South Orangetown Central School District

Members of the Cottage Lane Elementary School Student Advisory Council (SAC), representing all 28 classrooms, hosted a grand opening ceremony for the school’s new playground and modular library on October 17. Students thanked building and district administrators, Board of Education, SOCES PTA, Facilities staff and library staff Kristine Wagner and Heather Guzman for helping to make the capital improvements possible.

Board of Education member Cara Stepanian, Ph.D., was invited to cut the ribbon to the playground, and Superintendent of Schools Robert Pritchard, Ed.D., handled ribbon-cutting honors for the library before setting off on student-led tours of the new facilities.

Principal Karen Ramirez and Assistant Principal Rob Schliessman have worked to expand opportunities for student voice to be part of the decision-making process at CLE. Last year, SAC representatives played a significant role in the planning and design of the school’s new accessible playground. Three fifth-graders and former SAC members shared their thoughts.

“We feel free to ask for what we want,” said John A. “The swings were always crowded and we only had four, so we knew we needed more. We have eight now!”

“We searched for equipment online and in catalogs, looked at prices and tried to find things that everyone would like,” explained John F.

Sergio A. added, “Mrs. Ramirez and Mr. Schliessman made a slideshow of equipment we’d picked out and we came together. The students, as a community, got to decide.”

That sense of community played a big role in the planning process, the fifth-graders said. “Making places accessible is something people should think about. If it’s not accessible, it’s not fun,” reflected John F. “We want to be a helping and fair community that everyone can contribute to.”

Schliessman said that there has been a lot of excitement about the new playground and that students and administrators have worked out systems to ensure that all students have a chance to play on even the most popular equipment at recess.

A sign in the library reads “The Library is the Heart of the School,” which speaks to how this new space is valued by students and staff alike. “We have wanted a library for a long time,” noted Ramirez. “We wanted a gathering place for our school and a place where students and adults could celebrate and share a love of reading. And with Mrs. Wagner’s vision and our new space, we have that. It’s very exciting.”

Superintendent cutting ribbon with students looking on