When I graduated from an enormous, inner city high school in 1971, I saw students at the graduation ceremony whom I had never seen before. This is understandable since my senior class had 2,000 students. After the graduation, my family and I walked home, where my mother made sandwiches for us. No Gambol at school, no posted signs congratulating us, no pats on the back from neighborhood people, just tuna on rye.
No such urban anonymity, neglect, or lack of community support was in evidence in PW over the last few weeks for the Schreiber H.S. Class of 2001. The excitement spread throughout this town, and was nearly palpable. At the Senior Awards, more than one presenter commented on the enthusiastic chorus of cheers from students for each other; their support for one another was astounding. And to see the large community turnout and applause from well-wishers as the graduates and their guests were announced and mounted the steps of the high school to enter Gambol 2001, which itself was a gargantuan gift from parents and this community, made me so proud to live here.
With the exception of one year, my son has attended PW schools from start to finish, from kindergarten through his 12th grade graduation on Friday, June 22. And while my heart is breaking as he prepares to leave for college in the fall, ( why didn't we consider Hofstra or Post?) there is so much that has happened here between babyhood and graduation for which I am so grateful. How could we forget, for example, his amazing fourth grade teacher, Barbara Mayer, who challenged these young minds and lifted them to new academic heights? His sixth grade teacher, Ed Conte, so in tune with their emotions, gave them the communication tools to resolve problems, including how to help a classmate with a disability. I still see the outcomes of his kindness, his understanding, his focus on effective education.
I don't remember any high school staff taking a personal interest in me. I'm sure the sheer number of students was overwhelming; to them, I was most likely an average of my test scores. But here, between transition sessions for freshman and the wonderful teacher-student bonds fostered in extracurricular clubs and research programs, high school is light years beyond what I experienced. It's a joy to have my son come home from an AP Government class, led by the "exceptionally cool" Mr. Begun and excitedly discuss politics in depth. In fact, the impact was so strong that he requested one of the government texts as a graduation present. In a monotone, my social studies teacher just rattled off important dates for us to memorize. No wonder I don't recall a single one.
My childhood experience of community was the absence of one. For personal safety, we were taught to be suspicious of just about everyone, so even venturing regularly to the corner candy store for an egg cream and a new Spalding did not ever produce friends, or even friendly acquaintances. On the other hand, my son was born here; he has spent his whole life in the same house. He has climbed the steps of the playhouse that my husband built; trick-or-treated at all the kind neighbors on Halloween; rode his big wheels cars, then his rollerblades, and now a car up and down the street. Restaurateurs and waiters recognize us with a smile, asking about the family, reminiscing about the days we'd bring him in a stroller. Likewise Patty and friends at the Dolphin bookstore. Part of the scariness of heading off to college is reduced because he goes with Danya and Adam, two of the friends he made long ago at the Parent Resource Center. I love bumping into his former nursery school teacher, Mrs. Fornatale, a sweetheart of a woman, who not only asks about him but recalls him easily; the same goes for former babysitters, now married or working in town, who are equally proud of him. At a recent public event, for instance, the wonderful Kay Condoluci very proudly introduced me to all of her family as "Justin's mother" even though she hasn't watched my son in years. Everywhere he has gone recently he is congratulated. In Port Washington, his success is shared by all.
Before moving here, my husband and I lived briefly on the south shore of LI. We couldn't wait to move; the only semblance of a sense of kinship I could find was the zip code we all shared. I wanted Justin to grow up with a sense of community, the real thing. He's found it in Port Washington, and come to think of it, at long last, so have I.
By Emily Berkowitz