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Islanders go back to school

The Islanders visited 10 schools across Long Island and Brooklyn on Tuesday

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / New York Islanders

The Birch Elementary School auditorium was buzzing and the cheers started long before John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and Nick Leddy took the stage. 

The anticipation was akin to a teacher wheeling in a TV and giving the class a movie day, but multiply that by 10 to get a sense of New York Islanders school day. 

With blue hair and an orange shirt, fourth grader Samantha Romano looked the part of a die-hard Islanders fan when handed the microphone for the first question. Three of her heroes were at her school and she'd get to ask them a question. 

"How does hockey change you as a person and are you happy to be here at Birch?" she asked.

She couldn't contain her enthusiasm about getting an answer, but really, no one at Birch could.  

"That might have been one of the louder 'Let's Go Islanders' chants I've heard," Eberle said. "It's awesome, the kids here are pretty amped up. There's a lot of blue and orange here."

Birch was one of 10 schools across Long Island and Brooklyn that the Islanders visited on Tuesday. The players paired off in groups of two and three, speaking to young kids about the importance of school, nutrition, team work and speaking out against bullying. 

"We realize the responsibility that comes with being an NHLer and the impact you can have on kids," Tavares said. "We just tried to share some of our experiences along the way and help them become good kids. [We tell them] to enjoy being in school, be good classmates, listen to their teachers and learn good values."

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Birch Principal Kerri Galante, who was wearing the captain's jersey at the school assembly, said those are all values her school is trying to impart on the students. And while they teach these lessons every day, having it come from the Islanders drives it home. After all, the kids hang on Tavares' every word, just like the kids at Central Blvd. Elementary in Bethpage applauded after every sentence from Scott Mayfield. Every sentence. 

"When you offer an experience like this for kids, that's what really sticks," Galante said. "Any time we can bring an experience that's going to last in their memories forever, I think they'll certainly walk away remembering that if they follow their dreams and work hard, they'll be able to achieve anything." 

After their presentations, the Islanders took questions, answering everything from their favorite school subjects, to their hometowns, to their preparation for games. For Romano, who got her shirt signed in an autograph session afterwards, getting to ask how hockey changed them as people was the day's highlight. 

Tweet from @NYIslanders: Full photo gallery from #IslesSchoolDay! ����������:https://t.co/QSwODQB7BS pic.twitter.com/U4bxBmduWB

Tavares and Eberle said they would have been blown away if an NHLer had come to their school, so they wanted to make an impact during the assembly.

"Kids look up to you. I remember having my heroes and if they came and spoke to me, I'd listen," Eberle said. "When you have that power it's good to do stuff like this."

If Romano and fellow fourth-grader Robert Krayevsky, who was proudly showing off his newly-signed puck, was any indication, then the Islanders gave the kids an unforgettable school day. 

Krayevsky had the last word. 

"I think it was one of the best days I ever had in my life."

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