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Sky’s the limit: A larger than life vision for school recess


One Christmas break more than 15 years ago, Southold School District Superintendent David Gamberg had a vision for an elementary school. 

Calling on the creative skills of his son Jake, now an architect, Mr. Gamberg created a small-scale model of a school building and its recess area, adding in a few wish list items. Included in the model, which he’s kept ever since, were a garden and an amphitheater, both of which the district has added to the campus in recent years.


Off in the corner of the father-son project was a small shoe with a house on top (pictured at left) and a figurine of a student out in front.

“There it is,” Mr. Gamberg said, leaning over the more than 15-year-old model. “That’s our Mother Goose Shoe.”

The tiny shoe is symbolic of an 18-foot-tall sculpture (plans pictured below) the district wants to place on school grounds, between the school garden and the amphitheater, to create an area where students can read and let their imaginations run wild.

A conceptual drawing from architect Jake Gamberg.

For Mr. Gamberg, the tiny model makes kids feel larger than life. The actual large sculpture will show them the sky’s the limit.

On Tuesday, more than 200 elementary school students took part in an extended recess, breaking into groups for various activities while high school students and a local aerial videographer captured them at play.

The video will be used to promote fundraising efforts for the piece, which would be built by a New Jersey company that specializes in oversize outdoor sculptures. Mr. Gamberg estimated the Mother Goose Shoe would cost about $35,000.

The project will be spearheaded by the Southold School Educational Foundation, which has assisted with the funding and acquisition of many elements recently added to the play area.

“Recess is more than just play,” Mr. Gamberg said. “It’s an outdoor learning space and an important part of the learning process. It should be a time each day for students to dream and wonder.”

Elementary scholl student Michaela Lynch is interviewed by high school students. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
Elementary scholl student Michaela Lynch is interviewed by high school students. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Before the cameras began rolling Tuesday, principal Ellen O’Neill said she divided students from all grades into groups around the recess area. The chorus students entertained classmates in the amphitheater while others worked in the nearby garden.

In the play areas, second- and fourth-grade students teamed up for a game of soccer and sixth-graders buddied up with first-graders on the playground. Games of handball and chess played out around a group of young girls painting on easels.

A drone buzzing overhead, operated by Andrew LePre of LePre Media in Cutchogue, captured the scene on video.

An aerial view of Tuesday's recess from aerial videographer Andrew LePre. (Credit: LePre Media)
An aerial view of Tuesday’s recess from aerial videographer Andrew LePre. (Credit: LePre Media)

“How cool is that?” remarked high school technology teacher Jason Wesnofske, who got a chance to fly the drone after students returned to class. “That drone is just wild. I can’t believe we’re using this kind of technology.”

Mr. LePre’s footage will be edited together with video shot by high school students, who circulated through Tuesday’s recess crowd interviewing students. Officials hope the project will help the school’s educational foundation raise the necessary funds to bring the Mother Goose Shoe to light.

“At a time when children need to learn socialization skills more than ever, and derive tremendous benefit from healthy outdoor and imaginative activities, this addition to our playscape is much needed,” said Judi Fouchet, secretary of the educational foundation.

Top Caption: Andrew Lepre, left, gives a lesson in flying drones to Southold technology teacher Jason Wesnofske. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

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Elementary student Mackenzie Koke paints during recess. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
Brady Woods aims for the skies on the elementary school swing set.(Credit: Grant Parpan)
The chorus serenades classmates during recess Tuesday. (Credit: Grant Parpan)