Tag Archive | "pierson high school"

Self-Taught Gymnast Thrives At Pierson

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Gymnast adjusted

By Claire Walla

To some, 15-year-old Rojdrefa Patterson is known as the girl who flips.

If you’ve been to a Pierson High School basketball games, you’ve probably seen it. In a black-and-red mini-skirt and knit top with the initials “PHS,” Patterson flips not once, not twice, but several times in rapid succession down the length of the wooden court. Sometimes she ends her impromptu routines with the splits, which she sinks into effortlessly, the way anyone else might sink into a chair.

Of course, acrobatics are nothing new for high school cheerleading, a sport which has garnered a respectable reputation in the sports world in the last few years.

But Patterson’s case is unique. Her talent comes not from cheer camp or gymnastics classes; she learned from watching YouTube clips, and by copying her Dad.

A native of the island of Jamaica — where gymnastics is a common form of physical education — Roj Patterson taught his daughter how to flip at a young age.

“The first time I tried to do a flip, I knocked my two front teeth out,” Patterson said with a grin. “I was four.”

Since then, Patterson has gone to Marine Park here in Sag Harbor to hone her skills. She’s taught herself how to do a front handspring, a double back handspring, a triple toe touch and even a back tuck.  (The latter she even taught to her recently acquired gymnastics coach, a retired Level Ten gymnast, who was once captain of the Empire State Games.)

Last year, Patterson’s self-taught skills led her to victory at the annual Cheer for a Cure event held in Hampton Bays, where she walked away with Best Double Touch for the jumping sequence competition. Patterson recalled competing against girls who had had formal training.

By comparison, Patterson uses her 14-year-old brother as a spotter.

“One day, it was winter, and I was cold, but I was like: I don’t care, I’m going to do something really stupid,” Patterson remembered. Her brother had been spotting her as she attempted to complete a full back tuck, supporting her with his hand while in the air. “I told him to remove his hand… and I got it!”

Patterson came to Pierson as a freshman after graduating from Stella Maris in 2010. When she learned of the cheerleading team, she quickly got on board.

Again, she said inherent fearlessness lead the way.

“When I first started, I didn’t know how to do a flip on the wooden floor,” Patterson said. “So one day I just winged it, and I got it,” she continued nonchalantly. (Patterson did, however, also admit to having crossed her heart before she took the leap.)

Patterson’s self-taught acrobatics was something Anjela Krsikapa said she was shocked to discover.

At 25-years-old, Krsikapa is already a retired Level 10 gymnast (the highest possible ranking) and now teaches cheerleading and coaches gymnastics for the Ross School.

Krsikapa first saw “the girl who flips” when she went with her team to a Ross/Pierson basketball game last year. Although, it took her a year to figure out who she was.

While dining at Tapas in Bridgehampton recently, Krsikapa had a chance encounter with Patterson’s mother (unbeknownst to her at the time), who spoke of her cheerleading daughter, and showed video on her camera phone of Patterson propelling her body across half-court.

“Oh my God, I’ve been looking for that girl!” Krsikapa recalled. “Her mother told me that, by some miracle, that girl was all self-taught — I called her the very next day.”

Krsikapa said there is no one else like Patterson here on the East End. In fact, she said, it’s almost serendipitous she and Patterson should find each other.

As it so happens, Krsikapa first learned how to flip by watching her parents, for whom gymnastics was a routine part of physical education, as kids growing up in Montenegro.

“There’s a real lack of gymnastics out here,” Krsikapa explained.

But since she’s started the program at Ross, she said interest has been steadily increasing, adding that she’s noticed “a real demand for it.”

Krsikapa mostly works with younger kids who take gymnastics as an after-school activity and are still learning the basics. She said she’s thrilled to have found Rojdrefa.

With Krsikapa’s guidance, Patterson is learning how to do what she already does, but with proper form.

Patterson is essentially going back to basics, to learn the fundamentals of balance and form that Krsikapa said will prevent injuries in the future. She’s even had to learn how to stretch — that quick back bend she would do before a sequence of flips was just not cutting it.

(Before a cheerleading competition called Cheer for a Cure last year, for example, Patterson won several contests, including one for completing the most back handsprings in a row: 10. Not having stretched before the routine, Patterson said she woke up the next day and could barely get out of bed.)

Krsikapa has put a major emphasis on proper preparation.

“The first two weeks of practice I was just learning stretches,” Patterson exclaimed with wide-eyed emphasis. “I was so sore I was crying!”

According to Krsikapa, if Patterson continues to train, at the rate she will be able to compete as a Level 8 gymnast. In a nutshell, a Level 8 gymnast is one who can perform in all four events — balance beam, uneven bars, floor and vault — without a spotter, and bring some creativity to each routine.

Krsikapa said she could be ready for competition by the fall.

When asked where she gets the motivation and the courage try new stunts, Patterson said she likes to prove people wrong. (Sometimes her younger brother likes to wager what she can and can’t do.)

A self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, Patterson continued, “I just put it in my mind that I can do this, and I do.”


Raising the Bar for ESL Students at Pierson

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DSCF7423 adjusted

Above: Pierson Senior Ronald Aucapina and his award.

By Claire Walla


Last month, Pierson High School senior Ronald Aucapina was issued an award for stellar academic achievement.

“Across the board, Ronald was recognized by the faculty as being a successful student,” said Pierson High School Vice Principal Gary Kalish, who added that Aucapina currently maintains a grade point average of 93 percent.

Aucapina, who works part-time at Schiavoni’s Market and has been described as “studious, quiet and calm,” is well deserving of praise, Kalish continued. But, his achievements are particularly worth noting for one important reason: Aucapina is a former ESL (English as a Second Language) student.

In fact, he’s the only former ESL student graduating from Pierson with honors this year.

Aucapina received his award at a special meeting last month, which was conducted in Spanish for parents of ESL students, or former ESL students like Aucapina. This was the second Spanish-language meeting held this year.

According to Pierson ESL Teaching Assistant Fausto Hinojosa, Aucapina’s recognition marks a great achievement.

Hinojosa noted the glaring absence of former ESL students who have managed to make the Pierson honor roll in the past five years. While in 2011 two students earned honors status, in 2008 and 2009 only one former ESL student made honor roll. And in 2010 that number was zero.

Since returning to the Sag Harbor School district last January after spending four years on the West Coast, Hinojosa has worked with the ESL population (including non-ESL students from Spanish-speaking homes) to try to improve these statistics.

“It’s my tremendous desire to see Spanish kids reach those levels,” he said.

On a daily basis, Hinojosa floats between classrooms during the school’s academic support period to check-in with students whom he knows may need extra help. He may stop off in a classroom to talk to a teacher about a particular student’s performance, or check in with the school guidance counselor along the way, but he ultimately ends up in the library. There, he sits down with students to make sure they’re doing their homework and — most importantly — that they understand their assignments.

Sometimes he helps students who are simply struggling academically. However, Hinojosa said he often faces a much bigger problem.

“There’s a philosophical issue here,” he began. “For many reasons — reasons I don’t understand — when many of these kids reach that level [of academic achievement], they feel uncomfortable and they don’t want to be there.”

Hinojosa, who also taught in Newport Beach, Calif., said this problem is not restricted to Pierson, though it’s certainly felt in the district.

“We’re working so hard to get these kids to produce,” he added. “It’s an unbelievable struggle.”

As for Ronald Aucapina, Hinojosa said the honor roll student rose through the academic ranks in part because of his desire to do well, but also because he had a great deal of family support. This is where the Spanish-language meetings come into play.

Making sure parents are involved in their children’s academic lives is a “crucial” part of success, Hinojosa said. And for roughly 50 ESL families at Pierson Middle/High School, engaging directly in the school community would not be possible without the ability to overcome the language barrier.

To date, Hinojosa has been able to organize three meetings in Spanish at Pierson: one in the 2010-11 school year and two in this academic year. The meetings are modeled after standards adopted in California, where Spanish-language meetings are mandatory for any public school with a student body with over 25 percent Spanish speakers or students from a household where Spanish is the primary language. (Spanish-language meetings are not mandated in the state of New York.)

Drawing a regular crowd of about 20 parents, Hinojosa said the meetings have been very successful so far, and he hopes the trend continues. Hopefully, he added, there will be more students like Ronald Aucapina in the future.

In an interview last month, Aucapina said he will attend the University of Rhode Island in the fall, where he’ll study biology. He hopes to eventually study medicine and become a physician.

Sag School Board Approves $34 Million Budget

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By Claire Walla

Pulling no surprises, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted on Monday, March 26 to approve the district’s proposed $34 million budget for the 2012-2013 school year.

“I want to thank the district for all its hard work,” said board member Chris Tice. Because this is the first year the district has had to make allowances for the state-imposed two-percent tax-levy cap, Tice said the budget process “was particularly rigorous this year.”

Passed by Congress last spring, tax cap legislation has caused most school districts across the state to search for ways of trimming expenditures—Sag Harbor not excluded.

With the rising cost of health insurance and increases for teachers’ retirement plans to contend with, the Sag Harbor School District ended up with a proposed budget up 2.88 percent from this year’s operating budget, which represents only a 1.94 percent tax-levy increase.

According to the district’s budget presentations, Sag Harbor has managed to maintain a budget that keeps all programs in place thanks to significant savings in several key areas.

According to numbers compiled by Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the district’s director of pupil personnel services, the special education department has shed nearly $500,000 in expenses, which is reflected in next year’s budget. The decrease is due to program changes, including the elimination this year of three staff members.

The school has also seen nearly $400,000 in savings from the district business office, as well as $60,000 in savings in transportation. While the budget calls for $500,000 of the district’s fund balance to be put toward energy conservation measures, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto pointed out that there will be a bond measure tied to the budget vote in May that—if passed—is estimated to generate significant savings for the district.

Proposition #2 would allow the school to purchase six busses at a cost of $575,000. The district estimates that by bringing transportation costs in-house, it will be able to save roughly $170,000 over the next seven years.

However, while the district was able to squeeze the budget beneath the tax cap this year, school board member Walter Wilcoxen expressed some trepidation about the future.

“You’ve taken so much slack out of the budget it’s laudable,” he began. “But, down the road, how are we going to get the big nut? The problem is, I don’t’ see any major change coming. And that creates some discomfort.”

What Wilcoxen was referring to, specifically, were labor negotiations.

According to Verneuille, teachers’ retirement benefits have not yet been quantified for the coming school year, but last year health expenses went up 13.5 percent. And with a two-percent tax levy cap in the mix, expenditures will inevitably outpace revenues. In other words, the school will eventually be forced to look at ways of cutting costs more dramatically.

“You’re absolutely right, the driver of our budget is labor costs,” Dr. Gratto responded. But, he said the situation might not be so grim. Later that evening, the school board voted to approve bus-driver salaries, which had been negotiated down from its 3.5-percent raise this year to a two-percent raise for next year, with no step increases.

“I think what you’re seeing is a trend,” Gratto added.

Though good news, board members seemed to sympathize with Wilcoxen’s less-than-enthusiastic response.

“This is sort of like the fly on the tail of an elephant,” he joked. “But, at least it’s a start.”

The budget vote will be Tuesday, May 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Pierson High School Gym. Should the budget not pass by simple majority, the district would go to its contingency budget, which would strip $551,510 from the proposed budget, which—according to the district—would eliminate the $500,000 set aside for building improvement projects off-the-bat.

Peter Solow

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The artist and Pierson High School art teacher, who is hosting a benefit art exhibition and sale this weekend to raise funds for the upcoming Pierson trip to Italy, talks about how travel impacts students, why arts education is critical and how Sag Harbor rallies around causes like this.

The artist and Pierson High School art teacher, who is hosting a benefit art exhibition and sale this weekend to raise funds for the upcoming Pierson trip to Italy, talks about how travel impacts students, why arts education is critical and how Sag Harbor rallies around causes like this.


By Kathryn G. Menu

The Pierson Art Department benefit art exhibition and sale this week features a number of celebrated artists like April Gornik, Bill King and John Alexander, as well as alumni. All the artists are donating their work, which will be sold for $100 a piece. Does being in the Sag Harbor community naturally draw this kind of talent, and support, to a cause like this?

I think it is because this is Sag Harbor. I think it is because there is a kind of commitment and concern for education and our community that these people have. They are professional artists, alumni, many who are kids that graduated from this program and are working in the field. I think there is also the concept of the importance of a public school in a community that is being celebrated. The other thing that has happened here is April [Gornik]. Here is a person with an international reputation that has made a commitment to this community in a number of ways. Her impact in helping to pull this together has been extraordinary.


You have organized this student trip to Italy for about 10 years now. How has the experience evolved?

We used to do this trip every year, but now its every other year because it really is so exhausting and time consuming to attempt to defer a portion of the cost of the trip for students. Parents are paying for this trip, but what we are trying to do is knock off a portion of that cost, and also bring some contingency money to cover unforeseen expenses or an activity or program that pops up that we want the kids to participate in.

This isn’t a boilerplate trip through Italy. We do traditional mask making in Venice, we will have a cooking class in Florence, we are going to a soccer game in Florence, which is a spectacle and for a lot of the kids a high point of the trip.

This year we are going to experience agritourism at a brilliant place outside of San Giuliano Treme that has been a family farm for five generations. They produce their own wine, their own saffron, raise their own beef, grow their own vegetables. It gives the kids an opportunity to see a different approach to organizing ones life. There are a wealth of experiences we have. It’s not just about art.


Does the diversity of Italian culture, with strong roots in the arts, culinary traditions and obviously history, make it an ideal travel abroad destination for students?

The original reason we went to Italy was because of my own predilection, and we used to have a curriculum at Pierson associated with the Italian Renaissance.

That being said, the answer is yes.

I think the most important thing when you go to a place like this with a culture like this is it gives you things. It gives you a profoundly more deep and rich understanding about things that you may understand academically, whether it is Slow Food or architecture or how we organize ourselves, politics, city-states.

One time we were there at the height of the second invasion into Iraq and there was a big protest and what the kids learned was the protesters were fond of our country but disagreed with us in this instance. Our kids were able to have conversations with these older students who were protesting and that was an incredible experience. It gives you a texture that is real — these are not experiences you are just reading about in a book. It also affords everyone the opportunity to look at our own country, where we come from, and understand it better.


You and I have talked about a number of stories where students lives changed after this trip. Can you pick one to share?

We have had so many kids tell me that this was the most important experience they had in school. Jackie Dowling was a tremendous student here, and a very good art student, but not really involved in photography. We were headed from Venice to Florence to Rome and we stopped for lunch in Mantua, which is known for its food and Jackie started looking around for a bathroom. So she is wandering these streets in Mantua and starts taking pictures. She spent the rest of the trip taking pictures and it was a revelation for her that happened by accident while she was trying to find a bathroom in Mantua. And her photography was extraordinary. It changed her life. She is still focused on her photography to this day.


What is it about Sag Harbor that makes it the kind of community that supports programming like this?

I pulled this out of The Sag Harbor Express from 1982 when the school was being rededicated. This was read by John Jermain Slocum from a letter he received from his cousin.

“It is interesting that Sag Harbor has not just let the Pierson High School crumble down. They could have knocked it down. We live in a society now that believes in knocking things down, throwing things away. But no, Sag Harbor chose to rebuild at great expense this high school with no sacrifice in quality. Every detail has been attended to and I think the reason for this is that people here still believe in Mrs. Sage’s feeling that this is a very special place. In Sag Harbor they value the best and finest. These people believe their children are the best and finest, and this school will help them to believe in the importance of the place where they grew up before they go out into the world.”

If you believe we have the best and finest, as I do, you understand that the education these kids need is not limited to a classroom. They have to understand and experience the world and they have to have these kinds of authentic experiences.



The Pierson Art Department benefit art exhibition and sale will be held on Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Pierson High School (200 Jermain Avenue, Sag Harbor). The exhibition will feature art by April Gornik, John Alexander, Bill King, Rick Gold, Lynn Matsuoka, Josh Dayton, Kathryn Solow, Vito DeVito, among others. Each piece will be sold for $100.


Potential Bond Between Theater and School

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By Claire Walla

As the community searches high and low for ways to keep Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor’s only live theatre venue, here in the village, some say there’s a viable option — and it’s right under our noses.

For many in the village, it’s no surprise that the Sag Harbor School District has had plans in the works since at least 2006 to redesign the Pierson Auditorium. (In fact, a new design for the auditorium had been part of the facilities bond proposal that was voted down in 2009.)

But, what many may not know is that, as recently as last year, the idea of making the proposed auditorium a joint venture between Pierson High School and the Bay Street Theatre was already in the works.

Bay Street Theatre’s Executive Director Tracy Mitchell brought the idea to the district’s Facilities Planning Committee last year, of which she was a member. Bay Street was already beginning to set its sights on a new location, so she casually suggested the school team-up with the independent theatre company.

According to Pierson art teacher Peter Solow, who had discussed the idea with Mitchell last year, “There are many of us who believe the school should be one of the centers of the community, a place where people congregate.”

The union of Pierson and Bay Street, he added, would be a step in the right direction.

“We should be actively participating and trying to help our neighbors as much as possible,” he said.

Though Solow admitted there was no real substantive discussion about the nuts and bolts of how a partnership would unfold, he declared, “It was clear to the members of the Facilities Committee that Bay Street was reaching out to do this. And it was articulated to the board of education that there was an immediacy to this.”

But, as Solow tells it, the discussion hit a standstill — before it even got off the ground.

“Since last spring, nothing has happened,” he lamented.

The proposed $12 million design for a new auditorium, drafted by district architect Larry Salvesen, would completely replace the existing theater space, giving the auditorium a more sophisticated look, complete with a lobby and a separate entrance. (The current auditorium — a refurbished high school gym — is only accessible from within the Pierson building.)

The issue was brought to the attention of the Sag Harbor School Board again at a regularly scheduled meeting last Monday, January 9 when board member Ed Drohan urged the board to attend tonight’s “community meeting” at the Bay Street Theatre. It begins at 7 p.m.

“Having been on this school board now for a while, I realize we often refer to ourselves as a community,” Drohan said of the school’s attempts to integrate with the village. “This might be the last opportunity we have to get out of this small community and address the community as a whole.”

School board president Mary Anne Miller, who had been part of the Facilities Planning Committee last year when Mitchell first raised the idea of collaboration, said she would attend, as well.

In fact, she said the model for a community co-op theater is out there.

“But somebody needs to step up and take this on. It seems like an amazing opportunity to do something great, I just don’t know who has the wherewithal, time, connections, or the money to do it.” She continued, “We need to be doing things like this, but boy is it a big job!”

Miller concluded by saying it’s not too late to make this happen. And even Mitchell said Bay Street is open to the option.

Though Bay Street’s lease will run out in May of 2013, she said the theater is hard-pressed to stay in Sag Harbor.

“I live in the town,” Mitchell said. “I’m very concerned with what would happen to this little [community] if Bay Street left.”

And while the school does not yet have the ball rolling on its proposed theatre construction project, Mitchell said it’s still possible for Bay Street to consider moving into a temporary space while a more permanent location at the school was being prepared. But, it’s just a possibility at this point. A joint project proposal has not yet been drafted or presented.

“It is interesting,” Mitchell continued. “I’m certainly not discounting anything at this point. We want to hear from everyone in the community.”

As far as Solow’s concerned, however, Monday’s school board meeting sealed the deal. To him, that Bay Street was not made a priority during discussions indicates the worst.

“If there was anyone who held out any hope that this could happen, last night’s meeting demonstrated that it’s never going to happen,” Solow said on Tuesday. “There was an opportunity, but I can’t conceive of how it can happen now.”

Pierson/Whaling Museum To Team-Up for Art Installation

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By Claire Walla


You’re probably familiar with the old philosophical conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Well, here’s another: Does art still exist in the community if nobody gets to see it?

Lately, members of the Pierson High School art department and the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum have wondered. For both organizations, one of the most difficult aspects of their art programs and exhibits has been getting the larger community to actually see them.

But, both organizations are hoping to change that this spring.

“We’re going to do something really cool and striking that’s a collaboration between the school (the Reutershan Trust) and the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum,” explained Pierson Middle/High School art teacher Peter Solow. Solow said the school will use Reutershan Trust monies to hire local artist Scott Sandell to work with Pierson students to create site-specific artwork that will be displayed on the front lawn of the museum.

“The kids have done magical work in the past, but nobody’s seen it,” Solow continued. “Because of the generosity from the museum, now we’re able to demonstrate that in a public way. I think that’s extremely important.”

While Solow admitted the idea for the installation hasn’t been fully realized, he did say that the inspiration for the project will dovetail with the museum’s overall mission; a mission that, according to museum director Zach Studenroth, is beginning to transform. The point, he clarified, is not to change the mission of the museum, but to broaden it to encompass more contemporary works of art.

He explained that there are many practicing artists using all different mediums who live and work in Sag Harbor. And he pointed out that while East Hampton has Guild Hall, Southampton has the Parrish Art Museum and even the hamlet of Water Mill has its own community center, there isn’t a community gathering space in Sag Harbor.

“It’s a void that needs to be filled in this community,” Studenroth said. “And — given the setting that we have, both structurally and with the grounds — we feel that we can.”

Both organizations are hoping that an eye-catching artistic display on Main Street will put the community in touch with what the students are doing, while breathing some life into that old, white, box-of-a-Masonic Temple at the top of Main Street.

“Most people living in Sag Harbor don’t think about the museum,” added Whaling Museum staff member Lynette Pintauro. “I think it needs to become useful for the community instead of being this building that just sits there slumbering.”

While the essence of the student art project is yet to be fully determined, Studenroth said it will be in line with the greater theme of the museum, which he added is not necessarily strictly limited to the village’s whaling history.

“It’s the whole maritime environment,” he said. “Not just hand-wrought harpoons.”

According to Solow, this collaboration allows for the kind of real-world art project the Reutershan Trust was created to foster. Already, he said he and artist Scott Sandell — who also helped students transform the courtyard at Pierson — have spoken with up to 40 students who are interested in working on the spring project. (Though Solow said he doesn’t expect that many to actually partake.)

Both Solow and Sandell have explained what site-specific art is by discussing works by Christo, who created a series of orange “gates” in Central Park in 2005, and British artist Andy Goldsworthy, whose artwork — Including large, rock cairns and leafy nautiluses — are famous for being constructed outdoors, by hand, with nature as the only medium.

“We’re talking about students elevating what they’re doing to be something serious, this really cool thing that can get a lot of buzz in town,” Solow continued. Not only will they learn about art, but Solow imagines giving students the opportunity to design posters, brochures and press releases for the show, allowing them to develop marketing and business skills to add to their artistic inclinations (a tactic Pintauro, an artist herself, said is “invaluable”).

“We’re all going to meet [in January] and try to develop the ideas that are still only theoretical now,” Solow added. “Even the way we present this, the way that it falls out to the community, that’s going to be part of the performance. We don’t want to give away the punch line too quickly.”

Peering Into the Reutershan Trust

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Hobie Betts

By Claire Walla


What is the Reutershan Trust and how does it work? That was the discussion at Monday’s Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting which focused on the nature of the trust and was initially spurred by questions stemming from board members. Specifically, board members wanted to know what role does the school plays in overseeing costs related to the trust.

In the end, however, the presentation — given by Reutershan trustees Bob Schneider and Peter Solow — had little to do with funding. Schneider and Solow instead spoke at length on the merits of the privately funded art program created by Sag Harbor resident and architect Hobart “Hobie” Betts.

But it was just as well, said school board member Walter Wilcoxen, who in a follow-up interview noted that, coincidentally, Betts passed away Monday, the same day the trust was being presented to the school board. Wilcoxen felt it important to point out the program’s merits.

“Our art program would be decimated without it,” Wilcoxen said. “It’s so important that Hobie stepped up [to create the trust].”

The Reutershan Trust — named for Betts’ close friend Donald Reutershan, who until his death had been actively involved in the Sag Harbor School District — was established in 2000 with an endowment of $1.8 million. Each year, the fund generates somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 in interest which is used for the sole purpose of fostering artistic programs within the Sag Harbor School District.

According to Solow, who administers the program for the district, “The thing that makes the program effective is that, from the very beginning, there was a vision provided by Hobie of what art education should be — and that vision was connected to the idea of bringing professional artists into the district. The program was really designed to create authentic artistic experiences for kids.”

Solow proceeded to run through 60 slides featuring images of Pierson students making, presenting, or discussing artwork — from photography projects like “Me By the Sea,” in which students documented their lives in Sag Harbor; to drafting projects, like the Bell Monument; discussions with professionals in the art world such as Vogue editor Andrew Leon Talley and workshops with world-renowned Spanish painter Perico Pastor and Condé Nast photographer Francine Fleischer.

Earlier this year, board members discussed the program’s financial structure, questioning whether or not the program met state regulations and how the trust should be classified under the purview of the school.

“In a sense, it’s a little similar to Y.A.R.D. [Youth Advocacy and Resource Development],” Wilcoxen explained. “If the money is run through our accounts at the school” — as had been the case with Reutershan until this year — “then the purchasing policies have to follow our purchasing guidelines, and they’re pretty strict.”

For example, Wilcoxen noted that the school requires administrators to go out to bid before purchasing any goods or services. But for a service like the Reutershan Trust, which uses money to bring artistic professionals to the school to work with students, Wilcoxen said it simply doesn’t make sense to bid-out services.

“How do you put out three bids for an artist,” he asked.

In the end, the board decided to keep all financial transactions with the trustees themselves, rather than with the school’s business office. Trustees Bob Schneider, Greg Ferraris and Marsha Heffner now have the authority to sign-off on all expenditures, with financial decisions guided largely by Ferraris who is a certified accountant.

“With regard to the trust, that’s not really our money, so we didn’t feel that we should have to oversee that money as closely as the money that the taxpayers give us,” Wilcoxen continued. “We suggested that the fund itself approve the money [it spends], and in that way they can act however they see best.”

As Schneider pointed out, the program functions according to the vision and the values initially set forth by Betts: “Pride of Place, Service, Commitment to Community, Citizenship, Good Works, and Engagement with the Greater World.” And in the wake of Betts’ death, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said he didn’t see the trust functioning any differently in the future.

For Schneider, the value of the trust is clear. He noted the courtyard at the middle/high school — which took four years to construct and is still an ongoing project — and the fact that students can do photography, printmaking and drafting work as examples of opportunities the trust has provided.

“Students get to work with materials that would otherwise be too expensive for the school district to get,” explained Schneider, who was principal of Pierson Middle/High School when the Reutershan Trust was founded. He continued, “The art program without the benefit of the trust would not be the vibrant program that it is today. It really has distinguished the Pierson art program from any other art program that I know of.”

Program for Teens Affected by Drinking Emerges on East End

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By Claire Walla


For those who struggle with issues related to alcohol addiction, there’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and for those affected by people who struggle with alcohol addiction, there’s Al-anon. But what about those for whom others’ excessive drinking is also linked to peer pressure and the struggle to fit in? Those for whom a sense of identity and moral values are still being developed?

For teenagers, there’s Alateen.

On December 1, the new East End chapter of Alateen will hold its first meeting at St. Anne’s Church in Bridgehampton from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. While there are currently scores of well-populated AA and Al-anon meetings nearly every night of the week at locations across the East End, until now the closest Alateen program to the East End had been held up island in Mastic.

“I see that Alateen is so needed in this area,” said Alateen co-founder Patty*. Patty started going to Al-anon meetings three years ago because she said her family has a history of alcoholism and she had developed damaging coping mechanisms.

But she took a special interest in Alateen a year and a half ago in the wake of a cataclysmic family tragedy: in 2010 her grandson, who lived up island, died from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 15.

And with other grandchildren currently in high school in East Hampton, she said she has noticed a spate of “out-of-control” parties among high school students on the East End.

“Drugs are so prevalent and so easy to find,” she added. “Kids need places to go to talk about their feelings.”

“I think [Alateen] is an absolutely wonderful thing,” said Pierson High School Guidance Counselor Linda Aydinian.

Due to a lack of outside programs on the East End that address alcohol addiction, Aydinian said she and her fellow guidance counselors can recommend private counseling for students facing difficult situations, but that’s about it. Now, they have the option of offering teens the support of a group composed of their peers. Aydinian said she’s already circulated fliers around the school about the program.

Alateen follows the same principals of Al-anon: it is governed by a system of rotating leadership, it is completely non-denominational and it’s totally anonymous — members are strictly barred from repeating anything uttered during the course of meeting, a rule Patty said Al-anon members take very seriously.

However, unlike Al-anon, which is open to people of all ages, Alateen provides this structure exclusively for teenagers, many of whom do not deal with or internalize others’ alcohol abuse the same way as adults.

“A 13-year-old isn’t necessarily going to resonate with a 48-year-old,” explained Jennifer*, who co-founded the Alateen group with Patty.

“It’s a safe place to talk about your fears when you’re witnessing a lot of drinking around you, whether that drinking is being done by your family members or your peers,” added Patty.

Both Patty and Jennifer have been actively involved with Al-anon — for three and 14 years, respectively — and both sing its praises.

“I feel like it helped save my life,” Patty said in an interview last week.

She went on to explain that the program provides coping mechanisms for people who have suffered or are suffering through relationships with those who have addiction problems.

She said that for many teens, addiction often leads to co-dependent behavior, which can manifest in teens taking on too much responsibility at home, lying to cover-up for other people’s bad habits or generally feeling unwanted or unloved.

According to Jennifer, the biggest asset of a program like Al-anon or Alateen is anonymity.

“What we say in that room stays in that room,” she stated. “We can say anything we want and it is honored.”

“I could share my guts and it would be ok ” — Patty chimed in — “And I have.”

Jennifer, who has two young daughters herself, said a program like Alateen is desperately needed in this community.

“There are so many people out here who go to Al-anon and AA meetings, and those people have to affect the people in their lives,” said Jennifer.

Having lived much of her life with alcoholics who have been close family members, she added that she wants to be able to give kids the opportunity to have an outlet and to deal with these issues before they reach adulthood.

“That’s why I’m doing this,” continued Jennifer. “Because I’d like to save another kid.”


* Names have been changed to respect the program’s anonymity.

District Contemplates Cut to Arts Club

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By Claire Walla


For parent Roberta Riela, Pierson High School’s open art studio is a key factor in some students’ educations. In fact, she said the art program is in part why she moved her family to the Sag Harbor community nearly 25 years ago. And now that the open art studio program has been temporarily eliminated, preventing her son from continuing with his art endeavors, she is appealing to the Sag Harbor Board of Education to bring it back.

“I’m here with four students who have been affected by the open studio being cut,” she said at a Sag Harbor School Board meeting last Monday, November 14, flanked by four Pierson High School students. “Why can’t it happen for these students?”

Indeed, the cost of administering open art studio this school year ($2,800) was made part of this year’s operating budget. While the funds are there, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the program has not been halted because of a lack of support for the arts — though it may seem that way.

“I’m a supporter of the program,” Nichols said in response to Riela’s concerns. “I do want to run it and I do want to support it, but I do have to balance that with an obligation to tax payers.”

Nichols said he targeted the program at the end of last year as one that would potentially get cut from the budget due to its low enrollment numbers. But instead of cutting it outright, Nichols offered what he said was a good balance to the school’s dilemma of needing to cut costs without eliminating important class time.

“I essentially said yes to running it this year with the opportunity to reevaluate the program with the [teachers’] union midyear,” Nichols explained.

If enrollment dropped midway through the year to where enrollment numbers were at the end of last year — hovering around three or four — then Nichols said he would be more inclined to end the program. Otherwise, it would remain for the duration of the year.

“The response I got from TASH [the Teachers’ Association of Sag Harbor] was that they weren’t in support of that,” Nichols added.

School Board President Mary Anne Miller said she sympathized with Riela, but noted that the school board is tasked with the unfortunate responsibility of making cuts.

“We have to tighten up every single department,” she said. “This magnifying lens is everywhere in the district.”

Nichols said he would continue to try and reach an agreement with the teachers’ union so that if enrollment numbers stay strong, students will be able to participate in open art studio for the rest of the school year.

Donation to Schools Celebrates the Life of a Local, And His Love of Chess

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Chess adjusted

by Claire Walla


When Myron Levine decided to donate a chess table to the Sag Harbor community in honor of his son, Josh, who died tragically last year in an accident at Quail Hill Farm, it seemed to many to be a no-brainer.

The chess table would permanently reside at the location of the summer Farmers’ Market, where Josh had spent much of his time; it would be manufactured by a company Josh co-founded with his brother, Noah; and it would give Sag Harbor residents and visitors a new reason to venture into the village and enjoy the outdoors.

But last March the village voted against the proposed plan, suggesting that the area close to the Breakwater Yacht Club was not only remote, but the ground would be dug up by Exxon Mobile later in the year (a project that’s currently underway), which would make any permanent addition impossible to maintain.

That’s when Levine shifted gears.

“I decided instead of [donating the chess table to the village], I would donate the chess table to the school,” Levine said. “And they approved.”

Just this week Levine successfully donated not one, but two chess tables to the Sag Harbor School District. One table is now sitting behind the Pierson building near the field and the second table has been placed near the newly finished Eco-Walk at Sag Harbor Elementary School.

Levine said both have been strategically placed in “quiet areas,” or those places where the concentration required of a primarily mental game like chess would not easily be interrupted by the noise typical of most elementary school playgrounds during recess time.

According to Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, several students have already taken advantage of the opportunity to sit down and play the quiet game.

Levine said he is happy to have been able to donate this gift in the name of his son, who he said loved to play chess. And he hopes the tables might inspire the school district to do more to foster an appreciation for the game for its current students.

“Now that the tables are there, [the school] would love to be able to have one of the teachers talk to the students about forming a chess club,” Levine added.

He said he’s already spoken to School District Superintendent Dr. Johnn Gratto about that possibility.

“That’s one of the plans that might come from this.”