Python, a general-purpose programming language, to draw a turtle, which took 370 lines of code.

Students made videos, comic strips, games, 3D printed objects and video games. For many of them, this was their first time using code.