Education

A rendering of the approved plan for a Tesla showroom on Route 347 in Nesconset. Image from Smithtown Planning Department

The Tesla Inc. showroom on Route 347 in Nesconset will offer students a chance to delve into the nuts and bolts of how the luxury electric cars work.

The planned $700,000 renovation to the former Sixth Avenue Electronics shopping center at the corner of Route 347 and Hillside Avenue for a new Tesla dealership will initially work as a showroom, a service center as well as an educational and experimental center in an ongoing partnership with Farmingdale State College, according to Mohamad Zoghi, the acting chair of the automotive technology department at Farmingdale State College.

“We are working with Tesla recruiters,” Zoghi said. “They recruit based on the demand of technicians at their locations. So, once there is availability at Nesconset location, [we will have interns there.]’’

“We are working with Tesla recruiters… They recruit based on the demand of technicians at their locations.”

–Mohamad Zoghi

The showroom would be the eighth Tesla-owned facility to open in New York. Normally, New York State law requires all car manufacturers to sell their vehicles through franchises. However, Tesla struck a deal with the state to permit it to operate up to five of its own dealerships.

There is pending legislation in both the state Senate and Assembly that would allow Tesla to open an additional 15 dealerships within the state as long as five of the new locations are in upstate New York. Both bills are currently stuck in committee.

In the meantime, Tesla will use this space for its continued educational partnership with Farmingdale students that was first announced in August 2017. Based on the needs set by Tesla, students in the two-year and four-year automotive management programs can potentially obtain an internship working on Tesla’s electric vehicles and other products.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said the renovations will give life to a long blighted area off of Route 347.

“They were given permission to go inside and clean up that building, and now that they have their site plan they can go in and start the interior renovation and the exterior facade renovation,” Wehrheim said. “It’s cleaning up a real blighted section of that area.”

It’s cleaning up a real blighted section of that area.”

– Ed Wehrheim

The plans call for a more than 40,500-square-foot showroom with an attached service center in the renovated footprint of the old electronics store. The exterior lot would be relined to provide parking space for more than 300 cars in Tesla’s inventory as well as spots for potential customer use.

The company behind the Tesla property development 1000 Nesconset LLC had its site plan finally approved at the July 17 Smithtown town board meeting. The company filed for a change of zone application for the property to transition from commercial business and neighborhood business to wholesale industrial in order to accommodate the outdoor storage a car dealership needs. Attorney Vincent Trimarco Sr., who is representing the development company, said that zoning on the property has already been changed and construction is close to beginning.

“It’s imminent now that they’re going to start,” Trimarco said.

Other Tesla-owned locations on Long Island include a display gallery inside Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station and a dealership in East Hampton.

Retired teacher Virginia Armstrong, district head of IT Ken Jockers, head Buddhist Monk from Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center Bhante Nanda, and Superintendent Gordon Brosdal prepare to load computers to be donated into cars at Mount Sinai Elementary School July 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

An African proverb states that “It takes a village to raise a child.” Though when helping to get 140 computers in the hands of children overseas, more than just a village is necessary.

Virginia Armstrong, a retired Mount Sinai educator, joined up with Bhante Nanda, a Buddhist monk from the Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center in Riverhead, and the Mount Sinai School District to help ship 140 retired netbooks, or small laptop computers to children in both Sri Lanka and to the Maasai tribe in Kenya. Thirty will go to Sri Lanka and the rest to Africa. District Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, Armstrong, Nanda and others were at Mount Sinai Elementary School July 18 to help load the computers into cars headed back to the Riverhead facility where they will be shipped out.

“When the world is in many pieces – when people are just pushing each other away, it’s the little guy, the people on the ground that will keep the world going,” Armstrong said.

Both Armstrong and her partner Ron Hamilton have been working together for the past five years to raise donations for children of the Maasai tribe in Africa. Though the school district donated the computers to them last year, the project hit a snag this year when the district learned the shipping cost climbed upwards of $80 per box. The two requested the help of Nanda, who is a native of Sri Lanka, and he agreed to help ship the large bulk of computers as long as he could send some back to his homeland as well. Shipping donated items is something he and his community have been doing for more than two decades.

“We get satisfaction and happiness from helping others,” Nanda said.

Computers set to be shipped and donated to Kenya and Sri Lanka from Mount Sinai Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Barr

Armstrong retired from Mount Sinai after 28 years of teaching. After leaving the district she first decided to climb the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Afterwards she went to the rural parts of the country to teach. That’s where she met Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko, the leader of more than 5,000 Maasai tribal members who reside in Kenya and Tanzania. His group, the Maasai Good Salvage Outreach Organization, receives outside donations of many necessities and supplies from outside Africa. Armstrong and Hamilton have dedicated the past several years to sending clothing and other supplies for the children there, and the Mount Sinai School District has been a big supporter of their efforts.

“It’s faith over politics,” Brosdal said. “[Chief Joseph] and their culture is so strong, and then we have [Nanda] who’s helping too. It’s become so multicultural.”

The netbooks are all approximately five years old and were deemed obsolete by the district. Ken Jockers, the director of information technology at the school district, said each netbook has been reimaged, meaning all computer files have been wiped and all programs re-installed. All the netbooks currently run Windows XP operating system and contain Microsoft Office programs. Being reimaged means they should require little fixing and maintenance.

“That’s important, because maintenance is so hard in some of these places,” Armstrong said.

Nanda arrived in the United States from Sri Lanka in 2001, and he said he has come to love the cultural diversity of this country. While his group of Buddhists have existed in Port Jefferson for several years, in 2017 they opened their Riverhead meditation center, where Nanda said many people, not just Buddhists, come to meditate and find peace.

With a smile that can illuminate a dark room, Nanda said that doing things like donating the computers, helping children both overseas and in the U.S. is an integral part of his and his community’s beliefs.

“Everybody needs peace and happiness,” Nanda said. “Buddhist, Christian, whatever we are, if we don’t help human beings, and if we don’t help other people we lose a part of ourselves.”

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2018 Regents exam results for Comsewogue students in problem-based learning classes versus traditional ones. Click to enlarge. Graphic by TBR News Media

“Teaching to the test” is a concept that no longer computes in Comsewogue School District.

Administration and faculty in Comsewogue, for the last two school years, have experimented with a problem-based learning curriculum for small groups of interested ninth- and 10th-graders, an alternative to the traditional educational strategy of focusing assignments and assessments toward the goal of performing well on state-mandated standardized tests at the end of the year. Now, Superintendent Joe Rella has data to back up his notorious aversion to one-size-fits-all education and assessment.

In all subjects, Comsewogue students in PBL classes passed 2018 Regents exams, scoring 65 or better, at a higher rate than those in traditional classrooms, according to data released by the district. On chemistry, geometry, algebra II, global history and English 11 exams, PBL students achieved mastery level, scoring 85 or better, at significantly higher rates than their non-PBL classmates.

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs.”

— Joe Rella

“We played in your ballpark — we scored runs,” Rella said of how he interpreted the data, meaning students taught by alternative methods still displayed an aptitude on the state’s required tests.

Though Rella and the district have taken steps to try to have PBL assessments replace Regents exams, no avenue to do so has been greenlighted by the New York State Department of Education to this point for Comsewogue. Emails requesting comment on the significance of Comsewogue’s test results sent to the education department and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) press office were not returned.

During the 2017-18 school year, about half of Comsewogue’s ninth- and 10th-graders, roughly 300 students, took part voluntarily in PBL classes, which emphasize hands-on learning and real-world application of concepts as assessments — similar to a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation — as opposed to the traditional “Regents model.” The students were still required by the state to take the Regents exams as all students are, and their performance has inspired the district in year three of the pilot to expand its PBL curriculum offerings on a voluntary basis for 2018-19 to its entire student body — kindergarten through 12th grade.

The superintendent said the impetus for the district to experiment with PBL started three years ago, when he and about 20 Comsewogue teachers spent a day at the New York Performance Standards Consortium in Manhattan. The organization was founded on the belief that there was a better way to assess student learning than dependence upon standardized testing, according to its website.

“In traditional settings, the teacher did most of the work, we listened, we copied notes and then we were tested on it,” Rella said. “The way the structure was, you spent a year learning stuff. At the end of the year, you took a test to see what you knew.”

In PBL classrooms, regardless of subject, Rella explained that a problem is initially presented, and students learn skills that are meant to help them practically find an answer to the problem. One group of PBL students during the 2017-18 school year decided to approach opioid addiction as a subject matter. Rella said chemistry students and English students worked on parallel tracks addressing that problem, with the science classes researching and presenting on the science behind addiction and the brain, and the English classes creating a public service announcement on the topic. The students presented and defended their findings and approach to the Suffolk County Legislature, with two students eventually being asked to join the county’s commission on substance addiction, according to Rella.

“It’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

— Joe Rella

“You have to acquire knowledge in order to solve the problem, so there is traditional teaching going on,” he said. “But right from the beginning, it’s the problem that drives the learning rather than, ‘I learn to take an assessment at some future date.’”

Rella credited District Administrator for Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Polychronakos as the driving force behind professional development and empowering district faculty to embrace the district’s new approach.

“We’ve so far created about 20 units of study districtwide that are ready to go for next year and we’ve piloted some of them and worked out some of the kinks,” Polychronakos said. “We’re going to continue to really just take the standards that we have from the state and make them into more of a project-based, or problem-based, learning type of experience for the kids.”

Guards say they’re settling in to posts in the district, will be brought back in September

From left, John, one of Mount Sinai’s armed security guards, Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Christopher Innace, Pro Protection Inc. CEO, in one of the district’s school buildings, now guarded by armed security. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Guns in schools.”

Even to Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal it sounds like a foreign concept, but since March, the district has had four armed security guards stationed in all school buildings.

“When you look at what’s going on around you — you can’t ignore it,” Brosdal said. “Are we going to wait around for something before it happens?”

It has been a few months since the district hired its guards from Hauppauge-based Pro Protection Security Inc., and with the school year now over, those guards, such as elementary school guard John, said they have settled into a routine.

“The students and staff see me every day — the same face — and they get used to me. I think that’s really important for what I’m here to do.”

— John, security guard

“I man the hallways, make sure no unauthorized persons come in around the building, are going outside unauthorized — I check the doors, make sure they’re locked,” John said. “The students and staff see me every day — the same face — and they get used to me. I think that’s really important for what I’m here to do.”

Mount Sinai School District asked that the last names of the guards and their exact locations inside the school not be disclosed.

Despite the huge push for increased school security after the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, only four of 69 districts in Suffolk County have opted to hire armed guards — Center Moriches, Hauppauge, Miller Place and Mount Sinai — as far as TBR News Media has identified. Other districts have publicly expressed interest in the possibility, but to date those are the only three.

It’s also a commitment in financial terms. Hauppauge is paying $300,000 for its contract to hire its armed security guards and Mount Sinai’s 2018-19 adopted budget included $400,000 in security funding, which was $305,000 more than the 2017-18 school year.

For the last months of the 2017-18 school year, four guards stood at attention around the Mount Sinai campus, which includes the elementary, middle and high schools. Each was dressed in a clean suit with an earpiece microphone in his ear and a concealed gun at his side. Though Christopher Innace, the CEO of Pro Protection, said the important thing in hiring these guards wasn’t necessarily about the heat they were packing, but how they could interact with students.

“In the case of the elementary school we wanted someone who had a bubbly personality — someone who is outgoing, is smiling — things of that nature,” Innace said. “We also train our officers to say hello, good morning and be interactive with the parents, the community and visitors. That’s just the impression we want to give.”

Innace said each of the security guards is a retired police officer. Security guard Dave mans the campus gate, Paul is stationed at the high school, John serves the elementary school and helps Don at the middle school.

“The kids have been excellent — they come up to me and shake my hand, they give me a high five,” John said. “You didn’t get that sense of it so much working [as an officer] in the city, but here it seems everyone is overwhelmingly appreciative, and it’s a nice feeling.”

Innace and vice president of Pro Protection Christopher Alger both said the recruitment process for the guards in Mount Sinai was rigorous and included background checks. The district specifically didn’t look for prison guards or people that Innace called the “bouncer” type. All the guards at Mount Sinai are trained in what Innace referred to as “verbal judo,” or using speech to de-escalate tense situations.

In the months leading up to the final decision to hire armed guards in March, the Mount Sinai community was divided on the issue, and many remain so. Some felt the armed guards were an absolute necessity and the only way to really ensure a safe school.

“I fully support it and I sleep better at night as a result of it,” Mount Sinai resident Heather Janae said. “When I pick up my elementary-aged daughter from school every day and see the armed guard standing there I am content. It’s a very sad and unfortunate need, but in my opinion, it’s a need.”

Others in the community said a gun in school, no matter who was holding it, could lead to danger and violence.

“It’s a travesty — more guns is not the answer to too many guns, especially in or near our schools where there appears to be the most hideous shootings,” Mount Sinai resident Ron DiGennaro said. His daughter graduated from Mount Sinai High School in 2002.

Some residents were concerned how the guards would respond to kids with mental and physical disabilities. While Brosdal said there haven’t been any problems in those cases, he said he plans to host training with the guards and the school’s special education teachers designed to teach the guards how to interact with students who have special needs.

“It’s a travesty — more guns is not the answer to too many guns, especially in or near our schools where there appears to be the most hideous shootings.”

— Ron DiGennaro

Since the Parkland shooting, security has become a greater concern for every local school district. Shoreham-Wading River, Smithtown and Kings Park school districts are building security vestibules in all school buildings over the summer. Smithtown is receiving unarmed security guards at the elementary schools, and the Huntington School District is replacing old doors and is hiring new security guards.

Along with its armed guards, Mount Sinai is using money from its unassigned fund balance to finance renovations to the school’s perimeter fencing and replacing some of the glass fronts seen at the high school.

Alger, who himself is a retired NYPD detective first grade, said the armed guards are just a part of the four D’s of security, which are: detect, deter, deflect and defend. Cameras and staff can act as detection. Layered entrances, such as vestibules, locked doors and perimeter fencing function as deterrents. Glazed and bullet proof glass works well as deflection, but Alger said a guard capable of stopping an intruder is the only real defense against an intruder.

“We’re not running away from the shooter,” Innace said. “We hear shots, we hear a commotion, we are running right to that scene. We’re running right to that shooter.”

Since the beginning of 2018, 26 students have been killed in school shootings through the middle of May, according to fact checking website Politifact. Accounting for school shootings that have not resulted in any deaths, there has been roughly a shooting per week since the start of the year.

Even with armed guards, Alger said there is no guarantee there will be no fatalities in the event of a shooting, but the severity of any shooting is decreased dramatically.

“Armed security isn’t the 100 percent cure but it will 100 percent at least reduce some of these casualties that are taking place,” Alger said.

Brosdal said he feared schools that do not take action now in hiring guards would regret it later.

“It takes one shooting on Long Island, only one, and I believe you’re going to see people clamoring for armed guards,” Brosdal said, then emphasized his point. “You’ll have people clamoring.”

Alger said all four guards have committed to returning to their positions at the start of the next school year in September.

School board President John Swenning honors Nicolas Robinson, Tyler Jensen, Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield and Bernadette Reyes during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Anthony Petriello

Applause could be heard far and wide June 21 at Comsewogue High School’s graduation ceremony.

Nicholas Robinson waves to the crowd during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

The applause rained down from the packed bleachers on the varsity football field for all of the graduates, but for a select few there was a bit more meaning behind the cheers. Five graduates were honored for their brave decision to enter various branches of the U.S. armed forces rather than attending a traditional two- or four-year college. Twins Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield, Bernadette Reyes, Tyler Jensen and Nicolas Robinson are the Warriors preparing to serve their country.

Comsewogue High School Principal Joseph Coniglione summed up his feelings watching the five students accept their diplomas and prepare to move on to their next steps in life.

“These students worked hard to get where they are,” he said. “They have made a commitment to this country and, without any doubt, made this community and this school very proud.”

Three out of the five students recognized will be enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, including the Whitfield twins. They are following what they called their dream, but also a dream their mother, Keira Whitfield, said she had always had but was not able to fulfill.

“They are living out my dream of joining the Air Force,” she said. “In doing so they will become independent, productive citizens of the United States and that’s all I ever wanted for them.”

Originally from Queens, and with a family background in both the Air Force and the Navy, the Whitfields are looking to brighten their futures.

“I hope to become a more disciplined person,” Jarrett said.

During graduation, the five students were called up to the stage to be honored and recognized individually. District administration knew the special ceremony was coming, but left it a surprise for the students.

Bernadette Reyes receives a certificate from school board President John Swenning during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I was very surprised to be honored,” Jaeden said. “It didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream … having my recruiter there helped me feel more comfortable.”

Tyler Jensen is the third student who enlisted in the Air Force. He is following his grandfather’s path to the Air Police, which is an arm of the Air Force Security Forces along with the Military Police and the Security Police. As a member of the Air Police, Jensen will be working to protect the assets of the Air Force, as well as securing Air Force installations and other facilities operated by the military branch.

Jensen attributed his desire to serve his country not just to honoring his grandfather but also out of a sense of civic duty.

“I am also joining because not enough people in my generation are enlisting and there is not enough help,” he said.

Comsewogue school board president John Swenning, who led the way honoring the students during graduation, also beamed with pride referencing the graduates-turned-armed forces members.

“On behalf of the Comsewogue board of education I would like to publically thank these young men and women who have decided to serve in a branch of the United States military,” he said in a statement. “It is their selfless commitment to protect our freedom and liberty that allows the rest of us the opportunity to chase our dreams.”

Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He said he has had a desire to join the Marines since 2005, when he was only 5 years old after his brother had enlisted.

“He is my role model,” Robinson said of his brother.

Whitfield twins Jarrett and Jaeden look at a certificate with classmate Tyler Jensen during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

Robinson said he often thinks about the day his brother graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.

“When I saw my brother graduate from Parris Island, it gave me chills,” he said.

He is proud to have enlisted in the Marines and isn’t worried about the life change he is about to encounter.

“It’s like any other job,” he said.

Reyes is headed to the U.S. Army, also following a family trend, as her father is an Army veteran. She said she was unsure of her path after high school, but after meeting with an Army recruiter at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, she made the decision to pursue a career in the military.

Reyes said she was ecstatic to have been honored at the graduation ceremony.

“It was a great feeling to be introduced in front of the students, parents, administration and the board of education,” she said.

Reyes plans to complete basic training and continue her education through the Army.

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Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Kevin Scanlon discussed the Advanced Placement Capstone and International Baccalaureate programs at the June 20 board of education meeting. File photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

Amid the end-of-year festivities, Three Village school officials did not miss a beat when it came to attending to district business. At the last school board meeting before graduation, administrators outlined coming changes to the elementary report card and added rigor to the high school curriculum.

As part of the board’s policy to review programs every five years, a committee of teachers and administrators from elementary and secondary levels reviewed and revised the elementary school report card. Kathryn White, principal at W.S. Mount Elementary School, said that since the last review, there have been changes in educational philosophy and the way teachers assess students and learning behaviors. She said there has also been the introduction of new academic standards, like Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Learning Standards, which also needed to be considered in the two-year review process.

The committee was divided into four separate subcommittees to investigate different aspects of the report card, and the district surveyed faculty and parents on its effectiveness.

New report card notes

C — Consistently exceeds expectations

M — Most times meets expectations

S — Sometimes meets expectations

Y — Not meeting expectations

The committee developed what it believes to be a more simplified format that is easier for parents to understand. Committee member Lauren Horn, a teacher at Mount Elementary, explained that simplicity comes in the form of one achievement grade for each subject. The grades will be on a four-point scale, with a 4 demonstrating work “that exceeds grade level standards.” The scale on the sixth-grade report card will go up to 4.5 to point out “exceptional” students, she said. Effort grades for learning behaviors will represent the “growth mindset” — the concept that student behavior is not set and that students have the potential to improve with continued work, Horn said.

The committee’s report noted that rather than the familiar E (Excellent), G (Good) and I (Improvement needed), these grades will be replaced with C (Consistently exceeds expectations), M (Most times meets expectations), S (Sometimes meets expectations) and Y (Not yet meeting expectations). The comment section will feature a common language for each grade level across the district, said Dawn Alexander, district special education teacher mentor. For the 11 “behaviors related to learning” at the end of the report card, teachers will put an asterisk next to behavior they want to highlight. This is to allow parents to easily see an area in which their child is exceptional or needs more work, Alexander said.

Finally, rather than assigning a Fountas and Pinnell reading level, the report card will show reading level bands, which are a “benchmark and not a grade,” said Diedre Rubenstrunk, a lead instructional technology teacher. This means students are given a reading range based on reading ability and text difficulty.

A second committee that compared two high school diploma programs recommended that the district adopt the four-year-old Advanced Placement Capstone program. This decision came after several years of researching the International Baccalaureate program, an internationally recognized high school course of study that culminates in an International Baccalaureate diploma. The committee spent the past two years comparing the programs, said Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services.

Both programs are rigorous college preparatory study that encourage inquiry, research, analysis and critical thinking, and require long-form writing. To receive the IB diploma, students must take courses in six areas of study — language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and society, math, science and the arts — in addition to a year-long course called Theory of Knowledge for which students write a 1,600-word essay and give an oral presentation. They also must complete a 4,000-word extended essay as well as a community service project, encompassing creativity, activity and service.

Advanced Placement Capstone program requirements

Four AP exams

AP seminar —1,200-word written report, team project, presentation

AP research — 4,000- to 5,000-word essay, presentation, oral defence

Meanwhile, the AP Capstone diploma requires four AP exams, as well as an AP seminar and an AP research class, which are each a year long. The AP seminar includes both a team project and presentation, as well as an individual 1,200-word written report. The writing requirement for AP research is a 4,000- to 5,000-word essay, a presentation and oral defense.

In the case of both the IB extended essay and the AP Capstone essay, the papers are read and graded by readers outside of the high school. Three Village educators noted that the IB extended essay was “decentralized” and not attached to a specific class, which committee members said could be a great disadvantage. They found the AP seminar and AP research courses to offer more hands-on guidance and saw the possibility of pairing the AP research class with the district’s inSTAR science research program.

According to a survey of top colleges conducted by Ward Melville’s guidance department, colleges did not look at one program more favorably than another, said Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich. However, the process of implementing IB or AP Capstone would be drastically different.

The IB program would cost considerably more in application fees — roughly $3,000 — a $7,000 candidacy fee, as well as smaller fees for registration and subjects taught. Once the district’s candidacy was accepted after two years, the district would also have to pay an annual $11,600 fee. There are also costs to cover teacher training and ongoing professional development.

The AP Capstone program would also require teacher training, but the cumulative costs would be considerably less, according to the two program websites.

Since Three Village already offers AP classes, the committee found that adopting the AP Capstone program would be “less of a cultural shift,” and easier to implement. Ward Melville principal Alan Baum said that introducing IB would require new curriculum development and grading schemes and could cause problems for scheduling, maybe even limiting students’ class options.

The committee also pointed out that though some members visited and observed Long Island IB schools, there are not as many IB schools as AP Capstone schools. With the larger number of AP Capstone schools on the Island, Three Village could be a part of a consortium that shares resources and information.

Baum said the program could be more easily adapted to the district’s needs, while still accomplishing the same goals as an IB program. He added that this could all be achieved at a much lower and more sustainable cost to Three Village.

Suffolk County 6th Precinct police officer Jon-Erik Negron and Bryce Pappalardo, whom he helped save after the family gave birth to the not-breathing baby in their kitchen. Photo from SCPD

Mount Sinai teacher Mike Pappalardo felt such a special bond with officer Jon-Erik Negron, who helped save his newborn son Bryce after being born in the family’s kitchen last August, that he named him Bryce’s godfather.

“He’s been there for Bryce since his first breath,” Pappalardo said. “He’s just so genuine and asked us to keep in touch with him, to let him know how Bryce is doing. It made us think, ‘You know what? We want him in his life.’”

Suffolk County police officer Jon-Erik Negron and the Pappalardo family at baby Bryce’s christening, where Negron was named the baby’s godfather. Photo from SCPD

The Mount Sinai Middle School special education teacher and coach first met the 6th Precinct offer Aug. 22 when he responded to his home after his wife Jane went into labor in the family’s home. Bryce was delivered by his father, but was not breathing, and the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Even after Mike Pappalardo removed the cord, the newborn still hadn’t taken a breath. Officer Negron used a plastic syringe from the family’s kitchen to clear fluid from Bryce’s airway, and the baby began breathing.

“We have always had a connection,” said Negron, who speaks weekly with the family. “I’m just happy to play a role and I’m happy to always be there and always help because I know Bryce is going to grow up to do great things.”

The Pappalardo family said asking Negron to be the godfather was a no-brainer.

“Before even asking him to be the godfather, we felt like he already was,” Pappalardo said. “It was an easy choice. We were just hoping it would be ok with him and when we asked him, he said he was blown away and would be honored, but we were honored he agreed. We consider Jon-Erik family now.”

The officer was bestowed the honor during Bryce’s christening June 23 at Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church in Port Jefferson.

“I don’t know if Bryce would be here if it wasn’t for his quick thinking and knowledge,” Pappalardo said of Negron. “He’s emotionally connected to Bryce and he truly cares about him and what happens in his life. Jon-Erik and Bryce have a special connection that will last a lifetime.”

“This superseded anything I imagined on having an impact as a police officer.”

— Jon-Erik Negron

Several months ago, the Pappalardos publicly thanked Officer Negron as well as 6th Precinct officer Ferdinando Crasa, fire rescue and emergency service dispatcher Steve Platz and SCPD public safety dispatcher Jonathan Eck, for their efforts during the delivery.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said congratulations to Negron are in order.

“I am truly thankful for all first responders out there like officer Negron, and it warms my heart to see their tireless work appreciated in this sincere act of gratitude,” he said.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also commended Negron for his heroic effort.

“Bryce is lucky to have Officer Negron is in his life as a wonderful role model,” she said. “We are so grateful that baby Bryce is healthy and thriving due in part to our first responders.”

Negron has been a Suffolk County police officer for four-and-a-half years. He said playing a role in a baby delivery never crossed his mind when he thought of becoming a police officer.

“This superseded anything I imagined on having an impact as a police officer,” he said. “This is probably the most meaningful thing that will happen to me on this job and it exceeded all expectations.”

OLLI classes will be contained in the Social & Behavioral Sciences building, the Charles B. Wang Center, above, and Student Activities Center this fall. Photo from Stony Brook University

Continuing education students in Suffolk County recently found out speaking up can garner better results.

Students and workshop leaders enrolled in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Stony Brook University, a program that offers workshops, lectures and activities to retired and semiretired individuals, breathed sighs of relief when SBU representatives informed them at a June 27 meeting at the university that all OLLI classes will remain on campus. A few months ago, due to increased enrollment of SBU and OLLI students, it was proposed by university representatives that some OLLI classes be held off campus and members were told they could no longer park in the lot reserved for staff and faculty.

“There are some questions. So, I think there’s room for tweaking here.”

— John Gobler

Judith Greiman, chief deputy to SBU president and senior vice president for government and community relations, said while all classes will be held on campus, they will only be scheduled Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays instead of every weekday. Class duration will also be changing from 75 minutes to 60. OLLI students will be required to use the metered parking lots where they will need a hang tag, so they won’t have to put coins in the meters. The new parking arrangement will mean an added $75 in OLLI fees per semester.

The changes came after complaints from members and several meetings with Greiman, SBU community relations director Joan Dickinson and OLLI representatives, according to past OLLI president Robert Mirman. He said both sides had to bend a little.

“It’s understandable that the students of the university have priority, and they’re growing, there’s no ifs, ands or buts,” Mirman said. “But the majority of our members, the feedback that we got, was that they would prefer to be on campus.”

Workshop leader John Gobler said he believes the new plans are an improvement over initially proposed ideas, but said he and other members feel issues still exist. The new schedule has an hour break between classes, which will cause a good amount of downtime for those who take more than one course a day. He said at the June 27 meeting, members complained about the additional $75 a semester fee. Not everyone brings their car since they carpool, others need to park in handicap spots at the university and metered parking is limited, according to Gobler. Mirman said overall the $75 additional fee per semester will be less expensive than using the meters.

“The misperception, on the part of some, was that somehow the university didn’t want people on campus.”

—Judith Greiman

“We do have the support of the university, and they’re trying to help us, I’m sure,” Gobler said. “There are some questions. So, I think there’s room for tweaking here.”

Gobler also has concerns about equipment since classes will be offered solely in the Charles B. Wang Center, Student Activity Center and Social & Behavioral Sciences building, where the rooms don’t have the same technology equipment as other buildings. The one benefit of OLLI classes taking place in the three buildings instead of various buildings is OLLI members will know where their class location is as soon as they register. In the past, they had to wait until SBU
students completed registration to know where a class was going to be held.

Dickinson said current discussions with OLLI representatives has led to helping members become more involved with volunteer and community opportunities. She said many didn’t realize there were university events they could take part in like an international science competition where members can meet with the participating students and see their projects. She said many agencies in the community reach out to SBU and ask for help with reading to local students, musical performances, hosting campus tours and more. Those same volunteer opportunities will exist for OLLI members.

“Those kinds of connections and becoming more a part of the campus will be there,” Dickinson said.

Greiman said the university is happy to work with OLLI.

“The misperception, on the part of some, was that somehow the university didn’t want people on campus,” Greiman said. “In fact, we very strongly support the program and see the OLLI members as ambassadors and as part of the Stony Brook family.”

Ibuki Iwasaki, Eli Doyle, Luke Begley, Charles Clark finish atop their classes

By Anthony Petriello

Ibuki Iwasaki. Photo by Alex Petroski

At the conclusion of the 2018 school year at Earl L. Vandermeulen and Comsewogue high schools, four graduates stood at the top of their respective classes. These extraordinarily talented students include valedictorian Ibuki Iwasaki and salutatorian Eli Doyle from Port Jeff and valedictorian Luke Begley and salutatorian Charles Clark from Comsewogue.

At Earl L. Vandermeulen, Iwasaki finished the year at the top of the class with a 101.4 cumulative grade point average. Iwasaki was president of the National Honor Society and a member of the Mathletes team, for which she competed in more than 20 competitions, and won the All-County title for the 2017-18 school year.

“I am self-motivated,” she said of her academic drive. “My mother trusts me to seek out challenges.”

She attributed her success to her natural curiosity.

“I like to learn and try out new things whenever I can,” she said.

Eli Doyle. Photo by Alex Petroski

Iwasaki was also a member of the Science Olympiad team, where she was a first-place and third-place winner in various competitions. The team travels to universities near and far to compete against other high schools in a sports-style science tournament sponsored by organizations like NASA, Lockheed Martin and the United States Air Force. Iwasaki had also been a player on the varsity tennis team since eighth grade and was undefeated individually in the league this year. She is a National Merit Scholarship recipient, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and had earned a perfect score for three years at Level IV NYSSMA on the violin. Iwasaki will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall but said she has not declared an official major.

“I want to take advantage of all the opportunities MIT has to offer,” she said.

Eli Doyle finished high school with a 100.9 GPA. Doyle said he is grateful to the high school faculty for allowing him to achieve greatness.

Luke Begley. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I appreciate the opportunity my school has given me to achieve what I have achieved,” he said.

In addition to being an exemplary student, Doyle excelled on the field as well as the stage, having played tennis since ninth grade, earning honors from the Suffolk County Junior Tennis League, and working as part of the stage crew for school plays, musicals and concerts. He also volunteered at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket and spent his time with the residents, earning him the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Like Iwasaki, he was also a member of the Science Olympiad squad, finishing in first place in both optics and astronomy competitions. He was a member and officer of the Student Organization for all four years of his high school career and had the opportunity to participate in the Simmons Summer Research program at Stony Brook University where he studied ferroelectric fluid, which is a type of magnetic fluid that can be used in many applications from computer hard drives to rocket fuel. Doyle will be attending Brown University this fall where he will study engineering physics.

At Comsewogue, Luke Begley was named valedictorian, finishing with a 101.5 GPA. Begley is a music-minded scholar as well as a scholar-athlete. He was a member of the NYSSMA All-State Orchestra on the double bass and played midfield on the Comsewogue varsity soccer team. He attributed his academic success to his parents and his teachers.

Charles Clark. Photo by Alex Petroski

“They always motivated me and created an environment where I could succeed, and my teachers always knew how to keep me interested and engaged,” he said.

Begley was also the president of the French National Honor Society, captain of the Academic Quiz Bowl team and an AP Scholar with Distinction during his junior year. He credited his drive to succeed to his close friends.

“We keep a good balance of competition and cooperation where we compete to be the best academically but still help each other when it is necessary,” he said.

Begley will be attending Princeton University this fall where he will be double majoring in physics and music.

Comsewogue salutatorian Charles Clark had a 101.3 GPA to wrap up his senior year. He could not be reached for comment.

Meet the valedictorians, salutatorians from Cold Spring Harbor, Elwood, Harborfields, Northport and Huntington school districts

Huntington High School held its 157th commencement exercises June 22. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Across the Town of Huntington, hundreds of graduates stepped forward to receive their high school diplomas this week. Among the graduates are those who have excelled academically, achieving consistently high marks to rise top of their class to earn the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian.

Huntington High School Valedictorian Aidan Forbes. Photo from Huntington school district

Huntington High School

Aidan Forbes has been named valedictorian of Huntington High School’s Class of 2018. Sebastian Stamatatos is this year’s salutatorian. The spectacular pair has enjoyed exceptional four-year runs packed with academic and co-curricular success.

“I am extremely proud to be named valedictorian,” Forbes said. “It is the culmination of years of hard work and I couldn’t be happier.”

Forbes and Stamatatos both gave addresses at Huntington’s 157th commencement exercises June 22 in Blue Devil’s athletic stadium.

Huntington High School Salutatorian Sebastian Stamatatos. Photo from Huntington school district

“Aidan is an outstanding student and a very well rounded young man,” Huntington Principal Brenden Cusack said. “His years of hard work have paid off and I am so very happy for him. Sebastian is to be commended as well for this outstanding accomplishment, which apparently has become a family trait.”

Huntington’s top two seniors have captured the respect and admiration of their classmates and teachers. Their transcripts are filled with the most challenging courses the school district offers.

“Aidan and Sebastian have both achieved at the highest of levels academically and have taken complete advantage of all that the district has to offer,” Huntington Superintendent James Polansky said. “As importantly, they recognize the value of service and continue to represent our school community in the finest manner  possible. It will soon be time for them to further share their gifts with the world beyond Huntington. I wish them and their families the heartiest of congratulations and all the best moving forward.”

Northport High School Valedictorian Daniel O’Connor. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district

Northport High School

Daniel O’Connor is Northport High School’s 2018  valedictorian and said by school officials to be a shining example of the district’s mission— “excellence in all areas without exception” — has put hard work and effort into his high school career.

In addition to being involved extracurricular activities and running cross-country, he has been named an AP Scholar with Distinction, a National Merit Commended Scholar, a 2018 Town of Huntington Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and more. He will be attending Northeastern University in pursuit of a computer engineering degree this fall.

Northport High School Salutatorian Nicholas Holfester. Photo from Northport-East Northport school district

Northport High School salutatorian Nicholas Holfester’s passion for learning and internal drive has propelled him toward excellence throughout his high school career, according to school officials.

Even with a rigorous course load Holfester has excelled and received many awards and honors, including being named a National Merit Commended Scholar, a Rensselaer Medal winner and more. He will be attending the University of Notre Dame to study engineering in the fall.

Harborfields High School

Harborfields High School Valedictorian Emma Johnston. Photo from Harborfields school district

Harborfields’s valedictorian Emma Johnston, who will be attending Brandeis University to study neuroscience in the fall, had a successful high school career.

Along with being involved in many extracurricular activities, Johnston has received many academic awards and honors, such as being named a National Merit Finalist and a National AP Scholar.

Harborfields’ Class of 2018 salutatorian Sarah Katz led a well-rounded and successful high school career. Headedto either the University of Californiaor Berkley to dual major in business and engineering.

Harborfields High School Salutatorian Sarah Katz. Photo from Harborfields school district


She has been awarded many awards and honors, such as Rensselaer Medal Award Outstanding Academic Achievement in Study of Mathematics and Science, awards of academic excellence in English, French and art, and more.

Elwood-John H. Glenn High School

Elwood-John H. Glenn’s Valedictorian Kathryn Browne had a rigorous high school career, excelling in both academics and extracurricular activities. She was named a New York State Scholar Athlete all four years and was awarded multiple academic distinctions, including the Bausch & Lomb Honorary
Science Award.

John H. Glenn High School Valedictorian Katherine Browne. Photo from Elwood school district

She participated in multiple clubs where she assumed mentoring and leadership roles, and also enjoyed involvement in both the varsity track and soccer. Browne will be attending Boston College in the fall, where she plans on studying nursing.

Along with being at the top of her class, Elwood-John H. Glenn salutatorian Catherine Ordonoz-Reyes has been pursuing the family tradition of nursing throughout her high school career—and is a certified nursing assistant.

John H. Glenn High School Salutatorian Catherine Reyes-Ordonoz. Photo from Elwood school district

Along with her rigorous dedication to excellence in her studies, Ordonoz-Reyes has been an active member of her school and community. She has received academic distinctions, such as the National Academy for Future Physicians and Medical Scientist Award of Excellence. She will be attending LIU Post on a full scholarship to study nursing.

Editor’s note: Cold Spring Harbor High School does not formally recognize a valedictorian or salutatorian, but rather has a tradition of speeches given by reflection speakers with four to nine individuals selected each year. 

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