Comsewogue's "Town Square"

Comsewogue's "Town Square"
Jackie's GardenSince the beginning of the school year, students have been gathering in the courtyard at Comsewogue High School on their off periods. “Dr. Rella always thought of our Rotunda as our Town Hall, and now we’ve expanded on his dream, by developing a Town Square,” our Superintendent, Dr. Jennifer Quinn.

We started to create “Jackie’s Garden” a few years ago after the untimely passing of Dr. Rella’s wife Jackie. Her passing left us broken hearted and wanting to reach out. I suggested the idea. Dr. Quinn looked at me and said it was a beautiful idea, but asked me if I was sure I wanted to commit...because you know what happens to gardens? I knew exactly what she meant because we see so many gardens start-up and then eventually fall by the wayside. I promised her that for as long as I am a teacher here, I will make sure to maintain our garden.

The next thing we knew,some wonderful Boy Scouts from the High School stepped up and did their Eagle Scout projects to benefit our garden. Joey Rizzo, a junior, built several raised beds. He even created a barrier to protect the garden from other activities. Warrior grad, Christian Freda, built a raised bed for a student who uses a wheelchair. Freda even did something extra special by designing and building a bench that has wheelchair access. Last year, James Mantione, a junior, built a beautiful trellis which became the backdrop of many senior pictures at graduation. “These are amazing students who are doing wonderful things for our school. These projects took up a lot of their own time and efforts while they developed great leadership skills. By next year, don' t be surprised to see grapes, eggplant, or even zucchini, growing from the trellis,” said Mike Mosca, our Principal at the High School.

Soon, community members and businesses asked to pitch in. Rich, from 4 Corners, donated the most beautiful flowers, plants and decorations for every holiday. He has been so generous. Joe Coniglione, Assistant Superintendent, said, “Ann Marie's Farm Stand, Agway, and landscapers Chris Friedl, Tommy Deacy and Steve Long are a phone call away and will stop what they are doing just to help out clearing things or delivering soil and mulch. Then the Whole Foods Foundation gave us a two thousand dollar grand for our garden- we were so grateful and the garden expanded.

Recently, we added a sunflower farm in the middle, as a result of a class project. “This year, students gather by the beautiful sunflowers at every lunch period, it’s quite beautiful,” said a senior posing for pictures with friends. According to Dr. Rella, sunflowers were Jackie’s favorite. “Our life skills class took that idea and ran with it,” said Joe Dimino, who helped with the project based initiative. The students planned, researched, and set up the garden. We have watched it flourish. Harris said that they weren’t quite ready to plant after mid May, but then sad passing of of one of our students occurred. I told the students that I really didn’t have a good explanation, but I did know that this year we could plant and dedicate the sunflowers to Jackson, the young middle school student who lost his battle to cancer. We all got out there and got to work to focus ourselves on something positive in his memory. The students were so proud of their efforts to get it done in time.

An amazing thing that started to happen. Students, teachers, clubs, and administrators started to “plug-in” various projects at and around our garden. This Halloween, we are going to do a hay ride for the kids who visit for Trick or Treat Streets. Ms. Goldberg, who teaches advanced science classes, planted vegetables. "For a bit, our sprinkler system wasn’t reaching the plants, so one of the AP students designed and implemented a system to keep the soil and plants hydrated," said Goldberg. “It was the perfect idea and solution to a real life problem.”

For the past several years our food service department has served special meals that were designed by and even prepared with the help of Ms. Rand’s ELL (English Language Learner) classes at JFK middle school. Rand and her classes developed their own “Jackie’s Garden’” at the middle school. New English language learners were excited and passionate about the garden. “It became the ideal way to teach science and English because all the students could relate to what we were doing,” said Rand. “The amazing thing to see was that these kids enjoyed their hands-on experience while learning a whole new language as well as science,” said Principal, Mike Fama.

The first year of the garden, Charlotte Johnson, who teaches drama and chorus had her students serenade Dr. Rella and his family as well as our whole district during and evening where staff, students, and families participated. “There wasn’t a dry eye out there, said one of the parents...it was quite emotional.”

On a daily basis we see students from Art, Photography, ELA and more using the garden to do their projects. Outside on a crisp fall day both Ms. Rand and Ms. Rubinsteins’s classes were busy measuring plant length and looking into microscopes all while recording data into their science notebooks. I tried to get them to look up into the camera, but the were so focused on their work, I couldn’t get anyone’s attention.

In many ways it’s become the focal point of our school and district. Students can be seen doing fundraisers and other activities to make everyone aware of what is going on around them locally and in the world. On one day, students displayed pride flags, sold cancer awareness shirts, all while sharing space with recruiters from the Armed Forces. On another table, they were collecting for Comsewogue graduates who are currently serving in the military. “We are a tight community, and we want those men and women serving to know that we remember them,” said Michelle Mortorano, head of the PTSA. Some of the elementary students will be putting hand written letters inside the boxes we send to show how much they care.

Soon we will display holiday decorations, celebrating our beautiful district and community. Our rotunda is currently being renovated by art students working on an intricate mosaic that people will see as they enter our school. The mosaic in combination with our kind and welcoming attitude, makes this place one of the best places on Earth to walk into.

A few of the students were doing their homework in the garden on picnic tables surrounded by baskets of flowers. One student looked up and said that growing up in this school district and community was one of the best experiences of her life.