A chance radio interview heard one morning this past February on the way to work sparked a Farmingdale art teacher’s imagination and a lesson plan involving 500 elementary school students, 22 local veterans and a bomb-sniffing service dog.
Ricki Weisfelner heard President George W. Bush being interviewed on SiriusXM by television host Matt Lauer on the “Today” show about his portraits of veterans, profiled in the book “Portraits of Courage.”
“I went straight into the office when I got to school and asked if we could do that,” said Weisfelner, 46, of Syosset. The answer was yes, and the project took off.
Over the course of four weeks, veterans sat down before an art class at Woodward Parkway Elementary School and answered questions from the students as they sketched and painted while Weisfelner filmed the session. Fifth-grader Danny Lian, 11, of Farmingdale, liked getting to meet the veterans and asking them questions. “I was really fascinated talking to them and actually meeting them in person,” he said. “We got to show our appreciation by telling them ‘Thank you.’ ”
Veterans, students and their families filled the hallways and cafeteria for the school’s spring art show on June 8.
“The kids were so genuinely respectful of the veterans, and so appreciative,” she said. “It was like they were meeting their favorite superheroes.”
A student at Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale places a portrait of a veteran as she helps prepare for the school art show on June 8, 2017.
Student Annaliese Callahan poses with former Army Specialist Randall Carroll, of Farmingdale, near some of the portraits made of him, and the story of his service on June 8, 2017, during the spring art show at Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale. Carroll, 74, served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.
Luis Fernandez, 10, a fourth-grader at the Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale, shows his portrait of veteran Sal Citrano, 91, of Farmingdale. The portrait of Citrano, a former radioman rirst class of the Navy Amphibious Forces, was part of a portrait project that students of art teacher Ricki Weisfelner created and exhibited at the school's spring art show. Citrano served during World War II on a 328-foot landing ship tank that made trips to Normandy and later the Pacific.
Third-grader Jonathan Alarco poses with Navy veteran William Yostpille, commander of the Farmingdale VFW Post 516, on June 8, 2017, during the spring art show of the Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale. Jonathan and his classmates drew portraits of veterans and interviewed them for an art project. Yostpille, 49, of Farmingdale, served from 1986 to 1990 on the destroyer John Young, including two deployments in the Persian Gulf.
Maggie, 11, and Mallory, 7, Seidel, show portraits they created of their uncle, Daniel Nickola, a Navy petty officer second class. Nickola, who served from 1967 to 1971 aboard a ship in the Mediterranean and at shipyards in Virginia, was among the veterans who sat for portraits and interviews by students this semester at the Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale.
A.J. Denis, 6, stands with some of the portraits he and his classmates made of veteran Charles Van Horn, a former Navy petty officer second class. The portraits of veterans like Van Horn, who served from 1966 to 1970, were part of the spring art show at the Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale.
Ashley Macias-Espinosa, 9, and veteran Israel Weisfelner stand near portraits that Ashley and her classmates made of Weisfelner, a former Air Force lieutenant, for a project created by Weisfelner's daughter-in-law Ricki Weisfelner, an art teacher at the Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale. Israel Weisfelner served from 1968 to 1971.
Andrew Dillon, 10, and his grandfather Tom Dursi, a former Army military policeman, look at the portraits Andrew and his classmates drew of Dursi for the spring art show of the Woodward Parkway Elementary School in South Farmingdale. Students created the portraits and talked with local veterans about their service. Dursi, 68, served in South Korea from 1968 to 1969 at Camp Casey near the Demilitarized Zone.