Education

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The Alfred G. Prodell Middle School could go from eight perioids to nine. Photo from Google Maps

Citing that 25 percent of middle school students don’t have access to their full potential, the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is considering bumping up from eight to nine periods in a school day at the middle school, but doing so could mandate an earlier start time for some students.

Alfred G. Prodell Middle School Principal Kevin Vann said at the Jan. 7 board meeting the middle school program committee has come to the conclusion a nine-period school day would mean students have additional time for electives, for specific classes like earth science or for more students to participate in clubs or in musical classes, which would be moved into the middle of the day if the board were to accept the proposal. The principal added that such a change will allow students to free up time for further electives once they enter high school.

Vann said according to their data, 25 percent of the overall middle school students are currently unable to participate in activities they would otherwise be able to with the additional period. Other neighboring districts like Three Village, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai all have nine-period days in the middle schools.

With the change however, all students would need to be in the school during the early morning period of 7:20 a.m. Currently students taking one of the musical electives or seeking extra help come in during that time.

The board will also need to look at the cost and potential impacts of such a change before coming to a decision further down the line.

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BOE also provides prekindergarten updates, comment on mandated vaccine

A parent speaks out about proposed changes to secondary school start times. Photo by Andrea Paldy

 By Andrea Paldy

The first school board meeting of 2020 brought new voices to an old discussion.

“I do not deny the research and scientific data on adolescent health.”

— Riley Meckley

After months of parents, students and alumni speaking to Three Village Central School District administrators and school board members about the importance of changing the secondary school start times, two speakers came forward to offer a new perspective on last fall’s hot topic.

Ward Melville sophomore Riley Meckley spoke on behalf of students who did not want the high school to start later.

“I do not deny the research and scientific data on adolescent health,” she said. “It is definitely true.” 

But she noted that as “appealing” as getting an extra hour of sleep was, most students would still stay up late to study, watch Netflix or surf social media. What concerned Meckley and the students and teachers she spoke with was the negative impact on sports, clubs and after-school jobs, she said. She also spoke of the “hassle” for teachers dealing with athletes leaving ninth period early to get to their away games, as well as the inconvenience of trying to get home in time for their young children.

At December’s meeting, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, presented 10 possible scenarios for moving the high school start time from 7:05 to 8:20 a.m. In each case, it meant the high school day ended later, cutting out what Meckley referred to as that “precious time” between 2 and 3 p.m., when students could meet for clubs or extra help.

In half of the scenarios, the change meant that elementary schools might begin and end earlier than they do currently.

“We don’t want to lose services, and we definitely don’t want to pay any more money.”

— Matt Rehman

This raised objections from Matt Rehman, the father of elementary school-aged children, who said change spurred by the “loud minority,” in spite of the “silent majority,” would come at the expense of parents with younger children who would have to find a way to get their children off the bus as early as 1:55 in the afternoon.

“We don’t want to lose services, and we definitely don’t want to pay any more money,” he added.

Brian Latham, a high school teacher in a neighboring district and Three Village parent, said he was not opposed to the time change, but like Rehman, he was opposed to the idea, proposed in some scenarios, of moving the sixth graders to the junior highs and the ninth graders to the high school. 

“Forcing them to move to a higher class level earlier is not in their best interest,” Latham said.

“I see on a day-to-day basis how ninth-grade students can suffer when they are pushed up with upper division students too early,” he said.

Latham said that he would be willing to pay more money or cut from other programs in order to maintain “the structure that makes this district one to be admired around Long Island.”

Pedisich assured those present that no decisions had been made and that the school start time committee, which will have its first meeting in February, will consider the original 10 scenarios in addition to new ones.

Additionally, the district will be looking for input from focus groups and will survey parents, staff and students districtwide, the superintendent said.

“We want to do what’s best for our entire school community … for students in grades K-12,” Pedisich said.

“We understand that there are challenges,” she said, specifically mentioning the fiscal, transportation and educational challenges that each proposed option may pose. “That is why the committee needs to take the time, because our students deserve that from us. And our community deserves that.”

“I see on a day-to-day basis how ninth-grade students can suffer when they are pushed up with upper division students too early.”

— Brian Lathan

 

Prekindergarten

In preparation for 2020-21 preschool enrollment, Nathalie Lilavois, director of elementary curriculum, delivered a presentation on the district’s free preschool curriculum and tuition-based enrichment program.

This year the preschool is at capacity and students had to be turned away, she said. Ninety-five students participate in the free preschool for half of the day and stay for the tuition-based enrichment program for the other half. The other 106 students are half-day students who only take part in the free preschool program.

While the preschool curriculum, taught by a New York State certified teacher, is aligned to the New York State preschool standards, the enrichment program exposes children to STEM concepts through games and guided play and encourages hands-on learning through inventions. It is the only preschool enrichment program in the country that is inspired by National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, Lilavois said.  

Applications will be accepted through Feb. 24, and if needed, a lottery will take place on the Feb. 26 with notification on Feb. 28. 

HPV vaccine

School board president William Connors responded to comments he received about the school board’s letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) regarding the proposal to mandate the HPV vaccine as one of the battery of vaccinations a student must receive to attend school.

“We normally don’t get involved in political issues,” he said, but the board felt that the mandated vaccine was “administrative overreach” and “inappropriate.”

East Northport Middle School invited sixth graders from Northport Middle School to view a Theatre Three theatrical touring production of “Class Dismissed: The Bullying Project” on Jan. 9.

Performers acted out scenarios to demonstrate that bullying, harassment and peer pressure can occur both inside and outside of school, including hallways, locker rooms, buses and even at home. Additionally, the production spoke about the influence social media has on one’s reputation, social cliques and rumors.

The production’s main message, however, was, “See it, say it, stop it.” The intention was to encourage students to stand up for each other to put an end to bullying. During a Q&A after the performance, the performers advised the middle school students to be upstanders rather than bystanders. “You really are the ones that can make a difference,” they said.

Theatre Three’s Educational Touring Company is available to come to your school or organization. For more information, call Marci at 631-928-9202.

Photos courtesy of the Northport-East Northport School District

Stock photo

The Town of Smithtown School Aged Child Care Program will hold its annual Preschool Fair on Wednesday, Jan. 29 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Community Rooms of the Smithtown Library, located at 1 North Country Road. 

The Preschool Fair will offer parents an opportunity to visit with representatives from multiple nursery schools and preschools in and around the Town of Smithtown. The expo serves as a popular event for parents to source and gather information regarding prospective programs.

The snow date is scheduled for Wednesday, March 25. Advance registration is not required.

 For further information, call School Aged Child Care at 631-360-7517. 

Walt Whitman High School hosted a performance of the new musical, “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom,” on Jan. 9.

Filled with traditional and original gospel and freedom songs, the show tells the true story of Lynda Blackmon Lowey and is based on Lowey’s award-winning memoir, “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March.” 

Lowey was the youngest person to walk all the way from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, during the Voting Rights March in 1965. This inspiring true story illustrates the strength and courage of the individuals who fought alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to secure the right for African Americans to vote.

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaching and Black History Month just a few weeks away, the event came at the perfect time. As one student said, “Since I am 17 and in two weeks will be turning 18, it really made me think about registering to vote and the importance behind it.” 

Another student commented, “It’s great to hear about what young people did in the past to help get us where we are today … in history class, you only learn about the adults who did great and important things.” The students were enthralled during the performance, gaining new insights and even participating during the gospel music, clapping and singing along to the wonderful, moving songs.

At the end of the performance, the cast stayed to answer questions. Actor Ally Sheedy (“The Breakfast Club,” “High Art,” “Psych”), who adapted the book for the stage, was there to meet the students, as well as director Fracaswell Hyman and producers Miranda Barry and Amy Sprecher. 

“Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom” was truly an uplifting performance the students of Walt Whitman High School will remember for a long time. 

Photos from Thomas Ciravolo/South Huntington Union Free School District

Nikki and John Poulianos during the 2014 prom production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Photo by Clinton Rubin

By Julianne Mosher

Although their children graduated from Port Jefferson high school years ago, John and Nikki Poulianos still help out the students whenever they get a chance. 

The Port Jefferson Prom Committee. Photo by Drew Biondo

“The Poulianos clan has had an extraordinary impact on many families across Port Jeff,” Clinton Rubin, a parent with a child in the school district said. “Remarkably, it comes from so many different directions — they are what makes Port Jeff a family.”

John is a business owner and Nikki works for a few hours at the high school as its equipment manager, Joan Lyons, head custodian of Port Jefferson high school said. She added that the Poulianoses are constantly giving their time and energy back to the students — especially with the annual prom.

“Together the two of them work endless hours volunteering with the prom,” she said. “Without them, rest assured, there would not be a Port Jeff prom.”

The Port Jefferson prom is a big event for the school and community alike, and parents start to plan it months in advance. 

“What the Poulianoses do for the prom and kids is amazing,” Lyons added. “They’re there from the start of it until the very end setting it up and breaking it down.”

Lyons, who has worked in the school district for 33 years, said that without this couple, there would be no prom. 

“They’re good, nice people — not many people would do this stuff,” she added. “Thank God the school district and community has them.”

But the pair doesn’t just work on prom. They come to every soccer game (John is the high school boys soccer coach) and Nikki helps all the athletes in the school with their uniforms. 

“They just like to do things for the kids of Port Jeff,” Theresa Tsunis, a Port Jefferson resident said. “Nikki was in attendance at every single middle school basketball game my children were involved in. She is undeniably dedicated to the students of Port Jefferson.”

While the couple is active within the school district, John and Nikki also help out in other parts of the community. John works closely with Hope House and the Port Jeff Cub Scout Pack 41, while the couple is also active with the Greek festival every year. 

“We are all incredibly fortunate to have such a caring, committed family as part of our village infrastructure,” Rubin said. “They are what makes our town so special, and what makes it so easy to smile when thinking of our past and our future.”

So many people respect the constant volunteerism and selflessness of John and Nikki Poulianos.  

“They’re not the couple of the year, Janet Stafford, a Port Jeff resident, said. “They’re the couple of the decade.”

After experiencing a stroke, Denise woke up to a shower of get well trinkets, flowers and balloons, but there was one item that stuck out to her the most − a handmade card that she could tell was crafted by a child. “The greeting card really made her day. It made her smile and brought her joy,” said her daughter, Nicole Wozny.

Wozny is an art educator at Park View Elementary School in Kings Park. Inspired by the greetings cards, the teacher decided to connect with the local hospital close to the school − St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. She wanted to continue the same momentum by encouraging local students to participate in the art of healing by creating special holiday greeting cards to be distributed during key holidays in December.

“What an amazing feeling for my students to get the chance to enjoy the true meaning of the holidays by sharing their art,” said Wozny.

Many scholars and educators support art in schools as it has been demonstrated to improve self-esteem and confidence as well as cultivate empathy. While the holiday season is considered the most wonderful time of the year, it can be difficult for those healing and recovering in a hospital.

 “I thought how nice it would be, especially for patients who have no one visiting them or thinking of them,” said Wozny. “If every patient experiences a moment of joy from receiving a card − just as I know my mother did − our mission was accomplished.”

 The month-long Park View Greeting Project resulted in the creation of 400 cards, crafted by all the elementary students who were given creative range to inspire patients. 

Third-grade student council member Stella Roosa was thrilled to participate in the project coordinated by their art teacher. “I feel so happy to be able to do something for people − the cards are as special as they are,” said Stella. Another third-grade student council member, Owen Dorsey, added, “This was the best opportunity.” 

“At Park View Elementary we are committed to teaching students about service − so this project was aligned with our educational mission to teach the students to care for their community,” said Principal Kevin Storch. “This project cultivates service and kindness.” 

Park View Student Council students, Stella Roosa, Cassandra Chapman, Alexandra Faralan, Michael Reznick, Gabrielle Keaveny, Faith Hanley, Owen Dorsey, Ella Vicinanza, Samantha Katz, Dylan Schor, Lilah Goldman and Jack Krupp, along with Storch, Wozny and educators Traci Smith and Dana Farrell, delivered the cards on Dec. 13, just in time for the holiday season. 

 “We are very grateful to Mrs. Wozny and all the students at Park View Elementary School,” said St. Catherine of Siena’s President Jim O’Connor. “Their thoughtfulness and inspiring greetings will go a long way in lifting our patients’ spirits, bringing this special season alive through a heartfelt greeting card.”

Pictured with the students, from left, Park View staff member Carol Liguori; Park View Elementary School Principal Kevin Storch; art teacher Nicole Wozny; Park View teachers Dana Farrell and Traci Smith; St. Catherine of Siena’s President Jim O’Connor; St. Catherine of Siena’s Chief Medical Officer Mickel Khlat; and St. Catherine’s Community Outreach Coordinator John Perkins.

Photos courtesy of St. Catherine’s Medical Center

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Elementary school teacher Meryl Nani, as Peter Pan, and Paul Wilgenkamp, as Captain Hook, during the Three Village school district’s scholarship show performed by teachers and administrators. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Teachers and administrators in the Three Village Central School District recently combined their talents to lend a helping hand to students.

“It’s a great bonding experience between the administrators and staff, and when the community gets to come see you, they get to see you in a whole different light as a performer on stage.”

–Paul Wilgenkamp

On Nov. 21-23 nearly 100 members of the Three Village Teachers Association and Three Village School Administrators Association put on a production of “Peter Pan” at R.C. Murphy Jr. High School. Directed by Anthony Pollera, TVCSD director of music, the musical featured elementary school teacher Meryl Nani in the lead role. Students, parents and community members paid $20 a ticket to attend, which in turn raised $25,000 for scholarships that will be distributed to eligible students from elementary to high school.

Pollera said children like seeing their teachers playing characters such as the ones in Peter Pan, adding that there was such a huge interest they could have put on a fourth show.

“Some of these adults are very talented, and some are very brave regardless,” Pollera said. “You want to pick a show the audience is going to like, most importantly the students.”

Paul Wilgenkamp, math center teacher at Minnesauke Elementary School, played Captain Hook. Performing in previous faculty productions, he said it’s just as exciting for the students as for the teachers and administrators.

“It’s a great bonding experience between the administrators and staff, and when the community gets to come see you, they get to see you in a whole different light as a performer on stage,” Wilgenkamp said. “It’s kind of like when kids see you in the supermarket. They can’t believe that a teacher is out shopping for food.”

“Peter Pan” brought back a tradition that started in 2002 when teachers came together to put on a production of “Guys and Dolls” to raise money. In the following years, the educators presented “That’s Entertainment!” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Grease.” After a break for a few years, in 2011, they acted in “The Wizard of Oz,” which was followed by another years-long sabbatical.

“Everybody is busy with what they do in their dedication to students,” Pollera said. “It just kind of rolled around and we said let’s do it this year. If you ask them right now, they’re ready to go again next year.”

“I think what has made this last one really special was the administrative unit working with the teachers.”

— Anthony Pollera

Pollera added this was the first time administrators took part in the group effort.

“I think what has made this last one really special was the administrative unit working with the teachers,” he said.

He said it was fun seeing administrators like Kevin Scanlon, deputy superintendent for business services, building sets with them and seeing principals performing as the Lost Boys.

Wilgenkamp, who used to perform occasionally with his father Jan at the former Island Squire restaurant in Middle Island, said Pollera brings out everyone’s hidden talents.

“I probably never would have gone and done any more singing or acting or performing if [Anthony] hadn’t shown up in our district a few years ago,” Wilgenkamp said. “He’s an amazing guy. He touches so many lives.”

Pollera, who also played piano for the production, added there was a nine-piece musical pit filled with all music teachers. The production also included a flying apparatus for Peter Pan and the Darling children.

Rehearsals began in September, Pollera said, for four days a week. During Saturday rehearsals, high school students helped babysit teachers’ children.

“It was one big family,” the director said. “I can’t really describe it any better than that.”

Wilgenkamp said Pollera always puts together a professional production that brings out confidence and the best in everybody involved.

“It’s really mind-blowing how he can take people who are teachers or working in the school buildings and turn them into stars on the stage and change the stage into this elaborate Broadway production,” Wilgenkamp said.

He said it felt good to know the show will positively impact students with the availability of scholarships for years to come, in addition to the bonds that were created.

“The camaraderie and the relationships that the shows create really lasts a lifetime,” Wilgenkamp said.

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Three Village Parents in the last few months have talked to the Three Village board of ed about the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

What began as a lone parental voice during a Three Village school board meeting has blossomed into a movement.

Six months ago, Barbara Rosati, mother of a P.J. Gelinas Jr. High student, asked the board and district administration to consider changing the secondary school start times.

“We also would like to thank deeply our board of education for recognizing our concerns and listening to us and being the leaders that we were hoping you would be.”

— Barbara Rosati

Last week, following a presentation for a path toward meeting parents’ requests, the Three Village school board voted to institute a school start time committee to further investigate the viability of a later start time at the district’s high school.

Rosati, founder of It’s About Time: Three Village Parents for a Later Start Time, was grateful.

“I’d like to thank the administration,” she said. “We really appreciate it. We also would like to thank deeply our board of education for recognizing our concerns and listening to us and being the leaders that we were hoping you would be.”

Rosati, a research assistant professor in Stony Brook University’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the Renaissance School of Medicine, had organized parents and held information sessions about sleep deprivation in adolescents. In the months that followed her initial appeal, other parents, students, Ward Melville High School graduates and medical experts all appeared before the school board to express concern about early start times. More than 1,600 signatures were collected, letters were written to the school board and some advocates even traveled to a Start School Later workshop in Pennsylvania.

Chief among the concerns was the pervading sleep deprivation among teens. Research has shown that adolescent circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. This results in a later sleep cycle interrupted by having to wake up for early classes. Not only does it prevent them from getting the required eight to 10 hours of sleep their growing bodies need, research indicates that it also means difficulty concentrating and puts them at risk for depression, injuries during sports and drowsiness while driving — among other issues.

These concerns prompted district Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich to form a working group of administrators to conduct a preliminary investigation into later start times. Pedisich also pointed to improved academic performance, higher test scores, better focus and self-regulation as additional reasons to look into the change.

The group began its preliminary investigation with certain assumptions in place, the superintendent said.

There would be no redistricting or closing of schools; no students would be at a bus stop earlier than 7 a.m.; and there would be no negative impact to athletics, which means that the high school could not end later than 3 p.m. The final assumption was that the district would continue to support and maintain cocurricular activities while also maintaining the required number of hours of instruction at all grade levels.

“I see the value in looking at this with open eyes.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

Pedisich and Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, presented 10 possible scenarios that would move the Ward Melville start time from 7:05 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. with an ending time of 2:55 p.m. Additionally, in half of the configurations, start times at the two junior high schools, P.J. Gelinas and R. C. Murphy, would change to 9:10 a.m., with the day ending at 3:46 p.m.

To make a later start for Ward Melville possible, each period at the high school would be decreased from 41 minutes to 40, and the periods at the junior high would fall from 42 minutes to 41 — decreases that the deputy superintendent said would not “adversely impact the educational program,” but would assist with logistics.

The greater effect could be on student after-school activities or employment, since the school day would end later. The committee found that the time shift could affect students who take afternoon BOCES classes and possibly affect child care needs for staff. The preliminary investigation also found that some athletes might sometimes need to leave ninth period early.

The district currently has four bus runs — high school, followed by junior high, two elementary schools and then, finally, the last three elementary schools. The proposed scenarios would move the district from a four-tiered bus system to a three-tiered one and could affect the start times for the other schools.

The biggest variation in the scenarios was in start times at elementary schools and junior highs. In some projections, the elementary school day starts earlier and runs from 7:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m. In others, the day runs from 9:25 a.m. to 3:40 p.m., which is the current schedule for the district’s late elementary schools.

When the elementary day starts early, the junior high day starts at 9:10 a.m., and in the scenarios where the elementary day starts after 9 a.m., the junior high schools start earlier, keeping their current start time of 7:35 a.m.

The most expensive transportation scenario moved the sixth grade up to junior high and ninth-graders to the high school. It required eight additional buses and 11 additional minibuses that could run the district about $1.5 million, Carlson said.

The projected cost of the proposed scenarios considered only transportation costs and did not take into account savings from staffing within the schools, Carlson said.

There could, however, be savings in other areas due to the restructuring of the junior and high schools, he added.

Carlson reiterated that these scenarios are just “a starting point to get people thinking and talking” and are not the only possibilities. It would be up to the new committee to further investigate and look into other solutions. The committee, which will meet in January, will be chaired by Pedisich and Carlson. It will be comprised of administrators, staff, parents and high school students and will determine a timeline once it gets underway, Pedisich said.

“I have to say that I see a lot of viability to this,” the superintendent said. “I see the value in looking at this with open eyes. I look forward to working with the committee and with Mr. Carlson as we begin to look at what the options are for our students, so that we can do the best that we can for them.”

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File photo

By Monica Gleberman

Comsewogue district officials took extra precautions after a non-life-threatening statement required the removal of a high school student Monday morning.

At 11 a.m. Monday morning, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn sent out a robocall alerting the community there was an incident at the high school that required immediate attention.

“Many of you are at work, but I just want to share some information with you because I think you’ll be hearing about it,” she said. “We had a student at the high school who made a comment that we took very seriously, it concerned us.”

Although Quinn did not go into details about the comment or the student, she did say there was no damage done to the school and none of the students were in immediate danger.

Within minutes of the call, parents began posting on social media with concerns about what happened and asking for more details from the district. School board President John Swenning responded with a post online, “all is safe at the [high school]. A comment was taken seriously, and action was taken. There was no immediate threat to any students or staff.”

In a private message, when asked if the board of education would make an official comment, Swenning said all comments are taken as “true threats” and the district followed protocol which included getting the Suffolk County Police Department involved.

The SCPD confirmed the incident in a statement via email Monday afternoon, adding that the student involved in the investigation made the “statement” in question on Friday, December 13, which the district was made aware of Monday, December 16.

In the email, the SCPD wrote, “The statement could have been perceived as a threat. The student was taken for evaluation and an investigation determined there was never a threat to the students or the faculty.”

Swenning praised the district and the police for their help. “Kudos to [the] administration and SCPD for their quick response.”

At the end of the school day, the administrators put up an alert on the district’s website with an update from Quinn. The new information included that the school psychologist was called in to help with the student once the administrators were made aware of the incident. Additionally, there were no weapons discovered on school premises and “[to the] best to our knowledge, the student did not have access to any,” the alert stated. “The student will not be attending school until we are confident that they are not a threat. Furthermore, appropriate discipline is being taken. Please be assured that the safety and welfare of all of our students and staff is always our number one concern.”

This post will be updated when more information becomes available.