Kids

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Tara Drouin

For the past several weeks, a national conversation about racism and discrimination has reached a fever pitch. Protests are happening from coast to coast, social media is buzzing, and statues are being taken down.

As a musician, teacher and parent, Tara Drouin has always tried to instill young people with good values, among them respect, inclusivity, and celebrating the things that make us different and unique. Several years ago, Drouin’s band iRideSense (pronounced “iridescence”) wrote a song called “One Heart” that shares those messages. Not long after, she published a book for children, also titled One Heart.

Now more than ever, the message of “One Heart” — both on the page and in the fun, upbeat tune — is needed in our world. The book is easy enough for young readers to try alone, and can be used as a lighthearted, positive conversation starter about these important issues. Tara Drouin is also available to lead 45-minute lessons on diversity for students either in-person or virtually. Teachers can hire her via the Nassau County BOCES system. 

Are you from Long Island?

When I was very young, I lived in Far Rockaway, and then we moved to Merrick when I was about 12.

Were you a musical child? Do you come from a musical family?

Yes! My mom would play guitar around the house. She was really into Joni Mitchell and a lot of classic rock — The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Led Zeppelin — all of those were played at home. I took guitar lessons when I was around 12, but it didn’t really stick in the beginning. My younger brother really took to it, though, and he was writing songs at 16 years old. It wasn’t until I started playing bass that I really found my instrument. 

What did you pursue in school, and what did you end up doing for a career?

When I first started college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I got a degree in liberal arts from Nassau County Community College. I was taking a music class, as well as a lot of English and poetry classes. 

I worked in the fashion industry for many years, but music was always a serious pursuit. Songwriting came easily to me. I would use music as an outlet for my feelings and expressing the way I live life. It’s my therapy. A lot of the songs I write are the things I need to tell myself. 

Tara Drouin

Tell me a bit about your band, iRideSense. 

I’ve been playing in iRideSense since my early 20s — we’ve been together since 1993. I’m now married to the drummer, and my brother is a part of the band as well. When I first started school at Nassau County Community College, I met Rob Viccari, who became our guitar player, and my husband Rich auditioned for us. He was the last piece of the puzzle. Some of our songs ended up being licensed to Nickelodeon, which was really cool. We released a couple albums and got to do a cross-country tour, so it’s been a crazy ride. 

You’re also a teacher, correct?

I am. I went back to school to become a teacher when I was in my 30s. I had always thought about teaching and I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world with music. The band was moderately successful, but I did want another career, and my husband encouraged me to go back to school. I got a bachelor’s in English and my master’s in education for grades 1 through 6 from Queens College. I’ve been teaching for 12 years now in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. 

What came first, the idea for the book One Heart or the song?

The song came first. I’ve had a diverse population in all my classrooms  my students have been Dominican, Haitian, Asian, Jewish, and from many other backgrounds. I saw a need for children to learn that while, yes, we might all look different and have different experiences, on the inside, we have the same heart. We’re all human. 

I wanted to write an upbeat song that would bring people together and share that message of unity. It’s a bit of a departure from our normal pop-rock sound — “One Heart” is more folk-based, and I had my daughter and nephew sing on the chorus. We released the song on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, in 2016.

What inspired you to write this story?

I could always picture images to go along with the lyrics of the song. I really saw it turning into a book. 

How did you go about publishing the book?

I self-published. At first I didn’t know that was possible, and I put a lot of time into researching and sending query letters to publishers. I read that the process was competitive. But then a friend said to me, “You know you can self-publish, right?” I had no idea. I ended up going with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, where each book is printed on demand instead of in mass quantities. It works really well for me. 

Is there a target age group?

I think it would be a good fit for kids in pre-K through 5th grade

Who is the illustrator and how did you find her?

I met a really nice art teacher working in the Bethpage School District named Nancy Noskewicz, and she also loved the idea of the book, so she offered to illustrate it for me and we began to collaborate. She had never illustrated a book before, and it had been a long time since she’d done artwork for herself, outside of the school setting, so she was really excited. I loved the creativity she brought to the illustrations.

Have you gotten feedback on the book since it was written?

Yes, I got some great feedback and sold a bunch of copies. A friend of mine put the book images together with the song track on YouTube, which went over really well, too. I also got to do an interview on The Donna Drake Show. 

What message do you hope kids will come away with after reading your book?

This book teaches kids about unity and kindness in a way that’s easy to understand. No one should be judged by the color of their skin, but rather the kind of person that they are. In light of everything that has happened with race relations in America, most recently with George Floyd, I feel a responsibility as a mom, a teacher and a musician to speak out against this systemic racism. 

We cannot change the past but we must change our future. Our children need to be taught that acceptance, kindness, unity and love are all important to making this work. Our lives are all intertwined. As the book says, “When voices come together there’s nothing better! Inside everybody’s got One Heart!” I do believe we are all alike more than we are different. 

What’s next for you? Have you written any other books?

Before the pandemic started, we were getting ready to go back into the studio to record some new songs with the band. We haven’t put out an album since 2015. We just got the green light to come in whenever we’re ready, so that’s exciting. I also have two children’s book ideas in the works — one is about my parent’s house in the Catskills, called Red Rock Road, and the other is based on a lullaby.

“One Heart” is available to purchase at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. To keep up on what’s new with One Heart, follow @1heartofficial on Instagram. The song “One Heart” is available wherever you stream music, and a free download is available at www.iridesense.com.

 

Author Kristin McGlothlin. Photo by Ron White
Novel for kids 8 to 12 explores art, growing pains, and Long Island native Walt Whitman

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Kristin McGlothlin. Photo by Ron White

Kristin McGlothlin’s greatest passions are art and writing, and as a longtime art historian, she was able to enjoy the best of both worlds. But the desire for something more continued to tug on McGlothlin’s heart, and she ultimately left museum work behind to pursue a writing career.

Her debut novel for middle-schoolers, Drawing with Whitman, is the first in a collection called Sourland Mountain Books. Inspired by a rural, mountainous region in central New Jersey, the books explore art, music, family dynamics and coming of age through the eyes of the neighborhood kids.  

Drawing with Whitman finds 13-year-old Catalynd Jewett Hamilton on a journey of recovery after a car accident leaves her badly injured and her mother battling depression. She finds solace in art and literature, encouraged along the way by the kind neighborhood painter, Benton Whitman — a descendant of Huntington native Walt Whitman. 

What was your childhood like? Were you interested in writing early on?

I was born in Detroit, and then we moved to Toledo, Ohio — we stayed there until I was in high school, and then we ended up in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m an only child, so I’ve always enjoyed being by myself. 

I loved both art and writing from a young age. Art was a huge part of my life — Detroit has an incredible art museum — and I loved to write letters to pen pals and friends. As a preteen, I got to take art classes in Toledo and spend time at their art museum as well. I grew up in a standard suburban neighborhood, but we also had a cottage near Lake George in Michigan. I loved to explore in the woods and go swimming in the lake.

It was around the age of 13 that I really felt that writing was what I wanted to do. I even came up with two of the characters from a later book in the Sourland Mountain series at that time. 

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite book was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

Did you go to college? What did you end up doing for work?

I did my undergrad at the University of Delaware. They have an amazing art history program there, and my mom suggested I would enjoy it because it combined both writing and art. I learned so much from the Northeast, getting to visit museums in D.C., Philadelphia, and New York.  

After graduation in 1992, I moved back down to Florida and got a job as the assistant curator of education at the Norton Museum of Art. I learned a lot, and I’m so glad I went on that journey, but after a while I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be. The desire to pursue writing was still there. I ended up going back to school at Florida Atlantic University and got my master’s in English literature in 2013.

How did you start writing professionally? Was it hard to take that step? 

I had a strong belief in myself, and I really wanted to introduce kids to art through writing, so I left the museum and began writing full-time. I went to a lot of writers’ conferences to learn everything I could about the profession.

Why did you decide to write a middle- grade novel? 

When I first started working on the book, I actually wrote for a general audience. But as I began to formulate Cat’s character, and the ins and outs of being 13, I was really drawn to that age. You’re not in high school yet, and a lot of people that age still have a more childlike curiosity. It’s an interesting time. The stories I want to tell don’t have any violence or sex, so that also fits in well with middle-grade readers. 

When did you first come up with the idea for the Sourland Mountain series? What inspired it?

Sourland Mountain is a real place in central New Jersey — my parents moved there around the time I went to college. It started with the idea of incorporating art lessons into a narrative. I

In graduate school, I took a class on Walt Whitman and read a lot of his work. There’s a book of his called “The Wound Dresser,” a collection of journal entries and incredible letters written to his family that I really enjoyed, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate him into the book somehow. 

He was a great patriot and his work is still relevant today, and I want to share that with kids to hopefully inspire them. So that’s how I developed Benton Whitman, a landscape painter who is a descendant of Walt Whitman.

Your characters have very unique names. How did you decide on them? 

It’s funny, because Cat’s name is Catalynd Jewett Hamilton, but then her brother is named Buddy! I sat down and started playing with names, and for Cat it started with the name Caitin, and the word “catalyst.” Jewett comes from a favorite author of mine from the late 1800s, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Hamilton is honestly for the Broadway musical. I saw a commercial on TV and it just fit!

As for Benton, he gets his name from the American painter Thomas Hart Benton, and of course his ancestor, Walt Whitman.

This book deals with a lot of tough issues. Why did you decide to write about injury, depression, and loneliness? 

It feels like an act of service to address the tough things that kids can go through. When I was researching the kind of books that were out there for middle grades, I had trouble finding books that featured a parent living with depression. It can be hard for kids to understand what’s going on when someone they love has a mental health issue, and I wanted to write something that made them feel understood and supported. For Cat, who is in casts and a wheelchair after an accident, she finds that art is an outlet for her to figure things out and make sense of her experiences.

Is this your first book? 

I wrote a picture book called “Andy’s Snowball Story” about the contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy. But this is my first chapter book, and my first book for middle grades. 

How did you go about getting published? 

It’s incredibly difficult to get an agent, especially as an unknown author who’s never been published before. Self-publishing has gained a lot of respect in recent years, and I knew I wanted to publish my first book quickly, in time for Walt Whitman’s 100th birthday. I found an amazing self-publishing company called Girl Friday, and they helped me put the book together and connected me with the cover illustrator, Kristina Swarner, who did a beautiful job.

Working with Kristina was such a cool experience. I had an idea of what I wanted — to have a mountain and a barn in the background, and for Cat to look a certain way. Even the most basic pencil sketch she sent me was so sweet and detailed. There were very few changes in the final version. I was really happy.

What message do you hope kids take away from the book? 

I want them to know that, sometimes, there’s a lot that can happen to a family unit, and that they don’t have to go through difficult times alone. It’s important to express what you’re going through in a healthy way, whether that’s through therapy or talking to a trusted adult.  

What’s next for you? 

I’m working on the next book in the Sourland Mountain series, called “Listen.” The main character is Cat’s next-door neighbor, Gwilym Duckworthy, a 13-year-old boy who loves jazz music and plays the trumpet. His mother left the family behind to pursue a career in music when he was very small, and now she’s returned. There will eventually be a total of four books in the series.

The recipient of the 2019 Moonbeam Silver Medal Award for Pre-Teen Fiction, Drawing with Whitman is available online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Target.com. Keep up with Kristin McGlothlin at her website, www.sourlandmountainbooks.com, and on Instagram @McGlothlinKristin for updates and live readings.

'Star Wars Rise of Skywalker'

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep indoor movie theaters closed for now, drive-in cinemas have staged a comeback on Long Island, most recently in Lake Grove. Event producer Starfish Junction has entered into a partnership with Simon Malls to safely entertain families this summer with the launch of MOVIE LOT — a pop-up drive-in series offering movies shown on a giant 52-foot screen erected in the parking lot of the Smith Haven Mall. 

‘Sonic the Hedgehog’

Visitors may enter the mall area via Middle Country Rd. Follow signs to the Verizon lot. Security and staff will direct you where to park. The lot will open 45 minutes prior to show time. Radio frequencies are used to play sound in your vehicle. Upon arrival, you’ll see the radio station channel up on the big screen. 

Ticketholders are permitted to bring their own food and snacks to enjoy during the show. Attendees may also consider Smith Haven Mall restaurants for curbside pick up before filing into the lot for the movie. Portable restrooms will be available for use. 

“Drive-in movies naturally adhere to the social distancing guidelines and gives people something fun to do. We’ve all been sheltering in place for weeks, our goal is to deliver a safe and entertaining way to lift the spirits of our neighbors while at the same time adhere to social distancing guidelines,” said Lauren Powers, Senior Director at Starfish Junction.  “I think we are all ready to go out, do it safely, and have some fun.” 

‘King Kong’

“We’ve got a great lineup for the summer and we anticipate a great response from the local community. But make no mistake about it, we will be strictly enforcing social distancing rules and regulations at each and every showing,” said Powers.

Kicking off the series on Thursday, May 28 at 8:45 p.m. will be the 1981 mega-hit Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (PG). Other movies included in the summer series weekend kick off include the newly-released Sonic the Hedgehog (PG) on Friday, May 29 at 8:45 p.m. followed by the 2005 version of King Kong at 11:45 p.m. (PG-13); the 1976 The Bad News Bears (PG) on Saturday, May 30 at 8:45 p.m. followed by the 2020 blockbuster Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker at 11:45 p.m.

The rest of the summer lineup will be announced soon and will include movies perfect for date nights, family fun nights, girl’s night out, sing-alongs, and midnight showings of fright-night classics. There are a limited number of tickets available for each showing. Tickets are on sale now ($40 per carload) and must be purchased online in advance at www.MovieLotDriveIn.com.

Photo courtesy of Sweetbriar Nature Center
Photo courtesy of Sweetbriar Nature Center

Learn about wildlife and interact live with an educator each week on the Sweetbriar Nature Center Facebook page every Thursday at 2:30 p.m. The staff will share a different animal with you along – a baby bird, rabbit, opossum – with a story or a talk.

Donations are greatly appreciated for the over 100 resident  animals that are currently being cared for at the center. Items from Sweetbriar’s wish list (www.sweetbriarnc.org) may be dropped off a the center’s front door and monetary donations may be made directly during the Facebook live program. Sweetbriar Nature Center is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive in Smithtown. For more information, call 631-979-6344.

By David Luces 

For Susan Orifici, head of graphic, archival and special projects at the Village Center in Port Jefferson, a walk along the water at Harborfront Park inspired a plan to spread positivity in the community during these uncertain times. 

“I saw the rocks on the shore and I thought of the idea of doing something creative with them; something that would be perfect for families and children who come to the park,” she said. 

The idea culminated into what she calls the “Be Kind Movement,” where individuals can come up to a table in front of the Village Center, pick out a rock, take it home and paint a message of hope, kindness or a fun design. Once they are done painting his of her rock, Orifici said they can place their rock in the designated “Kindness Garden” located behind the Long Island Explorium at the Children’s Park off East Broadway. 

Orifici also suggested that individuals use permanent markers or acrylic paint when designing their rock as these will last longer out in the elements. 

The graphic artist said the table and sign in front of the building is there 24/7. “We try to have it up everyday,” she said. “If it’s too windy or if it’s raining we take it down for the time being.”

In a short time, community members have embraced the movement, with almost  two dozen decorated rocks placed in the kindness garden so far. 

“I couldn’t be happier with the feedback we’ve been getting; everybody loves the idea,” Orifici said. “I wanted to connect with others during these times and  provide a ray of hope.”

Orifici, who is currently working with five other employees inside the Village Center, said it can be lonely sometimes as there’s only so much they can do at the moment but seeing the progress of the kindness garden has been uplifting. 

“It feels great seeing people stop by the table and taking a rock home with them,” she said.  

While the Village Center remains closed to the public, Orifici said she hopes once restrictions are lessened by the state they will be given the go-ahead to conduct a soft-opening of the center followed by an official reopening. 

With the ongoing success of the kindness garden, Orifici said she hasn’t thought about expansion yet but mentioned that participants could start placing rocks in the flower beds around Harborfront Park. 

She is thankful for the support so far. 

“Port Jeff is a tight community. We understand how they feel during this time, we miss them here [at the Village Center],” she said. “We hope they continue to be strong and keep being creative.”

Photos courtesy of Sue Orifici

Day camps will need to reimagine how they operate if they get the green light from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to open this summer. In addition to taking temperatures and implementing different cleaning practices, children’s activities may center around things such as arts and crafts where social distancing can be applied. Stock photo

Many parents, children and camp owners have the same question on their minds — will camps open in 2020?

Day camps will need to reimagine how they operate if they get the green light from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to open this summer. In addition to taking temperatures and implementing different cleaning practices, children’s activities may center around things such as arts and crafts where social distancing can be applied. Stock photo

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made the call to close schools throughout the state for the rest of the academic year a couple of weeks ago, camp owners are still waiting for the green light to open. While they wait, many remain hopeful, preparing for what will be a new normal this year as more protocols are put in place regarding the number of participants in activities, cleaning processes and much more.

Tom Palamara, president of HPP Rinx Inc., and Matt Pagliari, camp director at Hauppauge-based Hidden Pond Day Camp at The Rinx, said the American Camp Association and the YMCAs of the United States jointly have provided educational resources that can be used by all day and overnight camps, as well as by health departments and parents. The guide, which they are following, provides advice on topics such as communication of practices, health screening and prevention, cleaning and disinfection and more.

While The Rinx offers hockey, ice skating, preschool all year round, it closed down March 16. They are optimistic about this summer and are already working on plans with the hopes of opening at the end of June.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we’re still getting enrollments, and less than a handful of requests for money back,” Pagliari said. “I think the parents are really looking forward to their kids going to camp and we know the kids are looking forward to it.” 

Todd Shaw, owner of Kids Country Day Camp, said the Mount Sinai facility is also preparing to offer camp at the end of June. He said many thought the governor would have announced camp information by now.

“So, that kind of threw us all a curveball,” Shaw said.

Yet, with knowing they will need to adjust practices for 2020, the staff has been getting ready for this summer.

“We’re planning each day as if we’ll have camp,” he said.

For the Mount Sinai camp, Shaw added parents’ reactions have been mixed. While some have already signed up, taking advantage of its early bird rate, others said they’ll take a break from camp this year.

Palamara and Pagliari said some of the key points they are addressing are arrivals, dismissals, lunchtime, use of the pool at the Hauppauge location, what to do on rainy days, sanitization and size of the groups. As far as the number of attendees, and campers in each group, they said that will come either from state or Suffolk County recommendations.

With a large piece of property, they said groups, whether with 10 or 25 campers, will not be a problem for them. They also added that the lunch area is large enough to follow social distancing protocols of 6 feet or more, and there are enough covered areas for rainy days.

“We work with 97 acres,” Pagliari said. “We have tons of room. We can have a spread out of arrivals, spread out our dismissal.”

At both camps, staff members and campers will have their temperature taken with touchless thermometers and be sent home if it’s elevated. Shaw said employees will also have their blood oxygen levels measured regularly to ensure no respiratory symptoms are present.

Both camps will clean and disinfect more often, including the use of disinfectant fog machines, which Shaw said get into every nook and cranny.

“We’re constantly evolving, and things we knew when we were planning a month ago we now know, okay, we can do more,” Shaw said. “We can add the safety protocol, we can add this level of sanitizing.”

Since Kids Country Day Camp is part of Kids of Mt. Sinai, a New York state licensed childcare facility and is deemed an essential business, the camp will be able to open for children up to 10 years old no matter what. In the past, the camp has needed a waiver to have 11 or 12 years old attend camp, which means those over 10 may not be able to take part if day camps aren’t allowed to open in 2020.

Shaw said employees are also looking at restructuring camp activities as some sports may not be able to be played, and more arts and crafts where campers can practice social distancing may take place or there may be more performances such as magic shows.

“We’ll be ready,” Shaw said. “We just don’t know — ready for what — yet.”

To be ready at the end of June, Hidden Pond Day Camp will be providing an online orientation for counselors. The guidelines will be a big help for counselors in handling different routines, Pagliari said.

“The kids’ safety is paramount to us, that’s going to come first,” the director said.

Shaw echoed the sentiments as he said his staff is always learning more and training has been enhanced.

“It’s important giving peace of mind — be safe and feel safe as well,” he said.

File photo

Dear Engeman Theater patrons,

We hope you are all healthy and safe as this period of uncertainty continues. 

It’s been six weeks since Gov. Cuomo closed all non-essential businesses. We have been watching his daily updates, as well as the national news, to try and get some indication of when live theaters will be safely allowed to open again. While we have not been able to determine when that will be, the one thing we do know is that theaters, along with other large places of assembly, will be among the last businesses to be allowed to open.

 As a result of this reality, and with keeping people’s safety and health in mind, we have decided to remain closed through at least June 30. This means, unfortunately, that we will need to postpone “Sister Act” again, which we had tentatively moved to the May 14 through June 28 time slot.

This is merely a postponement.  Our plan is to reschedule “Sister Act” for later in the year so you will have an opportunity to see it once we are safely allowed to reopen.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. To be clear, there is nothing you need to do at this time.  We will reach out to you with updated schedule information once we know when we can reopen.

We look forward to seeing you back at the theater as soon as it is safe to do so.  We will continue to update you when we receive new information. Until then, please stay well.

Richard Dolce and Kevin O’Neill

John W. Engeman Theater Producers

Mills Pond Gallery. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Mills Pond Gallery takes heart that some communities across the country are beginning to see fewer cases of COVID-19, but we remain concerned about the well-being of our artists, staff, gallery visitors and families in our communities. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to postpone many of our planned gallery exhibitions. Visit our exhibition page for schedules www.millspondgallery.org.

We have posted our Summer Art Classes Program on our website, offering over 30 creative art classes for children ages 5 and up. Class sizes will be kept small to continue social distancing and strict cleaning and disinfecting procedures will continue throughout the summer.

We recognize this is a challenging time for artists, schools, teachers and communities. At the same time, we are encouraged as we see creativity flourishing everywhere as people quickly adjust to a changing reality.  It is certainly reassuring to see so many organizations and families do so much to ensure that arts, culture and creativity remain a part of our lives.

We believe the arts are indispensable in building good character in the citizens of our communities fostering communication, offering new insights on the world and adding to the greater appreciation of both life and society. We look forward to reopening soon, engaging you with the arts so you are able to See What the Arts Can Open Your Eyes To!

We look forward to brighter days, good health and healing for all!

Allison J. Cruz

Executive Director

Mills Pond Gallery

The seed starter kit, above, is a wonderful educational tool (plants in photo not included). Photo by Sam Benner

By Melissa Arnold

There’s nothing quite like spring in full bloom — the weather’s finally breaking, flowers are popping up everywhere, and it’s easy to get the kids outside for some fresh air and sunshine, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, most of the area’s most beloved spring locales are closed, their events canceled indefinitely until cases of COVID-19 have declined to safer levels. Without their usual income, many small businesses are struggling to pay the bills and must find creative new ways to keep the lights on.

Among them are Benner’s Farm in Setauket, well known in the community for its seasonal festivals and educational opportunities for both children and adults. With in-person field trips and large gatherings impossible, they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.

“Normally this time of year would have class after class coming in to see the farm and our new animals,” said owner Bob Benner. “We’ve had births of lambs, goat kids, chicks and bunnies, but no one can visit them — there are no workshops or Mommy and Me events, no birthday parties …. there’s literally nothing. So we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’”

At Easter time, with 20,000 candy-filled eggs ready to go, Bob awoke in the middle of the night with an idea: What if they sold 50-egg boxes for families to have their own hunts at home? By the time the holiday arrived, they’d sold 100 boxes. Encouraged, the Benners sought to continue the momentum.

Next came an online store, with t-shirts and maple products for sale at www.bennersfarm.com, and a GoFundMe campaign which raised more than $6,000 to keep staff paid and animals fed.

Now they’ve created a “My First Garden Learning Kit” geared toward children containing everything you need to grow a dozen different flowers and plants. The kits include planters, potting soil, a template to sort and examine seeds, plant markers, and an instruction booklet with pictures and information about each plant at various stages of growth.

Both Bob and his wife Jean have spent decades working as teachers in addition to running the farm. Jean said that they work hard to approach every project with an educational focus, trying to see each aspect as a child would.

“We purposely chose seeds that are all different sizes and shapes, mature at different times, and are not too tiny so that kids can handle them,” she explained. “The seeds we’ve chosen are all meant to be interesting and recognizable. Marigold seeds look like tiny paintbrushes; calendula seeds resemble tiny worms.” 

The seed starter kits went on sale at the end of April. Within two days, they’d sold 70 kits and were ordering more boxes to fill. So far, so good. 

“It’s been successful especially because people are telling their friends and family. We’ve had orders come in from other places around the country, too,” said Jean.

The Benner family moved to Setauket from Northport in the late 1970s. Their eldest son, Ben, said that his earliest memories involved being dressed in overalls and driven to see the badly overgrown property. The area was first farmed in the 1750s, and the Benners revitalized it using books on homesteading as a guide. What was originally meant to be a hobby for Bob and Jean slowly evolved into something much more.

“This is our life here, and it’s so strange to see the farm empty,” Ben said. “We miss the energy of the kids, getting to see people every day, hosting our programs. This is all we want to do.”

While the Benners have no idea what the future holds or what events they’ll be able to host next, they know that the success of the farm rests in continuing local support and encouraging a love for nature in children.

“As a society, we’ve lost a certain amount of knowledge and appreciation for nature. Kids that grew up in previous generations would be out working in farms and gardens, and that doesn’t happen much around here anymore,” Ben said. “I think it’s such an important thing to learn about the process of how plants grow, and it’s a lot of fun to go out and pick your food, knowing where it comes from and knowing you did it yourself. We want to spark that interest in as many kids as possible.

Seeds included in the garden kit:

Calendulas

Sunflowers

Zinnias

Marigolds

Green squash (zucchini)

Purple bush beans

Peas

Corn

Beets

Swiss chard

Radishes

Tomatoes

Each kit costs $25. They can be picked up from Benner’s Farm at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket. Call ahead to arrange an in-person, contactless pickup. Prepayments using a credit or debit card are preferred, but arrangements can be made for cash payment. Online orders placed at www.bennersfarm.com are $35 each and will be sent out within 24 hours. For the latest information about the farm, to make purchases or donations, call 631-689-8172 or visit their website.

 

Jessica Liao, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, garnered the top spot in the 2020 Model Bridge Building Contest, held virtually and broadcast online for the first time this year by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. 

Students from 17 Nassau and Suffolk County high schools designed and constructed a total of 190 model bridges intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. In this contest, efficiency is calculated from the bridge’s weight and the weight the bridge can hold before breaking or bending more than one inch. The higher the efficiency, the better the design and construction.

Student competitors typically bring their bridges to the Lab to be tested. But for this year’s competition, to help maintain social distance during the developing coronavirus pandemic, engineers at Brookhaven ran the tests and broadcast them to the students virtually.

Liao beat out the competition by building a bridge that weighed 17.25 grams and supported 59.44 pounds. Her bridge had an efficiency of 1562.98, the number of times its own weight the bridge held before breaking or bending more than one inch.

Aidan Wallace, a junior from Walt Whitman High School placed second with a bridge that weighed 17.54 grams, held 51.01 pounds, and had an efficiency of 1319.14.

Third place went to junior Michael Coppi from Ward Melville High School. Coppi’s bridge weighed 9.02 grams, held 25.01 pounds, and had an efficiency of 1271.77.

Sophia Borovikova, a senior from Northport High School won the aesthetic award for the best-looking bridge. Her bridge took 10th place in the contest, weighing 16.17 grams and holding 33.29 pounds for an efficiency of 933.83.

The construction and testing of model bridges promotes the study and application of principles of physics and engineering and helps students develop “hands-on” skills, explained Ken White, manager of Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs. Students get a flavor of what it is like to be engineers, designing structures to a set of specifications and then seeing the bridges they build perform their function.

“These same skills are put to the test for the Lab’s engineers on projects like the National Synchrotron Light Source II and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, both world-class research tools that operate as DOE Office of Science user facilities for scientists from all across the world, and the upcoming Electron-Ion Collider,” said White. “Preparing the next generation of engineers to work on projects like these is important to the Lab and the Department of Energy.”

Brookhaven Lab’s Office of Educational Programs coordinated the Regional Model Bridge Building Contest. Now, the two top winners — Liao and Wallace — are eligible to enter the 2020 International Bridge Building Contest in May. For this year’s contest, contestants will mail their bridges to the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where university faculty and engineers will run the breakage tests and post the results online.

Prior to COVID-19-related school closures on Long Island, Gillian Winters, a science teacher from Smithtown High School East, conducted a bridge competition in her classroom to help students prepare for the contest at Brookhaven. She also built a bridge of her own to compete among students.

“My favorite part is to see the creativity the kids can come up with because they’re all very different,” Winters said. “Some of them have a pretty straightforward way of doing things, and some of them want to put a new twist on things. I love to see how they develop, and by the end, they really have learned a little bit about how to follow the instructions and what a specification really means.”

Borovikova said she plans to pursue civil and environmental engineering or mechanical engineering after graduation. “I really enjoyed the creative process — trying to figure out all of the different parts that are going to come together to form the bridge,” she said. “Designing the bridge was actually a pretty quick process for me because I like to try to imagine concepts right off the top of my head. Then actually letting the bridge come to fruition was really interesting for me, because I saw my design come to life.”

Wallace said he spent many hours creating his bridge and making sure it would qualify. “From this contest, I have learned more about hands-on building and the engineering of bridges,” he said. “I was happy with my results, but of course would have liked to place first!”

The award ceremony for the competition is currently pending, but the Lab hopes to hold it before the end of the academic year, according to Susan Frank, the competition coordinator and educator at the Lab’s Science Learning Center. For more information, please visit www.science.energy.gov.