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.
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.”
Parent 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.
“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.
“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.”
Ms. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Student 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.
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.
Seventh 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.
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.”