After several years of hard work and fundraising, Connetquot Elementary School's new community-funded, barrier-free playground was dedicated on June 6 to the children of the East Islip School District.
“This new playground was designed with all children in mind,” said Principal Deborah Smith. “It represents what we value at Connequot Elementary School and the East Islip School District – an inclusive setting where everyone plays. We call this a boundless playground and our intent is to encourage all students of all abilities to enjoy this recreational area together, to foster sensitivity and empathy and to mutually enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. The group effort that made this happen represents what a community can do when they believe in positive change in order to improve our children’s experiences.”
The dedicated members of the Connetquot Playground Committee were in attendance, as were members of local child-centered organizations (Patricia Diesu from the For the Kids Foundation and Bea Huste-Petersen of the EJ Autism Foundation) and all five of the District’s administrators (Superintendent of Schools John J. Finello, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Personnel Alise Becker-Santa, Assistant Superintendent for Business Carl Fraser, Assistant to the Superintendent for Pupil Personnel Susan Kosser and Buildings and Grounds Administrator Robert Tartaglia).
The school’s creative music teacher, Eileen Egbert, composed a song in tribute to the new Connetquot playground. She performed the moving piece, written expressly for the event, with accompaniment from Rose Eger’s first-grade class and soloists Danielle Kaczynski, Emily Vazquez and Kristina Zinkiewicz.
Thanking the community for their high level of support for the project, Connetquot PTA member Tina McNamara gave a speech that included a poem about the importance of “play.” Teacher Robert Chiarelli also gave thanks to the committee members in attendance whose diligent efforts helped fund the playground.
The ceremonial ribbon was then cut and the Connetquot playground officially dedicated to children of all abilities.
Smith is quick to note how much of a true community effort this project was, starting with contractor Tony Barbato of Holbrook-based Louis Barbato. “The playground was made possible by the herculean efforts of Tony and his hardworking crew, who removed the old structure and assembled the new in record time. His employees and even his father and sons demonstrated their diligence and commitment to the project in their enthusiasm to build this. We recognize and truly value the work they did.”
Financial assistance came from even the most unexpected places. “One of Connetquot’s fourth-grade students, Ryan Bauer, has a very lucky grandmother, Dorothy Bauer,” Smith explained. “Mrs. Bauer entered a Pathmark/Coca-Cola Sweepstakes contest this past fall and won $5,000 for the playground!”
She also cited the invaluable efforts and donations of Connetquot teachers like Chiarelli, Melinda Safrany and William Young; the members of SEPTA; and numerous local families, including the Barras, Blaschucks, Greenbergs, Kaczinskis, Kozacks, McCaffreys, McNamaras, Manweilers, Mottos and Staubers.