14,000 Hours: A Village in Recovery

Superintendent Michael Hynes and social justice activist Joselo Lucero SUNY Stony Brook, Nov 8 2018 Photo by B. Kantz.

The 10th anniversary of the murder of 37 year old Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant stabbed to death by 7 teenagers in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, was commemorated at SUNY Stony Brook on November 8, 2018 with a panel and film on the theme of “Our Town: Ten Years Later.”

The youths were out “beaner hopping”. While such a horrific act did not go unpunished, the teenagers were apprehended and sentenced to prison sentences ranging from 7 years to 25 years, the hate crime murder called into question inherent anti-immigrant and racist practices typical in many parts of Suffolk County, Long Island.

The Patchogue community’s response was to re-examine its school system. School systems are in an excellent position to bring about change: they offer both common goals as well as the ability to deal with the social milieu differences in the classroom. The major architect of the Patchogue endeavor is Dr. Michael Hynes, who has embraced and implemented changes as the new district superintendent.

Dr. Michael Hynes, hired in 2014, believes that the whole community needs healing and strategies for prevention of future incidents. Fourteen thousand hours is one of his mantras: 14,000 hours is the amount of time a child will spend in a public school system. The goals: to reduce conflict, to teach understanding and tolerance. The district has introduced English and multi-language webpages for parents, before school play program of self-directed, mixed age play. The new superintendent advocates a whole child approach. His TED talk on PEAS (physical, emotional, academic, social development) explores the maximization of human potential when in balance. The district adopted a mindfulness program.  Research suggests that mindfulness can impact on racist and stereotyped thinking because the practice helps one focus, gives greater control over one’s emotions, and increases one’s capacity to think clearly and act with purpose.

A community ethos of practical and engaged everyday life also matters. Fortuitously, both the town of Patchogue and Dr. Hynes have found a great partner in Paul Pontieri, a lifelong Patchogue resident, who is the mayor. Following many of the ideas of urban planning guru Jane Jacobs, who called for busy pedestrian foot traffic—which brings economic development and safety, Pontieri’s 10 year mayorship has seen a successful revitalization of the downtown.  The goal has been to reduce suspicion amongst townspeople and make a vital, active, safe and healthy community. New housing and the development of an arts enclave have evolved. Basic economic and environmental improvements have occurred. He is committed to diverse community development. A robust YMCA and active public library system also add to community involvement and bi-lingual services.

Educating the next several generations will perhaps be the most enduring outcome of the Patchogue community’s efforts to engender the health and safety of their town. Their endeavors are especially relevant at a time that anti-immigrant rhetoric has ramped up again, and attacks on public education are rampant. A glimmer of hope, ten years later. It takes a village—Patchogue.

Barbara Kantz, Ph.D., M.S.W., is a retired college professor who taught Latin American History and Human Services at SUNY.