• Problem solved: Fifth grader’s invention is immediate help


    Fifth grader Leonell R. spends a lot of time in the kitchen. He enjoys cooking and likes to make Japanese dumplings, along with homemade noodles and some German fare too.


    It was no surprise then, when a problem arose in the kitchen, he invented a solution — a simple yellow piece of plastic shaped like a “T.”


    What does it do?


    It slides between the knobs on a stove preventing them from turning on the range. Boy wearing mask holds up yellow piece


    “I love it,” Pocantico Hills Central School District’s Family and Consumer Science Teacher Alyson Morilla said of the design. “It’s fabulous.”


    Ms. Morilla had mentioned the problem she was having in her kitchen classroom to her students. Some of the stoves are built into the counters where students sit. She is often leaning on them accidently during instructional time causing the burners to turn on. Sometimes it happens when someone walks by, accidently brushing them as they pass. Sometimes students have their work nearby as they sit at the counters during class, which could be a danger too.


    Ms. Morilla thought taking the knobs off would help prevent the ranges from being accidently turned on, but that left a dangerous piece of metal exposed that could be a problem if someone walked into it.


    Leonell said he was thinking about the issue when an idea popped into his head. Knobs on a strove with yellow piece between them


    After taking multiple measurements of the stove knobs and asking Ms. Morilla several questions, he jumped on tinkercad.com, a 3D design app, and created two designs.


    His idea was shared with science teacher Vincent Cook, who also teaches the eighth-grade Innovation and Design class. The two then created a prototype on a 3D printer. The result was a slim yellow T-like shape made from PLA, or polylactic acid, a thermoplastic monomer made from soybeans.


    “This plate,” Leonell said, holding up his design, “the thickness of it will prevent the knobs from being pushed.”


    Leonell said his initial idea was more complicated, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized it did not require an elaborate solution.


    “I have an idea to make something universal,” Leonell said, so it can be used on different brands and styles of stoves.


    In addition to the yellow piece, Leonell has also developed one that will go between three knobs at one time.


    “I am so excited about this,” Mr. Cook said. “You have no idea.”


    Mr. Cook has talked to Leonell about what a patent is and why he thinks his invention might be eligible for one. He also told him he will have more opportunities to invent items when he is in the eighth-grade design class.


    “In that class we never say this will not work,” Mr. Cook said. “It’s all about that lightbulb moment.”


    “He’s totally improved the safety of the classroom by coming up with this solution,” Mr. Cook said of the young inventor.


    Leonell is currently in the process of designing an idea of his for use in the school’s commercial kitchen. The room is outfitted with a steam socketed kettle, a large kettle used for cooking that often needs to be drained. The kettle can rotate back and forth. The problem is when being drained the stainless steel “bucket” used to catch liquid often slides, causing a spill.


    Leonell is working on creating a “collar” to fit on a pipe beneath the kettle that would prevent the bucket from sliding.


    “I like to do 3D printing,” Leonell said of how he spends his free time. He also enjoys playing outside, sports, crafting and cooking, he said.

    First graders share animal inspired writing pieces


    Lions, tigers and sea otters, oh my! Girl smiling next to book she made


    These critters, and many more, were all there in the Pocantico Hills Central School District library when first graders and their families gathered recently. Don’t worry. They came in the form of adorable clay creations!


    The menagerie was all part of a special student writing project. They learned about non-fiction writing and were assigned to select an animal, conduct research about it, and write a paper. The project also incorporated original drawings in the report. While in art class students created clay figures of their animals and made a diorama to place the animal in a replica of their natural habitat.


    Once complete, families and friends were invited in to review the students’ work and leave comments about the projects.


    Girl stands next to her writing project“Because they are big cats,” student Gray O. said of why they picked the lynx to study. “They can eat a moose,” she said as she stood beside her diorama.


    Saavan P. was attracted to the thresher shark.


    “It can sting and has a very long tail and yellow eyes,” he said.


    The project was fun, Saavan said, noting that he especially liked working with the clay to create a model of his animal and then painting it.


    “It was very nice to work on,” student Zavier C. agreed. “I like how I did it. It’s very real.”


    Zavier studied and wrote about tigers because “they have sharp teeth, and they can bite a lot of things.”


    Jaxson J. was also a fan of the lynx.


    “I learned that they like to live alone,” he said.


    Among some of the other animals that students researched were koalas, Pomeranians, Beagles, saber tooth tigers, snow owls and chinchillas. Group looks over project


    Teacher Michelle Fitzpatrick said the non-fiction unit is something she does every year with her students, but this is the first time their work was on display since the pandemic.


    “It’s a writing celebration,” she said of the event.


    “We work on this unit so they can understand the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing,” teacher Christina Povemba explained. “They did a great job.”


    Students had to research and include specific information in their written reports, including their chosen animal’s habitat, diet, lifecycle and appearance. Their books about their animal also included a dedication page and a glossary.



    Writing exercise provides creative inspiration for aspiring writers


    He wants cheese. He’s craving cheese. He needs cheese. BUT, alas, he is lactose intolerant. What to do, what to do?


    That was the premise of a recent playwriting exercise among third graders following a writing workshop by ArC Stages, an educational theater group based in Pleasantville. Performers on stage

    The third graders gathered in the auditorium to watch a brief musical production about writing performed by ArC Stages staff. With the help of the enthusiastic cast, the students then took a turn to develop the premise of their own play. That is how the unfortunate Chef came to be.


    Back in their classrooms, students worked with ArC Stages representatives Adam Spiegel and Amy Schiff, who helped students flesh out the story they had begun with the Chef. Another detail they had decided on was that the character was on an island.


    “Don’t worry if it’s silly, be creative” is what students had been told during the performance. “Show us the art that is in your head, be a playwright!”


    Woman helps girlStudents in teacher Andrea Coza’s class remembered that and introduced a Fairy into their play. They then began to write a dialogue about what Chef and the Fairy had to say to one another.


    In Marina Lombardo’s class, her students introduced “Hedgie,” a hedgehog to their story. Hedgie invites the Chef to his home, and he agrees to go because he’s hungry.


    Students had learned that they need to think about who their hero is, what the setting would be, what kind of problem the characters would have to overcome and what it is they are trying to say with their story.


    As the students worked through the exercise, they were reminded of things to think about.


    “Keep in mind, when writing these plays that your audience knows nothing about it,” Mr. Spiegel said.


    Students had time to begin to write a dialogue between their characters. They also had an opportunity to act out, in front of their classmates and guests, what they had put together so far.


    They then had an opportunity to begin to write their own plays using what they had learned.


    “Today was immersion work,” Ms. Lombardo said. “We will get the kids to go deeper with it.” Girls act out play


    Earlier in the year, the classes had visited ArC Stage and saw a performance there, one that a former student had written while in third grade.


    ArC Stages representatives returned to the school in mid-February to check in on the progress students had made. It had been decided that the students’ plays would have as their setting the sea. This was a way for the students to further learn about issues relating to oceans throughout the world, Ms. Lombardo said.


    “It’s a way to build an understanding about the setting,” she said.


    In addition, she explained that for the first-time students were working with social/emotional language and writing a play helped them in their understanding of emotions.


    Stacey Bone-Gleason, from ArC States, worked with students in Ms. Lombardo’s class. Students first reviewed a script that had been created and then worked together on their individual pieces.


    She reminded students how they needed to be specific in their work as the audience may not know what the same information as the writer does.


    “How did the Mermaid end up in the desert? that needs to be explained,” Ms. Bone-Gleason said.


    She discussed how each play should have a goal, a conflict, stage directions and a theme.


    “Lastly,” she said, “does it all make sense? Could someone read it and know what is going on?”


    ArC Stages Amy Schiff had also returned and worked with students in Ms. Coza’s class. She reviewed similar things and allowed students time to work on their own plays.


    “You can make a play with one character,” that is fine she told one student.


    Student Nico E. said he wrote a play about a shark named Torpedo who scares Bob, the clown fish. Fortunately for the fish, an Orca arrests Torpedo and brings him to an underwater jail.


    Nico said it was the first time he and his classmates wrote a play, and he found the exercise interesting.


    “You can use your imagination for it,” Aria L. in Ms. Lombardo’s class said about play writing. “You can express how you are feeling, or you can just pour your heart out. You can say what you feel through a character.”


    Writing a play is a great way for students to work on their writing skills, Ms. Coza said.


    “It helps them develop stories and to be able to write and develop story elements, like setting, conflict and to come up with a theme,” she said.


    Once students have finished the revisions of their work it will

    be submitted to the theater company to be considered as part of a playwright festival.


    What’s cooking? Culinary Club returns with delicious fun


    After trying a bite of her still-warm cookie, third grader Aria L. broke out into a big smile.


    How did it turn out?


    “Awesome,” she said. Group of students making cookies


    During a recent afternoon third and fourth graders gathered in the Family Arts and Consumer Science classroom with a sense of excitement. What would the day bring?


    On this occasion it was cookies!


    The club has returned after a hiatus due to COVID-19 and has proven to be more popular than ever. Two days a week, after school, aspiring chefs meet, third and fourth graders on Mondays and Wednesdays and fifth and sixth graders on Tuesdays and Thursdays.


    “It’s a great way for them to spend time with friends and learn a skill,” said Cook Manager Kristin Ripka, who oversees the program.


    “I love cooking,” said third grader Annie L. “I especially would like to make brownies and a brownie cake,” in a club meeting in the future, she said.


    On this day the group was given a large ball of cookie dough that had been prepared ahead of time. They then had an option of selecting from several goodies to put into their cookies—chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, cranberries and more.


    Assisting on this day was eighth grader Sanaya B. She said she decided to help because she likes to cook, likes kids and it is a way for her to get her required volunteer hours.


    “It’s like all my favorite things in one,” she said as she helped to pass out the dough.


    She was going to keep her cookies traditional.


    “I like chocolate chips,” she said. “I like to keep it original.”


    Madison L. also opted for the classic configuration as she carefully placed chocolate chips on her flattened dough, revealing her favorite type of cookie.


    “I felt like it was something new and fun,” she said as to why she joined the club. “I’m always helping my mom with cooking.”


    During a previous session she said she was nervous when the club made vegetable dumplings because she doesn’t typically like vegetables.


    “But,” she said. “I wanted to try it.”


    And did she like it? She sure did.


    Boys getting toppingsEach week Ms. Ripka said she tries to find something sweet and savory for the students to try. She always looks for simple, easy recipes that can be whipped up in the hour after school when the club meets and ensures any dietary requirements are accommodated. Club members leave not only with the treat they made but the recipe too.


    “We try to have fun,” she said.


    As Ms. Ripka placed large trays of unbaked cookies into the commercial ovens in the school cafeteria’s kitchen, a student popped her head in and asked if the cookies were ready yet.


    They needed a few more minutes, and club members used the time to make boxes to carry their cookies home.


    A few days later, fifth and sixth graders were in the classroom looking to learn how to make some snacks they could also make at home while watching the upcoming Super Bowl. On the menu for them was guacamole and chips and Pigs in a Blanket.


    Students were instructed on how best to mash the avocado and were provided with a selection of items to include in their guac if they’d like—red onions, jalapenos, cilantro, tomatoes, limes and salt.


    “Lime and salt,” sixth grader Alexa T. said aloud after trying a bit of her guacamole. After adding more of these ingredients and having another taste, a smile and nod confirmed she had found the right combination.


    “There has to be a good amount of salt, but not too much,” Alexa said.


    Initially she was not planning to participate in the club but is now happy to be a part of it.


    “It’s really good,” she said of the club. “I like it because it shows me new things to make.”


    Fifth grader John P. said he cooks a lot at home and thought this would be a good fit for him and a way for him to learn new things.


    “I wanted to cook with my friends,” he said.


    Peyton L. said she likes to cook too.


    “It’s an interest of mine,” the sixth grader said. “It’s pretty fun. I liked the dumplings, they were very good,” she added of the treat the club cooked at a previous session.


    The older students wrapped up their day after wrapping their hot dogs in puffed pastry. The cooked Pigs in a Blanket were distributed to the students at the end of the session.


    Living history, Westchester resident Cora Miles shares shares insight on MLK  


    Cora Miles can easily recall a chance encounter she had with one of the most prominent civil rights leaders in history. As a teenager she had an opportunity to meet Dr. Luther King, Jr. when he visited her church. Woman on screen


    “His handshake was so firm; I can actually feel it today. I was awestruck,” she said, adding that she can’t remember if she said anything to him because she was so nervous. 


    That brief encounter at the Salem Methodist Church in Harlem would inform her journey for the rest of her life. Today she serves on the board of the Westchester Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute for Nonviolence. 


    On January 19, Ms. Miles met virtually with two different groups of students at Pocantico Hills Central School District. She shared her experience as a young black woman living through the Civil Rights Movement and the impact Dr. King had on her. 


    “I learned about him on the radio,” Ms. Miles said, recounting her introduction to Dr. King. “Very few families had televisions then. There was something about his tone of voice.” 


    Ms. Miles was born in South Carolina and moved with her family to New York when she was five years old. As a teen, she closely followed Dr. King’s work, listening to his speeches on the radio and reading about him in magazines like Jet and Ebony. 


    Girl stands besides a girl who is seatedDuring her discussion with Pocantico students, she shared details about Dr. King’s life, including how he first attended college at the age of 15 and about his following in his father and grandfather’s steps by becoming a minister. She discussed his adoption of Mahatma Ghandi’s non-violent protest techniques and how it inspired bus boycotts in the south. She also discussed how protesters organized sit-ins at lunch counters due to the segregation. 


    “I liked his message of being non-violent,” Ms. Miles said.  


    When she met with seventh graders, she asked students to role play. A group of seventh graders sat at the counters in their classroom in the Family and Consumer Science Classroom. Other classmates stood behind them and simulated harassing those who were seated. 


    When asked how the seated students felt, they used the words “sad,” “harassed” and “mad.” 


    “All of you said you felt uncomfortable in that situation,” Ms. Miles said, adding that the exercise helped them to understand what it felt like to be discriminated against. 


    When asked if she ever protested, Ms. Miles said that she did. She and her peers marched outside of a Woolworth Department Store in New York City. She said that while the store did not discriminate against customers, it would not hire black employees. “I protested that unfair treatment,” she said. 


    Ms. Miles said that she often reflects on a quote from Dr. King Jr. and what it means to her: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in great ways.” 


    She then encouraged the students: “You can do something small.”  


    One Poco Night was an international culinary bonanza


    Anyone who left the One Poco Night hungry has only themselves to blame. Two girls with plaid sashes


    The event was a culinary bonanza that featured cuisine from all over the world—pierogi’s, Irish soda bread, Causa Rellene de Pollo, Ai-Yu Jelly, jerk chicken and so much more!


    The event returned after a brief hiatus and Principal Adam Brown said it was the largest crowd yet to come out and enjoy the evening. So many families signed up to contribute food that the school decided to hold the event in the larger gymnasium rather than squeezing in the cafeteria where it was held in the past.


    The school sent out a sign-up sheet for families to decide what dish to make for the event. There were foods from France, Lithuania, Colombia, England, Holland, the Philippines, and every other corner of the world.


    “I like everything,” eighth grader Ethan M. said after his culinary trek around the gym. “It’s really fun to try new foods.”


    “The performances were nice too,” said classmate Robert P.


    Robert was referring to the start of the evening when guests gathered in the auditorium to watch several performances from students.


    Girl playing Chinese harbAmong the performers were SriVidya V. who performed a short song in Carnatic music, a form of Indian classical music with origins in Southern India. Savannah B., who is from Africa, shared the song “Life Me Up,” from the movie Wakanda and Claire W. played “The Legend of the White Snake” on the guzheng, a Chinese harp.


    There were also groups of performers who performed traditional Indian dances. First, the younger students performed, including, Hannah, Neil, Leela, Taara, SriVidya, Swahum, Noah, Payal and Saavan. The second group were older students, Aiden, Ipsa, Pranav, Ayan, Kush, Ambuj, Mahi Raut, Shreya Jain and Shreyan.


    The dancing would have been a great way to burn off some calories. Back in the gymnasium, guests were given a map to bring with them and with each stop they made and tried a food, they were given a star sticker to place on the map showing where the cuisine was from.


    “It’s a great way to bring everyone together,” said ELL teacher Joy Scantlebury. “It’s a way to celebrate their cultures. It strengthens that communal connection.”


    Boys looking over some foodMadaly Maquera shared Causa Rellene de Pollo, an appetizer that is common in her native Peru. It’s filled with potatoes and chicken along with mayonnaise.


    Ms. Maquera said her daughter is very proud of her heritage and encouraged her to contribute a dish to the evening. “She’s always wanting to share.”


    Parent Akilah Whittaker was also encouraged by her daughter to make a culinary contribution.


    “She noticed there was no Jamaican food on the sign up and she wanted it represented,” Ms. Whittaker said.


    The Jerk Chicken she made is a dish that takes some time as it is made in smoker, she said, so it’s not something she makes very often but she was happy to share.

    “This is already an amazing night,” Mr. Brown told the crowd. “It’s a really special day we can all celebrate each other.”


    JPK is here to stay!

    Registration for next year is open through Feb. 28


    During naptime at the Junior Pre-K, students snuggle up in their dark classroom with blankets and enjoy some quiet time. Their young bodies get some rest, before they get back to being their active, curious selves. There is just so much to do—play at the sensory table, enjoy the building blocks, have fun with arts and crafts, not to mention the imagination station—children in Junior Pre-K put in a full day before lunch! Girl using finger paint


    The Pocantico Hills Central School District Junior Pre-K program is in its first year and is making plans to continue next year too.

    “The district is looking forward for planning next year,” Christine Perricelli, Director of Student Services said. “We are hoping to have everyone registered by Feb. 28.”


    “It’s going beautifully,” JPK Teacher Mia Kargen said of the first year. “The children have really made connections with each other. They really feel a part of this team.”


    “I couldn’t have asked for a better first year,” Ms. Kargen continued. “The children are so happy, and I hope the families are happy too.”


    Parent Angelica Poniros, whose daughter Eveline is in the program, said she is astonished at the changes in her daughter during the last few months.


    “Her personality blossomed,” Ms. Poniros said. “She wasn’t terribly articulate or outgoing. Her vocabulary has developed. She’s like a little grown up now and so well spoken and her manners, she’s always saying please and thank you.”


    Ms. Poniros was new to the area when she received a letter about the JPK pilot program starting up. She called the school to learn more and said she was impressed with what she was told—the program would be full-time and provide bussing.


    “I was super impressed, I wasn’t expecting it,” she said, adding how expensive a pre-school program can be for families.


    Woman sits at table with young studentsThe program is play-based and is a child’s first introduction into the structure of a school day.


    Eveline has told her mother that riding the bus is her favorite part of going to school. She even asks her mom if there is school on Saturdays so she can ride the bus.


    As a parent she appreciates the classroom set up. There are no desks, but several different play stations and activity play tables. In addition, the program’s teacher is a wonder too.


    “The teacher, Ms. Mia, I think makes the difference,” Ms. Poniros said. “This is her heart and soul.”


    Ms. Kargen even came to visit the Poniros family at their home before the start of school as she did with all her students.


    “I thought that was really special,” Ms. Poniros said.


    Children in the program learn how to be a part of a larger school community, and they are so busy playing and learning, they do not even realize how much fun learning can be.


    “By the time they get to pre-k, they will have such a strong base to play off of,” Ms. Kargen said.


    Each week she sends home a communication that includes photos and descriptions of what the students have been doing.


    “I really enjoy engaging families during pick up and drop off times, when they can come in and see first-hand all the work we are doing,” Ms. Kargen said.


    The days include storytelling, a special favorite among the students. Students help to move the story along by suggesting details including the setting or specifics about the character.


    Ms. Kargen has several aides that assist in the classroom who help keep the children focused and guide them in their work when needed. They also serve as extra pair of eyes keeping track of the things inside the classroom that get the children excited.


    Later in the winter Ms. Kargen is planning to host some parent workshops.


    Learn more about the Junior Pre-K from the presentation made to the Board of Education at https://tinyurl.com/54sdfuvr.


    To register for the Junior Pre-K program, visit https://tinyurl.com/yr2p5jh6.

    Mentors help younger students learn to code


    Second grader Madeline R. struck her arm out to her side as instructed by classmate Evelyn Y. Then she pushed her hip out on the opposite direction from her arm, mimicking a disco-style dance move. Girl dancing


    In another part of the classroom the soft tones of Harry Styles’ “As it Was” could be heard playing.


    Elsewhere, small groups of students clustered together, intently focused on the computer screens in front of them.


    It was hard to imagine what the music and the dancing Madeline was doing had to do with computer coding, but it did not take long to find out.


    “We’re trying to make a dance party,” second grader Kent K. said matter-of-factly.


    “Coding is when something electrical happens in the computer,” he explained. “A coder is a programmer, someone who programs stuff.”


    Student gathered around a computerThe students were learning how to become programmers themselves during Computer Science Education Week’s Hour of Code. The second graders were having fun while learning how to manipulate an avatar they had created to dance. They were being assisted by members of the Tech Titans, a middle school club that focuses on teaching technology to younger students.


    Practicing dance moves helped the younger students decide what kind of dance they wanted their character to do. They then learned how to input the appropriate code so the character did what it was supposed to do. Every single movement the character made had to be coded, whether it was waving their arms or kicking their legs into the air.


    Carla M. added her own definition of coding.


    “Coding is when you make a character dance by using your keyboard,” she said.


    The activity supports the second-grade students’ STEM rotation, said Alana Winnick, Pocantico’s Education Technology Director. She added that the Tech Titans had come in to assist during their recess.


    “I think that’s really amazing,” she said of the older students. Students gathered around a computer


    “It’s really fun,” eighth grade Tech Titan Clover G. said, adding that it’s even more special to be assisting because her sister was in this class.


    “They’re learning what they need to do in order to make their character move,” she said. “It’s a great way to learn to code, and they’re doing it in a fun way.”


    Coding, Clover said, is something that is “learning, dressed as fun.”


    “I really like the idea of teaching the younger kids how to be more tech savvy,” Clover said. “They will be online all their lives.”

    Author visit inspires love of reading


    Ever since she was a child growing up in Mumbai, Varsha Bajaj loved to read. She first fell in love with popular Indian graphic novels and progressed to mysteries and stories of friendship and more. Today, she is writing her own stories.


    During a visit to Pocantico Hills Central School District, Ms. Bajaj shared with students her excitement for reading and writing. It was the district’s first in-person author visit since 2019. Woman speaks to a group of students in an auditorium


    Upper elementary students have been reading her young adult novel “Thirst,” a book that has been named a Global Read Aloud Book and fits the district’s One World 2022 theme of water conservation. Younger students were likely more familiar with her first book, the children’s book “How Many Kisses Do You Need Tonight,” which the author read a portion of during her presentation.


    “It’s extremely exciting to have a writer back in person,” school librarian Kerry Papa said. “Junior K through eighth graders have been reading all of Varsha’s books in classrooms and the media center.”


    Having students read her book “Thirst,” fits perfectly into the school’s theme for this year, Ms. Papa said.


    “That’s another interconnected way we are bringing concepts together,” she said of reading, writing and global issues.


    One of Ms. Bajaj’s goals during her visit with students was to inspire them to read and write and develop their skills so they too become lifelong readers.


    After reading to pre-K through first grade students from her “Kisses” book, Ms. Bajaj discussed how books become a reality, from the author writing it to the editing process, book reviews and arrival in bookstores and library shelves.


    “What would happen if an editor said they did not like your story,” she asked.

    “That would make you sad,” a student noted.

    The good news, Ms. Bajaj said, is that while it can be quite the challenge to become a published author, it should not deter the young students from writing.


    Woman speaks to girlShe encouraged them to become authors right in their classroom.


    “It’s up to you if you want the words to rhyme or not rhyme because you are the author,” she told them, referencing her rhyming “Kisses” story.


    When talking to the older students, Ms. Bajaj, discussed what makes a story one that encourages the reader to keep reading. Well, she said, it starts at the beginning.


    “Every good story starts with a beginning,” Ms. Bajaj said as she went on to share details about her own beginning, growing up in India with her brother and sister and later moving to the United States to earn her master’s degree. Her story continued through the years of working as a counselor, getting married, and having children before she decided to see if she could write a book after reading so many.


    “I’m often asked what I read as a child,” she said. “I was a voracious reader.”


    Among her favorites as a child were The Famous Five series by British author Enid Blyton, she also enjoyed the American Nancy Drew series of mysteries and the one book that made her fall in love with reading was Canada’s L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables.”


    “It didn’t matter to me that these stories were set in different countries,” she said. “Because the authors did such a good job of writing these beautiful books.”


    Stories, no matter who writes them, Ms. Bajaj said are important because they help us connect with one another.


    Her book “Thirst,” shares a story of Minni, who lives in India, who is confronted with the fact that access to clean, fresh water is not a simple right.


    When Ms. Bajaj learned that today there are 700 million plus people in the world who do not have access to water, she was shocked, considering it is a commodity most of us in this country don’t even think about. She wanted to bring more attention so this situation and hoped to inspire others to do something about this crisis. 


    “It’s something books and stories do,” she said. “They start you thinking. I believe in the power of story. That is why I am a writer.”


    Student writing project leads to teacher authorship


    What began as an independent project with two second-grade students has grown not only to include more students, but also into a professional writing project for two teachers at the Pocantico Hills Central School District.


    English Language Learner teacher Joy Scantlebury and third-grade teacher Marina Lombardo have co-authored a chapter in an e-book using their experience guiding students through a special writing project. Two women in school hallway


    The project began with two second-grade ELL students Ms. Scantlebury was working with in her classes. The aspiring authors asked if they could write a book and were given permission. It was a great way, Ms. Scantlebury said, for the students to use the language they were learning while engaged in an activity they loved.


    The independent project ultimately grew to incorporate more students, additional stories, co-teaching with the students’ third-grade teacher and ultimately culminating in a book signing with the student authors and their classmates.


    “This was not part of my plan,” Ms. Scantlebury said, explaining how the initial two students were writing for fun and how the entire project took on a life of its own.


    When word first got out among her other students, a third student asked if they could write with them too. They agreed. Together the three wrote what became books two and three in a series.


    “I thought that was the end of it,” the ELL teacher said.


    When the students got to third grade, they were all eager to continue writing and adding to the adventure story they had created. Their teacher, Ms. Lombardo, was more than willing to accommodate their request. By the end of the school year the team of writers had written four books in total in the Aquawagomingo series, “A Trip to Aquawagomingo, “Another Trip to Planet Aquawagomingo,” “A Return Trip to Aquawagomingo,” and “The Super Friends Save Aquawagomingo: The Planet Kidnap.”



    “There were parallel concepts that I was doing in stand-alone groups,” Ms. Lombardo said of what was taking place in her classroom. “I knew Joy was using the writing process, and I wanted to include different types of writing.”


    She worked with all of her students on a mini unit focused on composition and grammar.


    “I included an opportunity for kids to have proper places for nouns, verbs and proper sentence structure,” Ms. Lombardo explained. “Grammar can be challenging in our language.”


    Ms. Scantlebury was also working with the students and incorporating content specific words. She also helped them to create a glossary of words used in the books to help readers.


    As the students continued to work on their books, the teachers also had students read their stories aloud, which helped them to notice any awkward sentence structures before committing everything to paper. They also read it to their peers and received feedback from their classmates that they could then use to edit further.


    “It was a yearlong process,” Ms. Scantelbury said, adding that she wanted to be sure students had enough time to thoroughly complete the books to their satisfaction.


    Late last year, the student authors had a book launch, sharing what they thought might be the last book in the series. Their classmates gathered, and the authors read the final book before signing copies they shared with their friends. Everyone loved hearing about the further adventures of the characters they had come to know and love. Some even suggested the story should be made into a play.


    “It was a real sense of community building among classmates,” Ms. Scantlebury said of the book signing event.


    “It really demonstrates the joy of literacy,” she continued. ‘We were promoting literacy, but also our students’ cultures, identities and interests,” as the writers incorporated some of their personal history into their story.


    Ms. Scantlebury has done some writing of her own too, having submitted pieces about action research to the New York State Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, or NYS TESOL.


    When the organization heard about the writing project that Ms. Scantlebury and Ms. Lombardo had done with their students, they asked if they’d be willing to write a chapter for an e-Book, “Supporting Student Success Through Community Asset Mapping: A NYS TESOL E-Book.”


    Together they compiled the chapter, titled “Tapping Into English Language Learners Superpowers Through Creative Storytelling,” which ended up being the first chapter in the e-book.


    The two also presented their work at the NYS TESOL conference this past summer.


    They said it was challenging to go back and review what they had done and how they had worked with the students. It also meant they had to confine themselves to a strict word limit, not always an easy thing to do.


    “It was a process,” Ms. Scantlebury said. “We had to write the chapter, revise it, put it through a peer editing process, and we had to edit someone else’s chapter too.”

    It was an experience that mirrored what the student authors had done.


    And like their students, they both agreed the entire experience enabled them to learn new things too.


    “For me, as a general educator, I have learned a lot in the last year about the importance of the life experience children bring into the classroom and how that can be leveraged to build a sense of belonging,” Ms. Lombardo said.


    “There are a lot of opportunities to bring in children’s voices,” she continued.


    Although four books in the Aquawagomingo series have been completed so far, a fifth student has joined the writing group opening the potential for the series to continue.


    As the students have gained more experience, personally and through their education, the stories have become more complex and deeper and are filled with the writers’ sense of humor.


    “All of these children grew in many, many ways and now they can be seen more completely in the classroom,” Ms. Lombardo said.


    Additionally, the experience of writing and sharing their work has built the students’ sense of confidence.


    “This is a big deal in their lives,” Ms. Lombardo said. “It’s nice because it starts with who they were to who they are now. They are writers. It validates them.”

    Let in the light

    Parent volunteers share Diwali traditions


    Sand art and a special treat were all part of the recent Diwali celebration during lunch periods at Pocantico Central School.


    Parent volunteers were there to share with students the special Indian tradition, also known as the Festival of Light. Typically celebrated between mid-October and mid-November, the holiday celebrates light triumphing over darkness and good over evil. Girl making sand art


    Students had an opportunity to create sand art, or rangoli, which is used to decorate the outside of homes during Diwali. In addition, candles or lanterns are lit. Students could take with them a design to color in and a tealight to light later at home.


    Mango lassi, a mango smoothy and samosa, a stuffed fried savory pastry, were also available for students to try.


    “I’ve never had this before, and I’m half Indian,” fourth grader Ephriam B. said with a laugh after trying the samosa. “I think it’s delicious,” he determined.


    Celeste S., also in fourth grade, said she does not typically like spicy food, but often finds herself thinking she won’t like something, but in the end, does.


    “When I tasted it, it was a little spicy,” she said of the samosa. “But I Iiked both,” she added. “I thought it was very nice.”


    Group of peopleParent volunteer Rupal Patel said she has shared sand art demonstrations in her children’s classrooms before, but this was a first to include the entire school.


    “The school is so nice to share the diversity of its families,” she said.


    Ms. Patel was helping students with the sand art. They would place a template on a table, spread different colored sand over it and carefully lift the template up, leaving behind a colorful pattern.


    Volunteer Shalini Verma was handing out mendel art, intricate designs that were printed out on paper. Students were encouraged to take one and color it in at home.

    “It’s very good at releasing stress,” Ms. Verma said of coloring.


    A candle, like the small tea lights, is often placed atop the colored-in design.


    “It helps to remove the darkness,” Ms. Verma said.


    One World year begins
    Poco Alum shares details about her work as marine biologist


    Teachers may never know the impact they have on their students. However, for Poco alum Molly Rickles, she recalls it was science teacher Vincent Cook who inspired her to pursue her passion. Screen of a Zoom meeting


    “I first became interested in marine biology in Mr. Cook’s class at Poco,” Molly Rickles, Class of 2012, said.


    Ms. Rickles was the guest speaker during the virtual kick-off event for the school’s One World celebration. The theme this year is water conservation.


    After attending Briarcliff High School, Ms. Rickles went on to study marine biology at the University of Miami.


    During her two virtual presentations, she shared the work she has done since earning her degree, while also detailing the importance of oceans and the necessity of keeping them clean.


    “The oceans provide more oxygen than forests,” Ms. Rickles told students.


    The ecosystems that exist in oceans, such as barrier reefs, are critical to the health of oceans and the species of fish that live there.


    Three years ago, she had the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia and shared a video of that experience in her presentation.


    “Eighteen percent of fish species live on this reef and it’s over one million years old. It’s the largest in the world,” she said.


    “It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” she recalled.


    Ms. Rickles also discussed her experiences closer to home where she studied reefs off the Florida Keys, which she said is the third largest barrier reef in the world and the only living reef system in the United States.


    Both the oceans and the reefs are feeling the impact of mistreatment by humans, she noted. The oceans are being overfished, they are increasingly becoming more polluted with garbage and other pollutants and their temperatures are increasing.

    “Our climate is becoming warmer, and we are having more extreme storms,” she said. “With the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it traps heat on earth and causes the temperatures to get warmer.”

    This results in damage to the species that live in the oceans as well the worsening weather she mentioned.


    Ms. Rickles also discussed her work. She has had the privilege of studying waterways and the wildlife that live there. Early in her career she studied sturgeon living in a river in Maine as well as monkfish.


    She has also worked with sharks, including studying a pregnant female shark who was accidently caught by fishermen. The shark sadly died, but she and her team were able to remove the growing baby sharks from the female to study their development. While a student, she studied the impact of climate change on sharks too. The lab at her university has been featured regularly on the Discovery channels “Shark Week.”


    Another area of focus for Ms. Rickles has been the damage plastic does to the environment.


    “Plastic is everywhere,” Ms. Rickles said. “It’s on the bottom of the ocean floor and on top of Mount Everest.”


    She has spent time helping to clean up plastic garbage on Miami Beach and encouraged students to clean up any plastic debris they find too.


    She also offered suggestions on how students could help the environment. Among them were finding alternatives to plastic such as reusable water bottles, saving energy by turning off lights and unplugging phone chargers when not in use, or turning off the water when brushing your teeth. Other ways to help include using reusable bags at the grocery store and not eating endangered species, such as blue fin tuna.


    “I’ve always been interested in marine life,” Ms. Rickles told students when asked why she chose this profession. “I liked environmental science, so I studied that. I wanted to make sure I was doing something to protect the oceans.”


    These days her work is more focused on climate change. She works with federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and helping to make the switch to renewable energy.


    “Just remember, Molly was just like you,” Principal Adam Brown, who also tuned into the presentations, told students. “She found something she loved and was interested in. You keep following what you love too.”


    Parent volunteers share special Dia de los Muertos traditions with students


    Students found a bit of a surprise one recent day when they went to lunch. Several parent volunteers had set up a table with a colorful display and food to be shared. Boy with lollipop


    “This is amazing!” fourth grader Savannah B. announced when she entered the cafeteria and saw the brightly colored display.


    The occasion was in recognition of the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Typically celebrated in late October or early November, the holiday tends to be a joyful celebration in which families remember friends and loved ones who have passed away.


    Traditional celebrations include visits to the gravesites of family members and bringing their favorite foods, using marigolds to mark the occasion, and creating home altars with favorite foods of the departed.


    “It’s a tradition in Mexico,” explained Elsa Cabral, whose daughter, Grace, attends the school. “We wanted to share this.”


    “The day of the dead is a big celebration,” Ms. Cabral said. While she personally hails from Guetamela, her husband and his family are from Mexico.

    “We remember our dear lost ones,” she said. “We put on the table everything they would like, such as food.”


    Group of womenMs. Cabral was there with her mother-in-law, Carmine Ibarra and fellow parent Pamela Cuevas. Together the three made food to share, including tacos, nachos and sweet treats, such as Mexican lollipops. They also created a colorful display decorated with marigolds, candles and food for the departed.


    “It’s a beautiful tradition,” Ms. Cuevas, whose son Nicholas is in the first grade, said. “I always want our children to learn about our traditions and have them share.”

    Joy Scantlebury, the English Language Learner teacher, said the school first shared in the celebration in 2019, but paused it due to the pandemic. She said she was happy to have it back and for the parents who volunteered to assist, noting it was a wonderful way to celebrate her students many cultures.



    Poco alum is making her mark on the pitch

    Sam Coffey contender for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023


    In many ways it came as no surprise to Denise Willi when her daughter was drafted to play professional soccer.


    “She always had a proclivity for a ball,” Ms. Willi said. “When she was a child, she would drive the ball to the net. She was born with that, for sure.” Woman kicking soccer ball


    The comment was made on a cell phone while Ms. Willi, and her husband, Wayne Coffey, waited to board a plane to return to New York from Portland, Or. The couple have been racking up impressive frequent flyer miles traveling back and forth across the country, and beyond.


    Their daughter, Sam Coffey, attended Pocantico Hills Central School, along with her siblings, Sean, and Alexandra. Sam left the school in the sixth grade to attend the Masters School, where in addition to playing soccer, she served as an ambassador for the sport.


    The proud parents have been on the road to watch their daughter, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, play. On Thursday, Oct. 25, Ms. Coffey was named to the National Women’s Soccer League Best XI First Team for the 2022 season. This announcement came on the heels of Ms. Coffey being listed as a contender to play in the World Cup next year by The Athletic, an honor determined by weighted vote by players, owners, general managers, coaches, media, and fans.


    “We are just pinching ourselves,” Ms. Willi said of the potential for her daughter to play in the FIFA World Cup game. “It’s truly a remarkable honor. It puts her with the top players in the world.”


    Sam Coffey attended and played soccer for Penn State, where among the honors she earned were First Team All-Big Ten Honors (2021). In January 2021, she was the 12th overall pick in the National Women’s Soccer League, having been selected by the Portland Thorns. Her first game with the club was in March 2022. In less than a year she was nominated as Rookie of the Year.


    Sports and traveling are nothing new for the Coffey family. Her father is a retired sports journalist with the New York Daily News and an author of several sports themed books, including the New York Times Bestseller The Boys of Winter.


    Older sister Alexandra Coffey is also having a busy sports-related autumn. She is a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and covers the Phillies, the first woman from the Inquirer to do so. Sam’s brother, Sean Coffey is a morning news anchor for WBRE Eyewitness News in Wilks-Barre, Pa.


    “It was sports 24/7 in our house,” Ms. Willi said, adding that her oldest daughter has run marathons and her son was a weightlifter.


    The family had an opportunity to travel to the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy where Sam had was able to indulge in another one of her passions—writing. The older Coffey children were tapped to be junior reporters for the games for Scholastic and although too young to officially participate, Sam wrote anyway.


    Closer to home, Ms. Willi recalled her children’s school providing a nurturing environment where her children developed wonderful relationships with their peers and teachers.


    “She maintains many friendships,” from her time at Pocantico, Ms. Willi said.


    Having sat on the sidelines for countless hours watching her daughter play through the years, the feelings of nervousness have never subsided.


    “Oh my gosh, I was a nervous wreck,” Ms. Willi said, having recently watched her daughter play at her team’s home field, Providence Park.


    Couple standing next to soccer player

    On Saturday, Oct. 29 Sam Coffey played in the championship game that was televised nationally when she and the Portland Thorns took on the Kansas City Current. The Thorns came out on top with a 2-0 victory! Prior to that, Ms. Coffey played in a semifinal matchup with the San Diego Wave, resulting in a Thorns 2-1 win.


    “Her father and I knew she was gifted, but we never predicted this would happen,” Ms. Willi said of having Sam play in the NWSL.


    “She owes it all to her mother,” Mr. Coffey joked.


    “She really is, legitimately a world class athlete,” he said.


    Mr. Coffey recalls the little girl Sam used to be, kicking a soccer ball around their yard.


    “She’s always been able to live with that joy,” the proud father said.  “The biggest game of her career, the joy on her face was palatable. How lucky is she to do something she loves, that’s never changed.”


    Following the draft announcement, Sam Coffey was interviewed by former soccer player Jordan Angeli.


    “I am just elated and so humbled to be picked by Portland,” Sam said in the interview. “I’ve been dreaming about being drafted and playing professionally my entire life.”


    Innovation and Design course perfect for future problem solvers


    Geese making a mess on a ball field, a nervous tick, sweaty batting gloves, nose rings that don’t stay in place. The world is full of problems. The world is also comprised of the Pocantico eighth graders ready to solve them.


    That is precisely what students in the Innovation and Design class are doing. They think about problems they have in everyday living and develop ideas to solve the issues. The course is creative and fun and offers students an opportunity for independent learning. Students also can apply for a patent for their creation. Boy drills into desk


    The year-long course, which began 10 years ago was the brainchild of Guidance Counselor Jim McVeigh. He knows a few things about inventing a product, getting a patent and . . . having other technology catch up to him.


    “It’s fun,” Mr. McVeigh said about inventing a new product, although he can attest to the fact that it can be a long, drawn-out process. Coming up with the idea is the easy part. Finding the right people, lining up the lawyers, filling out the patent applications, consulting with friends and family and anyone else that may be able to assist, are all part of the process.


    A former college and semi-pro baseball pitcher, Mr. McVeigh recalled a night game in which he had a terrible time seeing the signs thrown up by his catcher. From the mound he decided something had to be done, and later he decided he would do it.


    What came out of that experience was a new product in which the catcher’s pads had LED lights in them, which would alight the signs allowing the pitcher to see them more clearly. That is how Sign Brite, Inc. was created.


    His idea would send him on a creative odyssey around the country developing prototypes, meeting with patent attorneys and former pro ball players along with sports equipment manufacturers and MLB officials. His product was approved for use in the minor leagues with the San Diego Padres and Cleveland Guardians single A clubs.

    “It’s been ridiculously fun,” Mr. McVeigh reiterated, even though the current use of PitchCom, an electronic device that sends signals between the users in the majors to prevent the stealing of signs, almost makes his invention obsolete.


    Mr. McVeigh believes everyone is creative, and that holds true for Pocantico students.

    “I wanted to create an inventor’s mindset,” he said. “It’s what we do in this course. In reality, it’s just noticing problems and asking how do we solve this problem?”


    Students are charged with coming up with an idea, researching to see if their idea/product already exists or if there is already a patent for this product, creating a prototype and eventually testing it. Students also go through a critical analysis with their peers and use the feedback to improve their work. They must also present their work more formally to their classmates.


    “Our ultimate goal is to have one of the students come up with a patentable product,” Mr. McVeigh said.


    Science teacher Vincent Cook oversees the class with Mr. McVeigh assisting students with logistics, such as finding and ordering material they may need and asking questions to help them think more thoroughly about what they are trying to create.


    The class recently moved from a typical classroom into a MakerSpace outfitted with tools and a 3D printer.


    They say necessity is the mother of invention, and students this year are using their personal experience to develop new products.


    Girl sits at desk while man helps with projectStudent Meadow G. noticed how her father and sister were always swapping their prescription glasses and sunglasses. Her sister has even worn sunglasses over her prescription ones. So, why not create something to help them?


    “I want to make glasses so you can swap the lenses out with different colors or protective sunglasses,” Meadow said.


    Classmate Sanaya B., an admitted soup connoisseur, was desperate to find a way to enjoy soup at the perfect temperature. She decided to develop a spoon that will heat up or cool down, thus assuring no tongues are burned or chills result when enjoying it.

    “I love soup,” she said. “Beef stew with potato with carrots. I like clear soups too, like miso.”


    This is the first time Sanaya has an opportunity to turn one of the millions of “great ideas” she has into reality.


    “I was really excited for this class,” she said. “I’ve always talked about ideas I’d like to create. Teachers would tell me to write them down in preparation for this class.”


    Clover G., like her soccer and softball teammates, is disgusted by the mess geese leave behind on their playing fields.


    “The geese are all over it,” she said. “You have to play on a field and hope your shoes don’t get dirty from what the animals are leaving out there.”


    Her idea, yet to be named, is a robot that can be programmed to move around the field when not in use as a deterrent to the geese.


    “It would be cool if I could put a solar panel on it so it wouldn’t have to be brought inside and be charged,” she said.


    Nick T. has a not uncommon habit, when sitting, of bouncing his knee up and down. All. The. Time.


    His idea is to put a pedal on the floor under his desk and capture the energy produced by the bouncing motion that would allow the user to charge a phone or laptop.


    “Nick, I know this sounds crazy, but this is a really cool idea,” Mr. McVeigh told him recently when the class met.  


    Other students in the class are a piece that will fit in a person’s Crocs that prevents tripping, a pouch that will dry batting gloves faster, a ruler that does not move when using, a nose ring that uses magnets to stay in place, and a device that vibrates to let actors know their microphones are still live when they are off stage.


    “The ideas these kids are coming up with are legitimate,” Mr. McVeigh said. “Many of them are definitely patentable.”


    Principal Adam Brown fully embraced the idea of the class and is an enthusiastic supporter of the work students are doing.


    “The Innovation and Design class, I believe, is a unique offering at Pocantico Hills,” he said. “It’s a fabulous opportunity for our students to be creative in a different kind of way, and it incorporates a number of disciplines. Students develop a sense of ownership for the work they do and a sense of pride for making something truly unique.”

    Garden to Cafeteria Table: Students Enjoy Autumn’s Bounty at Annual Harvest Event


    Each autumn in the Pocantico Hills School District, students participate in the much-anticipated Garden Harvest event. The yearly tradition that is part of PHCSD’s Growing and Gardening program teaches students about farming and sustainability and culminates with a delicious meal made from student-picked vegetables from the school’s community garden.   


    This year’s event fell on an unseasonably cool day in early October, but gloomy skies and chilly temperatures didn’t deter students from hurrying excitedly toward the garden’s entrance, where head gardener Jose Zamora welcomed each class.


    “Seeing how happy the kids get when picking veggies is what it’s all about,” said Mr. Zamora


    Thanks to Mr. Zamora, a small plot of once barren land on the grounds of the school has become a bountiful oasis. From carrots to corn, from sage to squash, his meticulously maintained garden now boasts various vegetables, plants, herbs, and flowers.


    “That smells delicious!” exclaimed one student as Mr. Zamora waved long leaves of lemongrass through the air. “That’s awesome!” shouted another at the sight of a pineapple growing in the greenhouse.


    Shortly after the demonstrations, students were able to pick vegetables for homemade soup that would later be made by the kitchen staff and served at lunch later in the week.


    “I liked picking the carrots because you never know what you’re going to get,” said Ronin K. Boy holding thumbs up


    Savanah B. noted that her favorite vegetable is broccoli (but it must be steamed, of course!)


    Taya Z. said she loves tomatoes the most.


    “I like all different vegetables - lettuce, tomatoes, apples – especially in a salad,” Matthew B. remarked. 


    Principal Adam Brown and School Resource Officer Peter Blume also joined in the fun, helping children extract stubborn carrot bunches from the soil.


    “We were looking for ways to expand the Growing and Gardening program, and this fits right in,” said Mr. Brown. “We connect it to elements of our science and sustainability curriculum, the kids really appreciate this event and look forward to it every year.”


    About a week after the harvest, on a much brighter fall day, all those glorious veggies that had been picked by the students were back! This time they were diced up and cooked in a soup, then served during lunch to a cafeteria full of hungry children.


    “Well, I like that it’s cooked with veggies,” second grader Clara M. said about the soup. She had been telling her friends, and anyone else who would listen, that they HAD to try the soup.


    Family and Consumer Science teacher Alyson Morilla had lidded cups of soup on a tray and walked around the cafeteria offering soup to students.


    “I really like it,” Phoebe M. told her.


    Grilled cheese sandwiches made with whole grain bread and grapes were also on the menu and served as the perfect accompaniment on a crisp fall day.


    “The carrots, and also the broth,” second grader Kai-Anon W. said of what she liked most about the soup.


    “I harvested tomatoes and beans,” recalled Ipsa V. who was excited to see them again as part of her lunch.


    “It tastes good, I love it,” Khalev H. said.


    Boy talking to womanSeventh grader Tracen W. agreed, “it’s good,” he said.


    Fourth grader Eric L. didn’t have to say anything about whether he enjoyed it, his actions spoke volumes — he picked up his cup of soup and drank the broth until there was nothing left in the bowl.


    The Pocantico Hills garden was also a source for previous cooking demonstrations. Earlier last month, Mr. Zamora presented to the Family and Consumer Science classes about Mexican corn tortillas, tostadas, and quesadillas. Afterwards the classes enjoyed delicious tostadas coated with freshly picked beans. To show their appreciation, students wrote thank you letters to Mr. Zamora which were given to him on the day of the fall harvest event.


    “Receiving these letters is what motivates me to continue this tradition every year, Mr. Zamora reflected.



    Officer Blume grows school, community relations as SRO


    School Resource Officer Peter Blume’s priority is keeping students, staff, and visitors to campus safe in the Pocantico Central School District. His secondary goal is to get to know the students and serve as another special resource for those who may need an extra pair of ears.


    “How was your weekend,” he asked several students as they changed classes and passed him in the hallway. Many of them gave him a high five or a fist bump and others shared with him what they had done during the two-day break. Boy fist bumps police officer


    These brief encounters help SRO Blume to get to know the students and in turn they to get to know him and his role at the school.


    SRO Blume is new to the school and begins his day greeting students and parents as they arrive, offering a hearty “good morning” and “hello” to that oft chaotic time. He then makes his rounds through the school checking each door to ensure they are closed securely. It’s his job, he said, to make sure that no one can enter the building except through the main entrance at the front of the school. He also wants to know who is in the building at all times.


    A 26-year veteran with the Mount Pleasant Police Department, SRO Blume went into police work with the intent of becoming an SRO. He previously worked three days a month in the Valhalla Union Free School District where his two teenagers attend school. As a father, he understands the concerns parents have when it comes to sending children to school these days.


    “Safety is paramount to me,” he said.


    “At Valhalla I connected very well with the teachers, kids and administrators,” he said of his former role. When he heard about the position opening in Pocantico, he felt it would be a good fit.


    “I saw how seriously Pocantico took the SRO position,” he said. “This is where I want to be. It is an amazing oasis in Westchester. It’s like a private school in a public-school setting.”


    “We are very happy to welcome SRO Blume to our school,” Superintendent of Schools Rich Calkins said. “He not only helps to reinforce our commitment to student and school safety, but will no doubt be a wonderful mentor for our students.”


    The addition of an SRO at the school is an additional safety measure that was adopted by the district. Recently, the school completed several security upgrades including door hardening, locks, exterior and interior camera upgrades, a lockdown system, and classroom enhancements.


    “We understand the importance of having exemplary safety measures in place,” Mr. Calkins continued. “We want to ensure parents feel comfortable sending their children to school here and that, in turn, students feel comfortable being here.”


    Like the charges he oversees, SRO Blume is getting into the swing of being in school for a new year. He is slowly learning students’ names and getting to know the daily schedule.


    Already he has been invited into several classrooms to introduce himself and talk to children about his role at the school, what police officers do and what skills they need to do their jobs.


    “I am a resource,” he said of how he sees his work at the school. “I am not a disciplinarian. I’m like the school nurse or the speech pathologist.”


    “I will always say ‘hello’ to students, it’s an invitation for them to talk to me,” he continued.


    He encourages students to let him know if they see something odd at the school, no matter how unimportant it may seem. He wants them to know that police do more than just give out traffic tickets and arrest people. 

    “We help people,” he said, adding that he left his career in business to pursue police work for the sole purpose of being able to assist others.


    SRO Blume has been married to his wife for 18 years and they have two children. While he counts his regular exercise regimen as one of his hobbies, he admitted his true passion is music.


    He plays both the trumpet and trombone in three bands and fills in with several others. He plays at least 60 gigs a year as well as some session work. He’s even sat in with the house band on Saturday Night Live and played at super model Heidi Klum’s first wedding.


    “I’m really happy Pocantico has such a vibrant music program,” he said, perhaps hinting at a desire to play with the school band. “I look forward to seeing the kids enjoying it like I did at that age.”