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Edna Louise Spear Elementary School

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Second-grader Sophie Franck was one of the first children to use the Port Jeff elementary school's new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

We all know that expectant feeling of a vending machine when the twin arms uncoil around the prize, whether it’s a soda or snack, waiting for it to clang in the bottom of the bin and placate our hunger.

Librarian Selinda Stout shows the tokens used for the book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though in the Port Jefferson elementary school, it’s not sugar and salt suffused snacks plopping into the bin, but a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” or “The Baby-sitters Club.”

The Edna Louise Spear Elementary School unveiled the new “Bookworm” vending machine Feb. 11 that stocks more than 300 books, with 20 different books for the separate grade levels, both fiction and nonfiction. Instead of using money, the vending machine receives tokens which students get for going above and beyond in the library or in any of their normal classrooms. Though these book vending devices have popped up in several other states like Florida and in upstate schools like in Buffalo, the new machine is one of the first of its kind in Suffolk County.

Selinda Stout, the school’s librarian, said students could get a token for good behavior, especially if they’re trying to read beyond their grade level or deciding to read a new genre. 

“If there’s a teacher who sees a student working hard all week who deserves a token, they can get it from me, then they can come down and choose a book,” Stout said. “I think this will bridge the gap of reading — I think kids will be very excited to take it home themselves, and I think it will bring really good behavior into the library and into the classroom.”

The first seven children to get a book from the vending machine ranged from pre-K to fifth grade. Their choices ran the gamut, with young second-grader Sophie Franck picking “Molly’s Story,” and third-grader Rahym Khan deciding on “Who Is Derek Jeter?” Fourth-grader Elizabeth Yin, whom Stout said was reading “well above her grade level,” chose “More Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids.” Pre-K student Maggie Masone chose “Pete the Cat,” and was aided by Stout who lifted her up to press the buttons. Each book is for the student to keep. 

Principal Tom Meehan joined librarian Selinda Stout and seven other students from pre-K through fifth-grade to release the new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

The idea came by elementary principal, Tom Meehan, when he was reading news one morning and came across a school in Florida which had installed one of the vending machines. He contacted the school librarian to discuss it, and shortly thereafter she wrote a grant application to the Port Jefferson Royal Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that uses funds to help out the district with special projects or to supplement its curricula when it doesn’t necessarily have the budget available.

Foundation treasurer, Laura Zimmerman, said the foundation thought the vending machine was a great idea and gathered around $4,100 for purchasing and installing it. Overall it was a 10-month process from inception to delivery, but the school kept the machine covered for several weeks until its official unveiling. 

Meehan said the machine is especially important getting books into kids’ hands for them to keep, adding as students get older, “we find they stop reading as much as they used to.” 

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said if the vending machine proves successful, they could look into putting such a device in both the middle and high schools.

“The more we can get books into a kid’s hands the better,” she said. “This is a great investment for them.”

The Port Jeff Royal Education Foundation will be hosting its major fundraiser April 25 with the Jill Nees-Russell Family Fun Run and is still accepting participants.

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By Julianne Mosher

Children watched and cheered in awe as their principal, Tom Meehan, climbed to the top of a fire ladder parked in the back lot of Edna Louise Spear Elementary Friday, Oct. 4. He flew above the kids, dressed in his volunteer firefighter uniform, to help teach his students about fire safety and prevention. 

Along with Meehan, several members from the Port Jefferson Fire Department came to the school with two large fire trucks to show kids that firefighters aren’t scary and, instead, they’re here to help.

“We don’t want children to be afraid of the fire department,” Meehan said, “We’re here today to get them more comfortable with us in case there’s an emergency.”

Meehan added that the volunteer firefighters have been visiting the school for about nine years and have unfortunately visited the homes of students in the past. The event on Oct. 4 helped get the kids excited to see the department, including five-year-old Logan Devine who excitedly compared them to superheroes. 

“Firefighters save persons from fire,” the kindergartner said, “They help us like Spider-Man!”

During the fire prevention event, those in uniform let the kids high-five them, let them play with the fire hose and question them on what they know about fire safety. The kids were reminded on what to do in case there is trouble, like dialing 911.

“It’s important to show the community that we’re here to help,” Christian Neubert, a music teacher with the school and volunteer fireman, said. “We take pride in it and take it seriously.”

Neubert added that the Port Jeff Fire Department is made out of 100 volunteers, many who are lifelong community members. Men and women from all types of career paths are on call, ready to help out, and new members are always welcomed. 


Richard Anderson shows art skills to elementary student. Photo by David Luces

“They give me so much life — so much energy,” Richard Anderson, an Edna Louise Spear Elementary School art teacher said of his students. “It is so much fun.”

Anderson, who has been a fixture at the elementary school for the past 34 years, will retire at the end of the school year. He will be leaving behind a lasting impact on his current and former students over the years. 

Richard Anderson shows the artwork of one of the students. Photo by David Luces

“It has gone by so quickly, but I’ve had a blast teaching something I love,” he said, reflecting on his career. “I’ve been a part of the school community for so long and that’s coming to an end. I’ve been getting all these letters from the kids and it’s really nice but it’s sad at the same time. But it tells me that I have done a good job.”

Anderson’s love for art began when he was young. He fondly remembers a trip to The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan when he was 7 years old and laying eyes on the work of famed artist Chuck Close. 

“My art teacher took me down to The Museum of Modern Art, and they had huge airbrush paintings of Chuck Close and some of his friends,” he said. “At 7 I was like, ‘I want to be an artist just like him.’”

This began a lifelong passion for the Port Jeff art teacher. From there, he would go on to State University College at Buffalo to get his art degree. During that time, he started experimenting with chainsaw wood carvings. He mentioned one of his inspirations was Wendell Castle, a renowned art furniture artist.  

“I had experience with a chainsaw working in the woods, cutting down trees with my father,” he said. 

Anderson would compete in wood carving competitions in upstate New York and found success, winning some events. He said the wood carving scene has really grown over the years and has gotten more refined from carving bears and eagles into more complex designs, such as his rendition of a mermaid carved in wood. 

The elementary art teacher said he enjoys wood carving because it is challenging and pushes his personal abilities further. Anderson hopes to continue to do wood carvings for the village’s harvest festival as well as coming back to the school to do wood carvings for the students. 

Meghan McCarthy, a fellow art teacher at the elementary school, has worked with Anderson for the past two years and says he sets a great example. 

“He’s has been an excellent mentor,” she said. “He’s taught me to approach elementary art as a fine-arts program. He sets the bar high and it shows in the kids’ artwork and shows what they are capable of doing.”

“He laid down a solid foundation for me.”

— Meghan McCarthy

McCarthy said she really lucked out having someone like Rich who has immense amount of experience teaching. 

“He laid down a solid foundation for me,” she said. 

Anderson admits it will be hard for him to retire, but he is looking forward to spending more time with family, getting back into his artistic furniture business and enjoying motorcycling and hunting. 

“I’ve been really blessed to have had a great career and leave a good impact,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some former students of mine and be able to teach some of my former students’ children.”

The Wading River resident said the students motivate him to push himself and in turn he pushes them. 

“It works together, these kids have so much ability and we need to support them,” he said. “I have been given his great gift and it has meant so much to me.”

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Paul Casciano is Port Jefferson’s new interim superintendent. Photo from Casciano
Paul Casciano is Port Jefferson’s new interim superintendent. Photo from Casciano

The new interim superintendent of the Port Jefferson School District will be attending a meet and greet Sept. 13 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School hosted by the board of education.

Paul Casciano was hired to fill the position in June and will be available to meet parents and community members ahead of the district’s board of education meeting for September.

The school is located at 500 Scraggy Hill Road in Port Jefferson.