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SCHOOL SCENE A Special Supplement to the Sullivan County Democrat

A look at

activities in the


School District






Tri-Valley steps up to the plate to educate about farming, eating one of only six school districts in New York State to pilot new program STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY


ri-Valley senior Rebecca Coombe and Alora Carey, a junior, know about farming and the outdoors. And they're spreading the word. “We're one of the largest Angus beef farms in New York State,” explains Coombe of Thunder View Farm, a 1,500 acre spread on South Hill in Grahamsville. “We own Maple Woods (Horse) Farm in Loch Sheldrake,” says Carey. Her family offers horseback riding, horse boarding and lessons in various subjects involving equines. Coombe is president and Carey vice president of the school’s Future Farmers of America, a national student organization that started with a focus on farming and has broadened into ag-related fields such as teaching, science and business.

Both students are thrilled with a new Tri-Valley initiative that underlines the importance of eating “real food” and supporting real farming. Funded through the American Farmland Trust, the Farm to School program chose TriValley Central School District as one of only six school districts in New York State to participate. “We were awarded a grant in June to incorporate community, school and cafeteria into a Farm-to-School program,” said Tara Berescik, longtime Ag teacher. The purpose of Farm to School is to provide students with fresh, healthy foods while helping to boost New York’s agricultural economy by expanding markets for farmers. The school will focus its efforts on teaching sustainability that is, practices and methods that are environmentally sound; along with good quality eating habits, and the importance

of buying local foods.

WHY TRI-VALLEY? The Farm-to-School program sought school districts that had a leg up on agriculture and sustainability. Tri-Valley boasts two working greenhouses, a community garden with 40 raised beds, and an orchard with 40 apple, peach and plum trees. Plus, the District’s 65-year-old agriculture program is legendary. “We want to make farm education available to the masses,” said Berescik. “Farm life makes this community what it is.” The District began its work this school year by recognizing Farmers of the Month with “Cream of the Crop” awards. In October, Thunder View Farm, which last year received a National Cattleman’s Beef Association Environmental Stewardship Award, got the Tri-Valley award for its dona-

Tri-Valley students Rebecca Coombe and Alora Carey serve as president and vice president, respectively, with the school’s Future Farmers of America program. Coombe serves on a new Farm to School committee, and Carey’s family horse farm, Maple Woods in Loch Sheldrake, received a recent award from the Farm to School initiative.

tions of food for school activities, for serving as coaches and for providing bales of hay when needed. CONTINUED ON PAGE 4T


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School Scene ‘A look inside the Tri-Valley Central School District’ Published by

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In November, Maple Woods Farm was honored for bringing horses into the Ag classroom, and for reducing costs so that special needs and financially challenged students could sample the joys of horsemanship. In December, Wightman Fruit Farm of Kerhonkson accepted a Cream of the Crop award for open-heartedness about donating apples from its incredible orchard of 120 apple varieties. The month of January saluted Justus Asthalter Maple Inc. in Parksville for allowing students to volunteer and for donating maple products. The Farm to School initiative then produced an activity book for elementary school students entitled “My Book About Farm Animals.” It also made available books like “How Did That Get in my Lunch-box,” which features step-by-step illustrations about how farmers and others do their part to get food to students. A $5,000 grant for the Farm to School program will also pay for hydroponic gardening kits to grow lettuce for the school cafeteria, and for garlic and herbs to sprout in the community gar-


den. The Tri-Valley program will go on to teach sixth through eighth graders about growing food and engendering an appreciation of the community's ties to agriculture. “Kids can learn about local food, not just things that are in the supermarket,” said Tri-Valley ag teacher Ashley Kent, who focuses on plant science. “Today's kids don't necessarily have that connection to the outside, getting out and touching soil and planting, which is so important.” The Farm to School grant will also help to buy “grow racks” to nourish seedlings in small places. A trip to Kelder's Farm, an award-winning sustainable farm in Kerhonkson, is planned. “Agriculture affects so much in daily life, even the clothes we wear,” mused student Coombe, who serves on the Farm to School committee as a student representative along with Erin Duffy. “It’s about connecting people with farming,” said Carey. “They need to know that agriculture is here, producing things and helping the community.”



At Grahamsville’s Thunder View Farms, The Coombe Family raises Black Angus Cows On 1,500 Acres.

Mission statement from Tri-Valley’s new farm-to-school project Tri-Valley is a farm-to-school community, which values farming and feeding for our future through

health, wellness and education while honoring our land, labor and learning.

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A program for when your parents split up and you do too



Nicole Temple, elementary school counselor, and Rose Ann O'Connor, social worker, create a supportive community that counteracts the day-to-day stresses of children of divorce. STORY AND PHOTO BY KATHY DALEY






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hat do you do when you’re seven-years-old and your parents fight constantly? Or when you're 10 and struggling to get along with new step-brothers and sisters? You go to the program with the funny name. Banana Splits is a school-based support program for children whose parents have separated, divorced or remarried, and the kids are experiencing difficulty around custody, visitation or step-sibling problems. “It's a place for children to support each other, share their experience, find coping skills and most of all, get time to talk,” said Tri-Valley Elementary School school counselor Nicole Temple. Begun in mid-January this school year, Banana Splits takes place once a week for eight weeks and welcomes 6 to 8 first and second graders for the first 30 minutes of the children's school day. For fifth and sixth graders, the program runs the last 30 minutes in the afternoon. After eight weeks, two groups of different children go to the sessions. Launched in 1978 by a social worker in Ballston Spa, N.Y., the program is highly regarded nationwide for teaching children how to help themselves and each other in a group setting. Over time, Banana Splits can counteract the challenging impact of parental separation or divorce on children. “Banana Splits is mostly a safe haven for them,” said elementary school social worker Rose Ann O'Connor. First, each child is given a minute to share what's going on in their lives. “My mom and Dad were fighting on the phone,” says one child. “To overhear fighting can be traumatic for kids,” notes O'Connor.

For another child, there might be frustration because he or she is living in two homes instead of one. Oftentimes, a child might forget to move their possessions from one house to the other and that frustrates her or him. “The custody arrangements ‘with Mom one weekend and Dad the other’ upsets them,” said O'Connor. “They get tired.” Then there are issues around stepparents and families: a child may not be comfortable with a new step-parent and step-siblings. “Some come in to school with a lower spirit; they bottle it up inside. We'd never know except for this group,” Temple said. “Here, they learn they're not the only ones arriving in school with [emotional] baggage.” Confidentiality is key in interactions with the children. In a writing assignment during a Banana Splits workshop to get out what's going on inside, one student said to O'Connor, “I don't want anyone to see this but you and me.” But if serious issues of the children's health and safety are raised, the experts take action. For a child to participate in Banana Splits, parents must give the OK, and so far, adult reactions to the program have been positive. One parent urged the social worker to get her daughter to “open up.” Banana Splits can affect children academically for the better, too. When they feel they are not alone in their pain, they can concentrate more on school work. At the same time, they are polishing an important skill, said Temple. “They learn empathy,” she said. Assistant Principal Jennifer Ruston noted another plus: “If a parent is reluctant to do outside counseling themselves, this can be the stepping stone for them to open up.”



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Artwork that ‘speaks’ every day from the walls of the high school STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATHY DALEY


urals don’t get stashed away in a closet or hidden on a shelf. From the space they live on, these big paintings continue to communicate – often for generations –

what a school community values and appreciates. “We are trying to make more inviting and welcoming spaces in our school,” said art teacher Samantha Hayes, “and leaving a legacy behind on the walls.” This past September, five students signed up for a brand new course

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Art teacher Samantha Hayes is flanked by student Heather Winter on left and Samantha Houghtaling on right. A five-member Mural Painting class has created two full murals at the high school, including this one that captures both the steady mountains of home and the excitement of adventure.

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called Mural Painting. “Murals are not just random pictures on a wall,” said student Samantha Houghtaling. “You have to think about it. And it’s a good way to be really creative. You don’t have to follow specific guidelines.” Mural painting encourages collaboration but also demands a huge amount of time and sometimes revision. The scale of the work tests the muscle because everything is bigger. “It can get tiring in the attention to detail,” agreed art student Heather Winter. Murals are nothing new at Tri-Valley. Students led by teachers started painting the walls as early as the 1950s. The oldest murals, from 1956, depict the various subjects offered at school along with important landmarks in the surrounding countryside. Today’s students do the same, incorporating the local landscape and culture into their large wall paintings. “We paint the region we live in: the mountains, the valleys, the trees,” said Houghtaling. “You can tell we don’t live in the city. And we try to be motivating and inspiring.”

The process begins with brainstorming what the mural should “say.” “It’s like it is in the business world,” explains High School Principal David Pulley, who meets with students to plan for the mural. “It’s about who their client is, meeting with them, coming up with a message, sharing ideas back and forth.” Teacher and students come up with a working sketch for the mural, including the colors they will use. For example, one wall painting in the making celebrates the Neversink Reservoir and a bear – the school’s mascot – in bold colors. “For some murals, we use a projector connected to a computer,” said Hayes. “We project the image on the wall and then trace it (before layering on the paint). As in rendering smaller projects, there are those “step-back” moments, noted Houghtaling. “Every 15 minutes, you step back and then make changes. If I get a drop of paint in the wrong place, I can make it into something.” The class is working on incorporating meaningful messages into their murals, transforming the environment



Painted by students, this mural depicts the local Neversink Reservoir landscape, and features a bear that represents the school district’s mascot. The banner above will say ‘Welcome to Bear Country.’

for the better, says teacher Hayes. “It’s important for students to be exposed to as many positive messages as possible during this critical time in their lives,” she said. “Everyone is going through their own challenges and art is a powerful way of reaching out to an

entire population of people.” Right now, though, they are just students, enjoying the visual power and beauty of making big art. “Heather and me, we’re the Class of 2020,” said Houghtaling. “We are leaving our own legacy.”


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Smallest to biggest kids learn ‘the code’ for now and for later STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATHY DALEY


High school senior Isaac Galli learns computer programming through a Carnegie Mellon University program.

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a college renowned for its world class programs in science and technology. Python (named after the comedy group Monty Python), is the most widely taught computer language on the university level and one of the most popular programming languages used by Google, Amazon and Facebook. Coding is a full year program this year, said Lane, with seven students participating. They attend class for one period each day. Teacher training, support and lesson plans are delivered by Carnegie Mellon. Students can work alone or collaboratively as they learn to problem


learning Python code in the school's first true programming class. The course is paid for by the prestigious


igh School teacher Kaitlynn Lane points out that computer coding is everywhere, from filing one’s taxes online to the workings of a new car or refrigerator. “Coding is involved in anything that has a computer to run,” Lane emphasizes. “And jobs in programming are everywhere – in business, hospitals, schools. All are tied into computer science and programming.” So kids at Tri-Valley – the older students and younger ones – are studying coding. That’s the art of telling computers what to do, and doing so in a language that computers understand. At the high school, students are

Teacher Cerissa Giglio works with sixth grader Sadie Houghtaling in a computer course at the elementary school.

solve, said Lane. She teaches geometry at Tri-Valley and is now a certified Carnegie Mellon educator. “I hear them asking one another, ‘Can you find any issues in my code?’” Through the self-paced program, students like senior Isaac Galli and junior Will Rodrigues learn to create algorithms, which are sets of instructions to satisfy tasks. “I’m learning everything about coding,” said Galli. “It’s fun to do and not that hard for me.” Rodrigues said he will likely use the knowledge he's gaining now in his future as well. “(Coding) is creative,” he said. “It lets me do whatever I want.”




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Will Rodrigues, a junior, finds coding creative in the high school’s first true programming course.

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our own country,” she said. She also engages students in inventing, such as building a robot inspired by an animal that will clean up the mountains of litter at the bottom of the sea. “This is their future,” she said.

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“This class will help them ease into freshman college computer programming courses,” noted Lane. Across the way at the elementary school, technology teacher Cerissa Giglio enthuses about technology and science in general. “It’s always changing, always moving forward,” she said. “I love that I’m always doing something different, that there’s always something new to teach.” That “something new” is coding. “The kids love it,” Giglio said, speaking from her lively, colorful classroom where young students sit together, working at small tables, able to share their excitement and insights. With “Scratch” software, they program their own interactive stories, games and animations. Recently, students were thrilled to animate their own names. For example, one student’s name danced against a backdrop of a moving white unicorn. Using “Dance Party,” students can program cute cartoon characters to rock to their favorite music. “Coding is almost like a second language,” said Giglio. “If you learn when


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Scenes from the Tri-Valley School District Students are challenged to do their best at Tri-Valley Central School and that means working hard in class. Here are a few scenes from a school day at Tri-Valley.


Tri-Valley Central has long been noted for student involvement – be it in athletics, extra-curricular or civic organizations. Today, Tri-Valley is also one of only six schools in the State of New York with a Farm to School program. Check out page 2 for the complete story.


On the Cover



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Tri-Valley School Scene 2020  

See what great things are happening within the Tri-Valley Central School District!

Tri-Valley School Scene 2020  

See what great things are happening within the Tri-Valley Central School District!