Town playground, elementary school outdoor learning space among tributes dedicated in memory of Keri Stromski
One of Keri Stromski’s favorite places on earth was Iron Pier Beach in Jamesport. It was a spot to spend time with family, get the kids together with friends, even swap books.
Perhaps second only to Aquebogue Elementary School, where she taught kindergarten up until her death from stage four breast cancer last year.
Now, her name and memory will live on at both the town beach and school after a pair of tributes were unveiled in her honor this week.
On Thursday, Riverhead Town officials were joined by Stromski’s family and about 100 friends, former students and colleagues as they dedicated a new playground, pair of benches and sign in her memory. The recreation area will now be known as the Keri Lynn Stromski Memorial Playground.
Under gray skies with a calm Long Island Sound in the distance, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar spoke about how all were impacted by Keri’s light. “A bright shining light that she carried with her throughout her entire life,” Ms. Aguiar said. “Although Keri is no longer with us … this playground affords us all a place to visit and remember Keri. A place where Keri’s light will continue to shine.”
Keri’s husband, Rob, speaking with their three children at his side, joked that before they even met, he and Keri both spent a lot of time at Iron Pier.
“We were always here as kids and Keri with her family was down the way at the private beach,” he said, laughing and expressing gratitude to all involved in the project.
Former town councilwoman Catherine Kent, who taught with Ms. Stromski for many years in the district, said a children’s playground was a fitting tribute.
“Nothing could be more appropriate than a place for children and families to have fun by her favorite beach,” she said. “Keri lived her life with joy and gusto. She laughed, cried and loved with passion. As we look at this fun playground set along the beautiful Long Island Sound, we can rest assured that the Keri Lynn Wicklund Stromski playground will be a feel-good place of joy and laughter to be shared for years to come.”
The town sign unveiled is inscribed with the words “live, learn, love and laugh,” which all capture Ms. Stromski’s spirit.
As the ceremony went on, the sun broke through gray skies as children in attendance ran toward the playground, to frolic on the beach or grab a treat from an ice cream truck in the parking lot.
In addition to the public playground, a new outdoor learning space at Aquebogue Elementary School is also set to be dedicated in Ms. Stromski’s name during a ceremony Friday afternoon at 4 p.m.
According to principal Bryan Miltenberg, the outdoor learning space is located in a field near the kindergarten playground and swing set. It features stadium-style benches for students and a large centerpiece chalkboard and the entire area is flanked with cherry trees.
The setting will allow teachers to move their lessons outdoors or transform them completely. “It came out way better than we even could have imagined,” Mr. Miltenberg said.
In the weeks following Ms. Stromski’s death, a passionate group of staff members formed a memorial committee to think of ways to honor their colleague. “It didn’t start with a specific project in mind,” Mr. Miltenberg explained, but rather a discussion about the best way to honor her spirit and allow her presence to be felt for years to come.
They knew they’d like to do something outdoors, as Keri would frequently take her classes outside to explore.
“We wanted it to be inclusive, because Keri was about honoring all learners and figuring out what works for them. And most importantly, the spirit of play and childhood,” Mr. Miltenberg said. “Play wasn’t a break from learning for her. Play was learning.”
The new learning space was a collaboration between staff, the Aquebogue parent-teacher organization, Ezra Fife of Fife Custom Carpentry, Frank Beyrodt of Delea Sod Farm, Gary Vogel of East Coast Nursery, the school’s building and grounds and custodial teams and assistant principal Gary Karlson.
Most people can recall those magical days when their teacher would hold class outside. Now, Mr. Miltenberg hopes it becomes a more regular occurrence. “I’m excited to see the different creative ways teachers go with it,” he said.
Speaking during Thursday’s dedication, Mr. Miltenberg shared responses from his staff to complete the sentence “Because of Keri, I ___.”
Among the responses:
• Because of Keri, I learned how to advocate for my students.
• I’m able to see through the thorns to the roses even in difficult situations.
• I remember to dance.
• I learned how to use my voice to advocate for the children.
• I had a friend on my first day of teaching.
• I hug my children a little more each day.
Mr. Miltenberg’s answer: “Because of Keri, I learned what it really means to be in kindergarten, and that came from spending a lot of time seeing the magic in room 15. Looking at this playground, I can tell that because of Keri, kids will always have a place to play and that’s what was most important to her. Keri and the Stromskis will always be a part of Aquebogue Elementary School.”