Saddle Rock remembers ‘Zachy’ through memorial garden renovation

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Robin Portnoy is greeted by Saddle Rock students during an activity for the garden renovation project. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)
Robin Portnoy is greeted by Saddle Rock students during an activity for the garden renovation project. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

Moji Pourmoradi recalled when her oldest daughter Leyla – graduating this year – spoke to her about the shape a memorial garden at Saddle Rock Elementary School.

“Zachy’s Garden,” as she called it, looked “really bad” and nobody seemed to know about the boy it was remembering.

But then, a few days later, Pourmoradi said she contacted the boy’s brother Ben to see if he wanted to make any changes – and then the idea was raised with the school.

“That’s how it started,” Pourmoradi, a parent co-chair of the Shared Decision Making Committee, said in an interview.

Assistant Principal Luciana Bradley, Joseph Hickey, assistant superintendent for special education and pupil services, Robin Portnoy, Matthew Portnoy, art teacher Rosemary Sloggatt, Moji Pourmoradi, parent co-chair of the Shared Decision Making Committee, Robin Trichon, teacher co-chair of the committee, Alison Brennan, director of special education, Jordana Levine, parent co-chair of the committee and interim Principal Michael Mensch were all involved in the project. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)
Assistant Principal Luciana Bradley, Assistant Superintendent Joseph Hickey, Robin Portnoy, Matthew Portnoy, art teacher Rosemary Sloggatt, Shared Decision Making Committee co-chairs Moji Pourmoradi and Robin Trichon, special education director Alison Brennan, Jordana Levine, parent co-chair of the committee and interim Principal Michael Mensch were all involved in the project. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

Most students at Saddle Rock Elementary School today weren’t born yet when fourth-grader Zachary Portnoy passed away in 2007, but they gained the chance to know him through a school-wide project organized by administrators, parents, faculty and members of the Shared Decision Making Committee done in his honor.

Students from kindergarten and up have helped renovate “Zach’s Garden,” established ten years ago to pay tribute to the young student.

This included designing colorful fish like pavers – an idea credited to Alfredo Cavallaro, the school district’s director of facilities and operations – for the garden slope, dolphins, painting flowers and benches, as well as making birdhouses.

Members of the Portnoy family also revisited the area last month, repainting the rocks first placed there a decade ago.

“Every step in the process has been carried out with such love and care, with Zachy, and all the goodness and kindness he represented, as the driving force behind every detail,” Robin Portnoy, who was Zach’s mother, said of the renovation. “It fills my heart with so much joy knowing that my Zachy is still able to spread his love and kindness on others, and what a positive impact that love and kindness still has on everyone who hears his story.”

Fifth graders, including this girl in pink, painted colorful designs on paving stones for the new mindfulness area at Saddle Rock School. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)
Fifth graders, including this girl in pink, painted colorful designs on paving stones for the new mindfulness area at Saddle Rock School. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck Public Schools)

“I will forever be touched by the love Zachy, and my entire family, has received back from Saddle Rock tenfold in this beautiful way,” Portnoy added.

Fernanda Bravo, one of the teacher co-chairs of the Shared Decision Making Committee that helped spearhead the project, said she learned a lot about kind of boy he was and his ability to bring out the best in people.

“…When he was ill at the school, he was still so positive and everybody wanted to be around him,” Fernanda Bravo, one of the teacher co-chairs of the Shared Decision Making Committee, said in an interview. “It was just a chain effect of kindness going on [and] around.”

And the response to this project, committee co-chairs Bravo, Pourmoradi, and Patricia Schoelle said, “proves that he continues to” inspire kindness.

There will be an official ceremony on Tuesday, June 12, starting at 9:40 a.m. featuring singing, music, and a ribbon cutting rededicating the garden. Robin Portnoy, Zach’s mother, will also be speaking.

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