Area outside Rossville school has its official dedication

In PS 56 garden, love grows for country, 9/11 victims
Thursday, May 22, 2003


Triangular-shaped American flags and red, white and blue wreaths adorned the memorial garden outside PS 56 yesterday at its official dedication to victims of the World Trade Center attacks.

A product of a letter-writing campaign initiated by school parents Dawn Ponisi, Terry DeMao, Maria Edwards and Sept. 11 widow Gloria Hagis, the Rossville garden memorializes not only those lost but a true sense of community — from the black granite plaque donated by Hall Monuments in Pleasant Plains to the patriotic decorations supplied by Buds and Blooms Florists in Tottenville, to more than $15,000 worth of plants and shrubs in five flower beds and lining the school walkway, provided by Greenside Up Nursery of Annadale.

It’s community outreach. It’s parent involvement. It’s what School Spirit Week is all about, said Principal Gloria Ambio before the start of the dedication ceremony, which had to make an impromptu switch to indoors because of a steady downpour.

The sounds of drums reverberated through the school as members of the Tottenville High School Marching Band stepped two by two down the aisles, filling the auditorium with music.

Props of clouds and a star hung from the ceiling above the stage as students from the fifth grade sang Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings, and Lee Greenwood’s Proud to be an American. Selected readings by seven students focused on the words of famous Americans proclaiming what it means to be American.

Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is a rainbow, said fifth-grader Brianne Reitano, quoting civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson. America is not like a blanket, one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt, many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread.

What is freedom? asked Laura Ferrara. Freedom is the right to choose, the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice, she answered rhetorically as she quoted poet and dramatist Archibald MacLeish.

In a tearful speech before the packed auditorium, Mrs. Hagis said the words of the Bette Midlersong mirrored her feelings about her husband and hero, Steven M. Hagis, a vice president at Cantor Fitzgerald and an active member in the church ministry at Gateway Cathedral in Richmond Valley.

I am proud to be an American and I stand proud in the memory of my husband. God has blessed me with a community of people that have been by my side, said Mrs. Hagis, whose daughter, Jaclyn, is a first-grader at the school.

In the fall, the section of Kramer Avenue immediately in front of the school was renamed Steven M. Hagis Way.

Diane O’Donnell is a news reporter for the Advance.

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