Onteora mentees display the fruits of the labor

Grace Himberger and her monster prop.

Grace Himberger and her monster prop.

Graphic Design, architecture, veterinary medicine, monster props, historical costumes, photography, and music, exemplifies just a small batch of what the Onteora Central School District Mentor Program offers. As parents, mentors and students gathered together in the Middle/High School auditorium on June 2, Director Kay Lustberg-Goldbeck explained what the program is about. “It’s a combination of a challenging, project based learning opportunity that I coordinate in which students explore their full areas of interest, with the help of community professionals. As you will see, student projects in each and every case represent a significant achievement.” Considered a gifted-and-talented after-school and weekend program for grades-nine-through-twelve, it doesn’t only cater to high achieving students, but students who have an interest, talent or desire to learn something that could possibly lead to a future career.

The 300 square mile area that makes up the district can often hone in on the negative having to do with cultural divisions and traditions — see Mascot debate, or community school closures to name just two. But when students, team up with local professionals, and gather for an end of the year exhibit, the richness of the area because of diversity is first class.

Over the years, since 2001 give or take a couple, the mentor program has seen the threats of elimination during tough budget times. However the community has insisted it be retained, and it goes on, ever growing and changing with student interests.


The evening began as people streamed into the auditorium with an introduction of electronic music created solely by computer. It was composed by student Satch Waldman, and mentored by Grammy and Juno award winning music producer, mixer, engineer and musician Danny Blume. Once everyone was settled, welcomed by Lustberg-Goldbeck, the curtain opened to African dance created and performed by Ruby Price. Dancer Shania Kitchen-Rey accompanied her, along with drummers, Nafarma Badjie of Gambia, and Mimo Camara, dancer, percussionist and choreographer with the National Dance Company of Guinea. Pamela Lord Camara mentored Price in African Dance and Hip Hop.

Most in the community know Marsha Panza as Woodstock Elementary School nurse. However she is also the founder of Woodstock Youth Theater and costumer for BSP (Back Stage Production). Panza mentored Kira Daniels, who created a fashion show featuring six women’s fashion dresses throughout European history. Daniels came dressed in a French Revolutionary, Marie-Antoinette era gown in which she made and included hoops and petticoat.

Other presentations included a documentary by Raphael Pierson-Sante with mentor, documentary filmmaker David Becker. World War II veterans Jay Wenk and Bob Pierson were interviewed in this short film.

Student Cally Mansfield presented a song she wrote titled “Insensitivity,” and was mentored by musicians Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton.

Once the curtains closed, people were then directed to the cafeteria where more presentations were given through listening stations, samples, and tabletop informational booths. People flowed through the café doors only to make a bee-line (this journalist was first in line) toward the Fruition chocolate station manned by student Greta Gottardello, presenting her own creation of a chili and coffee truffles. Owner of Fruition, Bryan Graham and assistant Felicita Chipack mentored her.

Students also presented their findings to district schools such as Julianne Christofora who pursued a mentorship in pediatric medicine with Dr. Peter O’Connor and nurse Melissa Swart of the Caremount Medical Group. She visited fourth grade classes at Bennett school, discussed nutrition and made healthy smoothies with the students.

The mentors will often work without pay, however when paid nearly all the funding goes towards the final product with an end result of students proudly standing by ready to present their findings and answer questions.