Where once potato plants flourished on farmland set atop the Hempstead Plains in Hicksville, so now young minds grow to meet tomorrow’s challenges at Dutch Lane Elementary. The original, pale yellow farmhouse still stands on Stewart Avenue at the foot of the school, a testament to Hicksville’s agricultural past. When the potato blight became the scourge of Long Island’s potato farmers and President Harry S Truman banned sale of the crops, developers, such as Levitt & Sons had eyes for other uses for the former potato fields. Levitt bought much of Hicksville’s farmland for suburban home development.
Largely due to the suburban sprawl, “Hicksville’s population went from 8,000 in 1945-46 to 52,000 in 1962-63,” said James Janis, the local historian who has overseen the archives at the Hicksville Library for the past 15 years. Rows of houses now grew in the abandoned potato fields.
One of four sister schools opened in 1952 to address Hicksville’s population boom—Burns, Dutch, Fork and Old Country Road—Dutch Lane has a rich history of being integral to the community and holding tight to those who have passed through its doors.
“One example of our deep, long lasting relationships at Dutch is our current PTA President, Mrs. Weih,” Principal Janine Rossi said. “Amazingly, the family has had someone attending the school every year since it opened its doors in 1952.”
“My mother and father actually met here,” PTA President Christine Weih said. “Dutch is so much a part of our family’s history, it’s like being home. I walk down the hallways and see pictures of my family.”
A mom of four, whose youngest child currently attends Dutch, Weih is herself from a family of six.
“We haven’t gone far—we all still live here; my parents live right next door to me, and my older daughter works as a teaching assistant at Dutch,” Weih said.
She refers to the school as a “small cornerstone of Hicksville.”
For Rossi, in her second year at Dutch, investing time in connecting with the community was her top priority.
“I spent my first year getting to know everyone. I listened a lot —building trust was an important goal for me. You can have the greatest ideas but you must first gain the community’s trust,” Rossi said.
The mother of two boys, Rossi, who received degrees in education from SUNY Geneseo, Hofstra University, and Stony Brook University, is passionate about fostering the kind of bond that has kept Weih’s family actively involved at Dutch Lane for generations.
“Our students come from differing cultures, speak many languages, and come to us with varying abilities. No matter what their backgrounds are, all children are welcomed and valued here,” Rossi said.
To that end, Rossi has developed new initiatives focusing on empowering students and building strong community connections. Family Connect Night, a new initiative, is just one example.
“One night a month, no traditional homework is assigned throughout the school,” Rossi shared. “It’s designed to be electronics-free, so parents and children can do something together as a family. Parents send me the photos of their activities and I tweet them out.”
Readers can see Family Connect Night photos and many of the school’s other special activities by searching Twitter: @HDutchlane.
“We also started Student Council for our third through fifth graders,” she continued. “These student leaders are assisting us with the rollout of the school’s Olweus anti-bullying program (www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/index.page). They work as reading partners with the lower grades in our beautiful new libraries. We want our students to know that they are part of the community. They participate in food drives and other initiatives that provide the opportunity for understanding how they fit into the larger, global community outside of Dutch Lane.”
What is Principal Rossi most excited about at Dutch Lane?
“The children—I love greeting them every day at the door. I want them to be excited for the day ahead and to know they are safe in a nurturing environment. All that begins with me,” Rossi said.
—Submitted by the Hicksville School District