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Kids

The best way to get to know your kids, especially if they are teenagers, is to drive them and their friends, teammates and classmates. If your daughter texts you from school and asks, “Hey, Mom and/or Dad, can one of you drive three of my friends around?” don’t hesitate.

The answer, of course, can’t be what you might think. You can’t say, “Yes! Of course, that’d be great.”

You’ve got to play it cool, because the moment she catches on to the fact that you actually have ears and are listening to the conversation in the car, you’re done.

Yes, I know the temptation, after a long day, is to pick up only the kid that you’re responsible for, the one whose clothing you washed for the 10th time this week and whose teeth are straightening because you brought her to the orthodontist for yet another visit. However, the rewards from just a tad more effort more than tip the scales in favor of the few extra miles.

The key to making this supersecret spy mission work is not to let them use their phones, to take routes where cell reception is poor or, somehow, to encourage conversation. If they’re all sitting in the back seat, texting other people or showing each other pictures on one of the social networks, then the effort, time and assault on your nose aren’t worth it.

Seriously, anyone who has driven a group of teenagers around after a two-hour practice should keep a container of something that smells more tolerable nearby. When it’s too cold to stick my head out the window or when the smell becomes overwhelming, I have become a shallow mouth breather. But, again, if the conversation goes in the right direction, it’s worth it.

Put four or five or seven, if you can fit them, kids in a car, and you might get some high entertainment. If you’re quiet enough, you might learn a few things about school or your kids.

“So, Sheila is so ridiculous,” Allison recently declared to my daughter. “She only talks about herself and her feelings. Have you ever noticed that? She turns every conversation into a story about herself. I mean, the other day, she was telling me about her brother, and her story about her brother isn’t nearly as interesting as my story.”

At that point, Allison then talked about her brother and herself for the next five minutes.

Tempted as I was to ask about the story Sheila told about her brother, so I could compare the stream of stories about Sheila’s brother to Allison’s, I knew better.

The boys also enter the realm of the car social laboratory experiment after a game or practice.

“Hey, what’d you think about the movie in French?”

Wait, they watched a movie in French? Again, you can’t ask any questions or everyone retreats to their phones or remembers that the car isn’t driving itself. You have to be inconspicuous or you will be relegated to the penalty box of listening to one-word answers from your suddenly sullen sports star.

“You did well in that presentation in English?”

A presentation? English? Quiet! Quiet! You have to breathe normally and act like you’re giving all of your attention to the road.

Once the car empties and it’s just your son or daughter, you can ask specific questions. You might want to mix up some of the details, just so it doesn’t seem like you were listening carefully.

“So, you had a presentation in history?”

“No, Dad, that was in English,” your son will correct. Then he may share details that otherwise would never have made it past a stringent teenage filter.

Little Sprout students smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

By Victoria Espinoza

Students at Little Sprouts Preschool in Northport helped Earth Day blossom this year with a school project.

Amy Dolce, director at Little Sprouts, said she wanted to top the events she did last year with her students, which was also her first year as director.

“Last year we hatched butterflies in the school and released them on Earth Day, and we had a picnic in the park, but this time I wanted to do more,” Dolce said in a phone interview.

Dolce said she got in contact with William Forster at Northport Village Parks Department and asked if it would be possible to plant flowers somewhere in Cow Harbor Park.

Forster, the senior groundskeeper for Northport Village, said he and his colleagues help out with projects like this for Eagle Scouts, Girl Scouts and other groups, and he and colleague Kevin Kenney were happy to help with this one.

Little Sprout students smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

“It was fun to do,” he said in a phone interview. “We had some cobblestones lying around and we found a spot that was kind of bare [in the park] and we make our soil ourselves, from the foliage and leaves we collect in the fall. It worked out really nice. It’s looking awesome; they did a wonderful job.”

Dolce was grateful for the help Forster provided.

“Willy met me at the park the next day to try and find the right spot to plant some flowers,” Dolce said. “He was so nice; he ended up making us a flower bed and providing the soil for our project.”

Dolce and her students slipped on their rain gear last Friday morning and headed down to the park from their school at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street in the village.

“Our three- and four-year-olds took turns planting pansies and enjoying a snack on the blanket,” she said. “Afterwards they played in the park — it was just a really fun day.”

She said the kids had a lot of fun, and weren’t afraid to get to work in the dirt.

“They loved it — until they found a worm,” Dolce said with a laugh. “One young girl dropped her shovel as soon as she found a worm.”

Little Sprout student and director Amy Dolce smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

The director said her favorite part was when she heard the following Monday morning how the kids had all gone down with their families to check on their flowers during the weekend at “Cookie Park,” the nickname they’ve given Cow Harbor Park after its proximity to Copenhagen Bakery.

“It brings a little ownership to the community and a sense of unity,” she said. “It was really a lovely experience. Now their flowers will always be there. They all live in the area, so they can continually check on them.”

Dolce said the idea has inspired her to start planning a fall trip back to their flower box to plant mums, as well as continuing this tradition for Earth Day next year.

“This was about teaching them to be good to Mother Earth,” Dolce said. “But I really loved seeing the camaraderie. These kids will now always have their flowers at Cookie Park.

Northport Village and St. James residents were ready for the Easter Bunny this year, as families and children of all ages came to hunt for eggs, take pictures with the Easter Bunny and play Easter-themed games.

By Kevin Redding

A beloved Mount Sinai administrator, whose kindness and compassion have served the district for nearly four decades, is retiring at the end of the year — leaving behind huge shoes to fill.

Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore dresses up on Election Day in 2008. Photo from John Gentilcore

Every morning for the last 17 years, principal John Gentilcore has stood in front of Mount Sinai Elementary School to greet his students with his warm trademark smile as they hop off the bus.

As part of his daily routine, he also makes a point to put time aside in his administrative schedule to visit classrooms and engage with the kids, oftentimes sitting, legs crisscrossed on the floor with them. When lunchtime rolls around, Gentilcore pulls up a chair and eats with them in the cafeteria, making sure to sit at a different table each day.

“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine,” the principal said, adding that there’s something about the kids that brings a smile to his face.

When Gentilcore became principal in 2000, kindergarten teacher Willow Bellincampi noticed right away just how much the kids loved him.

“Sometimes with the principal, kids are afraid, but when John comes through the door, they’re so happy,” she said. “He’s always around, he gets down to their level, looks them in the eye when talking to them and not a lot of adults do that. ‘I’ll send you to the principal’ is never a threat to them because they love him. He’s compassionate.”

At 60, Gentilcore admitted although it wasn’t an easy decision, retiring at this point in his career will give him more time to spend with family and friends, and travel.

“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine.”

—John Gentilcore

“I’ve been really proud to be part of the Mount Sinai district and I will miss the people, the great faculty, staff, and, first and foremost, I will miss the children,” he said.

Before becoming principal of the elementary school, Gentilcore taught several grade levels and coached girl’s varsity soccer at Friends Academy, a private school in Glen Cove, after graduating from SUNY Oneonta.

As the son of a superintendent — his father — and an elementary school principal, Gentilcore said he received informal education at the dinner table with them.

He was first named principal at the school in 1987, before being named the assistant principal at Mount Sinai Middle School in 1991, and principal in 1995. Ultimately, he landed back at the elementary school in 2000, where he said he “felt at home.” In 2003, he received his doctorate from Hofstra University.

Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore dresses up in pajamas with students. Photo from John Gentilcore

“There’s something about kids that is very refreshing,” he said. “The elementary school is where their educational journey begins and it’s where we can start a real foundation together. Throughout the day, if a little one needs my assistance, I’ll conference with them. I try to make each day a little bit better than the day before.”

Although reluctant, the school board voted to accept Gentilcore’s August retirement.

“He is the consummate elementary school principal, a gentleman who deeply cares about his students, and we will miss him as a board and a school district,” Board trustee Robert Sweeney said during the Feb. 15 meeting.

Assistant principal Elizabeth Hine considers Gentilcore the best mentor she could ask for.

“I can’t say enough about how wonderful he is as a boss and a principal,” she said. “He taught me how to handle students, parents, everything … he’s just amazing. He enjoys what he does. It’s all about the kids, and he keeps that in the forefront of his mind and that’s how he makes all his decisions. It’s going to be a challenge for a lot of teachers to come in on a daily basis knowing he’s not going to be there.”

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The first time we hold them, they fit into the corner of our arms with room to spare. Their impossibly small pink toes fit neatly in our eyelids as we kiss their wiggling feet.

We lower their grocery-sack-sized bodies gently into their cribs. During the day we bring food to their toothless mouths, and their bodies process the food as they take what they need and leave the rest for us to clean and remove.

Suddenly they are coasting, looking into the side of a couch, a chair or our legs, standing for the first time. Amid the cheers and squeals, they fall and we rush to the floor near them and congratulate them. Before long we’re bending down, gently holding tiny hands engulfed in our oven-mitt-sized palms.

From their first walking steps, they progress to trotting. It’s a wonderful yet terrible transition, as their developing minds can’t process dangers at the same rate that their feet propel them. We keep up or race ahead, making sure they don’t step off a curb until all movement on the street has stopped.

They no longer want to sit in the car seat. They arch backs that are shorter than our arms, making it impossible to buckle them in. We distract them enough to close the clasps, run to the front seat and bring the car to a high enough speed that they sleep.

We take them roller skating, skiing or ice skating. We start them early so they’ll become naturals. Brilliant idea, except that they need us to put our hands under their armpits to keep them upright. After a time far too short for our kids’ liking, our backs scream to stop. We can’t bend down or our spines will go on strike. At that point, these small people want hot chocolate or the chance to try skiing, snowboarding or rollerblading on their own.

We stand on a field, tossing a ball lightly near their gloves. They throw the ball back in our general direction, discouraged that they haven’t discovered the magic of a catch. We get down on one knee, look them in the eye, pull up their small chins and smile, hoping we can teach the mechanics of throwing before they become too upset to keep trying.

We protect their heads from colliding with the tops of tables, reach for glasses from the cabinet, and help them into the seats at restaurants where their feet dangle far from the floor.

Pretty soon, they want to ride a bike. We promise to hold on but our backs, yet again, have other ideas. They shout at us for letting go or, maybe, they decide they want to do it on their own because they saw Timmy down the street on his bike.

Their faces, arms and legs get longer, they pick up speed everywhere they go and, before long, their heads are above the level of the kitchen table. They reach down to pet the neighbors’ big dog, and they sit in restaurant chairs with enormous feet that rest on the floor and which we wouldn’t dare put anywhere near our eyelids.

We no longer have to bend our necks to kiss the tops of their heads. In fact, with their braces gleaming in the sun, they stare or glare from under the long hair of adolescence directly into our eyes. Pretty soon we hope, as we go to sleep each night, they will be taller than we are.

Wonderful as that moment is, maybe — just for an instant — we remember that the head perched atop this growing body is the same one that fit so snugly into our arms all those years ago.

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Extended family has that wonderful yet terrible ring to it. When we gather with family we may not have seen in years, we get the chance to reminisce, to share details about our lives, and to face the horror of seeing someone who insists on reminding us of something we said or did that we’ve spent years working to forget.

Recently, we gathered with a large group of family and got to watch our children, who are now in middle and high schools, face the same treatment I recall all too well from my youth.

“He’s so grown up and handsome,” is one of the more innocuous statements about my son.

“He has your dimples,” another offered, which would be flattering except that I don’t have dimples. That lady insisted, however, that the laugh lines on the sides of my face were like dimples, to which my son and I blinked our long eyelashes, which he did get from me, and moved on.

“The last time I saw you,” one friend started, “you must have been no more than this high,” she suggested, holding her hand around mid-knee level. “Do you remember?”

No, how could he remember? When you’re that small, you barely remember your own name.

Back when I was a kid, older relatives used to approach my cheeks as if they were fruit they had to squeeze to make themselves prune juice. Between thumb and index finger, they’d grip tightly while spitting into my face something about how cute I’d become. I’d focus on not letting the tears spill down my sore cheeks as these distant relatives couldn’t keep their distance.

Other people’s kids grow up incredibly quickly because we don’t have to take care of them when they get sick at night, drive them to sports or music practices, or push them to do their homework. We don’t have to battle with them when they decide that everything anyone who is more than 20 years old says is absolute nonsense and that they don’t want to live by anyone else’s rules.

We can look at other people’s children as if they are a part of some longitudinal study or as if we are flipping through the pages of a picture book that spans several years.

When I see some of these children who drift in and out of my life every few years, I’m tempted to tell them stories that wouldn’t interest them, about how incredibly shy they were 10 years earlier, or how their laugh used to be like a bubble machine, filling the room with happy suds. For the giggling girl who became the taciturn teenager, those stories are as welcome as persistent questions about the boys in her grade or events that occurred during the day in school.

I can’t stop myself from commenting on how much taller the kids are getting, in large part because many of these teenagers, who I used to get on one knee to see eye to eye, are now towering over me. I even made one of them smile when I asked if he wouldn’t mind bending down to hug me.

At this recent gathering, I asked my son to go around the table and name as many of the relatives as he could. The relatives were aghast at my putting him on the spot but, thoroughly enjoying the day, he recognized the request was a playful prank.

No matter what I say to other people’s kids, I make sure I don’t pinch anyone’s cheeks. Even all these years later, I can still see those feral fingers and thumbs coming at me like talons.

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Children play in the prekindergarten playground at Nassakeag Elementary School. File photo

By Andrea Moore Paldy

After a heartfelt send-off of its high school graduates, Three Village school district prepares to welcome its newest and youngest students to prekindergarten at Nassakeag Elementary School.

SCOPE at Three Village Prekindergarten will expand to welcome three-year-olds this fall and make some tweaks to the district’s fledgling program.

The new three-year-old program, offered for the first time in September, will meet three days a week for 2.5 hours. It will cost $215 a month.

Kristin Rimmer, formerly Nassakeag’s assistant principal and preschool liaison for the tuition-based program, told the school board that parents and children have responded positively to the program for four-years-olds.

She said parents surveyed said they would recommend the program or send their younger children.

The collaboration between Three Village and SCOPE Education Services offers a “play-based” curriculum that “supports students’ cognitive, social and emotional learning” and helps prepare them for kindergarten in the district, Rimmer said.

Each class is led by a state-certified teacher and assistant, and incorporates New York State’s Prekindergarten Foundation for the Common Core.

Students are introduced to “Fundations” — the phonics programs used in Three Village — guided reading, and foundational math and technology skills, Rimmer said. SCOPE Education Services, which runs both universal (free) and fee-based prekindergartens across the island, staffs and runs the day-to-day operation.

A majority of the 32 students enrolled in the first year attended the half-day classes. The price of a full-day — $1,100 a month — was a deterrent for families, Rimmer said.

So, in the coming year, there will only be half-day classes. Eliminating the full-day option will lower tuition because the program will no longer have to cover the pricey full-day certification fee that is paid to the state Office of Children and Family Services.

The cost for a four-year-old to attend five days for 2.5 hours a day will be reduced to $300 instead of $400 a month.

The new three-year-old program, offered for the first time in September, will meet three days a week for 2.5 hours. It will cost $215 a month.

The three-year-old program, Rimmer said, will be similar to the four-year-old program in its approach and will prepare students for the four-year-old class.

Rimmer said another area that will see improvements is pickup and drop off, which some parents felt was a missed opportunity for parents to connect with teachers.

Rimmer commented, “I am optimistic that the changes we are proposing will make prekindergarten more accessible to all, while continuing to reach the level of programmatic success we achieved this year,” she said.

Residents from all over Long Island flocked to parades and firework celebrations happening in from Brookhaven to Huntington, in honor of Independence Day.

The Northport Chamber of Commerce hosted the 14th annual Halloween Hayride in Northport Village Park on Sunday, Oct. 25. There was pumpkin-decorating, a petting zoo, Halloween treats and a costume contest. A hayride pulled by a Ford tractor took children on a ride through the park.

Huntington Town celebrated fall this weekend at the annual Long Island Fall Festival. The event, free to the public, is organized by the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce and spans Friday, Oct. 9 to Monday, Oct. 12. Festivities include a carnival, food courts, entertainment, vendors, animals and more.