Memorabilia collected by teacher Greg Sill during his worldwide adventures decorate his Global History and Geography classroom on Smithtown High School West’s second floor.
A pith helmet worn on a safari in Mombasa, Kenya. A fez from Istanbul. An arm band from the Korean Demilitarized Zone. And flags from some of the 31 nations he visited.
"He didn’t just teach it," said decadeslong colleague Chauncy Cone. "He lived it."
Sill, of Lake Grove, died March 26 at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan — five days after his 48th birthday. The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism, according to his wife, Elizabeth Sill.
In the days since, parents, colleagues, students and alumni have mourned Sill as a gifted social-studies teacher who bolstered the study of 5,000 years of history with costumes, pop music, reenactments, scavenger hunts and other syllabus-electrifying methods.
Cone said Sill entered the profession at a time of pedagogical change — away from the traditional "chalk and talk," in which teachers lecture, write notes on the board or overhead projector, and students take notes. Sill was among the teachers to try a new way, said Christina Cone, Chauncy’s wife and a longtime colleague.
In a lesson about alliances during wartime, Sill deputized blocs of students to represent the combatant countries, with balloons popped to dramatize the declaration of war.
"It got loud. It got a little chaotic," Christina Cone said. "The kids really got the concept that alliances really play a huge role here."
Smithtown West’s principal, John Coady, recalled how he’d look forward to passing Sill’s classroom to hear what music was playing inside — and guess how the song is related to the day’s lesson. (Pat Benatar’s "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," for instance, might kick off a lesson about war.) Last fall, Coady said, Sill sent freshmen on a building-wide scavenger hunt during a module about the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking China with the West. The Big Reveal was finding the emperor: the principal.
"He made me wear the emperor’s hat," Coady said.
Sill taught ninth- and 10th-graders, including students who are learning English. But he’d also taught Advanced Placement World History and a course on war focused on six or seven armed conflicts throughout history, the Cones said.
Greg William Harry Sill was born March 21, 1973, in Mineola to Donald Sill, an elevator installer, and the former Mary Schlanger, now of Deer Park. Born into a Catholic family, Greg was the second of three children, third-generation Americans. Raised in Brentwood, he graduated in 1991 from Brentwood High School, where he met his sweetheart and future wife, the former Elizabeth Espinoza. She was a junior, and he was a senior.
"As my partner for 30 years, he made me feel like the most special girl on earth, not a day went by that I questioned his love for me. I was as madly in love with him now, as I was when I met him at 16," Elizabeth Sill wrote on a GoFundMe she set up to collect money for scholarships and charity in his memory. (That webpage, which had raised $36,739 as of late Sunday afternoon, has become a message board of requiem.)
Greg Sill graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1995 and received a master’s degree seven years later, as well as a postmaster’s advanced certificate in 2006.
The couple married in 1997. He embraced her Salvadoran roots, visiting the country seven or so times with her.
He spent almost all of his teaching career at Smithtown High School West, after three years in the West Hempstead district. During his time with Smithtown, he coached middle school wrestling, supervised a film club and emceed pep rallies.
Sill, like his colleagues, taught virtually during the first part of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, but he had been back teaching in person since September, the principal said.
In addition to his wife and parents, Sill is survived by daughters Emily Elizabeth Sill, 21, Natalie Muriel Sill, 20, and Isabella Maria Sill, 16; stepmother, Caroll Sill of Wantagh; and siblings Donald Sill Jr. of Manorville and Melissa Morales of Deer Park.
The funeral was April 1 at Moloney's Lake Funeral Home in Lake Ronkonkoma, and Sill was cremated the same day.