When a school system can demonstrate its hopes for peace to its community, and on the same day raise more than $30,000 for scholarships and teaching grants, that’s a good day in Freeport.
“The Peace Walk happens every year on the third or fourth Saturday of September, as it is near International Peace Day on Sept. 21,” said Dr. Alice Kane, assistant superintendent for educational and administrative services. “It’s also close to Oct. 2, the United Nationas International Day of Non-Violence, which was chosen because it is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. We added Family Fun Day because the weather was beautiful and we had families already out there for the Peace Walk.”
Several hundred students of all ages, with families and school officials, assembled at Freeport High School on Sept. 25 at 10 a.m.
“It’s my first Peace Walk,” said Navy Junior Reserve Officers Trainign Corps member Victoria Shim. “I’m looking forward to walking for peace.”
“This will be my third Peace Walk,” said Michael Adams, also in the Navy Junior ROTC. “To be honest, peace on its own is so hard to accomplish, but the community coming together for this is a nice thing to do together.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kishore Kuncham introduced the day, thanked the community leaders in attendance and outlined the plan for the walk.
“All of you are leaders,” Kuncham told the crowd. “I would like to be able to recognize each one of you special people who have joined us to lead in this cause.”
School Board President Maria Jordan-Awalom said, “Thank you for being change makers.” Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé said, “This is something special that Freeport does. ... As far as I know, there are not any other communities who celebrate this.”
“We know we have many challenges here in our nation and here in the world,” said State Sen. John Brooks, “but to walk in hope, which you’re doing today, and to call on the world to live in peace, is a beautiful thing.”
Assistant Principal Alan Joohnson said, “We are not just a school in the middle of a community, but we’re part of this larger picture.”
The crowd then followed Kuncham and the school leadership across South Brookside Avenue, heading down along the sun-dappled street toward Merrick Road. The walk was orderly and focused, circling up South Long Beach Avenue and finally westward back to the high school. The demonstration was not with signs and chants, but with an orderly flow of people who displayed Freeport’s diverse population in a strong but harmonious spirit.
As the families returned to the high school for Family Fun Day, the same tranquility of spirit prevailed. The vast schoolyard dwarfed the tents and tables at either end, from which health organizations dispensed information and volunteers doled out free hot dogs, water and granola bars. George DiGiovanni, a fourth-grade teacher at Leo F. Giblyn School, led rows of children through a series of hilarious foot races.
“You’re the Turkeys, you’re the Chicken Nuggets, you’re the Rafters, and you’re the Boosters,” DiGiovanni said, naming the four teams, each of which comprised 10 to 12 children. “OK, stand like a penguin. Now waddle.” The children stumbled down the field with arms stiffly at their sides, touched the cones that marked the halfway point and raced back at top speed.
“Drum roll!” DiGiovanni shouted. The children and onlookers pounded their thighs until DiGiovanni announced, “The winner, straight from MacDonald’s, is the Chicken Nuggets!”
Relaxing at a table with her fifth-grade son Justin, Marie Grant said, “I’m enjoying this event. It’s wonderful. It’s community teamwork, it’s community involvement, meeting the administrators, our teachers, other students and parents, and,” she laughed, “they’re feeding us well.”
After the races and a sidesplitting string of dances from “YMCA” to “Baby Shark,” parents chatted in clusters while their children dashed across the field in improvised gaggles. The teens made their own big group at a comfortable distance from the rest of the attendees, talking earnestly together or bursting into laughter. It was a day for a school system of about 7,000 students to relax together after reaching out to their community via the Peace Walk.
The Family Fun Day was sponsored by the Freeport Educational Foundation, which raised money by selling tickets for the event to families at the schools, and by receiving donations from private parties and area businesses.
The money pays for $500 scholarships that are awarded yearly to graduating seniors based on submissions of written essays. It also goes to mini-grants for projects for which Freeport teachers apply — projects that the teachers develop for their own classes, like researching the world’s seven different biomes using iPad technology, or an Interactive LEGO Exploration Zone that incorporated math, science and technology to create replicas of buildings from around the world. More information can be found at feffreeport.org.