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Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School

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Schools are not immune to intolerance and violence, and school district administration shouldn’t be turning a blind eye and leave hate crime behavior unanswered.

Last week, several parents were up in arms at a Rocky Point board of education meeting due to a lack of communication between the school and parents. One mother reached out to administrators last month when her daughter found a note on her desk that had been covered in animosity. On the Post-It were various obscenities, a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name. Robin Siefert’s 9-year-old daughter, the only Jewish student in her fourth-grade class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, has been crying every day as a result of the event, according to her mother. Another student was also called the N-word after he did well during a basketball game. The student, in the latter instance, was reported but bragged to the other student that he hadn’t gotten in trouble.

The fact that a school district had been confronted with evidence and no serious action was taken to find out who the student is that left the note, and no disciplinary action was given to the student using the N-word is concerning. This type of behavior is not conducive to a harmonious student body and does not set a good example or precedent for future issues.

As Siefert noted, there are no strict guidelines for the school to follow, so the district is already at a disadvantage, but that gives the district the opportunity to create new protocol and react proactively to these incidents.

Since the children are in elementary school, this also raises concerns about parenting. Elementary students are young and malleable, whatever opinions they have can often be tracked back to their family.

According to an Anti-Defamation League report April 24, “the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country was 86 percent higher than the same period last year” with about 541 attacks and threats between January and March.  With hatred and intolerance widespread following President Donald Trump’s (R) campaign and election, there’s a growing issue, and we shouldn’t be emboldening these children, but pulling out the magnifying glass and scrutinizing these behaviors and coming up with ways to solve the problem. We need to keep kids safe. We need to keep families safe.

Mothers angry over lack of administrative action, response

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing several expletives (which have been removed from the photo), a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name. Photo from Robin Siefert

By Kevin Redding

A Rocky Point mother took the school district to task at a board meeting last week after, she said, nothing was done about a hateful, anti-Semitic note left on her 9-year-old daughter’s desk last month.

Last month, Robin Siefert’s daughter — who is the only Jewish student in her fourth-grade class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School — sat down at her desk to find her “luck of the Irish” Post-It note had three obscenities, a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name scribbled on it.

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing hate speech. Photo by Kevin Redding

The original note, handed out to each student in the class, made her daughter feel lucky and happy, her mother said. She told the board her daughter is now a changed kid.

“Where before she was always outgoing and happy, my daughter now cries on and off all day, she doesn’t sleep through the night, she’s developed anxiety and constantly says no one likes her,” Siefert said. “Why weren’t the students asked to give a handwriting sample? As soon as this happened, an assembly about tolerance should’ve been scheduled. Very little has been done.”

The mother said her daughter felt uncomfortable returning to her class.

“She is now forced every day to sit in the classroom knowing that someone in the room feels animosity toward her while having no idea who that person may be,” she continued telling the board. “And since [the student] has gotten away with this, who knows what they will do next?”

In response, board trustee Sean Callahan, who expressed sympathy and shock, said the administration is not going to turn their backs on this.

“This is intolerable, and I’m not hearing that a person who reportedly did it was identified, and that is a concern,” Callahan said. “That’s what we need to find out.”

Siefert sent an email to the board April 5 explaining the situation, and nothing has been done to date.

She said the district’s failure to ensure her daughter’s safety and well-being in the aftermath of what she considers a targeted incident forced her to take matters into her own hands — she filed a report to officers at the 7th Precinct, who immediately recognized it as a hate crime.

“My daughter now cries on and off all day, she doesn’t sleep through the night, she’s developed anxiety and constantly says no one likes her.”

— Robin Siefert

The police told her they would contact the school and instruct administrators that measures should be taken to find the student who wrote the note. According to the mother, requests to take handwriting samples have been refused.

Siefert did commend her daughter’s teacher, however, who sent a letter to parents alerting them of what happened, and asked them to watch a video with their children.

“He should be recognized for his actions,” Siefert said, “but that letter should’ve been written by an administrator and should have gone home to every parent in the district.”

Siefert said during her meeting with Courtney Herbert, the school’s assistant principal, she was told counselors were sent to speak with students in the classroom — but not specifically her daughter.

“This kid is doodling these things at home the way my kid doodles hearts and rainbows,” she said. “They don’t seem to care about what must be going through her mind at school every day.”

Herbert, the mother said, explained that the school actually has no consequence policy in regards to this type of event,

Siefert said despite calling Michael Ring, the superintendent, March 24, she has not received a response.

“I realized [quickly] they don’t know what to do,” Siefert said. “I don’t think it’s a situation where they don’t want to do anything, but I really felt like these people have no clue what they are supposed to do. They were not thinking about my daughter and how this was going to affect her, at all.”

Two mothers are upset over hate crimes against their children that occurred at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, above, and claim administration has done little to address the issue. Photo from Syntax

The Rocky Point mother is not the only one dealing with this sort of situation. According to an Anti-Defamation League report Monday, “the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country was 86 percent higher than the same period last year” with about 541 attacks and threats between January and March.

Siefert demanded the school be better prepared to handle situations like this in the future — inspiring a fellow mother to speak out about the school’s mishandling of recent incidents of bullying and discrimination among students.

Alana Rodriguez, the mother of a fourth-grader at the school with a Puerto Rican and Italian background, addressed two racial incidents involving her 10-year-old son.

In November, after President Donald Trump (R) was elected, a classmate of her son’s told him: “I can’t wait for your kind to leave this country,” referring to the wall Trump proposed building at the Mexican border. In February, another student called her son the N-word because he was doing well in a game of basketball against other kids.

“With both incidents, I was never notified by the school — and that’s not okay,” said Rodriguez, who heard about the incidents from her other son. “The child is still in recess with my son — nothing happened to him. He even went up to my son after and said, ‘See, you told on me and I didn’t get in trouble.’”

When Rodriguez met with the assistant principal, she said she was told her son didn’t seem upset by what happened.

“This is intolerable, and I’m not hearing that a person who reportedly did it was identified, and that is a concern. That’s what we need to find out.”

— Sean Callahan

“It’s sad that, at 10, my son can’t count on grown-ups or administration to feel protected,” she said. “There has to be some form of communication from school to home. There should be assemblies throughout the year that teaches kindness and tolerance, and how to treat others.”

In an email response to questions regarding the incidents, Ring made clear the school district doesn’t take matters involving student safety and security lightly.

“[The district] investigates all acts of bullying and harassment immediately upon notification,” Ring wrote. “Any incidents found in violation of our code of conduct or anti-bullying policy are met with proper disciplinary actions and parental involvement when necessary. Additionally, the district’s strong character education program proactively promotes the ideals of acceptance and tolerance of all individuals regardless of their race, gender or religious affiliations … [the administration] remains vigilant in its efforts to keep an open-door communication policy…”

To those like Siefert’s family friend Lisa Malinowski, who joined her when she went to speak with the assistant principal, administration needs to wake up in order to solve problems.

“They have to realize we don’t live in Mayberry,” Malinowski said. “Rocky Point isn’t really the quaint little town they think it is. They really need to wake up and know that the reality of the world today is scary.”

Members of the North Shore Youth Council. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

By Kevin Redding

At a time on Long Island when more and more young people are falling victim to substance abuse and social isolation, the North Shore provides kids of all ages with a secure environment in the form of a not-for-profit, community-based agency geared toward youth and family services, community education and, of course, plenty of fun.

The North Shore Youth Council, based in Rocky Point and formed as a grassroots organization in 1982 by local volunteers working together with the Town of Brookhaven and local school districts, has a presence in each school within the Shoreham-Wading River, Rocky Point, Miller Place and Mount Sinai districts through counseling and programs held before and after school hours.

The agency encourages those entering kindergarten to those in college to stay out of trouble and develop the skills needed to be good, successful adults.

Children play games after school. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

“We provide that safe place for kids to go to,” executive director Janene Gentile said. “[For instance], the afternoon program we have is a place where kids can go instead of going to their empty houses. As we know, youth really get in trouble more during after-school hours. We also provide activities for parents who can’t take their kids to clubs. It’s a special place where people don’t feel intimidated … and kids feel comfortable here.”

She said the NSYC also serves as a full life cycle in that the younger kids in kindergarten who come through the programs often become mentors once they reach middle school and high school.

The agency provides plenty of mentoring and volunteer opportunities that prepare kids for their careers and get them involved in community service, and many of them work in the summer programs offered and continue being involved well into their college years.

Last year, the agency provided about 130 kids with job opportunities.

Miller Place High School senior Treicy Wan, 17, has been involved in the organization since eighth grade and is currently a senior counselor.

“This place really helps to bring you out of your shell, helps you to interact with your community and gives you a sense of being somewhere and being part of something,” Wan said. “I love making the other kids happy, knowing they go through hard times and that I was once there, and now I can be a mentor for them and help make a difference in their lives.”

Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor by trade, is involved in many of the intervention and prevention programs offered through the organization, including Alateen for those who are coping with problems they didn’t cause and have no control over.

“We’re going through times of hate and discrimination and violence and suicide and substance abuse and we’re going to be here to pick up the pieces and the damages,” Gentile said. “We need to break through that and educate them that this is a safe world. This is a safe place for everyone.”

Members of the knitting club make garments. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

Among the many other programs offered are Big Buddy Little Buddy, a cross-age mentoring initiative that matches up a high school student with a younger student in an effort to encourage social skill development and help children make friends; Homework Helpers, where high school students volunteer their time to help others who might need extra help with their schoolwork; and School Age Child Care, which provides peace of mind to parents looking for a safe place for their elementary school children.

Dana Ellis, one of the mental health counselors who works predominantly with students with special needs, said the program is good for the Rocky Point community.

“We just want to help people,” she said. “With mental health, it’s tough to get programs started and I think there’s a lot of freedom here to start things, get community feedback and then watch them grow.”

All of the programs are made affordable for low-income families, and every dollar the agency makes goes back to the community through scholarships, which serve to help struggling families pay for things like clothes and books.

NSYCAfter school, the cafeteria at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School becomes a giant playground for elementary-aged kids. There’s a crochet club where children can learn to make accessories like earmuffs, full access to tabletop games and Legos, snacks and drinks and an area where kids can do their homework together. As staff pointed out, everybody interacts, and there’s something for every kid.

“We get to play games together and have fun, we do dodgeball in the gym, we work together and learn to be good and honest,” said 10-year-old Christian.

Marcie Wilson, assistant director at NSYC, said one of her fondest memories at the organization was when she attended the once-a-month “open mic night” for middle and high school students, whose singing, dancing and instrument playing blew her away. She said that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s available.

“We’re an underused resource in this community,” Wilson said. “We’re just trying to get the word out to let people know we’re there.”

Pete Costa on far left, with last summer’s Rocky Point’s Athletes for All group. Photo from Jean Costa

One Rocky Point couple intends to give kids with disabilities a memorable summer.

It all started with Jenny Andersson’s daughter, 13-year-old Sarah Fabricatore, who has Down syndrome.

Andersson went up to her daughter’s reading teacher, Pete Costa, at the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point, to talk to him about the lack of athletic programs for students with disabilities — and Costa took it to heart.

As a result, the varsity girls’ soccer coach and his wife Jean take time out of their summers to host Rocky Point Athletes for All, a free, once-a-week, one-hour session of fun-filled sporting events.

Frankie Anzaldi III races to drain water from a sponge into a bucket during a water-themed intermission event. Photo from Frank Anzaldi Jr.
Frankie Anzaldi III races to drain water from a sponge into a bucket during a water-themed intermission event. Photo from Frank Anzaldi Jr.

Costa brought on 10 volunteer athletes from the varsity teams at Rocky Point, and modifies different sport activities for the athletes to partake in.

“We divide the turf in half and have the kids do activities, and halfway through the hour we do a water event and then switch,” he said. “We did a bean bag toss and volleyball, now we’ll do golf and bowling; we just go down there, organize the kids and we play.”

Although the program was created just two years ago, at the end of last summer, parents asked the Costas if they would be hosting it again, so they did. This season, 22 kids signed up.

“I get a lot of positive feedback from the parents and the kids continue to come back every week,” Costa said. “There’s no stress, no winning or losing, just out there playing and having fun. This is an opportunity for them to be on the turf and experience being out there. It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Those like Sarah have benefited from the program in more ways than one.

“It’s so amazing because she has difficulty in social situations,” Andersson said of her daughter. “Sometimes she shuts down and won’t participate, but Mr. Costa is an amazing person and got older kids involved. That collaboration — she feels safe with them. She won’t even participate in school in gym. [But this is] a positive atmosphere. Mr. Costa is a really special guy who creates such a special and fun environment for the kids.”

For others like Frank Anzaldi Jr., whose son Frankie Anzaldi III has been with the program since its inception, and is also a part of the TOPS soccer program, the Costa family has made a world of a difference in their lives.

“As a parent you just want to see your kids happy and to see them out there running around and having fun, it’s really great,” he said. “A lot of these kids face challenges every day and they struggle, but they’re all nonjudgmental and it’s so much fun. Frankie looks forward to it every week.”

An athlete leaps into a sandpit during one of last year's Athletes for All events. Photo from Jean Costa
An athlete leaps into a sandpit during one of last year’s Athletes for All events. Photo from Jean Costa

Anzaldi Jr. said he enjoys seeing how the children with disabilities put the volunteers’ lives in perspective, while the older kids help those with disabilities communicate.

“It’s nice to see them all interact,” he said.

For Andersson, she’s just happy that the district heard the voices of parents like her at board of education meetings, and found a way to help.

“He heard us telling our administrators we would like something for our kids to do,” she said of Costa. “As they get older it’s harder to get involved. They’re making a huge difference for these kids. You don’t get to see potential without opportunity, and the Costa family are truly amazing people because they showed that potential by giving the kids opportunity.”

Even son Peter Costa gets involved. The 20-year-old starts off each week with a round of Simon Says, which is a favorite part of the hour’s activities for some of the athletes.

After Wednesday’s session, which runs from 5:30-6:30 p.m., there are still three more weeks left for locals to come down. Residents can sign up through the community education flyer on the Rocky Point website, and find out more about the program on Costa’s eBoard.

“It pulled her out of her funk,” Andersson said of how Athletes for All has affected her daughter. “They are so respectful of who each child is, and don’t try to change the kids. We’re just super grateful. I love watching Sarah play, have a great time, truly enjoy it and feel respected as a person. The Costas created such a special and fun environment, and are making a huge difference in these children’s lives.”

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