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Edna Louise Spear Elementary School

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees held its biweekly business meeting on Monday, Aug. 21, accompanied by a public hearing to consider adding north- and south-facing stop signs on the west and east sides of Scraggy Hill Road.

Public hearing

Situated at Scraggy Hill Road is the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School. Speed tables currently help to slow traffic around the school.

Village attorney David Moran explained the purpose behind the public hearing, stating that adding or removing all village stop signs requires an amendment to the village code, “and in order to add a stop sign to the village, you have to go through this process.”

During the public hearing, Ray DiBiase, the village’s Planning Board chair and a nationally certified traffic operations engineer, noted the issue of people driving around the speed tables on the roadway. “My first inclination would be to extend those speed tables,” he suggested.

Several neighbors turned out Monday night, shedding light on the situation. Stella Cohen reported that village stop signs are routinely disregarded and that the issue could only be resolved with adequate traffic enforcement.

“I have no objection to this motion whatsoever, but it’s paying lip service to a problem you’re not going to fix with a stop sign,” Cohen said. “I would respectfully ask the board, in addition to considering this motion, to also [consider] a motion on a future date for speed cameras.”

Ernie Geiger, another resident, summarized the “nightmare” situation around the elementary school. He advised the board to hire a traffic specialist. 

“I think that what you’re looking at now is the tip of the iceberg, and I really don’t think that stop signs are going to do any good at this point,” he told the board. “I think somebody should look at it, look at the signage that’s there and make an intelligent decision instead of just throwing up two stop signs.”

Ryan Walker, a trustee of the Port Jefferson School District Board of Education who said he was speaking as a resident, advised the board that additional signage could complicate “traffic patterns that are already a mess.” 

Instead, he proposed coordinating with the Suffolk County Police Department for more traffic enforcement along the roadway.

Following the public comments, the board did not hold a vote on the proposed code amendment to add the stop signs.

Members of the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees deliberate during a business meeting Monday, Aug. 21. From left, Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay and Mayor Lauren Sheprow with trustees Drew Biondo, Bob Juliano and Stan Loucks. Photo by Raymond Janis

Audit report

Christopher Reino, a partner at the Port Jefferson Station-based Cullen & Danowski — the firm that conducts the village’s annual independent audit — delivered a presentation on the report from the 2022 fiscal year.

Mayor Lauren Sheprow said the audit report was presented to the treasurer’s office on Jan. 4, 2023, noting, “That report was addressed to the Board of Trustees.” 

“Upon canvassing,” the mayor said she had discovered that “the current board members who were board members on Jan. 4, 2023, had not seen that report.”

Moran remarked upon “another flaw in the process,” indicating that when a village uses an outside audit firm and files with the village clerk, “there needs to be a public notice that that report is available at Village Hall for anyone to come and review it,” adding, “As far as I know, that hasn’t happened either.”

During his presentation, Reino reported that the village’s fiscal health has “been looking positive.”

“The fund balance has been growing,” he said. “You actually have a balanced budget now — in the past, you were using some of your existing fund balance to fund the budget, but right now, you’re pretty much at a break even.”

Revenues, he added, are aligned with expenditures, suggesting that the village currently has “a realistic budget.” The “only concern I had,” Reino said, was the lack of “a complete inventory,” which could assist the village in conducting insurance appraisals.

East Beach bluff 

Conversations continued over the two-phased bluff stabilization project at East Beach. 

For the proposed upland wall to fortify the restaurant/catering facility of the Port Jefferson Country Club, Sheprow reported that the village government is still “waiting on a response from [the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Administration] to see if that [$3.75 million] grant is coming through.” [See story, “Schumer secures funds for upper wall at PJCC…” Jan. 11, TBR News Media website.]

The current engineering plans include the addition of steel beams, according to Sheprow, who estimated that they could cost the village approximately $18,000 per beam.

The board approved an add-on resolution approving services from Huntington Station-based engineering firm GEI Consultants for up to $9,200, which Sheprow contended could help the village save hundreds of thousands of dollars on the upper wall project.

“What GEI is being asked to do is take a look at that project description to see if the removal of all those beams would work,” the mayor said. “The supposition is that that would still work and perhaps even make it more stable.”

She added that the modification in engineering plans could save the village roughly $300,000 on the upper wall project, “spending a few thousand to save a few hundred thousand.”

To watch the entire meeting, including trustee reports, please see the video above.

Graphic from PJSD website
By Aidan Johnson

The Port Jefferson School District Board of Education held its monthly meeting on Tuesday, July 11, at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School.

During the “old business” section, Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan discussed several capital projects the voters approved in May 2022.

During the school year, the board has to get its plans approved by the New York State Education Department. Once approved, the projects can go out to bid.

A small section of the high school’s roof needs to be renovated and was awarded to a responsible bidder.

Elementary school pool

For the elementary school pool, even though NYSED approved it, the Suffolk County Board of Health still needs to approve it, asking for several redesigns of certain items, including where drainage sites are to be located. 

Therefore, the project could not go out to bid, and as of this meeting, the pool will likely not be getting done this summer.

The school budgeted $561,000 for bleachers, but the price is coming in at just under $1 million, with some of the bids being for a smaller-scale bleacher than the downsized 650 seats (there are currently around 1100 seats) that the school would prefer.

Continuing supply chain issues are also getting in the way, and the bleachers may take anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks for production.

The pool is still open for student use.

Middle school drainage/BOCES

The retaining wall and drainage for the middle school have yet to have a bid come in under the $2.3 million allocated from the capital reserves. 

Because of this, the board does not expect the retaining wall to be done this summer. The school architect is looking at redesigning the wall with poured concrete faced with stone instead of using pricier cinder blocks.

During the public comment section of the meeting, the parents of a child who will be attending the elementary school in the upcoming year expressed their concerns about the BOCES program that has been brought into the building.

‘Our primary concern is to keep things safe for all students.’ ­

— Ellen Boehm

Currently, BOCES is renting five classrooms as integrated for this summer and then four classrooms when September starts, Schmettan said in an interview.

“Those students will be integrated for recess, and then they will have gym, art and music with our teachers, but by themselves,” she said. “It adds revenue to the district and some differently abled children.”

The father of the child shared his worries about letting non-PJSD employees, along with the new students, have “unfettered access to this building,” he said.

“These are students that we don’t know, whose IEPs and potential issues we are not allowed to know by law,” the father said.

“We, as Port Jefferson, have no control over these particular students, and these are employees that are hired by BOCES, not Port Jefferson,” he added.

In response, BOE president Ellen Boehm said that over the past week, the school has been operational with the BOCES students, and there has not been a situation.

“Our primary concern is to keep things safe for all students,” she said. “At this time, there are no red flags.”

The Port Jefferson father responded that Boehm’s judgment was based on only one week in the summer when the Port Jeff students were not in attendance.

He also asserted that the BOCES agreement would not bring the district the financial benefit previously stated in the May meeting.

“Not including your potential chargebacks, Port Jeff will only see an average of $43,000 per year throughout the three-year lease, not the $105,000 that was estimated and listed in the budget proposals back in January as leases for Spring Street with no mention of Scraggy Hill,” he said.

However, Schmettan clarified why the board’s estimate is correct in her interview after the meeting, saying, “There’s a lease agreement for the actual space, which is what [he] was referring to, and then there are chargebacks for the teachers, so it does still estimate to about $100,000.”

“He is just estimating the cost of the actual physical space, but there’s also the cost of the employees associated that our teachers are providing instruction for,” the superintendent further explained.

Edna Louise Spear Elementary School head custodian Paul Scalcione visited first graders. Photo courtesy PJSD

First graders in Laura Kelly’s and Paige Lohmann’s class at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School have been learning all about communities in their social studies unit.

Students were exposed to different texts and activities to help build on the concepts of community roles and responsibilities. They were introduced to maps and discussed important places that make up their community. 

Part of the unit included first graders interviewing community members in and around the school. Students could ask questions of the classroom visitors to help foster their learning through direct interaction. 

Visitors included music teacher and local firefighter Christian Neubert, school nurse Joan Tucci, building head custodian Paul Scalcione and Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan. They learned how each member contributes to their community and the role that each plays.  

“It was an excellent learning experience for them,” Lohmann said.

Buddy Program students at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School. Photo courtesy PJSD

Edna Louise Spear Elementary School students not only think about others in their local community, but they often do something about it.

Students in Christine Bokina and Kristi Krieg’s fifth grade class and Maureen Zajac’s second grade class teamed up to bring some smiles to the faces of local children through the school’s Buddy Program, creating an initiative of kindness, sharing and love for others. 

Parents and guardians received notice of the need for the hundreds of treat bags and small plush toys and sent their second and fifth graders to school with the items. 

In a quick turnaround that highlighted their teamwork, the cross-grade-level collaborators created Valentine’s Day cards for the Port Jefferson-based donation center Give Kids Hope’s Project Valentine. 

The cards will be presented to children assisted by the organization. The Buddies took another step forward, putting together candy-filled treat bags for children in the shelter.

Trustee Lauren Sheprow. Photo from Port Jefferson Village website
By Lauren Sheprow

Lauren Sheprow is a Port Jefferson Village trustee.

The past two bonds put forth by the Port Jefferson School District were defeated by the taxpaying residents of Port Jefferson. The $30 million bond put forward in 2017 had significant public opposition. The vocal majority was virtually ignored, but the vote ensured their voice was heard. Fast forward to 2022 and a new $25 million bond proposal. Lesson learned? Partially.

The 2022 bond was somewhat more palatable. Those who put it forward did the right thing by separating the athletic field turf project ($1.9 million) from the HVAC projects, classroom relocations and locker room/team room facility upgrades ($23.1 million). Neither proposition passed but the administration returned to the drawing board Jan. 24 to come up with a new bond, and will once again ask Port Jefferson taxpayers to pay for capital projects that have been ignored for far too long.

I, like many in the village, am torn at the enormity of the cost estimates for these projects (and like many in the community I have spoken with, I am interested in understanding more about how the architect of record comes up with these cost proposals but that’s a conversation for another day). I wonder if we shouldn’t look at more creative, cost-effective mitigation than what was proposed in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond. I am also curious as to which projects might be able to be completed using capital reserves that the district has on hand from its annual budget process. The good news is, as we learned at the Jan. 10, 2022, Board of Education meeting, the administration was able to identify general fund balance monies to build an ADA compliant bathroom at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School (which was in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond proposal).

Putting that debate aside, I wanted to clarify something reported in the Jan. 19 edition of The Port Times Record – that at a recent meeting of the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees I cited a Newsday report indicating that approximately 80% of the $14 billion federal COVID-19 relief funds have yet to be spent by public schools statewide, which is accurate. What was misunderstood was that I suggested the heating and ventilation systems upgrade proposed in Prop 1 of the 2022 bond may qualify under existing COVID relief conditions. I want to clarify that I fully understand that the existing COVID relief funds for which the school district is eligible has reached its limit at $375,000 and that Port Jeff doesn’t qualify for additional relief funds due to student count, free or reduced price lunch ratio and combined wealth ratio. 

My point in this conversation was to think beyond the bond/tax increase model. As I see it, we have three tools in the toolbox that we haven’t fully investigated:

1. Explore a more strategic conversation with our state and federal elected representatives to understand if or how the funding criteria can be reevaluated so unspent funds don’t languish.

2. Resident participation: By attending BOE meetings, committee meetings — especially the finance committee and bond planning meetings — our residents have an opportunity to voice their opinions in real time and become more engaged in the BOE’s selfless and tireless efforts to make our school district the best it can be.

3. Fundraising: We need an official alumni association for Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. The purpose of such an association is to foster a spirit of loyalty and to promote the general welfare of the district. Alumni associations exist to support the parent organization’s goals, and to strengthen the ties between alumni, the community and the parent organization. It works for higher education. It can work for our alma mater. 

Our alumni infrastructure, although not organized, is very strong. Passionate residents, including Port Jeff alumni, started the still active Royal Educational Foundation in 1991 when a need was identified to fund unfunded teacher programs. Port Jeff has a hall of fame, hosts an annual homecoming parade and event, and for more than 60 years parents of graduating seniors have been raising funds for the iconic Port Jeff Senior Prom experience. And for nearly nine decades, tens of thousands of Port Jeff grads have been coming back to Port Jeff for high school reunions because of their strong connection to their alma mater.

Consider the possibilities. If we create a capital campaign for a specific project and reach out to alumni who may have a deep connection to said project, with naming rights and all bells and whistles, who knows what can be accomplished? A new instruction area for the music program? New locker room and team room facilities for our student athletes? An annual hall of fame recognition dinner?

Port Jeff alumni are some of the most talented, accomplished people in the world. Let’s engage them with their alma mater and ask for their help. Let’s find a way to support the Port Jeff School District, its students, faculty and staff by connecting the tens of thousands of alumni living among us and away from us to their alma mater through an official PJ alumni association. It will require a great deal of organization, establishing a 501(c)(3), and infrastructural support including digital assets and content curation.

Interested? Contact me at [email protected]. 

Let’s do this.

Students in Kari Costanza’s class at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School with Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Brendan Bernath. Photo courtesy PJSD

United States Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Brendan Bernath recently headed back to his base in Lake Erie, where his unit missions consist of search and rescue, law enforcement and homeland security. But first, he stopped in to thank the students of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School in Port Jefferson. 

The school’s Buddy Program, the cross-grade-level initiative of fifth graders from Kari Costanza’s class and first graders in Laura Kelly’s and Paige Lohmann’s class, created and sent holiday cards of gratitude to servicemen and servicewomen. Bernath’s visit was an opportunity to thank them on behalf of his colleagues for their gesture.

To prepare for his visit, the students brainstormed questions from how he spent his holidays to how fast his boat travels on the water. They also created some welcome signs, choosing patriotic colors to honor him and his unit.

Bernath was thoughtful and engaging with the students, sharing a firsthand glimpse into his everyday work and his mission to explore the world. He encouraged students to learn more about the waters of Long Island and the Coast Guard stations that welcome students to tour their facilities.

The Village of Port Jefferson reignited a time-honored tradition last weekend during its 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival.

Hundreds of community members, visitors, business groups and local organizations participated in the festivities from Friday, Dec. 2, to Sunday, Dec. 4. 

The show went on despite hard rains and gusting winds throughout the morning and early afternoon Saturday. Mayor Margot Garant, decked out in traditional Dickensian garb, commented on the turnout in the face of these conditions. 

“To me, it just shows how important this festival is to not just this community but kids coming from St. James and beyond who are coming to see Santa,” she said. “It’s just magic, and rain or shine we’re going to be doing Dickens.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden concurred with this positive outlook, regarding the festival as another means for community-building. “It’s heartwarming to see everybody still supporting this festival,” she said. 

Trustee Stan Loucks commented on the uniqueness of the opportunities afforded through the festival and the steady growth of the events over its nearly three decades in existence.

“It’s grown every single year, and it’s just the most festive time of the year,” he said, adding, “I love the whole atmosphere, the village center. It’s a very special place, and I look forward to this every year.”

The program across all three days was loaded with special events featuring the various elements that formulate this distinct village’s character. The heart of Port Jeff was on full display, from its downtown business sector to its local history, public institutions and more.

At the Bayles Boat Shop, local shipbuilders showcased their ongoing work to construct a 25-foot whaleboat honoring the village’s Revolutionary War heritage. 

John Janicek, treasurer of the boat shop’s nonprofit arm, the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center, detailed how the whaleboat ties together various threads of Port Jeff’s historical roots.

“It not only ties in the historical aspect that Caleb Brewster performed here during the Revolutionary War and [the role] Port Jefferson played, but it also ties in our shipbuilding aspect, too,” Janicek said. “We’re getting a lot of support from the village on this. They see this as something the whole village can get their arms around and embrace, similar to the Dickens Festival.”

Over at the Drowned Meadow Cottage on the corner of West Broadway and Barnum, local historians greeted visitors with guided tours detailing Port Jefferson’s strategic position during the Revolutionary War. They shared stories of local patriots whose involvement in the Culper Spy Ring helped advance the cause of American independence.

Village historian Chris Ryon discussed how the Dickens Festival offers a platform to promote local history to residents and visitors alike.

“We take the people from Dickens and tell them how Port Jefferson was involved in the Culper Spy Ring,” he said. “It’s another group of people that we can bring in.”

Mark Sternberg, Culper Spy Ring historian at the Drowned Meadow Cottage, offered a unique take on Dickens. He remarked upon the intersection of the Dickensian and Revolutionary periods and how people today can relive tradition and rehear the lore of the past.

He said, referring to the American spies, “A lot of these people survived into the 1800s, and the stories of the American Revolution were told during the 1800s. For us to tell stories about the American Revolution as part of the Dickens Festival, it’s what they would have done.”

The historian added, “It’s keeping with the tradition of telling a story about the founding of our nation, even in later periods. Now Charles Dickens may not have talked about it because he was British, but here in America during the Victorian era, we would have.”

Along with stories of the past, the village exhibited the musical talents of local students. At the Port Jefferson Free Library, the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School chamber orchestra delivered moving string performances, filling the library with festive tunes.

Their music teacher, Christian Neubert, summarized this Dickens custom. “For a number of years now, we’ve been coming to perform here at the library during the Dickens Festival,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get our students out for a performance and to get the community involved with our music program.”

Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools for Port Jefferson School District, was among the dozens of audience members at the library. She expressed pride in seeing the students perform before their fellow community members.

“It’s just amazing that our students can be performing in the village in which they live,” she said, adding that the festival “gives them a different avenue to perform in, not just the auditorium or the classroom but in front of a real audience.”

At Suffolk Lodge No. 60 on Main Street, the oldest Masonic lodge on Long Island, brothers treated guests to magic shows and a dance festival. Downstairs, they served freshly baked cookies and hot chocolate.

Chris Connolly, master of the lodge, said the lodge dates back to the late 18th century. He expressed delight at seeing this historic organization maintain an active community presence through Dickens.

“Being a part of the community is a big part of who we are and helping others,” Connolly said.

Jason Intardonato, senior deacon of Suffolk Lodge No. 60, discussed Dickens as a means of strengthening local connections and a time for selflessness.

“The Dickens Festival provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to interact with our neighbors here and with the community in Port Jefferson and to allow them into our space, entertain them for a while during the holidays, and give back,” he said.

Farther along Main, Jeffrey Sanzel’s annual production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at Theatre Three is an active reminder of the historical background to the Dickens Festival.

The festival also provided a platform for some to communicate their message on a larger stage. For the second month in a row, protesters from the farmworkers union Local 338 RWDSU/UFCW gathered outside the Pindar wine shop in yet another call of action to negotiate a contract. The dispute is part of more than a year of negotiations between the union and Pindar Vineyards, the wine store’s parent company. 

John Durso, president of Local 338, joined the picketers on Main Street during the festival. “We knew that today was the Dickens Festival,” he said. “We knew that there would be a lot more people around, so we decided to … bring attention to the fact that these workers, like everybody else, are entitled to the same dignity and respect that all workers should have.”

Coordinating the annual festival is a monumental task for the village and the various stakeholders involved in its planning. Kevin Wood, the village’s director of economic development, parking administrator and communications committee head, thanked the sponsors who supported the festival and commented on the event’s success despite the inclement weather conditions.

“Because this has been [going on for] 26 years, people understand that this is one of the most unique events on Long Island, so they’re going to fight the rain to be here,” Wood said. “To support the production and the infrastructure, there are so many volunteers but there are also so many people staffing to make it work.”

Snaden concluded by offering how the Dickens Festival advances some of the village’s highest aims. She said the community uncovers its sense of place through an event such as this.

“It really goes to the sense of community that we all have,” she said. “All the work that goes into this festival and how everybody comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to see.”

Pending approval of the Dec. 12 referendum, outdated athletic spaces would be modernized and repurposed. For example, the district intends to replace antiquated shower spaces, pictured above, with instructional areas for art and tech ed programs. Photo courtesy PJSD

Port Jefferson School District administrators led a guided tour for more than a dozen community members Tuesday, Oct. 18, showcasing some of the facilities that will be on the ballot this December.

Voters will decide Monday, Dec. 12, upon two landmark ballot initiatives, Propositions 1 and 2, totaling approximately $25 million. If approved, the district will see a significant overhaul of facilities across its three schools: Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, Port Jefferson Middle School and Edna Louise Spear Elementary.

Proposition 1 projects will target the bathrooms, heating and cooling systems, art, technology and music rooms, among other infrastructure needs throughout the district. 

Proposition 2 will feature a crumb rubber artificial turf athletic field at the high school to replace the existing grass field for outdoor athletic teams. [See story, “Capital bonds: PJSD nears historic referendum over school infrastructure,” The Port Times Record, Sept. 29, also TBR News Media website.]

‘When you see it, you can’t dispute the smells or the age or the corrosion or the dated materials that are there.’

— Jessica Schmettan

Administrators began with a detailed presentation on the heating/cooling units proposed for the elementary school, as this site was not part of the tour. Visitors then strolled through the halls and into the rooms under consideration as part of the upcoming referendum.

Several of the touring group asked questions and engaged in detailed exchanges with the district administration. Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools, led these discussions.

In an interview, she said the district’s goal for these tours is to give voters a window into these facilities, offering them firsthand knowledge of the items on their ballots.

“I think people are seeing some of the areas that desperately need renovation,” she said.

Students currently attend music classes in an exterior music portable, pictured above. With approval of the bond vote, the portable would be demolished and existing interior spaces would be repurposed as performance spaces. Photo courtesy PJSD

One of the core issues featured throughout the discussions pertained to the price for each improvement. Addressing these concerns, Schmettan said that how a public school district must finance renovation projects differs substantially from that of a homeowner renovating his or her home.

“Of course, as always, there’s a question of price, but school districts have to pay at prevailing wages and use the architects’ fees and projections,” which she suggests can drive up costs. The district superintendent added, “I think it’s hard for people to conceptualize that. They think about their home and what it costs to renovate. I think some of the prices are surprising, but [the architects] definitely saw the need for many of the areas.”

Throughout the tour, which lasted approximately an hour, district residents were given front-row access to these areas. Schmettan discussed the unique experience that this format can offer.

“When you see it, you can’t dispute the smells or the age or the corrosion or the dated materials that are there,” she said. “We’ve done a great job with our academics and our programs despite some of the spaces that these students are being instructed in.”

Pending approval of the referendum, 14 elementary school bathrooms would be updated. Photo courtesy PJSD

Referring to the exchanges she and other administrators shared with the residents, Schmettan added, “That in-person experience and the dialogue that we’re able to have with the community members as we’re walking and talking — that personal connection — is important for them.”

To accommodate a broad range of schedules, the administration varied its touring schedule across different times and days of the week. 

The next tour will take place Saturday, Oct. 29, at 9 a.m. The third and final one will be held Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. The district advises if anyone plans to attend, please check in at the security vestibule in the main lobby of the high school/middle school.

To learn more about the proposed capital bond projects, visit the website: www.portjeffschools.org/bond/home.

Melissa Cohen with her children Andrew and Alice Turner. Photo courtesy of Alan Turner

Port Jefferson will likely be greener at this time next year, thanks to the efforts of 59 first graders at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, their families and village trustees.

As a part of what Trustee Rebecca Kassay hopes will be an annual tradition, first graders will hear a talk in their class this Friday, April 29, on National Arbor Day, by Heather Lynch, IACS endowed chair of Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University. At that point, the students will also get coupons for free saplings of white oak, red spruce or winterberry shrubs.

The students and their families can plant the trees or shrubs in their backyards if they have space and clearance or at the Port Jefferson Country Club. The trees planted at the country club will not interfere with any golf games or other activities.

“We want to help foster that relationship between our young, upcoming stewards of Port Jefferson and the natural environment,” said Kassay, who spearheaded the project.

Planting trees will help offset losses incurred during storms and as some of the older trees die.

While sharing games like bird bingo, Lynch also hopes to speak with first graders about the role that native plants can play on Long Island.

“Planting trees is like a gift to their future selves,” said Lynch, who also described the effort as “paying it forward.” She hopes first graders see the role they play in Port Jefferson history by planting trees that will grow as they do and that will become a part of their enduring legacy.

While first grade students will receive saplings for free as a part of the project, Port Jefferson residents can also buy them for $1 at the farmers market on Sunday, May 8, while supplies last.

Kassay is describing the purchase for residents as a “dollar and a dream.”

Planting these trees will strengthen the ecology of the area, providing homes and food sources for local birds and insects and reducing runoff, Lynch added.

The trustees will invite the first graders, as well as community members, to help plant the tree nursery at the country club on Thursday, May 5, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., with a rain date of May 6. Residents can park at the country club and follow signage from The Turn restaurant to the tree nursery beyond the driving range. 

Family response

For several families in Port Jefferson, this kind of effort validates their commitment and interest in the village.

Nadine and Richard Wilches moved to Port Jefferson last year with their 9-year old son Lucas and their 7-year old daughter Cecilia.

“One of the reasons we moved to Port Jefferson is to experience a closer-knit community that includes taking care of the environment,” Nadine Wilches said. “Planting this tree will be a learning experience.”

Cecilia, who is in first grade at Edna Louise Spear school, shared some of her awareness of trees.

Without trees, “there would be no air,” Cecilia said. “The tree eats carbon dioxide. We eat the opposite, which is air, so the tree does the opposite.”

Cecilia has learned some of what she knows about trees from the work her brother Lucas is doing on photosynthesis in his class.

Lucas was born on Earth Day and also appreciates the connection to preserving the planet, the mother said.

Wilches added that the family tries to be cautious about their carbon footprint and has a hybrid car and an electric car.

She appreciates that the school and the village are “reinforcing our home values around the environment.” 

If Cecilia could ask a tree a question, she would want to know if it hurts a tree when it loses its leaves.

First grader Andrew Turner appreciates how trees provide a home for animals. He will join the group planting saplings at the country club, and wants to know how long it takes a tree to grow.

Andrew, who likes woodpeckers and who currently wants to be a paleontologist like his father, Alan Turner at Stony Brook University, enjoys jumping in leaf piles in the fall.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second best time is today.”

— Rebecca Kassay

Andrew’s mother Melissa Cohen, who is a graduate program coordinator in Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University, said she appreciates how this effort will help children in the school develop an understanding of trees and the benefits they bring to the community.

Longer term, Lynch, Kassay and others hope the first graders who participate in this effort develop a connection to the trees they plant.

“We envision these kids growing up with their trees,” Lynch said. “It would be amazing if the kids could all take pictures with their trees now and we can [see] them taking pictures when they graduate high school as a rite of passage.”

Kassay said these trees offer numerous benefits, including lowering heating costs from the shade they produce, increasing property values and stabilizing the soil by soaking up runoff from storms.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, and the second best time is today,” Kassay said.

Edna Louise Spear Elementary School students in Port Jefferson joined thousands of schools nationwide to celebrate Read Across America Week. School librarian Meg Hoon reimagined and reignited a love of books with Drop Everything and Read, which featured five days of fun and festivities.

The hallway leading to the library showcased student reviews of favorite books. Each student created a flag with title, author, illustrator, favorite character and reasons why they liked the story. The first day featured fifth grade guest readers in younger classes. On day two, students wore pajamas and brought favorite books from home. The third day, students were encouraged to read with a buddy and day four was a time to dress like a favorite character. On day five, Hoon and students took the challenge to Read Across America in a literal sense.

Drop Everything and Read was a motivating and inspiring activity throughout the building. Together, students read for 2,913 minutes. This is the distance from New York to California via Interstate 80. Hoon marked the milestone on a map of the U.S. so that students could see the progress and celebrate their achievement.