All hands on deck at JFK Elementary to save a lighthouse

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Stepping Stones Lighthouse
Stepping Stones Lighthouse, as seen from Steppingstone Park, where a race to raise awareness and money for its repairs will start and end. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

The John F. Kennedy Elementary School’s efforts to save Stepping Stones Lighthouse began when Principal Ronald Gimondo’s daughter spotted the Great Neck Historical Society’s stand and wanted a T-shirt at 2014’s AutoFest and Street Festival in Great Neck Plaza.

“My daughter and I were walking through town and they just started the save the lighthouse project,” Gimondo recalled. “And my daughter said to me – we should donate some money or we should do something.”

Since then, when it comes to saving the Stepping Stones Lighthouse, all hands have been on deck at John F. Kennedy Elementary School.

One student makes a case on why people should help save the lighthouse. (Photo courtesy of Alice Kasten)

Students have assembled poetry, essays, drawings and presentations about why the lighthouse matters. They’ve also routinely filled up “penny pots” with spare change, raising $800 in the first year alone.

There have also been assemblies where coordinators of the project to save the lighthouse, like Alice Kasten, president of the Great Neck Historical Society, and Bob Lincoln, a Great Neck Park District commissioner have come in.

Students even helped filled up a little library modeled after the lighthouse, which was built by Assistant Principal Kathleen Murray’s retired father, with books for preschool children, Gimondo said.

“It’s a very romantic idea, the idea of a lighthouse, that there were people living in the lighthouse, and that kids went to school from the lighthouse,” Kasten said. “ It’s a whole new world and I think the kids are responding to that.”

John F. Kennedy Elementary School students, pictured here with Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Great Neck Historical Society President Alice Kasten and Park Commisioner Bob Lincoln, hold up their model lighthouses. (Photo courtesy of Alice Kasten)

It’s all tied into the students’ education, coordinators said. Students not only get local history lessons, but see the lighthouse’s progress, learn how to be “socially civic minded” and work together for something important.

“You can say ‘I had a part of that, you had a part of that,’” Gimondo said.

And now many in the school are gearing up for the 5K race, beginning and ending at Steppingstone Park on Oct. 22, to help fundraise.

Michelle Ahdoot, president of the United Parent Teacher Council and an executive board member of the elementary school’s parent teacher association, or PTA, said saving the lighthouse has been “close to our hearts.”

The PTA has distributed fliers about the upcoming race and is assembling teams of families, she said. The UPTC will also be sending out email blasts to people.

“The kids have been thinking about it, learning about it, and now as families we can all act on it,” Ahdoot said. “It’s a nice reason to unify together to help save something we all hold near and dear.”

“Dig a little deeper into your soul and find the courage to help save the Stepping Stones Lighthouse!” this project reads. (Photo courtesy of Alice Kasten)

Ultimately, Charles Schneider, the head of the Great Neck Historical Society’s race subcommittee, said he is very encouraged to see so many young people interested in helping the lighthouse.

“We’re very excited to have the next generation and youngsters be interested in the history of Great Neck,” Schneider said.

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