Writing an Environmental Legacy

Bellport High School Students Write Book

Long Island Advance Staff Writer
April 09, 2009

The students, along with advisor Dan O’Connor, sat around a large yellow flow chart with chapter information separated by decades in Room 125. “This is our organizational chart,” said junior Grace Healy, president of Bellport High School’s Students for Environmental Quality club. Healy typed the contents and got to see the club’s history first-hand and its collective impact on the health of the planet.

There were alumni like Anthony Graves, Class of 1978, who chaired the marine mammal alert, and Sean Pilger, a 1998 graduate, who started a flower and vegetable garden as well as a compost site at the present-day atrium. Interestingly, Juliet Berman, Class of ’95, worked on local efforts to close the town landfill. The issue galvanized the club when it had been on the wane. Berman is now a Manhattan grant writer, Graves works for Brookhaven Town in Environmental Protection and Pilger heads up the nearby Hamlet Organic Farm with his wife Jill.

They are all in the 28-page book Bellport High School students wrote and compiled called The History of SEQ along with other club graduates and advisers. The club got off the ground in 1970, the same year Earth Day was officially recognized, with a giant leap. Founded by biology teacher Art Cooley who gave the Environmental Defense Fund its start with Dennis Puleston, members tackled an East Patchogue Dodge dealership that was spilling oil into Swan Lake and wrote letters to State Senator Bernard C. Smith regarding the killing of harbor seals in Moriches Inlet. The Dodge dealership mended its ways and the harbor seals’ dilemma was eventually prohibited by law in 1972. This past Tuesday night was the book party celebrating the book’s debut at Bellport High School in the East Commons.

Former members and advisors were invited as well as organizations they work with. Dick Baldwin, an 87-year-old Patchogue resident who hired the teachers who were early advisors, attended.

“It was really cool to see the difference the club has made in the past,” Healy said. “So many of these people are still helping out in the environment and were so psyched to hear we were involved in it.”

“Sean Pilger went to school with Bridgid,” said O’Connor, referring to his daughter. O’Connor, a special education and social studies teacher, is the club’s first non-science advisor who oversaw the book’s evolvement. “I got dragged into it real early,” he joked.

The book, funded by a South Country Education Foundation grant, helped with the costs, which included purchasing a digital camera. In 2005, the project began in earnest. “The interviews took three years,” O’Connor said. “This year it involved proofreading and getting it to the printer.”

Early student activism began with a double drum roll. In 1973, Michael Butler and John Sailor actually rode bikes to and from Albany with a jar of water from the Carmans River in an effort to make it a designated Wild and Scenic River. A clipping of the actual bottle being handed over to Assemblyman I. William Bianchi is included from The Long Island Advance. While not as dramatic, but just as important, current students have done GPS mapping of 80 drainage sites for the Beaver Dam Creek Watershed Management Plan. “We had three devices and split into groups,” said Scott Polis, the club’s historian. Students could be seen in the school parking lot and as far west as Bellhaven to the monument huddled over their device, writing down coordinates from April through June last year.

O’Connor said there are about 15 members who meet weekly when a project is underway, like the alewife undertaking. The site is a half-mile away and they walk to that. All agreed their club efforts trickle down to their lives. Francisco Nunez, vice president of the club who comes from the Dominican Republic where residents mostly bike or walk to their destinations, said his mother was purchasing wooden cutting boards instead of plastic ones. Meagan Mulcahy, the club treasurer, says that net bags are used for shopping. Healy said her family doesn’t use paper napkins anymore, opting for cloth. She uses her bike a lot. “We cram a million people in the car,” added Polis of his car-pooling efforts.

Romina Calderon, SEQ secretary, is drawn to how the environment affects overall health and genes. “Last summer, I watched the osprey nest at the Puleston property,” she said. The entire SEQ crew will be involved in Brookhaven Town’s cleanup this month.

To make sure their environmental earnestness came across, Healy pointed to the bottom of the book’s first page before heading to a sports practice. “It’s made on recycled paper,” she said. “So we were thinking of everything.”

Click to View The History of SEQ
First Printing, January, 2009

The BHS club, Students for Environmental Quality
completed a booklet describing its own history of environmental activism.
Using a $3,000 grant from the South Country Education Foundation,
SEQ has published a beautiful color-illustrated twenty-eight page booklet titled
The History of SEQ
narrating its own birth and evolution spanning almost forty years...

A PDF Copy of the original project is available online via the
Bellport High School website:

Click here for The History of SEQ download