Peter Castillo first learned to speak English as an 8-year-old at Southold Elementary School after immigrating to the U.S. from Nicaragua. That experience inspired the local business owner to help other students achieve their dreams.
To do so, Mr. Castillo donated an amphitheater — not just the money for it, he also designed and built it.
The elementary school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday to unveil its “Magical Playscape Amphitheater,” an outdoor area where students can perform.
Mr. Castillo, a 2002 Southold High School graduate, is the owner of Castillo Scapes in Southold, a masonry construction and design company that also has a showroom at North Fork Pools in Mattituck.
Mr. Castillo said he felt honored when the school approached him a year ago about the project because he loves the district and local community. He donated $25,000 toward the amphitheater’s construction.
“I’ve lived here for almost my whole life,” he said. “I was young and didn’t know any English when I came to this school. The school helped and supported me.
“I just love this place.”
Mr. Castillo said his father first came to the U.S. in search of a better life for his family and started a landscaping company, Castillo Landscaping in Southold, which also volunteered to lay down sod around the amphitheater.
Other local businesses that donated labor and material include: Joseph Silvestro Construction in Southold,
Atlantic Fence & Gate in East Quogue, Briarcliff Landscaping and Sod in Peconic and Laurel Stone Supply Plus in Mattituck.
Mr. Castillo has dedicated the amphitheater in the memory of his friend Lucas Pasko, a Polish immigrant who was also his classmate in the school’s English as a Second Language program.
Mr. Pasko died five years ago in a tragic accident after his friend accidentally shot him with a rifle.
“I know he was impacted by the ESL program,” Mr. Castillo said. “I thought this would be perfect to dedicate it to him because he loved it here, too.”
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, students and teachers gathered in and around the amphitheater and took turns thanking Mr. Castillo for his generosity through music, dance and words.
Superintendent David Gamberg said he’s always envisioned an amphitheater at the school because he believes outdoor learning opportunities are crucial to a student’s education.
“Our appreciation is so great, it’s hard to find the right words,” he said to Mr. Castillo. “We are here to make a statement about the importance of play, about the importance of authentic learning that can not be measured on a score.”
Over the past few years, the district’s playground committee and the Southold School Educational Foundation have been working toward creating outdoor learning opportunities.
The amphitheater is located next to the school’s 7,000-square foot garden, which not only provides fresh produce for students in the cafeteria, but also acts as an outdoor classroom for science, math and literacy lessons.
In addition, there are sandboxes and art easels nearby.
“Having older students help younger children develop intellectual skills by playing chess is a very healthy activity,” said Judi Fouchet, the foundation’s secretary and the school board’s vice president.
Ms. Fouchet added: “It is my hope that you will use this beautiful amphitheater to create, imagine and perform for many years to come.”
The district is also planning to build a “giant Mother Goose Shoe sculpture” where students can read fairy tales to each other.
Mr. Castillo’s sister, Dina MacDonald, said she’s very proud of her brother’s accomplishments and believes the school and community’s support in providing opportunities for imagination has continued to nurture students’ success.
“This is the true meaning of the American dream,” she said.
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