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Setauket Elementary School

Donna Smith, director of education at Three Village Historical Society, welcomes every fourth-grade class in the Three Village school district to the Setauket Elementary School’s auditorium. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

The Three Village area is filled with history and no one knows this better than educator Donna Smith.

A former four grade teacher at Setauket Elementary School and the current director of education at the Three Village Historical Society, Smith has gone above and beyond to ensure that residents of all ages are educated on the importance of the area’s history. In addition to her work with the historical society, she is also an active member of Stony Brook Community Church, where her co-lay leader Gail Chase described her as “an energizer bunny,” who just keeps going and going. 

Smith’s daughter, Kerri, credits her mother’s energy to being young at heart. Describing her mother as her best friend, she said Smith, who grew up in Stony Brook and still lives in the hamlet, loves connecting with the community, especially when it comes to sharing her knowledge of local history.

Smith dresses as Alice Parsons. who went missing in Stony Brook in 1937, for the 2018 Spirits Tour. Photos from Three Village Historical Society

The subject was often a point of conversation in the Smith home, where Kerri, who is now a history teacher, said she and her brother Brendan heard many history stories from their mother and father, James. Kerri Smith said she feels her mother developed her passion for the subject growing up with a father who was passionate about education and giving back to the community.

“I think it was just growing up here and having a fascination with understanding our roots and sharing that with other people,” her daughter said.

Beverly Tyler, TVHS historian, has known Smith since the 1990s when she invited him to talk to her fourth-grade students. One of her projects involved the children choosing a historic house in the community and learning more about it. They would often ask the homeowners questions, but when they weren’t available, they would talk to Tyler — or if they chose a church or library, someone associated with the entity.

During her tenure with the school district, Smith and Tyler worked together on a countrywide/local history manual project called Pathways through the American Association for State and Local History.

Smith was about to retire from teaching when her husband died in 2005, so she decided to remain with the school district for another few years. For the 350th anniversary of the Town of Brookhaven, Tyler said she invited all fourth-graders in the town to the Village Green to be part of the reenactment of Native Americans signing over their territory. The day inspired the Founders Day program, where Smith and Tyler joined forces with town historian Barbara Russell. Tyler said Smith was instrumental in convincing the school district that the program was important.

The duo later added a walking tour of various historical properties in the area to the project and, for a period of time, the auditorium of Setauket Elementary School was opened for all to view the Vance Locke murals depicting local history.

This summer, the American Association for State and Local History presented an award of excellence to the historical society for the program.

“The person who really coalesces this together was Donna,” Tyler said. “She’s the teacher. She’s the one who knows how to ask the right questions, how to pose things and do it in a way that would reach the kids.”

Smith continues to educate through her work at the historical society with in-school programs that at times can have 50 children on the Woodhull walking tours, where Tyler and Smith teach one class each.

“She’s been very instrumental in being the person who really helps to coordinate this whole activity with the kids in the school, and has gotten the educational program going in the Three Village Historical Society,” he said.

Donna Smith, right, with her daughter on Culper Spy Day. Photo by Micheal Rosengard

The local historian said Smith took history programs used by the society in the past and narrowed them down to the activities she knew people wanted. In conjunction with Betsy Knox, a librarian at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, Smith and Tyler worked with a history club at the school toward an updated Founders Day program geared at the junior high school level. They also work with high school students, using original historical documents and encouraging them to be active in the discussions.

“Without Donna it would have been impossible to do any of these programs,” Tyler said, adding she has an incredible grasp of teaching methods.

The historian said Smith worked with him on the book “Discover Setauket, Brookhaven’s Original Settlement,” and he said she was instrumental in producing the book and getting it to a point where it was more effective.

In addition to her work on the educational side of the historical society, Smith assists at many of its events and has played characters in the society’s annual Spirits Tour as well as at Culper Spy Day.

Chase agreed that Smith is impressive when it comes to history.

“She has certainly made that come alive, and she takes those responsibilities very seriously,” Chase said. “It’s a pleasure to watch her in action when she gives her talks about the local history and her involvement with the Culper Spy story.”

Chase said Smith’s passion for community extends beyond history with her church work, and added that she’s known the educator since the 1960s. As a co-lay leader, Smith sits in on every committee, and is co-chair of the church council and the church’s annual Apple Festival. In the past, she has also contributed to the church community as a Sunday school teacher and superintendent. 

“She had and has a very active life in the church and is very important to us,” Chase said.

Chase described Smith as outgoing, welcoming and loyal in her friendships.

“She really takes pleasure in doing things for other people, especially welcoming new members of the church,” Chase said. “If anyone is ill or having a tough time, she will often make them a dinner. She’s just a terrific person.”

 

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Students from different classes pass each other as they arrive, leave and pass by Setauket Post Office. In the foreground is Steve Hintze, one of 12 Founders Day guides and former Three Village Historical Society president. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

This year, April 11 and 12, will mark the 14th year that Three Village fourth-grade students have come to the Setauket Elementary School auditorium to learn about the murals depicting the history of Setauket and Brookhaven, and the sixth year the Founders Day program has included the Original Settlement Walking Tour.

Last year during the Founders Day walking tour, one fourth-grade student had something to share.

“I don’t like history, but I like this,” he said.

Billadello, second from left; Katherine Kirkpatrick, middle, author of ‘Redcoats and Petticoats’; and historian Beverly Tyler with students Eve and Lily Rosengard on Culper Spy Day last September. The Rosengards helped to produce a video about historic murals at their school. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

Last year on April 23 and 24, about 450 Three Village fourth-grade students came to the elementary school auditorium in celebration of Brookhaven Town Founders Day to learn about the area history through the murals of Vance Locke, a local artist who completed the murals in 1952. Then, for the next two hours, each class, led by guides from the Three Village Historical Society, explored the Original Settlement area that surrounds the Setauket Village Green. Students were introduced to painter William Sidney Mount and Culper spy Abraham Woodhull at the Setauket Presbyterian Churchyard and to residents Emma S. Clark, Thomas Hodgkins and Ward Melville at the Caroline Church Cemetery. At the Village Green, students learned about the Setalcott Native Americans, Brookhaven’s original English settlers, and the diversity of immigrants who lived and worked here, as well as the varied ancestry of the Three Village area soldiers whose deaths in war are memorialized here.

In Frank Melville Memorial Park, the fourth-grade boys and girls learned about gristmills, millers, blacksmiths, post offices, general stores and one of the Original Settlement’s 17th century homes. At the Setauket Neighborhood House — a home this writer grew up in — students heard about the structure of the building and how it progressed from a hotel, with stagecoach service from the Lakeland railroad station, to a tourist home with station wagon service from the Long Island Rail Road’s Stony Brook station, and finally to its use as a meeting place for the entire community.

At the circa 1740 Amos Smith House, students learned about the eight generations that lived in the home and how it grew to accommodate the four generations that included from five to nine children, parents and at least one grandparent in a three-bedroom house.

Each fourth-grade class also discussed the differences as shown in the images of the house in 1740, 1900 and today. Donna Smith, historical society director of education and Founders Day committee member was told by one of her tour group students, “My favorite part was seeing the house Mr. Tyler grew up in and how it is so different.”

The last stop, at Patriots Rock, a remnant of the last glacier and a Native American meeting place, provided an opportunity to learn about the Revolutionary War Battle of Setauket in 1777 and Caleb Brewster, who as an artillery officer directed the cannon fire, and who was also an important member of the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring.

“Founders Day is more than learning about our local history,’ said Barbara Russell, Brookhaven Town historian and Founders Day committee member. “It is a historical experience for our Three Village fourth-grade students. … Learning that the Emma S. Clark Library is not just the place to find books or attend a program, but is an architecturally interesting structure that was built by a local resident [Hodgkins] as a gift to the community, and there really was a person named Emma S. Clark is enlightening to fourth-graders. Then they walk toward the Caroline Church and see the Hodgkins and Clark headstones — it all comes together in this fascinating look on a student’s face that they have just put it all together.”

“My favorite part was seeing the house Mr. Tyler grew up in and how it is so different.”

— Fourth-grade student

At the end of the tour each student receives a copy of “Discover Setauket, Brookhaven’s Original Settlement,” a walking tour guide companion prepared by the historical society, courtesy of Three Village Central School District. Students, who can now be considered knowledgeable guides to the area’s local history, are encouraged to take their family members on the walking tour.

The elementary school’s fourth-grade students were so inspired by the 2018 Founders Day tour that they decided to produce a video story of each of the Vance Locke murals in the school’s auditorium. The students were led by Andy Weik, school district lead teacher for instructional technology, and fourth-grade teacher Eric Gustafson. The students recorded the videos, and they were produced with a QR code added at the base of each mural. All but two were completed in time for Culper Spy Day, Sept. 15, a communitywide celebration of the spy ring with a wide range of community organizations and businesses taking part. For the first time, due to the student videos, the elementary school auditorium was opened on a Saturday to take part in the celebration. Four of the Vance Locke murals are scenes of activity in Setauket and Brookhaven during the Revolutionary War. Several of the students who worked on the video stories were present in colonial costumes in the auditorium to answer questions and talk to some of the 800 people who bought tickets for the event, as well as a few who wandered in to see what was happening.

At the historical society, we hope, for the foreseeable future, that every fourth-grade student will continue to experience the wonder of our local history and be excited to learn more of the stories of the people who lived here and what they contributed to our history.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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On Feb. 13, parents of Setauket Elementary School students spoke to the board of education about establishing a districtwide sustainability and wellness task force. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

The Town of Brookhaven’s recent return to dual-stream recycling has been a wake-up call for many residents, forcing them to take a closer look at food waste and other remnants of daily consumption.

“We have an opportunity right now to lead by example, to teach our children how we can make small changes in our schools to help the environment.”

— Valerie Briston

In an effort to confront this new reality, two Three Village parents spoke to the school board Feb. 13 about establishing a districtwide sustainability and wellness task force.

“We have an opportunity right now to lead by example, to teach our children how we can make small changes in our schools to help the environment,” said Valerie Briston, a mother of three. “We are at a point now where we really need to focus on reducing our consumption of resources.”

Briston is working with other Setauket Elementary School parents who have approached their PTA about exploring ways to reuse classroom supplies, reduce the amount of waste at class parties, after-school events and in the cafeteria, and to “examine how things are delivered in eco-friendly packaging.”

Lindsay Day, a mother of two, is one of those parents. She recollected when she was a Setauket student, that she “learned very quickly about the positive environmental impact that waste reduction and recycling have on our delicate Long Island ecosystem.”

This is why, Day said, it is important that sustainability initiatives include education, as well as eco-friendly practices, such as transparent and thorough recycling, school gardens, composting programs to reduce lunch waste and the inclusion of school-grown fruits and vegetables in school meals.

“We are more than willing to try new things and see how they go.”

— Jeff Carlson

The district has been receptive to the parents’ suggestions and will launch a pilot program to increase sustainability at Setauket Elementary School, where the switch will be made from plastic to reusable utensils in the lunchroom.

“We are more than willing to try new things and see how they go,” said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services for the school district.

Plastic cutlery costs the district about half a cent for each piece, Carlson said, adding that the district was able to order metal versions for around 11 cents each. The new reusable utensils would quickly pay for themselves after several uses and even save the district money, he said.

Carlson pointed to the district’s other eco-friendly efforts, such as working with the facilities director and custodial staff to put systems in place to make it easier to separate paper, plastics and metal for recycling. He also said he has spoken with parents at other schools about starting composting programs.

Board president Bill Connors agreed that sustainability is a pressing issue and is here to stay. Following the meeting, he and Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said a task force is “something of interest.” The subject will be on the agenda of the board’s next executive meeting, Pedisich said.

This is not the first time the district has considered sustainability measures. In 2016, the board voted on the third phase of an energy contract with Johnson Controls to install solar panels on all of its buildings. However, the New York State Education Department has only just approved the district’s plans.

The panels, which will generate 2.3 megawatts of electricity, will cost about $7.7 million to install. The state will cover more than $5 million in building aid, and taxpayers will pay about $2.5 million, Carlson said. The installation should generate more than $10 million in savings over the term of the bond, along with additional savings beyond, according to Carlson. Installation is expected to begin this summer.

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Children on their way to Setauket Elementary School in 1956. Photo from Larry Heinz

Larry Heinz sent a throwback photo from 1956 in honor of the first day of school.

Heinz, pictured with cap sitting next to the door, and other students were headed to Setauket Elementary School with bus driver Jess Eikov.

Eikov was the owner and operator of the bus company that serviced the Setauket Union Free School for many years, according to Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler.

 

 

 

Under sunny skies, children filed off buses at Setauket Elementary School Sept. 5 ready to start a new school year. Many children could be seen smiling as they greeted friends and teachers they hadn’t seen all summer, and a few younger students were teary-eyed as they took in their new surroundings.

The air of excitement extended throughout the Three Village Central School District as students anticipated embarking on new adventures.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends who I didn’t see over the summer, and meeting my new teacher,” said Jordyn Zezelic, a fifth-grader at Nassakeag Elementary School.

Allie Konsevitch, a seventh-grader at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, said she was happy about starting her first year at the intermediate school and changing classes.

Sophia Kornreich, an eighth-grader at Murphy who tested out of Spanish I, said she was looking forward to the challenge of Spanish II.

“I love Murphy because something about the building is very warm, and it feels like one really big family,” Sophia said.

Her sister Athena, who goes to Nassakeag, said she was excited about starting sixth grade, meeting her new teacher Ms. Safranek and taking part in upcoming activities.

“I’m very eager for the Halloween dance, car wash, buddies [program] and graduation,” Athena said. “I am thrilled to move on to sixth grade.”

A week before the beginning of the school year, the district conducted orientation programs for incoming seventh- and 10th-grade students of Ward Melville High School and R.C. Murphy and P.J. Gelinas junior high schools. Students were able to ask questions of administration members and upperclassmen were in attendance to help new students locate their lockers and classrooms.

Rachael Catalano, a sophomore at Ward Melville, said she is excited about “making many new friends and seeing the multiple opportunities that the high school has to offer to get involved in.”

Timberwolf of the Setalcott Nation prepares to perform a war dance at last year's event. Photo by Lloyd Newman

By Kyle Barr

Every July for the past 11 years the sound of drums, yells, shouts and laughter has resonated from the grounds of the Setauket Elementary School. It is all part of the Setalcott Native American Nation’s Annual Corn Festival Pow-Wow, which returns this weekend. For Helen “Hart of Morning Star” Sells, one of the coordinators of the festival, those sounds are an important part of her family’s history and the history of her people.

A scene from last year’s Corn Festival Pow-Wow. Photo by Lloyd Newman

Sells is a member of the Setauket-based nation and can trace her lineage back four generations to Rachel Tobias Holland Hart, who is depicted in William Sidney Mount’s famous painting, “Eel Spearing at Setauket” (1845). The 76-year-old looks forward to helping to host the event every year.

“A Pow-Wow is a time where we get to celebrate the harvest that we receive from the great spirit each year” she said in a recent telephone interview. “We celebrate our history and make new friends. That’s what it’s basically about. It’s to let people know we’re still here.”

The Setalcott Nation was one of the first Native American tribes to encounter Europeans, selling 30 acres of land to colonists in 1655, in what would become the Town of Brookhaven. The name “Setauket” is derived from the Algonquin speaking Setalcotts whose members still reside in the areas around East Setauket, specifically along Conscience Bay.

A scene from last year’s event. Photo by Lloyd Newman

According to Sells, the Corn Festival Pow-Wow was founded in 2005 by her cousin, Theodore Green, who had been chief at the time. Green, who passed away in 2007, was asked to put an event together to educate the community about Native American culture as well as have them recognize the Setalcott Nation’s importance and history in the development of the surroundings towns and hamlets.

The family event will feature native traditional dances from the Bronx Taino Nation as well as Aztec fire dancers along with craft and food vendors, storytelling, singing, a candy dance for the children and much more.

A Grand Entry, which will be held at noon and 4 p.m. on Saturday, and at noon on Sunday, will honor the memory of World War I veterans with American Legion’s Hunter Squire Jackson Post 1218 (Amityville) and the Irving Hart Post 1466 (Setauket), among others.

The 12th annual Corn Festival Pow-Wow will be held at the Setauket Elementary School, 34 Main St., Setauket on July 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and July 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bring seating. Admission and parking is free but donations are appreciated. For more information, call 631-698-5517 or 917-415-5139.

Parade will begin on Main Street in Setauket near the Emma S. Clark Library and elementary school

An electric float in 2014 carries parade participants. Photo from Cheryl Davie

After a one-year hiatus, a long-running holiday tradition is returning to Setauket.

It was ‘lights out’ for the Electric Holiday Parade last December, when a couple of glitches prevented the popular event from taking place. Cheryl Davie, longtime organizer of the event, which has been around for two decades, said there were budgetary cutbacks at the town level and a permit deadline was missed.

Billy Williams, a civic-minded local businessman and a member of the Setauket Fire Department, Three Village Kiwanis and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said he heard of the issues last November — just not soon enough.

“I remember moving to the area in the late ’90s and bringing my kids to the parade,” he said in an email. “I thought it was a great hometown experience. I was saddened when I heard it wasn’t happening last year.” But by the time he found out, he said, it was too late to make it happen. So he decided to pick up the pieces and planned to resurrect the parade this year.

Davie immediately offered her assistance and expertise and the two became a team. Williams joked he is the producer and Davie is the director. She’s in charge of “the script” and running the show. He’s responsible for making sure the funding comes through.

“I have put together a team of small businesses and individuals who wanted to produce a great parade,” Williams said. “We have about 20 sponsors that have generously donated to offset the cost of producing the parade. State Farm [Williams’ business], Shea & Sanders Real Estate, Four D Landscaping and Shine Dance Studios are the major sponsors — with many others contributing as well. Each has made donations of money, time and/or other needed goods and services for the event.”

Lights will blaze again when the parade kicks off Sunday, Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. There will be floats and marchers, lights and music, decorated conveyances of all kinds, entertainment, hot chocolate and cookies — not to mention the arrival of Santa Claus on the Setauket Fire Department float — according to Davie.

“We have a lot of floats signed up,” Williams said. “Thirty-five have registered so far. We are also hiring a professional marching band to perform as well as providing many other great attractions for the kids. We have Wolfie from Stony Brook University attending, as well as the SBU pep squad.”

Williams said the Three Village school district will also be well represented. Many of the elementary schools are building floats — at all grade levels — which is a change from previous years when only sixth-graders were invited to create floats. The Ward Melville Jazz Band will also perform.

Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, dance academies, preschools and local businesses have registered online to participate in the parade of lights. Registration will remain open until Dec. 10.

“The more, the merrier,” said Davie, referring to participants and spectators alike.

No article about the Electric Holiday Parade would be complete without a shout out to one of the original founders and supporters. Michael Ardolino was a member of the small group that established the parade 21 years ago. Today he is very happy and proud.

“I’m so excited the parade is back,” Ardolino said in a telephone interview. “I’m so proud it’s going to continue. So pleased with the new group that has stepped up to create this year’s parade. I’m looking forward to coming and enjoying it with my granddaughter. The tradition continues.”

For more information about the parade — or if you’d like to sign up — visit www.3vholidayparade.com. Staging for the parade will begin at 3:30 p.m. along Main Street in Setauket near the Emma S. Clark Library and the Setauket Elementary School. Kick-off is at 5 p.m. sharp.