An Island Trees High School math teacher is going above and beyond for his students.
Michael Buonomo is one of the most dedicated teachers on Long Island, not just inside of the classroom, but outside of it as well.
“It means a great deal to me to know that Mr. Buonomo does this in his free time because it is something that he greatly enjoys and is willing to share these great memories and experiences with the students at Island Trees,” Ashley Glover, president of the Island Trees Outdoor Club, said.
Buonomo created the club four years ago with the help of a handful of students. The goal is to not only get kids to have some physical activity, but to experience nature to its fullest extent.
During the 2016-17 school year, Buonomo, who’s a math teacher, wanted to find something new to do. He previously coached a lacrosse team for a decade, and it was time to help the students at Island Trees High School do something unique.
“It’s like a center that a lot of kids just don’t venture out from,” Buonomo said of the area. “We have the same clubs other schools have, but the kids kept doing the same things over and over again. The principal and superintendent gave me the green light.”
The first meeting was quite the success, with more than 50 kids showing up right off the bat. They did some local hikes, with a handful of adventures a bit further north.
Buonomo often takes the students to Cold Spring Harbor State Park, a nice, calm two-mile hike to introduce them to the benefits of hiking. And, of course, there’s some lessons that come with the journeys outside of the Levittown area.
With a focus on mental health and wellness, this is the perfect opportunity for kids to do something that can help them find peace within themselves.
“We went to Harriman State Park in Bear Mountain,” Buonomo said. “The first section of the Appalachian Trail that was created was that section, so there’s history there. We even explore local mines.”
Few teachers actually take the time to find a way to get students to explore the region like Buonomo does. He handles everything from potential safety issues to finding parent chaperones for trips, gathering supplies, food and more.
For those who don’t want to travel far, they do an indoor rock climbing event right in Plainview every year.
In the years since the club was founded, it has grown immensely. He believes the interest in the club has grown thanks to its inclusiveness, meaning that no matter what clique someone is in, they can find a passion for hiking and exploring.
“It’s something different from what kids are used to,” he said.
Buonomo even leads overnight trips, giving the students an opportunity to be one with the land.
But the main obstacle for this group is transportation, especially when they go upstate. It’s not like they can take a bus to an area that doesn’t have a spacious parking lot. Nonetheless, they get creative, whether it’s car pooling or having parents join in on the fun.
“This club gives you the chance to participate in several outdoor activities, which most teenagers in this day and age don’t do often,” Glover said.
Obviously, there are liability concerns. But Buonomo loves doing it. He loves being outside, helping kids and seeing the looks on their faces when they see something beautiful beyond belief.
“I’m actually a licensed New York State guide,” Buonomo said. “I have my first responders certification. I did those things to cover everything, and my superintendent knows I’m legit.”
Moving forward, Buonomo wants this club to have intense activities. He wants to push his students, possibly spending multiple days on a trip. Not only will the students learn team building skills, but they can gain a valuable life experience.
“New York is overpopulated and even the nicest places are becoming trashed,” he said. “We don’t have west coast rock formations or wildlife, but an opportunity to travel would be a game-changer.”