Sag Harbor Students Invited to Speak Out


Bay Street

Pierson students from 8th through 12th grades have been invited to tell local officials and community members exactly what it is they want at Bay Street Theater on Sunday, March 1 from 4 to 6 p.m. 

By Mara Certic

In an effort to zero in on what kids really want, Sag Harbor will give students in eighth through 12th grades the opportunity to speak their minds, make requests and ask questions to a panel of local figures and officials.

This Sunday, March 1, Sag Harbor’s third Student Speak Out will take place at Bay Street Theater. Students will have the chance at this parent-free event to freely ask questions of any of the 15 panelists, who will include Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, John Jermain Memorial Library director Cathy Creedon, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Kathryn Menu, co-publisher of the Sag Harbor Express.

“It’s really about giving the kids the opportunity to create the future of Sag Harbor,” said Benito Vilá, director of the Sag Harbor Coalition and an organizer of Sunday’s event.

Mr. Vilá said that the village really needs an event like this “to try to figure out what kids want,” and also in order to pinpoint meaningful and fun group activities teens would enjoy and that would benefit their lives. Mr. Vilá approached Debbie Skinner, director of the Youth Resource Center (formerly YARD) about his idea to get kids to speak out, and was told it had been done twice before in the village.

What was once the Sag Harbor Youth Committee was responsible for the first Speak Out in 1997, according to Linley Pennebaker Whelan.

“At the time the first Speak Out came about, we were trying to make things available for the kids in the Sag Harbor community,” she said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“We realized they all wanted different things. It was really quite interesting—we realized not to have parents there and that we should have people in authority who could listen to the kids and maybe make differences,” she said.

Another of these multi-generational conversations was organized for 2001. Out of those two dialogues came Rec night at the high school, beach night in the summer and “a bunch of other things,” according to Ms. Pennebaker Whelan.

“It’s important kids feel they have a community they have a say in,” she said. “It’s important because we want to be kid-friendly. And if it’s kid friendly, and you’re engaged, that’s how you have a good community.”

At past events, recreation has dominated conversations. This year, however, organizers think that discussions may be based more on affordability, and the dwindling places around town high school students can afford to eat or shop.

Bridgehampton Athletic Director and Pierson graduate Eric Bramoff will be moderating Sunday’s event.

“Sag Harbor is one of the most special places in the world,” he said on Tuesday, but as a child, he remembers feeling the need to fill a gap in the village.

“My philosophy is school should always be open and we need that programming,” he said.

Mr. Bramoff, and all of the panelists and organizers, are expecting 100 to attend on Sunday and continue to urge students to stop by for a chance to speak their minds, and have some free food.

“It’s very much like voting,” Mr. Bramoff said. “If you don’t vote then you don’t have a voice to complain about the problem. So in a way we’re giving them a voice and they should utilize it. I want the kids to come down and feel like they can speak openly, and tell us what they really want.”