When 5-year-old Danielle Zervos walked into her kindergarten classroom at Robert W. Carbonaro Elementary School on Jan. 9 after music class, she noticed a few other adults in the room besides her teacher, Margaret Otton.
She sat in her seat and looked around the room, but it wasn’t long before she found out why her classroom was getting some extra attention.
In walked Spc. Michael Zervos, Danielle’s dad and a member of the U.S. National Guard, who had just returned home after serving nine months in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Both Danielle’s and her father’s eyes widened, and she got up from her seat. The two then shared a hug for the first time in nearly a year.
Zervos, now a father of three with his wife, Jennifer, attended Brooklyn Avenue School before graduating from Valley Stream South High School in 2001. He enlisted in the Army in 2005, and served his first tour in 2008-09 in Iraq. Zervos became a member of the National Guard in 2011. For his second tour of duty, he left for training last January, deployed two months later and came back to the U.S. just after New Year’s.
While in Afghanistan, Zervos was part of a base-closure mission, and said he talked to his family as often as possible, depending on his work schedule, but was glad to finally see them in person. “It was great,” he said.
Zervos returned home to Valley Stream on Jan. 8, but didn’t see Danielle or his other children, Alexandra, 4, and Michael, 1, until the next day. His mother, Pat LoCascio, had called Carbonaro Principal Rosario Iacono earlier in the month to coordinate the big surprise, but she didn’t know what to expect. LoCascio said the plan to surprise Danielle at school was discussed when Zervos was first sent for training.
Iacono said he and his staff didn’t want to overwhelm Danielle with the big surprise but wanted to make it special. “We just wanted to extend a little gratitude and a little welcome back,” he said.
Several classes made flags and signs for the occasion, including Danielle’s class, which made a “Welcome Home” book that described what they have learned in kindergarten. Otton and her class read the book aloud to Zervos and then presented it to him.