Kids

by -
0 903
Benjamin Perez-Flesler is honored at a board of education meeting with board member Ellen Boehm and Superintendent Paul Casciano. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

An 11-year-old at Port Jefferson Middle School is using technology to improve his preparedness for quizzes and exams, but he’s also looking out for the school’s entire sixth grade.

Benjamin Perez-Flesler was preparing for a test on ancient civilizations in his social studies class in November when he decided to create a study guide modeled after one he’d seen created by his LOTE (languages other than English) teacher Robert Farenga to get himself ready to ace the exam. Once he was finished making the quiz list, he though he’d share it with his classmates.

“I think initially it was mostly for myself, but I decided it was easier to share with everyone,” Benjamin said.

His classmates were grateful for the emailed study guide they received, according to Benjamin, so he decided to create more. That’s when he borrowed another idea from Farenga, to take the studying to the next level. His teacher hosts the study guides on a Google site accessible to anyone with the address, so Benjamin decided to make a website of his own.

“Over the Thanksgiving break I thought about how much the first study guide had helped my classmates,” Benjamin said during a presentation on technology in the classroom, made to the board of education Feb. 14. “I decided I would continue making study guides for more tests as they came and realized I would need somewhere to put them … after making the site I shared it with everyone in the grade and all of my teachers. Some of my teachers showed everyone how to get to it and what it was, so many more people started using it.”

He said soon after, a few of his friends asked if they could help with the website.

“With their help, many things were added to the website such as calendars, a feedback page, more study guides and games,” he said.

“I’m very, very partial of course, I’m the proud mom. He really likes challenges, and he’s fascinated by computers and the things you can do with them.”

—Daniela Flesler

Currently, the site has three social studies guides, two for science, three for math and four for LOTE, and Benjamin is still going strong. He and his classmates who helped with the site also offer extra help sessions for students in need at the high school library.

“I was surprised and amazed — kind of in awe of the things that he’s doing by himself,” Benjamin’s mom Daniela Flesler said. “I thought it was wonderful. I was so moved that he decided to share this with everyone else in his class.”

Benjamin’s father Adrian Perez said he would be very curious to see how his son’s endeavor has impacted test scores of student throughout the grade, and praised his son for taking on the responsibility of helping the entire sixth grade.

Benjamin’s parents were far from alone in heaping adulation on the 11-year-old.

“Benjamin, I see a business endeavor in your future, but most of all I would say congratulations on being such a wonderful peer mentor and peer supporter,” school board president Kathleen Brennan said after the presentation. “What a great idea to try and help your fellow students — truly impressive. Thank you for that.”

Middle School Principal Robert Neidig expressed a similar sentiment.

“I am so proud of Benjamin’s commitment to assisting his fellow students with their academic success,” Neidig said when Benjamin was honored by the board earlier in the school year. “His actions demonstrate his selflessness and compassionate nature.”

Benjamin, who’s father is from Spain and mother is from Argentina, said he hopes to be a teacher or a marine biologist when he grows up.

His mom had a hard time holding back her pride in her son’s accomplishments.

“I’m very, very partial of course, I’m the proud mom,” she said. “He really likes challenges, and he’s fascinated by computers and the things you can do with them.”

Students and parents interested in accessing Benjamin’s study guide can visit https://sites.google.com/a/portjeffschools.org/6th-grade-study-guides/home.

by -
0 655

Princess Ronkonkoma Productions, a local not-for-profit organization, is currently accepting entries for its 11th annual Children’s Poetry Contest open to all students in grades K through 12. Prizes will be awarded in three categories: K to 5th grade, 6th to 8th grade and 9th to 12th grade and based on four themes: What would you say to a Martian?, My Secret Wish, Magic Dragon and A Box of Treasures.

Poems should not exceed 25 lines and there is no fee for each poem submitted. Send two copies of each poem, one with your name, address and phone number on it and one without to Princess Ronkonkoma Productions, P.O. Box 2508, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY 11779-2508. Postmark deadline for all entries is March 25.

An award ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 6 at Emma S. Clark Library, 120 Main St., Setauket from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Winners, or a representative designated by the winners, must be present to accept their certificate and prize. For more information, please call Hedi at 631-331-2438 or email Judy at msjevus@optonline.net.

Kiddie Academy hosts second annual Hop-A-Thon to raise money for the Lukemia and Lymphona Society

On Feb. 17, kids between the ages 5 and 12 turned the music up and busted a move for good reason: they helped to raise $575 for those with leukemia and those working to find a cure.

For the second year in a row, Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care in Wading River sponsored a fun-filled and awareness-driven Hop-a-thon for the Long Island chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research, finding cures and providing treatment access for blood cancer patients.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro speaks to kids at Kiddie Academy of Wading River. Photo by Kevin Redding

As part of the organization’s Student Series, which aims to involve young people in the fight against cancer through service learning and character education programs, the event is a dance celebration for kids who, along with their parents, contributed money to the important cause. As leukemia affects more children than any other cancer, the program lets kids help kids while having fun.

But before the academy’s school age kids took to the lobby to hop and bop to songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” they sat down for a brief presentation about what they donated money towards, engaging in true-or-false questionnaires about blood cancers and learning about the “honored heroes” on Long Island — students from local school districts who have beaten cancer.

“Thanks to each and every one of you helping to raise money, kids like these are 100 percent better today and happy and healthy,” Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro told the energetic kids. “You’re dancing for them and I can’t thank you enough.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River students danced during its second annual Hop-A-Thon Feb. 17 to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Socoety. Photo by Kevin Redding

Samantha Wooley, a Kiddie Academy staff member, said the Hop-A-Thon is a reflection of the values of compassion and community contribution the students work on every month.

“In dancing, and just having fun, they’re working as a team and doing this all together,” Wooley said. “It’s broken up into different ages and levels, some of them are more shy while others are outgoing, and we’re just mixing them all together to have one big dance off.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River reached out to the society last year to participate in the program to support one of its students who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and is currently in remission.

Christina St. Nicholas, the director of Kiddie Academy of Wading River, said in a press statement that the Hop-A-Thon was “exactly in line with our curriculum” and the child care’s “strong emphasis on character education.”

“[It’s] an exciting program that will engage our preschoolers and school-age children to help others in a fun, educational way,” St. Nicholas said. “Joining in this program to fight leukemia is one of the many ways we strive to model the values of community, compassion and cooperation each and every day.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River staff member Michele Boccia, on left, and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro, on right, talk to students about the lives they’re helping save. Photo by Kevin Redding

Nearly all 35 students in the school-age department of Kiddie Academy participated, with each classroom collecting bags of loose change. The childcare center also reached out to parents, who had the option to pay through a website or submit a check. Donations ranged from $25 to $75.

Kristin Lievre, a mother of two Kiddie Academy students from Wading River, said it’s important that the kids learn at an early age to give back to the community.

“I think it’s good to see there are ways we can help people through things like this,” she said. “This makes them feel good about what they can do for others.”

Sophia, 10, one of the star dancers of the day, echoed Lievre.

“It feels good because we can raise money for the people who are sick so they can get better,” she said, “and don’t have to deal with the sickness anymore.”

Free pre-K will replace fee pre-K at Nassakeag in September. Application deadline March 31. Stock Photo

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school district announced last week that it will launch a free prekindergarten program in the fall to replace the current fee-based program housed at Nassakeag Elementary School.

The school board meeting also brought up-to-date news about the tax cap and the district’s STEM program.

Speaking about the new, free prekindergarten program, Jeff Carlson, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, explained that it will remain at Nassakeag. He also said the program will be taught by Three Village teachers and only be open to district residents. For the past two years, Three Village has been partnering with SCOPE Education Services to run a preschool for 4-year-olds at Nassakeag.

Under the new district-only program, there will be 200 spots for 4-year-olds in 10 classes — five in the morning and five in the afternoon. Carlson said both the morning and afternoon sessions will meet for two-and-a-half hours, five days a week. Children must be potty-trained to attend and must turn 4 by Dec. 1, 2017. If there are more applicants than spaces, students will be selected by lottery, Carlson said. The current kindergarten enrollment stands at 339.

While the preschool playground and classrooms are in place, the district would still have to cover the cost of staffing the program.  Carlson estimated it would cost about $450,000 in teaching salaries and benefits. However, because of declining
enrollment in the elementary schools, Three Village would have had to lay off three
elementary school teachers next fall. Now, though, the district will shift three teachers with early childhood education certifications over to the preschool. Two additional teachers will be hired.

The deadline for application is March 31, and the lottery drawing will be held April 21.

The budget

With new numbers in from the state, Three Village has a clearer picture of its finances for the coming school year. With those figures in place, Carlson said the new projected limit on the tax levy increase is 3.40 percent. That is up from an initial projection of 1.46 percent in January.

The baseline for what is commonly referred to as the tax cap is set at 2 percent, or the consumer price index — whichever is lower. In addition, each district’s maximum allowable levy increase is calculated using a formula that includes criteria such as a district’s tax base growth factor, capital projects and bond payments, Carlson said.

Three Village can expect an increase in state aid of about $247,000, based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive budget for 2018. The amount does not include building aid. Last year, the district received a $3.5 million bump because of the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment — funds taken from school aid packages to assist the state in balancing its budget. The district will not need to cut any programs for budget reasons.

Computer science

With STEM careers growing at a rate of 17 percent — compared to 9.8 percent for other fields — according to a report from the district’s computer science faculty, Three Village students have the opportunity to stay abreast of a rapidly changing field.

Stan Hanscom, a math and computer science teacher at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, said because district students are exposed to coding through the elementary STEM program, the district’s junior high computer classes offer a bridge between early exposure and offerings at the high school. Hanscom’s students learn Scratch and TI Basic for calculators, which introduce code sequencing, trouble-shooting and problem solving.

In grades eight and nine, students focus on logical thinking and learn programming using Python. Ward Melville High School offers AP computer science A, an introductory, college-level course in Java programming. Next year, students will also be able to take AP computer science principles, which focuses less on programming and more on the foundations of programming, with an interdisciplinary approach, said Katelyn Kmiotek, who teaches eighth- and ninth-graders at Gelinas Junior High. She will teach the new course in the fall.

A group of community members is discussing the possibility of a public pool in Port Jefferson Village. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski

As a waterfront village, a group of more than 120 community members think Port Jefferson is missing one major and logical element: a place to swim. Led by Todd Pittinsky, a four-year village resident and Stony Brook University professor, a group interested in bringing a public pool to Port Jefferson is mobilizing, gaining support and preparing to present ideas and data to the village board.

The where, when and how are still up in the air, according to Pittinsky, but one thing that is unquestionable is the public interest in the project. Pittinsky created a Facebook page called Port + Pool as a way to gauge support for his vision. At the time of print the page has 123 followers.

“When we moved here it was the one thing we couldn’t find,” Pittinsky said in an interview. He said he has a 3-year-old son he’d like to have the opportunity to teach how to swim, though creating a place where the community can gather and enjoy together is also one of his goals. In a Dec. 17 post on the page, Pittinsky spelled out some of the major benefits he believes a public pool would bring to the community. He cited health benefits of swimming for exercise, the importance of teaching kids how to swim especially on Long Island, a possible boost in property values, additional revenue for the village and a place for kids to spend their time productively as some of the possible positive outcomes of his vision.

The group hasn’t decided if an outdoor or indoor pool would be best, but Pittinsky said several members would like to be able to use it year-round. He added he has seen designs that incorporate both lanes, for people who want to swim laps for health reasons with areas designated for play for kids, all incorporated into one. Currently Edna Louise Spear Elementary School has an indoor pool though it is only open to the public twice per week.

Pittinsky said it is too early in the process to start discussing possible costs, but his goal is for the Facebook group to eventually be involved in fundraising for the project to offset some of the potential cost for the village, should the ball truly get rolling. The group has brainstormed five potential locations, though they haven’t gained permission from any of the necessary parties just yet. He suggested the Port Jefferson Country Club as a possible spot because it is already open to the public and they are trying to increase membership. Other possibilities include a floating pool within Port Jefferson Harbor; somewhere uptown where revitalization projects are beginning and apartment buildings are being constructed; Roosevelt Park, which the village is in the process of repurposing; or  even Danfords Hotel and Marina.

At least one member of the board of trustees is willing to explore the idea along with the community. Stanley Loucks sits on the board, and is also the liaison for the country club.

“This is a marvelous idea — a swimming pool at the country club would be a major plus for the club members as well as the Village,” Loucks said in an email. “A pool facility is probably the only missing attraction in Port Jefferson. I personally retired from a school district that had two competition-sized swimming pools that were used 24/7. The potential for programs for all age groups is endless not to mention the free swim fitness aspect. It would seem the country club would be the natural location if this were to become a reality. I can tell you from my experience, this endeavor would be extremely expensive; however, would certainly pay for itself over time.”

Julia Bear, a Poquott resident and a member of Pittinsky’s group, said she would be in favor of a public pool in Port Jefferson.

“There are few pool options close by to the Three Village/Port Jeff area,” she said in an email. “A community pool is a great family alternative that meets the needs of kids and adults of all ages. In particular, it provides older children with a nice alternative to the mall. Overall, I am very supportive of this endeavor, and my hope is that it will bring the community together and perhaps we’ll even get into better shape in the process.”

Another group member, a Port Jefferson resident and Stony Brook ecology professor, pointed out the potential environmental dangers if everyone in a community had their own pool at their home.

“If each homeowner builds their own outdoor pool, it is a waste of water, energy, and resources, and we are all more isolated from each other,” Joshua Rest said in an email. “If a village builds a pool, then we all share in the cost, the environmental impact is reduced, and we build a community of strong swimmers.”

Pittinsky said his plan is to hold an informational meeting later in February to gauge public interest and figure out where to go from here. For more information or to support the project, visit www.facebook.com/portpluspool/.

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education Betsy DeVos has been met with opposition from North Shore educators. Photo from Senate committee website

Many North Shore superintendents and educators are concerned with President Donald Trump’s (R) nominee for secretary of education: Betsy DeVos, chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately-held investment and management firm based in Michigan, to serve as secretary of education. According to her website, the Michigan resident has a history in politics spanning more than 35 years. She was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times, and worked in a leadership capacity for campaigns, party organizations and political action committees, her website states.

DeVos went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for a confirmation hearing Jan. 17.

“Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it … do not have my support.”

—Paul Casciano

“I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve,” DeVos said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children. The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

DeVos’ views on public education created a stir around the country, and superintendents from the North Shore and county as a whole joined the chorus of those skeptical about the direction she might take the country’s education system.

“I have devoted my entire adult life to public education and believe it is the bedrock of our democracy,” Port Jefferson school district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it or that offer alternatives that are not subjected to the same strict standards and scrutiny that public schools must live by, do not have my support.”

Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagen echoed many of Casciano’s concerns.

“I find President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to be unacceptable,” he said in an email. “Education in this country is at an important crossroads. As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education that will prepare them to be active, contributing members of society.”

“As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education.”

—Tim Eagan

Eagen also has concerns about DeVos’ qualifications.

“I believe that Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. “She is a businesswoman and politician without any experience in public service or public education. She does not have an education degree, has no teaching experience, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended public school or a state university, and did not send her own four children to public school.”

Middle Country Central School District  Superintendent Roberta Gerold stressed that she does not support the appointment of DeVos, stating that she believes all of DeVos’ actions to date evidence a lack of support for, and understanding of public education.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework,” Gerold said. “She couldn’t seem to, for example, understand or explain the difference between growth and proficiency — very basic concepts. And her answer to whether guns should be allowed in schools — please.”

The superintendent said, though, that she is most disappointed that DeVos would even be considered for the position.

“It seems clear to me that this is purely a political appointment, not an appointment that recognizes merit or values authentic education,” Gerold said. “John King — who I don’t believe was a great champion of public education, at least had credentials that deserved respect. The new nominee does not. It’s worrisome and disconcerting….and insulting to the public education system, K–12 and beyond.”

She said her teachers, several who are community residents, are preparing a petition that requests the board of education adopt of resolution in opposition to the appointment.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework.”

—Roberta Georld

“I believe that our board will be supportive of that request,” she said. “I know that our board president is in agreement with opposing the nomination.”

The Miller Place school district’s administration and board of education drafted and passed a resolution opposing DeVos’ appointment. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the appointment in an open letter on the district’s website.

“Our concerns are twofold,” she said. “The first reservation we have is regarding the candidate’s lack of first-hand experience as an educator or administrator within the public school system. Since the majority of the children in the United States are currently being educated within the public school system, we feel that this experience is very important for an effective Secretary of Education.”

Cartisano elaborated on her other issues with DeVos.

“Her record also shows a clear bias towards private, parochial and charter schools and the use of vouchers to attend these schools,” Cartisano said. “This bias leads us to our second overarching concern with Betsy DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education. The concern is that Betsy DeVos has been a strong advocate for the use of public funds to attend private schools through vouchers, and this would have a direct negative impact on our public school system’s fiscal stability if it is put into effect on a national level.”

The committee will vote to either approve or deny DeVos’ nomination Jan. 31.

Victoria Espinoza and Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.

The cast of 'The Three Little Pigs.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

By Heidi Sutton

The well-known story of “The Three Little Pigs” is a timeless children’s fable that has been around for hundreds of years. With his stomach growling, a big, bad wolf comes upon three pigs who have each built homes from different materials — straw, wood and brick. After the wolf easily blows down the first two houses, the pigs run to the third pig’s brick house. When the wolf fails to blow down the brick house, he decides to go down the chimney and ultimately meets a bitter end.

With book and lyrics by Jeffrey Sanzel and music by the late Brent Erlanson, Theatre Three’s version, which opened last weekend, gives us a kinder, gentler version of the fable, throws in two homeless mice and gives the wolf the talent to rap. Spoken entirely in song and verse, which is a quite delightful experience, this show is fresh, funny and downright adorable, making it the perfect choice for younger audiences, especially first-time theatergoers.

From left, Jessica Contino, Andrew Gasparini and Emily Gates in a scene from ‘The Three Little Pigs’. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Sanzel skillfully directs an energetic adult cast of six, all who seem to be having the time of their lives. The musical numbers, accompanied on piano by Steve McCoy, are the heart of the show with special mention to “You’ve Got Me, I’ve Got You,” and “You Build a House, You Find a Dream.”

The story centers on three little pigs who have decided to become independent of each other and, with suitcases in hand, go off to build their own homes. Little Pig, played wonderfully by Jessica Contino, decides to build her house with straw. “There’s no law I can’t build with straw,” she quips.

“Sticks are the way I say,” says the grouchy Middle Pig (Andrew Gasparini) who thinks he’s better than everyone else. “Pay attention and you will see, there’s no one in existence who compares with me,” seems to be his favorite saying. Gasparini takes this juicy role and runs with it.

Emily Gates is perfectly cast as the Older Pig who builds a brick house. Mature and wise and kind, her character’s ability to open her heart to friend, stranger or foe is a welcome sight in today’s world.

Melanie Acampora and Steven Uihlein make a great team as Sister and Brother Mouse (Sigh!) who are down on their luck and seek help from the pigs. Being turned away because they are different is difficult to watch.

From left, Jessica Contino, Andrew Gasparini, Emily Gates and Dylan Robert Poulos. Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

But it is Dylan Robert Poulos as Mr. Wolf who huffs, yeah, and puffs, yeah, and steals the show. “I’m a wolf with a cause, but with dangerous claws,” he growls as he chases the pigs throughout the theater. Poulos’ performance in “Mr. Wolf [W]raps It Up” is an instant favorite with the audience as he raps with the other cast members and performs amazing backflips across the stage.

As seen in every children’s production at Theatre Three, the show uses this opportunity to teach moral lessons — in this case, embracing diversity and going beyond tolerance. “We’re all the same, the only difference is race and name,” says the wiser Older Pig. The act of sharing is also emphasized.

The costumes, designed by Teresa Matteson, are perfect, from pink pig ears to little pig tails. Even the pig’s suitcases match their specific houses! Did I mention this show is adorable? The set, designed by Randall Parsons, alternates between the three pig houses but still allows for plenty of imagination, which is a very good thing.

Meet the cast in the lobby after the show for photo ops.

Theatre Three, located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Three Little Pigs” through Feb. 25. The season will continue with “Raggedy Ann & Andy” from March 4 to 25, “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” from April 12 to May 6 and “The Princess and the Pea” from May 27 to June 10. Sensory-friendly performances are available during each production. All seats are $10. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

Isabella Panag, Kelly Wang, Zekey Huang, Snigdha Roy, and Mount Sinai Middle School Principal Peter Pramataris during the board of education meeting, where certificated were presented to winners and runner-ups of the district-wide spelling bee. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Two Mount Sinai students, sixth grader Zekey Huang and fourth grader Carrie Wang, will represent the district in the Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee at Hofstra University next month. The two spelled their way to victory in building-wide competitions held at the middle school and elementary school, which were judged by administrators and members of the English faculty.

Last week, at the district’s board of education meeting at Mount Sinai Middle School, students from both buildings, grades one through eight, who participated in the annual spelling bee in December, were presented with certificates of recognition on behalf of the board.

“As a former athlete and former teacher, I love academic competition and I’m really just so proud of all the participants,” Mount Sinai Middle School Principal Peter Pramataris said. “They participated [in the spelling bee] with class, and the excitement they bring to the building is great.”

Among the four middle school finalists were seventh graders Isabella Panang and Kelly Wang, who tied for third place; seventh grader Snigdha Roy, who, according to the principal, had been in a “fierce, back and forth battle” with Huang during the competition, won second place; and 11-year-old Zekey, who ultimately took first place by spelling “flammable.”

“They participated [in the spelling bee] with class, and the excitement they bring to the building is great.”

— Peter Pramataris

This is the second time Zekey, who said he’s “happy and really excited,” will represent Mount Sinai at Hofstra, having competed after winning the spelling bee as a fourth grader. He and Carrie will be taking a written test Feb. 5 and, assuming they pass, will be competing in the traditional oral portion on the stage of John Cranford Adams Playhouse on Feb 12, with the hopes of making it to the National Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. during the spring.

“We’re very proud of him,” Zekey’s father, Edward, said. “He has accomplished a lot in the elementary and middle school, and we’re very thankful for the opportunity that the school gave us.”

Speaking about Carrie, Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore said the fourth grader is poised, beyond her years and is preparing to compete on a daily basis.

“When she stops me in the hallway, she gives me a word to spell, and when I stop her in the hallway, I give her a word to spell,” Gentilcore said in a phone interview. “It’s nice to see her excitement shine through and [we’re] very excited for her.”

The principal said during the spelling bee, the 9-year-old and her fourth grade co-champs quickly made their way through the fourth grade list of words, ending up with words at the eighth grade level in the final round. In terms of reaching the finals in Washington, Gentilcore said he’s knocking on wood.

“Typically,” he said, “one of the older students will win, but anything can happen.”

The Knox School’s 2016 Poetry Out Loud winners Kyle Pursaud and Isabella Benrubi with Donna Pergola, center, chair of the English Department at The Knox School. Photos courtesy of Knox School

POETRY OUT LOUD Congratulations to juniors Isabella Benrubi and Kyle Pursaud for winning the 2016 Poetry Out Loud competition at The Knox School in St. James. Poetry Out Loud is an annual competition that requires students to recite poems from memory.  All competitions start at the school level and require students to recite two poems. One poem must be 25 lines or more and the other must be a pre-20th century poem of any length. The top two contestants from each registered school then go on to the district competition.

For The Knox School, the top two students go to Stony Brook University to compete with students from other surrounding districts.  At the district level, students are required to memorize a third poem, but the third poem is only required if they make it to the final round. Participating students included Brandon Persaud, Kyle Persaud, Isabella Benrubi, Isai Bala, Daniel Leach, Tess Pruzan, Aric Liu, Tiffany Chu, Mateja Markovic and Annie Kong.

Overall, the Poetry Out Loud competition helps educators bring a love of poetry, and learning through poetry, to the classroom. The Knox School has participated for almost a decade now, helping students develop skills not only in reading, analyzing and reciting poetry but also in public speaking and presentation.

“It takes a lot of courage and skill to recite poetry from memory and the participants of Poetry Out Loud surpassed all of my expectations for this competition,” said Donna Pergola, chair of the English Department. “I am so proud of all of them for overcoming their fear of public speaking and reciting their poems with such poise and charisma.”

Above, Harbor Country Day students and staff, along with two U.S. Marines, stand in front of a truck filled with Toys for Tots donations. Photo courtesy of Harbor Country Day School

On Dec. 14, United States Marines from the Sixth Communications Battalion, Alpha Company, in Farmingdale, visited Harbor Country Day School in St. James to collect thousands of toys donated to the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program. In addition to collecting donated toys from its own students, Harbor Country Day also served as a drop-off location for the surrounding community.

Harbor Country Day has contributed to the Toys for Tots drive since 1998, when former Harbor employee Mike Guido instituted the program. Now retired from the school, Guido directs the delivery of toys from various sites throughout Smithtown to Harbor Country Day and other drop-off locations. The John W. Cooke V.F.W. Post 395 of St. James, of which Guido is a member, also contributed funds, which were used to purchase toys for the drive.

“We are honored to play a part in the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program,” said John Cissel, head of school for Harbor Country Day School. “During this time of year, when our lives are exceptionally busy and hectic, we cherish the opportunity to slow down a bit and remind our students about the importance of ‘stepping outside of ourselves’ and helping others in need. The Toys for Tots program is a perfect opportunity to do that and, at the same time, to make a valuable contribution to our surrounding community.”