Kids

Caroline Woo, above, plays with therapy dog Beau. She named her black Labrador stuffed animal after her regular reading companion, Malibu. Photo by Giselle Barkley

A book and a calm canine companion are all Caroline Woo needs to practice reading.

Every Thursday afternoon, this 11-year-old from Setauket visits the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library for its Books Are Read to K-9s program. Caroline joined the program and fell in love with it last November, after her mother, Eydie Woo, learned of the club. But BARK didn’t just allow her to interact with a calm canine, it also improved her reading skills.

Last month for her birthday, Caroline asked her friends and family to make a donation to the program instead of buying presents. The $270 she received went toward training more dogs for the club and other therapy dog-related programs. For Caroline, reading to Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy certified dog Malibu, a black Labrador, helped her tackle the big words she struggled to say when reading out loud.

“Malibu, she’ll … just sit down and they’ll kind of listen and it is better because the dogs, they mostly maintain one expression,” Caroline said. “It’s easier since she’s less judgmental than people”

According to Malibu’s handler and owner Fred Dietrich, the program hasn’t only helped her reading skills, but it’s also boosted her confidence. He added that he’s seen Caroline become more outspoken since she joined BARK.

Her mother agreed with Dietrich, saying Caroline “feels comfortable with Malibu and it’s translating into other settings.” The fifth-grader met Malibu when she started the program and they’ve been regular reading partners since. Malibu, like all eight dogs involved in the reading program, is PRAAT certified.

Stony Brook resident Jo-Ann Goldwasser established the Doggie Reading Club program, which is called BARK at the library, three years ago after learning about a similar program in Chicago. The Windy City’s Sit Stay Read program has served kids in Chicago’s inner-city schools for several years. Goldwasser wanted to help children overcome their reading difficulties with this program. Her club started with Rocky Point Middle School’s sixth-grade students and has expanded to the Comsewogue school district, two schools in Brentwood as well as the library. She plans to establish the program in Hauppauge school district.

Goldwasser said the school and library programs are somewhat different.

“Children who generally like to read, who go to the library, think it’s kind of a fun thing to come to the library and read to a dog,” Goldwasser said. “In the schools however, we go into … the same classes … every other week. It’s more academic in that we listen to the same children read week after week; we know what they’re reading [and] we know how to help them.”

Fellow therapy dog handler Linda Devin-Sheehan said it’s hard to track the program’s success in the library because the club is only three-years-old. A lack of regulars like Caroline also makes it difficult to monitor a student’s improvement.

Parents must register their children to participate in the library’s program, which is held every Wednesday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the library’s kids’ section.

According to the handlers, a dog’s patience and calm demeanor are helpful to students like Caroline. While the program has helped Caroline in the past few months, she simply enjoys being around dogs as they come in various shapes, sizes and dispositions.

“You can see [a dog] on the street and pet it and get to know it for a short minute but … you can already tell that they’re such a sweet dog and it’s nice getting to meet a ton of different dogs,” Caroline said.

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Children practice pedestrian safety. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The Town of Brookhaven’s Highway Department in conjunction with the Suffolk County Sheriffs Office STOPPED program is bringing the rodeo to Safety Town on Saturday, April 9, the first of three bike rodeos to be held this year at the Holtsville Ecology Site.

Children of all ages across the Island can bring their bikes and test their bike riding skills and safety knowledge in Safety Town’s kid-sized roadways and obstacles. Attendees can also participate in bike and helmet inspections and helmet fittings during the three-hour event.

According to the Town of Brookhaven’s website, the miniature village was modeled after Nassau County’s Safety Town at Eisenhower Park.

“It’s really a great program where the kids can come and learn on real equipment, while not having to be on an actual roadway,” said Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R). “It’s a completely controlled environment with traffic signals, crosswalks, [and] a railway crossing. It really has everything that you would encounter in a [real] roadway.”

According to Losquadro, the department doesn’t limit the number of kids who can participate in this event. While most families stay for a half hour or so, the department will separate the kids into groups if a large number of children attend. The groups will rotate between the Safety Town roadways and a course designed in front of the Safety Town building.

Children practice traffic safety in Safety Town’s small cars. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Children practice traffic safety in Safety Town’s small cars. Photo by Giselle Barkley

According to Traffic Safety Director Jon Sullivan, the department held its first bike rodeo around 2007 in the Brookhaven Town Hall parking lot in Farmingville. The event was moved to Safety Town after it was established in 2009.

Since it was moved to its new venue, Sullivan and Losquadro noticed that kids have a better time remembering the safety rules they learned during the rodeo or through Safety Town’s many programs. The programs cover pedestrian safety, traffic safety and bike safety among other topics. Sullivan added that the mock town and rodeo really resonate with these students.

“Kids will go home [and] they’ll be explaining [the program] to their parents,” Sullivan said. “The parents would then be calling us up saying ‘when can we bring them back?’”

Sullivan and Losquadro alike remembered their experience learning about road safety in their school gymnasium. At the time, some schools used small scooters and cones to help teach students. But Losquadro said learning these same rules at Safety Town is more effective.

“It’s just a very different hands-on experience and being in a physical environment like this, with … real traffic signals, real lane markings [and] not just things on a gymnasium floor … it’s much more impactful to the student,” the highway superintendent said.

Parents can watch their kids learn the rules of the road when it comes to riding bikes, on Saturday, April 9, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Safety Town at the Holtsville Ecology Site located at 249 Buckley Road in Holtsville.

In the event of rain, the event will be rescheduled to Sunday, April 10. For more information about this year’s bicycle rodeo, call 631-363-3770.

From left, Ariel (Mackenzie Germain), Scuttle (Rachel Kowalsky) and Flounder (Amanda Swickle) admire a dinglehopper (a.k.a. a fork) in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

By Rita J. Egan

The only thing better than hearing a beloved children’s story is having it performed by children themselves. This weekend the John W. Engeman Theater presented its first “by kids, for kids” production, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” to an excited young audience.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The musical’s run in Northport will feature two separate casts, with a combined total of 37 children between the ages of 7 and 17, playing alternate performance dates of the production that was adapted from the Broadway musical written by Doug Wright.

First introduced in the Hans Christian Andersen classic fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel is the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters. Living under the sea, she dreams of one day shedding her fins so she can walk and dance on land just as humans do. With the help of an evil sea witch, Ursula, her fantasies come true much to the dismay of her chaperone Sebastian, the crab. Soon Ariel finds herself meeting a handsome prince as she embarks on an onshore adventure with Sebastian as well as her colorful friends, a fish named Flounder and a seagull called Scuttle.

At this past Sunday’s performance, the young cast performed as if they were seasoned actors. Mackenzie Germaine was a sweet and lovely Ariel, who sang the mermaid’s signature song “Part of Your World” beautifully. As for her Prince Eric, Ben Hefter was endearing as well as charming.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz

Maeve Barth-Dwyer was poised and devilishly delightful as Ursula. She performed “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as if she was standing on a Broadway stage. In addition, Lizzie Dolce and Mia Goldstein, Ursula’s slippery spies Flotsam and Jetsam, flawlessly sang back-up on the show-stopping number.

Despite being a teenager, Matthew Fama portrayed King Triton with just the right amount of authority and tenderness needed for the parental role. Justin Autz (Sebastian), Rachel Kowalsky (Scuttle) and Chris Pappas (Chef Louis) added the right amount of humor.

Kowalsky had fun with the eccentric character and shined on “Human Stuff,” while the comedic abilities of Autz and Pappas were front and center during the number “Les Poissons,” which got huge laughs from the audience.

Amanda Swickle as Flounder was adorable, and when she joined Ariel’s sisters during the song “She’s in Love,” she skillfully showed off her excellent singing abilities.

Ella Benjamin, Eve Ascione, Katie Garthe, Keeley O’Malley, Katie Dolce and Alexandra Spelman shone as Ariel’s sisters and harmonized beautifully during their numbers, “Daughters of Triton” and “She’s in Love.” 

Keith Gryski (Grimsby), Natalie Ryan (Carlotta) and James Tully (Pilot) rounded out the ensemble on Sunday, and just like their fellow castmates, have the potential for a bright future in acting.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Musical director Ariana Valdes did an excellent job with the score, which features lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken. As for the iconic numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” the whole ensemble did a fabulous job.

Director Alyson Clancy has skillfully directed a talented young cast that delivers a show that is professional and at the same time light and fun for the whole family.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” until May 8. Tickets are $15 for all ages. For more information, visit www.engemantheater.com or call 631-261-2900.

Kids relax at a previous fun run for the Royal Educational Foundation. Photo from Jill Russell

The Royal Educational Foundation is hosting its third annual Power of One Family Fun Run on Saturday, April 16, to benefit the Port Jefferson school district.

According to the event flyer, the 2-mile run is meant to “encourage physical activity and is intended to celebrate the positive influence we can have on one another within our families and community.” The course starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Port Jefferson Village Center on East Broadway and goes through the streets of the village, ending at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School on Old Post Road.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward the foundation’s efforts to improve the school district. Each runner or walker is $15, while families cost $50.

People of all ages are welcome to participate, and can register between 7:30 and 8 a.m. at the Village Center. Participants should check in no later than 8:15 a.m. Everyone will get a fun run T-shirt before the start of the race.

The hills of Benner’s Farm in Setauket were alive with children this past weekend.

Around 3,200 guests filed onto the farm for its seventh annual Easter Egg Hunt, with some families coming from as far as Queens and the Bronx. According to Bob Benner, the event grows more popular every year, with more than 11,000 eggs used for this year’s hunt.

Participants purchased spring flowers, took photos with the Easter Bunny, visited the farm’s new baby piglets or held baby chicks and bunnies while they waited for one of the farm’s three egg hunts to start.

Benner’s Farm, located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket, officially opens to the public for the spring on April 16 and 17 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.bennersfarm.com.

Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan

County lawmakers are taking a proactive approach toward keeping Suffolk kids safe.

The Legislature unanimously voted last week to establish a 13-member Child Fatality Review Team panel tasked with reviewing all childhood fatalities across Suffolk County deemed to be unanticipated, suspicious or the direct result of physical trauma.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the bill, said the team’s findings would not be used to assign criminal or civil liability in death cases involving children, nor would they be used for prosecutorial purposes. The main objective, she said, was to make it so similar incidents do not repeat themselves at Suffolk County children’s expense.

In a statement, Hahn, who serves as majority leader in the Suffolk County Legislature, said the panel would work to identify the underlying causes of a child’s death and find what resources, if any, could have prevented that outcome.

“As a culture, we strongly hold that children aren’t supposed to die,” Hahn said. “When that understanding is challenged by a child’s death, natural or otherwise, there is a reflexive and necessary motivation to uncover the reasons why and ways to prevent similar circumstances from leading to additional losses.”

The 13-member panel would be made up of medical, child welfare, social service and law enforcement professionals who would be looking at the facts and circumstances relating to the deaths of children under the age of 18. The deaths would also need to be deemed either unexplainable or the result of violence, including that which is self-inflicted.

“Suffolk County takes the public health and safety of all our residents, especially our most vulnerable, very seriously,” the county’s Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said. “By assembling this review team and collaboratively studying the recent losses of life in Suffolk County, we may be able to prevent similar tragedies in the future and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s signature is the only thing standing in the way of this bill becoming a law. In a statement, the county executive said he was in favor of the review team and planned on signing it into action promptly.

“The public safety of all of our residents, especially our most vulnerable, is of paramount concern to us,” Bellone said.  “By creating this review committee, we are creating an opportunity to analyze and review circumstances surrounding violent child deaths in an effort to prevent similar tragedies and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Hahn said the team would hold its first meeting within 90 days and quarterly thereafter.

The panel’s data would not include any identifiable information and its records would be kept confidential, Hahn said. Any reports generated by the team would also be submitted to the state’s office of children and family services when they are finished.

The North Shore is no stranger so incidents that could qualify for the kind of review Hahn’s panel would be seeking.

In October 2014, 16-year-old Thomas Cutinella of Shoreham-Wading River High School suffered a fatal head injury after colliding with another player during a football game. In July 2014, a Kings Park man was convicted of beating his 43-day-old son to death. In December 2015, an 11-year-old from Kings Park died just days after a van struck her as she crossed a road in her hometown.

The state’s office of children and family services said Suffolk County recorded an average of 12.6 child fatalities annually between 2010 and 2014. The office also found that in the year 2015, average percentage of case workers with more than 15 investigations on their caseload on the last day of each month between July and December was 33 percent.

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The chamber of commerce’s annual Easter parade and egg hunt returned to Port Jefferson on Sunday, March 27, bringing big smiles to the faces of local children. After walking through the village’s downtown area, the procession headed to the harborfront park so the kids could collect Easter eggs full of treats.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) hosted Huntington Town’s annual Eggstravaganza event on Thursday, March 24 at Heckscher Park. Kids from all over town came to hang out with the Easter Bunny, hunt for eggs, get their faces painted, and color. The town also collected food donations from all participants for the local food pantry.

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Children and their parents flocked to the St. James Lutheran Church in St. James last Sunday afternoon for a Scandinavian Children’s Heritage Fair.

Representing Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, the event was hosted by the Sons of Norway. Children took part in a Little Vikings tour by playing Uff Da Bingo while learning Norwegian words, weaving Danish heart baskets out of felt and decorating shields and swords. They also took part in Norwegian rosemåling (decorative painting), rock painting and troll making.

Guests were also able to sample delicious traditional desserts including Lefse, Norwegian Krumkaker cookies, heart waffles, sandkaker and Swedish coffee bread. The event also offered many types of Scandinavian-themed souvenirs for sale.

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A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

By Elana Glowatz

The new Rocketship Park’s entrance will be a blastoff to the past.

A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village
A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

Port Jefferson Village announced on Tuesday that TRITEC Real Estate Company has built and donated a rocket ship model to go in the playground once it’s reconstructed, paying tribute to its past.

While it’s formally known as Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park or Kip Lee Park, the spot off Barnum Avenue at Roessner Lane got the Rocketship nickname from a popular piece of playground equipment that has since aged out of use. Some residents have lamented the loss of the rocket and the fact that the design plans for the new park, which began forming a few years ago, didn’t include one.

The plans call for more natural-looking playground equipment with a high level of handicap-accessibility, including what looks like a giant tree house and a pirate ship that harkens back to the village’s shipbuilding days. There are also plans for swings with different types of seating, walkways, picnic tables, plantings and other play equipment.

Adrienne Kessel, the chair of the Treasure Your Parks Committee that has fundraised for the park reconstruction and operates under the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy, previously said play equipment that looks like a rocket is hard to find.

Kessel launched the effort to revamp the downtown children’s park when she was a village trustee. After looking at security features in the wake of vandalism at the site, Kessel saw the need for a full makeover.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting but that wasn’t the answer,” she said in a previous interview. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

She focused on increased accessibility for kids with special needs because, “Every child should have the chance to play. I couldn’t imagine a park a child couldn’t utilize.”

The reconstruction is expected to cost roughly $550,000 and as of this week, village spokeswoman Jill Russell said, the committee had brought in more than $200,000 toward that goal, between donations of both money and services.

According to the village’s rocket announcement, the first work phase is scheduled to start in October.

TRITEC, which is also working on an apartment complex on the other side of Barnum Avenue at West Broadway, built the rocket ship so that when the park is redone, it “will serve as a lasting reminder of the original rocket ship that first graced the park in 1972,” the village said in a statement.

The company worked on the project for the nonprofit Long Island Home Builders Care, with the help of Huntington-based Kleet Lumber Co., Long Island-based Pro-Coat Painting, and sprinkler system contractor Central Outdoor Services in Port Jefferson Station.

“The model will be placed alongside the entranceway to the new playground and will incorporate ornamental plaques into the design that will highlight the park’s history as well as the generous contributions from the playground’s in-kind donors,” the village said.

Russell explained that the historical information will make mention of the previous rocket: “So that when you come to Rocketship Park, you actually know why it’s called that.”