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Islanders School Day

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Every year, the players on the New York Islanders visit select schools across Long Island for Islanders School Day, a community outreach program which is based on encouraging school-aged children to be good students, make smart choices, eat right and stay active.

While all the players on the team went to different schools, Josh Bailey and Al Montoya went to John H. West School in Bethpage.

“(The assembly) was amazing,” said Gary Levitan, the physical education teacher at John H. West School. “The kids had a great time; they were so well behaved. They listened, and hopefully they got the message that the players were relating to them. These guys have been terrific. They’re so personable. They shared great stories. It was a terrific job.”

The guys really enjoyed their experience as well.

"The things I enjoy most are with the younger kids," Bailey said. "When I see the smiles on their faces and how excited they get, it's just great. They were a really good school. We tried to keep it light, tried to keep it fun while trying to get across a good point. I thought it went well."

He added, "I remember back to how much I idolized players in the NHL. For us to be able to go to their school, anything we say, I’m sure they are paying pretty close attention, whether it be a joke question or something serious."

Al Montoya and Josh Bailey attend Islanders School Day at John H. West School in Bethpage on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. (Click a photo to view gallery.)
Bailey and Montoya talked about being a good person, inside and out, and having big dreams, which you work hard to reach each and every day. So after a brief introduction of themselves and their hockey history, the teammates began the assembly by talking to the students about the importance of working hard.

“Earning something and working hard for it is a lot better than having something handed to you,” Bailey said. “Once you feel how good it feels to work hard for something to do well, whether that be studying for a test and getting an A or a B, I think you’ll realize how good it feels.”

But feeling good about yourself is more than skin deep. It’s about the kind of person you are inside and how you treat other people around you. An old proverb popular among school age children says, “sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” However, words are powerful and can do damage to a person’s image of themselves and how they rate their self worth.

The topic of bullying fit right into place. Montoya talked about a situation that occurred when he was in fifth grade, when one of his friends was being bullied.

“I knew the bullies and I knew my friends, so it was an uncomfortable situation for me, but I felt really bad for my friend who was being picked on,” Montoya said. “I knew the right thing, even at that young age, was to stand in and defend my young buddy and let the bullies know that it’s not right. It’s not right to take advantage of someone and give the kid a hard time.”

Students raise their hands to ask questions of Al Montoya and Josh Bailey at John H. West School in Bethpage for Islanders School Day on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011.
He added, “Stepping up for the one who can’t defend themselves is a tough thing to do, but it goes a long way. We all have it within is. Bullying is never acceptable.”

If that situation arises and you feel yourself a target of bullying or if you’re going through a hard time in life for other reasons, the players talked about how family has always been their source for comfort.

“There are ups and downs just like you guys go throughout your day and throughout your year,” Montoya said. “I’ve leaned on my family a lot, my wife, my brothers, my mom. When you go through tough times, you need other people there for you and that core that helps you through those tough times.”

The students at John H. West School just had “Red Ribbon Week,” a segment focused on staying away from drugs and alcohol. Kids may also feel peer pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol, but Bailey and Montoya said drugs are never the answer. Part of caring about who you are is also about caring what you put into your body.

“You might not be going through it right now, but you might have a brother or sister that’s a little bit older that is getting peer pressured into certain things that you guys might come across later in your lives,” Montoya said. “There is nothing positive that can come from it.”

He added, “Josh and I are perfect examples. If you stay straight and you stay clean and you don’t use drugs or alcohol, you can attain certain things in life that you might not otherwise be able if you do drugs. So continue to be smart, continue to work hard and the sky is the limit.”

It also matters how you feed yourself, because you deserve to be healthy and feeding yourself helps you grow, sustain your mind and what makes us function to our fullest potential every day.

Al Montoya and Josh Bailey sign autographs for the kids at John H. West School in Bethpage on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011 for Islanders School Day.
“Even though you guys are young and might not be professional athletes, diet is still very important,” Bailey said. “When you wake up in the morning, it’s crucial to get a really good breakfast in you. I think you’ll notice that you feel much more active and more alert throughout the day.”

He added, “We all like to have McDonald’s and eat the bad stuff that tastes really good, but it’s the other stuff that gives you the energy you need to be alert all day in class and have fun on the playground and in gym class.”

Being a good person inside and out is crucial to being the best person you can be. Thus, valuing yourself as much as you value others is essential to having a good quality of life.

Bailey’s final message to the kids at John H. West School was inspiring.

“Dream big,” Bailey said. “My dream when I was your age was to play in the NHL. I get to live my dream every day now. I think if you don’t set those goals and have those dreams, no matter what they are. I think you need to dream big, work your hardest and have fun along the way to try and make that dream come true.”

The Islanders also visited:

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