Sounds of an antique tractor filled the air at the Southold Elementary School playground Wednesday morning. Cheers and claps grew louder as the tractor (on loan from Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski) began pulling a large blue tarp to unveil a replica of a Mother Goose shoe underneath.
Elementary principal Ellen O’Neill warned students that they all couldn’t fit in the shoe and advised them to take turns, but the giddy children threw caution to the wind and sprinted to the entrance eager to see their newest play space.
The Mother Goose shoe is a realization of a dream Southold Superintendent David Gamberg had more than 15 years ago and put in progress in spring 2016.
“The reason we’re all sitting here today is Mr. Gamberg had a vision,” Ms. O’Neill said. “Without a vision you really can’t get things done. So Mr. Gamberg had a vision and he persisted and persevered and made this all happen.”
To celebrate the unveiling of the newest addition to the playground, teachers and staff dressed up as storybook characters such as Mother Hubbard, Little Red Riding Hood and Glinda and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Sheep were also brought in from Catapano Farms (‘Little Bo Peep’ stood by and manned the gate) and students performed music and gave visitors tours.
Notable guests included Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, New York State Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, Regent Roger Tilles, Southold Board of Education members Paulette Ofrias, Judi Fouchet and Scott Latham as well as Mr. Gamberg’s son, Jake, an architect who designed the Mother Goose shoe.
“The magic of this place is so interconnected in all that you do,” Dr. Rosa said. “It is a place that really speaks for itself. Smiles from the children to parents to the staff, it’s clear what you represent and what this place means to you and your entire community.”
The shoe joins sandboxes, play sets, painting easels, the school garden, an outdoor amphitheater, life size chess set and more that are already available for elementary children to play with outdoors.
“It’s really cool,” fifth grader Michaela Lynch said. “I think it’s an addition to our playground to make kids explore fairy tales in real life.”
In April 2016, more than 200 students came together to create a video to show what a Mother Goose shoe would add to the outdoor area. The video was successfully used to garner donations. The Mother Goose shoe was created entirely through private donations — especially, through two large donations made by Mark and Biricim Miller and the Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation.
“It’s overwhelming,” Ms. Ofrias said. “I like what Dr. Rosa said about it being magical. This was David’s vision for many years and it’s so rewarding to see it happen with the help of many, many people.”
As the students rushed to the Mother Goose shoe the joy on Mr. Gamberg’s face was palpable. Finally, his dream was a reality, bringing joy to hundreds of elementary students.
“It feels wonderful,” he said. “Nothing short of wonderful. It is amazing, and it is but one piece of a larger storyline about childhood, about learning, about everything that we believe in so strongly.”
Top photo caption: Excited students pilled into the Mother Goose shoe when it was unveiled on Wednesday. (Nicole Smith photo)