Homemade posters and decorations, drawn, painted and glued by elementary school students adorned the walls of the gymnasium at the School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD) on Thursday morning. Life-sized construction cutouts of hockey players, two plastic goals as well as red and blue tape on the floor turned the school’s gymnasium into a festive hockey rink decorated for the awaited arrival of Islanders goaltender
As the students patiently waited for their guests to arrive and begin the sixth annual Islanders School Day assembly, they chanted “Let’s go Islanders” in unison. But the students weren’t the only ones excited, the teachers and staff couldn’t wait for the program to begin as it provides more than just a fun learning experience.
The Islanders School Day presentation, presented by Bethpage Federal Credit Union and New York’s 529 College Savings Program, teaches the importance of working hard in school, reading, keeping an active lifestyle and eating healthy. It also allows students to meet some of their heroes and connect with them in a personal way, creating life long role models in the process.
|Rick DiPietro and Trent Hunter at the School for Language and Communication Development on November 18, 2010. Click the photo to view a gallery of all Islanders School Day. |
“Playing professional sports was my dream, but I was fortunate to go to college and get an education,” DiPietro told the students at SLCD. “Education is very important.”
At SLCD, all of the children have special needs and it takes a lot of creativity and hands-on experience for them to truly grasp what they are learning so the teachers took special care in preparing all of their students for Thursday’s assembly.
“The kids did all of the work (decorating the gymnasium),” said Dr. Ellenmorris Tiegerman, founder and executive director of the School for Language and Communication Development. “That’s part of the experience. In order to make the experience relevant for a child with special needs, he has to be in the experience which means he has to do all the work, he has to make all the diagrams, all of the pictures, they have to have discussions in class about the team.”
Dr. Tiegerman added, “Everything in this building, we try to recreate for them a real experience in the real world so that there is a connection there. The culminating experience would be to actually take them to the game to see the players play the game.”
This same picture was painted at elementary schools throughout Long Island as two players visited 10 different schools on Thursday morning for the Islanders School Day assembly. Those schools include South Bay Elementary, P.S. 24 Andrew Jackson, Parkview Elementary, South Salem Elementary, Marion Street School, Davison Avenue School, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, John H. West School and Hewlett Elementary.
The care taken to create each unique piece of art, at each school, represented the students who spent hours of hard work creating imaginative masterpieces to welcome their Long Island hockey heroes.
All of the school day assemblies were successful. At SLCD, DiPietro was happy to be able to connect with the students.
“That school was great,” DiPietro said. “I’ve been doing this for a lot of years and that was about as much Islanders pride I’ve seen at a school. It’s a real honor to get to go out and have that kind of reception from a group of kids and teachers. It was a really enjoyable thing we get to do as professional athletes.”
DiPietro added, “I remember when I was a kid. I used to send letters to professional players. Just to get a puck thrown at me or something signed would have meant so much. I caught a foul ball at a Yankees-Red Sox game just this year and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. So I know how they feel and I realize what an impact you can have on a child’s life and that means a lot to me.”
Talking about staying active is a big part of the Islanders School Day program, but it is also a major part of the curriculum at SLCD. As Dr. Tiegerman explained, people with developmental disabilities are often overweight and are not always able to participate in extracurricular activities. But the majority of students at SLCD are mostly active when they partake in the activities throughout the school day.
As a result, DiPietro and Hunter talked about their life experiences and fun outdoor activities they used to partake in when they were younger to try to get out of their houses and away from their television sets or video games.
“I spent a lot of my childhood outside with my friends riding bikes and playing games,” Hunter said. “Growing up in Canada, there were a lot of outdoor hockey rinks. We had a lot of fun outside staying active and that’s still a part of who I am today.”
The players also talked about reading and explained that they really enjoy reading books because they help with your imagination, build interest in new subjects and increase your vocabulary among other things. While DiPietro told the students about the book he was currently reading, he said that the children would probably enjoy his favorite book from childhood much more – ‘The Big Friendly Giant’ by Roald Dahl.
Hunter added, “My mom always used to read me and my brothers the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ growing up. So those are my favorite books.”
Since DiPietro and Hunter are athletes, during the question and answer session, students asked about what it takes to become a professional hockey player.
“The best advice I can give to a young athlete is never give up on your dreams,” DiPietro said. “It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become a professional athlete. But if you love something, never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”
Dr. Tiegerman and the rest of the teachers and staff at SLCD were very appreciative of the Islanders for coming out to their school to spend time with their students and expressed their overwhelming amount of gratitude towards DiPietro and Hunter.
“For them to have access to their favorite team and the players on the team is just an extraordinary gift to all of them,” said Dr. Tiegerman. “These kids worked very hard. They studied about the Islanders franchise. They studied about the players. They studied about the history of the team and you could see that they were very well prepared and asked questions that were relevant to each of the players in terms of what the team was doing. It was just a fabulous experience for them because they learned a lot and also they had a great time.”
Dr. Tiegerman added, “The reality is that these kids were given an extraordinary opportunity today, one which they would never have outside.”