Your Turn

North Shore Jewish Center. File photo

By Rabbi Aaron Benson

One of the truly special aspects of Jewish life is the interconnectedness of the Jewish world. This trait comes to the fore on a holiday like Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, which was celebrated on the Jewish calendar this year on May 12. Jews from around the world join together in remembering those who have died in bringing into being and defending Israel, praying for peace and security in Israel and the Middle East and celebrating the true miracle that is not just the return of the Jews to their historic homeland but also all the many accomplishments of Israel in the 68 years since it was founded.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich has Long Island roots and visited from Poland to share his experiences at the North Shore Jewish Center. Photo from Rabbi Aaron Benson
Rabbi Michael Schudrich has Long Island roots and visited from Poland to share his experiences at the North Shore Jewish Center. Photo from Rabbi Aaron Benson

The North Shore Jewish Center celebrated the special place Israel has for our community by joining the leader of another Jewish community, that of Poland, whose chief rabbi, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, was visiting Long Island last week. A native of Patchogue, Rabbi Schudrich graduated from Stony Brook University, where he was being honored during his visit. The chief rabbi has a unique attachment to NSJC, as he was a religious school teacher at our synagogue back when he was a student.

He shared with us about the situation of the Jewish community in Poland. It certainly has its challenges. The Jewish community was nearly destroyed during the Holocaust, losing 90 percent of its numbers. Communism brought about more years of persecution. But since the 1990s, there have been some signs of growth and stability. Young Polish Jews today, for example, travel to Israel as part of the Birthright program, something young American Jews do, too. Rabbi Schudrich explained how a strong connection to Israel for his community is one of the achievements of Poland’s Jews.

Learning about the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland was a hopeful story for our congregants to hear. And to learn that our co-religionists in Poland feel a deep commitment to Israel just as we do, too (our synagogue is planning a trip to Israel for this fall), brought home a deeper meaning to the holiday.

For it reminded us that no matter where Jews may live all around the world, a love for Israel inspires us all. That made our Yom Ha-Atzma’ut particularly memorable this year.

The author is the rabbi at the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.

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New jobs in new industries are constantly coming up. There is no college major that fits to these yet-to-exist jobs, so students can take comfort that their success is not bound by their decision to study art history or physics. Photo from Ryan DeVito

By Ryan DeVito

You are not defined by your college major. High school students often struggle under the pressure of not only choosing a college but also pre-selecting a major that will lead to a certain career. Fortunately, there is no definite pathway to most jobs.

A college major is simply a medium for greater exploration of something. With few exceptions, college curricula are designed to expose students to a wide variety of coursework. The major itself can constitute as little as one quarter of a student’s credits over the course of their college career. Those credit hours are focused on one particular field of interest that may or may not have any bearing on a student’s future career goals.

I majored in political science in college. Instead of viewing my college experience as a means for securing a job after graduation, I approached college as an opportunity to learn widely. Political science was, and still is, interesting to me, so I chose to focus my studies in that field. However, I never had any intention of pursuing any of the assumed paths of a political science major: law school, political campaigning or lobbying.

Political science formed the foundation of my college education, but it in no way defines who I am or where I hope to take my career. My story isn’t uncommon, either. College graduates nationwide are increasingly departing from their college majors to pursue jobs that are sometimes completely unrelated. After all, the modern economy is constantly changing and the opportunity to discover new passions and interests is ever expanding.

High school students may be surprised to learn how little bearing a college major has on a lifetime trajectory. Medical doctors are often examples of how your college major can be unrelated to your endgame. An increasing number of medical students have undergraduate degrees that are outside of the sciences, and many medical schools look for candidates with nonscience backgrounds. Why? Because medical schools want to produce well-rounded doctors who can better connect with their patients.

This is an age when people need to be adaptable. Essentially gone are the days when you could graduate from college and assume that a lifetime job would be waiting for you. Instead, today’s college students need to be versatile and innovative.

Not only is the job landscape constantly changing, but so are your personal interests. In a widely referenced statistic, the average young person today changes careers more than three times in their lifetime. That’s careers, not jobs.

A college major should allow you to feed a passion. Selecting a major based on career prospects is a losing proposition. And what really matters is not your major but your drive. The research of economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger suggests that college major is much less important than the student’s inherent ability, motivation and ambition. Studying art history or horticulture are not death sentences for your future. Just the opposite is true if you are motivated to search out the opportunities you want. Also, every experience can be translated into a desirable job skill. From interpersonal communication to organization to management, any major can be effectively pitched to be a desirable package for potential employers.

High school and college students shouldn’t feel as though their future is at stake when they choose a major. Rather, they should think about how they can use their academic interests to reach their goals. There is no set path. With some inventiveness and innovation, today’s students can create opportunity regardless of what they study in college.

Ryan DeVito is a Miller Place native and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo. DeVito is a counselor at High Point University and also started his own college advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students and their families.

Smithtown Board of Education member Grace Plourde, file photo

By Grace Plourde

Recently, the Smithtown Board of Education made a difficult decision. Following months of information-gathering and deliberation, we voted to close one of our elementary schools. During that long period of examination and deliberation, I had accepted as true — as accurate —many of the arguments put forth by the community for keeping Branch Brook open. It is an amazing school. I am not happy about an empty building in the Nesconset community where I was born and where I now raise my own children. And we did have some temporary relief this year, budget-wise, despite what’s projected to be a tax cap of less than 1 percent.

And yet, the decision to downsize was clearly necessary, because of factors which exist both inside and outside our Smithtown community. We must all agree that enrollment has been dropping. This year, once again, we’ll admit a kindergarten class that has about 35 to 40 percent fewer students than our graduating senior class. We anticipate this trend will continue, and so it’s necessary to take advantage of economies of scale where we can, in order to save the funds necessary to preserve our entire educational program going forward.

We also explained, more than once, the fact that school budgeting is no longer the collaborative effort of district staff and school communities; one carefully crafting a program worthy of our kids and the goals we set for them and the other acknowledging the worthiness of such a program with their “yes” votes on the third Tuesday in May.

Now, the process is more like a shoehorn, as districts create, not the program they want, or that their kids deserve, but the one they can “fit” within the narrow confines of an arbitrary metric. I’m talking of course about the tax cap, which, in New York’s case, is simply a bad rip-off of the Massachusetts model. It has none of the safeguards, no infusion of state aid, and no regard for program. It’s a political device, rather transparently aimed at busting unions. Except, schoolkids have no dog in that fight, and it’s beyond shortsighted of Albany to risk their educational destinies in this way.

Our legislature didn’t stop there, either. They gave, or rather took, the Gap Elimination Adjustment as a means to close a statewide budget gap. Instead of raising taxes, for which they might have been answerable to their constituencies, they simply “shorted” state aid to schoolkids. In Smithtown’s case, that meant $30 million of aid we should have gotten, but didn’t, over the course of a half decade or so. And, in a spectacular piece of euphemistic rebranding, the legislature has termed the recent cancellation of GEA-authorized fleecing as a “restoration.” That makes it sound as though they gave us some amazing gift when, in reality, all they did was finally put an end to the shell game.

When you consider that near 80 percent of Smithtown’s annual budget is taken up with professional salaries, and when you understand that those contractual salaries increase at about 2 to 3 percent a year, you can see that a tax cap of less than 1 percent puts us into an immediate deficit situation, unless we can make up the deficit through cuts. And this happens every year now, as the district and the board struggle to keep programs intact and plan for a sustainable future.

To make matters still worse, the state has provided financial incentives to homeowners to vote against any effort to pierce the cap. Do you want your STAR rebate next year? That’s easily done: just make sure that your school district complies with the cap. Never mind that educational programs will be slashed, schools will be closed, and your property values will be put at risk. If you choose to support your school district, and its efforts to maintain a quality program, it will cost you — big time!

So, given the budgetary landscape in which we presently find ourselves, we, the board of trustees, must do what is hardest. I want to you know that it is quite often a demoralizing, spirit-crushing endeavor. But we do it, because 9,450 kids depend on us doing it. It’s no longer the case that budgeting is done as a discrete, annual affair.

We look back, forward and sideways with every decision we make, and we are constantly taking stock. The goal around here has become “sustainability.” It’s a fight for survival. But we will not allow Smithtown to be the first district to fall over that fiscal cliff. And just because we got lucky in a couple of directions this year, does not mean that such luck is guaranteed to us. In fact, we know there are difficult days ahead.

Go ahead, right now, and bet everything you own on the stock market: your house, your anticipated annual income, everything you own. If that sounds ridiculous, recall that school budgeting means having a tax cap that is linked to CPI and bears no particular relation to the needs of the district’s students) and that our contributions to the employee and teacher retirement systems are similarly dictated by the whim of the market. A couple of years after the 2008 crash, we were absolutely devastated by the increase in that number.

Even if things were to stay “stable,” that only means we should expect increases of about 1 percent annually. However, due to factors such as the final payment of some debt service, we expect things to get far, far worse. Stay tuned, because “negative” tax levies have become more than theoretical, as some 80 districts statewide find themselves entitled to a smaller tax levy next year. This is Smithtown’s future.

And then consider that if you were held to the same constraints as your local school district, the state would only allow you to keep in “reserve,” i.e., your household savings, a maximum of 4 percent of your annual household income. You read that correctly: for every $100,000 of household income, you’d be permitted to maintain a mere $4,000 in savings.

If your car engine needed repair or your oil burner failed, you’d wiped out. That’s how school districts are forced to operate. The state will not even permit us to save the funds we need in the form of unrestricted “fund balance” to ride out the storm we know is coming.

As I close, I do want to thank our parents for their comments throughout the process, even those comments that were less than charitable. You can tell your kids you fought with everything you had to keep their school open.

And you can put this one on us, because that’s our job. It’s our job to make sure that the kids who attend Branch Brook right now, and all of our current elementary students, will someday have the high school program they deserve. I know it’s hard to think that far ahead. I urge you to try. And whatever we as a board and a district can do for you and for your kids as they transition, this we must endeavor to do. We will all, all of us together in Smithtown, get through this.

Grace Plourde serves on the Smithtown board of education.

Heritage Park’s new geese patrol, from left, Willie, Nova and Lily, along with their owners, will help keep geese from eating grass and leaving behind droppings on the grounds of the Mount Sinai park. Photo by Fred Drewes

By Fred Drewes

Willy, Lily and Nova are new volunteers at Heritage Park. Willie and Nova, both corgis, and Lily, a border collie, have been recruited to form a “geese patrol.” According to a joint document by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “the use of trained dogs to chase geese is among the most effective techniques available today” to prevent the annoyance of Canada geese.

Janet Smith, Regan and Chris Erhorn and Kerry and Lynn Hogan-Capobianco are the proud owners of these dogs that have volunteered to herd the geese away from the Mount Sinai park.

Willy, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, is 10 years old and was abandoned before being rescued by Smith. Nova, a tri-color Pembroke, is 1 year old and was adopted from a breeder in Pennsylvania. Lily is 12 years old and was adopted at the North Shore Animal League. The dogs are friendly, loyal and have strong herding instincts. As part of the geese patrol, the three will be on call. Staff and volunteers of the Heritage Trust will call on the dogs when geese appear so that they can chase the birds from the park to prevent them from dirtying up the area.

Commissioner Ed Morris of the Brookhaven Department of Parks and Recreation gave the animals permission to “work” at Heritage Park and said he is thankful for the owners’ volunteer efforts. The parks department has also purchased silhouettes of dogs to display in the park. The combination will discourage the grazing of geese and reduce what the geese leave behind.

The population of resident Canada geese has increased and become an annoyance in parks, on golf courses and landscaped areas of condos and co-ops. Lush grass provides gourmet grazing. Unfortunately, these geese eat up to three pounds of grass per day and leave a trail of feces behind. It is estimated that each goose can produce from 1 to 1.5 pounds of droppings per day, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. The ball fields, paths and play knoll of Heritage Park have been littered with geese droppings, and research has shown that droppings contain a variety of pathogens capable of infecting humans. Although there is no clear evidence the droppings are transmitting diseases or are a threat to public health, the main concern is the mess left behind.

No one relishes walking on a path or playing on a field full of feces. This aesthetic problem is what the geese patrol will try to solve. If the geese are chased enough, they will learn to avoid swooping into the park, leaving visitors able to enjoy the open space and paths without tip-toeing through goose poop.

If you see Willy, Nova or Lily working in the park, the dogs are not there to play or exercise, but thank them for their efforts. Heritage Trust, the park and the town parks department are working together to make “The Wedge” one of the most popular parks in Brookhaven.

Fred Drewes is a founding member of Mount Sinai’s Heritage Trust and spends much of his time volunteering to help beautify Heritage Park.

The author poses with Tyler Christopher, aka Prince Nikolas Cassadine, of ‘General Hospital.’ Photo by Rebecca Budig

By Kerri Glynn

“5 … 4 … 3 …”

Time to move. Walk through the beaded curtain. Pause by the table. Chat with the bearded man. Exit downstage.

But wait! What’s my motivation?  Who is this man? My husband? Lover? Business partner? What was I doing here in Las Vegas — so far from Port Charles?

I was a cast member on “General Hospital.” Okay. I was an extra. But I’d dreamt about this for 39 years and it was finally happening.

Rewind to November 17, 1981. I was one of 30 million people who watched the wedding of “General Hospital’s”  Luke and Laura. I was directing a high school production of “Barefoot in the Park” and my stage manager brought in a small, portable TV — the kind with rabbit ears — and we halted our rehearsal to watch the nuptials. It was the highest rated hour in American soap opera history, and the super couple ended up on the cover of People and Newsweek magazines. They were credited with taking daytime out of the closet so people were no longer ashamed to say “I watch a soap opera.”

I was never ashamed.

I’ve been watching “General Hospital” on and off since 1967. Sometimes I didn’t see it for weeks, sometimes months, even years. But I’d catch up on holidays and summer vacations, and it was pretty easy to do. So many of the same characters remained; so many story lines were recapped script after script. And there was always the Soap Opera Digest magazine to grab and peruse while waiting for my turn at the supermarket counter.

As an English teacher and Vassar graduate, many of my colleagues were shocked to hear me admit my devotion to the show. Why, I wondered? What did Charles Dickens write that couldn’t be classified as soap opera? For that matter, how different is “Downtown Abbey”? The Crawleys just have a bigger house, better clothes and cooler accents.

But I never imagined the day would come when I would join the cast of my favorite show, and it was the star of that early production of “Barefoot in the Park” who made it happen. My former student is now a writer/actor and good friend of the executive producer of “General Hospital.” When he heard I was visiting LA, he asked if I could be an extra on the soap. The answer was yes and my adventure began.

A week before filming, I was contacted by the casting coordinator. Would I be a patient being wheeled down the hospital hall? Or a barfly at the Metrocourt Hotel, swilling a dirty martini? When I was told  I’d play a guest at an upscale Las Vegas hotel, I was intrigued. A Las Vegas hotel? “General Hospital” takes place in Port Charles, New York. Which characters would be visiting Las Vegas? And what would they be doing there?

I received a list of instructions — everything from a confidentiality clause (in other words, I couldn’t share any knowledge of the plot before the episode was aired) to my wardrobe instructions. Since I don’t tweet and still carry a flip phone, the first instruction was easy to follow. The second was a little harder, but it earned me a $10 wardrobe allowance.

I was due at Prospect Studios in Los Angeles at 2 in the afternoon. Most of the cast had arrived at 7 that morning and wouldn’t leave till 7 that night. After getting my ID badge from the guard, I proceeded to the stage manager’s desk to sign in. Then on to the Business Office with my passport to fill out a W-4. I was going to get paid for this? How cool was that!

The studio has seven sound stages and “Grey’s Anatomy” is another of the shows filmed there. The space was huge and held multiple sets. I could walk past the hospital chapel and the Floating Rib to the Quartermaine mansion. I recognized each one.

The other four extras were sitting in the Green Room where we’d wait for our call. Our names were Hotel Staffer and Guests 1-4. The others were professional actors, struggling to book commercials and dreaming of their big breaks. One of them had punched Luke out in an earlier episode, another had sat at Laura’s table at the Nutcracker Ball. Who would I be acting with? Fifty three scenes were being shot that day, and the characters included Scottie, Franco, Nina, Dante — you’ll recognize all these names if you, too, watch the show. (But don’t admit it.)

Then HE walked in — Tyler Christopher, “Prince Nikolas Cassadine,” the character I’d named my favorite cat after. He’s been on the show for 20 years and I’d long had a crush on him. There he was in the flesh … holding his script and getting a cup of coffee with the rest of us. I got up the courage to do it — to introduce myself and tell him about the cat and he laughed. We talked about his long lost love, “Emily” and how I longed to have her dug up and returned to him. It could happen. Characters have been revived even after they had been shot, drowned, frozen and had their major organs given to other characters. He was joined by his co-star, Rebecca Budig, aka “Hayden,” but formerly “Greenlee” from “All My Children.” She was just as nice and welcoming as Tyler. They promised me a picture after the taping.

So, it was sit and wait, and watch the monitors as other scenes were being filmed in the building. There were two directors working that day and multiple cast members. My 10 scenes would be set in the Las Vegas hotel where Nikolas and Hayden were getting married. I couldn’t have been more excited than if I’d won that Mega Powerball.

So many things surprised me that day — the size of the crew, the speed at which each scene was taped, the actors’ voices that seemed to whisper on set but be clear as a bell on video. People may mock soap opera scripts and actors, but everyone was a consummate professional. An average television series has 13 to 22 episodes, some a half hour, some a whole hour. “General Hospital” shoots about 286 one-hour episodes a year.

When my scene was called, the primary actors walked on set with their scripts in hand. The director told them where to stand and when to move. Then two of us extras were brought in. We were given our instructions. On the count of 3, we entered through the curtain. Chatted. Left. I’ll nail it next time, I thought. I’ll create my own back story. I’ll look for the cameras. I’ll …

“Taping scene 39.”

What?

“5, 4, 3 …”

We enter again. We chat. We leave.

“That’s a take.”

Four times I was called to the set. I sat and pretended to check my iPhone. I crossed the lobby with a blond girl. My daughter? Four hours later, we were thanked and asked to leave. The others did. But Rebecca Budig (bless her heart) remembered the promise and found “Nikolas” for my picture. She even took it.

As I left the studio, I looked at all the photos on the walls — pictures of cast members. The original cast — Dr. Hardy and Nurse Jessie Brewer, the Quartermaine family … and Luke and Laura’s wedding portrait. My life had come full circle. The boy I was directing would grow into a man who made my dream come true. Three weeks later I got to see myself on TV — on my favorite show — with my favorite soap star. And two weeks after that, I received a check in the mail for $260. I’d been paid for two days work because my fourth scene appeared the following day.

I’m not ashamed to say it. I LOVE that show. 

Kerri Glynn is a retired English teacher who has lived in Setauket with her husband Tim for many years. Today she is a writer and tutor as well as the director of education for the Frank Melville Memorial Park.

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Above, local politicians come together in support of the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer peer program. Dwyer, from Mount Sinai, served in Iraq and received nationwide recognition for a photograph that went viral of him cradling a wounded Iraqi boy. Photo from Jennifer DiSiena

By Lee Zeldin

The images that flash across our TVs of war-torn countries and populations in strife are rampant and inescapable in today’s society. Whether it is ISIS, al-Qaida, or any other foreign enemy that seeks to kill innocent people, it takes a well-equipped and strong-willed force to fight back. Our nation has always been blessed with brave men and women who have answered the call to service; willingly and selflessly putting their lives on the line while defending our great country.

However, while overseas, our service members are exposed to unimaginable horror and suffering, sometimes leaving them both physically and mentally scarred. While we can determine many of the appropriate remedies, utilizing modern medicine and science to treat their physical wounds, it is the mental damage that leaves us often ill-prepared and without a proper plan of action to effectively deal with their suffering.

For many of our service members returning from overseas, their hardships and trauma corrupt their psyches and follow them from the battlegrounds to the safety and comfort of their homes. The months and years of training they received to fight the enemy on the front lines is not sufficient to help them deal with their problems on the home front. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury are ravaging our veterans and their loved ones at a truly staggering rate. It is estimated that 11-20 out of every 100 veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom, have PTSD. In addition, the research and studies available now to help understand these problems were non-existent in previous decades; leaving generations of veterans from conflicts like Vietnam and the Gulf War continually discovering that they may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD or TBI.

Perhaps the single most alarming statistic is the suicide rate amongst our veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, it is estimated that 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Without the proper resources or care of mental health professionals, they simply cannot cope with the horrific flashbacks or relentless anxiety that plagues and quashes any sort of normalcy they would hope to experience upon return. Seemingly routine, everyday occurrences can serve as triggers that cripple these veterans’ lives and leave them without any sort of relief in sight.

One of the most difficult obstacles in trying to help treat our veterans is the trouble they have opening up to strangers or people who have not endured the same tribulations as them. While there is no uniform prescription or exact methodology of how to solve the various crises our veterans live through, peer-to-peer support programs are vital to ensuring our veterans have not only an outlet to express their sentiments, but the encouragement of those who have experienced similar struggles standing with them, every step of the way. These support programs create a safe place for veterans to share what they’re going through and learn about ways they can help cope with their debilitating symptoms.

Army Pfc. Joseph P. Dwyer, from Mount Sinai, was one of the countless brave and courageous veterans who served overseas to protect our great nation. Dwyer served as an Army medic during the Iraq War and received nationwide recognition for a photograph that went viral—showing him cradling a wounded Iraqi boy, while his unit was fighting its way up to the capital city of Baghdad. Sadly, PFC Dwyer passed away from complications due to his struggles with PTSD, leaving behind a young widow, Matina, and two-year-old daughter, Meagan. Not even the unconditional love and support of his family and members of his community were enough to save PFC Dwyer.

Created and dedicated in his honor, the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer veterans peer project is a peer-to-peer support program that I created in the New York State Senate as part of the 2012-13 New York State budget. The program provides a safe, confidential, and educational platform where all veterans are welcome to meet with other veterans in support of each other’s successful transition to post-service life. The Dwyer program seeks to build vet-to-vet relationships that enhance positive change through common experiences, learning and personal growth. According to the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, there are 83,254 veterans in Suffolk County. With the highest population of veterans by county in New York State, and one of the highest in the entire country, the need for a program like the Dwyer project was long overdue. Suffolk County served as one of four test counties in New York in 2013, the first year of the program. Remarkably, we were able to conduct 148 group sessions, serving 450 veterans within Suffolk that first year. Since 2013, the program has successfully expanded to over a dozen counties across New York, assisting over 1,500 veterans battling PTSD and TBI. The staff and volunteers who work here in Suffolk County to keep the services of this program running are growing every year. We are continually expanding our counselors and mental health professionals to combat the hardships of veterans all over New York.

As a proud United States veteran who served in Iraq, I know firsthand the horror and chaos that one experiences while protecting their country. While I am pleased with what we’ve managed to achieve in New York with regard to the Dwyer project, we can and should still be doing more to help the brave men and women who put everything on the line for us. That is why I am introducing legislation in Congress that will expand the PFC Joseph Dwyer veteran peer program on a national level. I want to ensure all veterans across this great nation receive the proper treatment and care they deserve. We must take what we’ve accomplished here in New York and build from it so that someday we can have a peer-to-peer support group help veterans in every county across America. I know the Dwyer program will help bring much-needed support and assistance to thousands, and someday millions, of veterans and their families across the United States. No longer should a veteran feel shame or guilt in seeking help for him or herself. He or she should be able to utilize the services of their local vet-to-vet support group to help them effectively deal with whatever stress is bothering them.

That is the goal and it is time we come together as citizens of the United States to fulfill our obligations and do more to help our veterans lead happy and meaningful lives. It is a long and arduous road to recovery for some, but I am convinced that the willpower and solidarity of this nation behind a common cause can help ameliorate the transition to post-service life for our veterans. It is vital we keep ever-present that our veterans have been willing to make the greatest sacrifice any one individual can give to another — their life. The Dwyer program is an important way for Americans to give back and say thank you.

Congressman Lee Zeldin, an Army veteran who continues to serve today as a major in the Army Reserves, represents the 1st Congressional District of New York. In Congress, two of Zeldin’s committee assignments are Veterans’ Affairs and Foreign Affairs.

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The new semester is in full swing now. Spring is on the horizon, and high school students are aching for summer to arrive. The next school year seems far away, but students should use this time as an opportunity to think about the future and especially about how they can maximize the rest of their high school career.

College admissions is more competitive than ever.

Picking the right classes to take in high school will help you when applying to colleges. File photo
Picking the right classes to take in high school will help you when applying to colleges. File photo

High school matters, and the earlier a student recognizes this fact the better off they’ll be. Accountability is key. Students need to take charge of their futures by planning their class schedules and polishing their activity record. College admissions counselors notice effort, and it is the great separator between merely good applicants and great ones.

The courses you take in high school matter for college admission. Always challenge yourself appropriately. And take heart: It is never too late to change your course. Senior year is as good a time as any to take a more challenging course load.

Future and current high school freshmen should think about the degree of challenge they want in their courses. It’s true that tougher college-level courses often make for a stronger college applicant. Struggling in these accelerated courses is not the answer, though. Students should play to their strengths while challenging themselves as much as possible.

Future sophomores and juniors should use the spring to reassess their academic performance. If normal-pace Regents classes are too pedestrian, students should look for opportunities to add accelerated courses to their schedules. If accelerated classes are too grueling, students should identify the subjects that might be better taken at the Regents level.

As tempting as it may be for top students to take every accelerated class, this might not be the right approach. Instead, try to be keenly aware of your academic strengths and weaknesses. Build a well-rounded class schedule that is balanced for your individual strengths.

Are you strong in the humanities? Challenge yourself with college-level history and English classes. Don’t neglect your math and science courses, though. Take Regents physics after you finish chemistry. Go for precalculus or statistics rather than finite math.

Students should never feel as though their shot at getting into a “good” college is ruined if they forgo accelerated classes. I know students who attend some of the most elite colleges in the country despite not taking a single accelerated course in high school. Challenge yourself appropriately, and no door will be closed to you.

Future seniors should be sure to continue to achieve at a level consistent with the rest of their high school career. Admissions counselors may only see first-quarter or first-semester grades when making an admission decision, but schools often request final transcripts. Colleges want to see sustained effort. That is, don’t elect four lunch periods senior year.

Colleges look for four years of English and history, then three years of foreign language, science and math. Though many high schools don’t require four full years of all of these subjects, students would be wise to go above and beyond minimum graduation requirements.

On Long Island, most high schools only require students to take science as far as biology (living environment) and math as far as trigonometry (algebra II). But why stop there? Taking precalculus could strengthen an academic transcript. The same could be said for a year of physics or forensic science. Students of any ability can strengthen their transcript by going beyond minimum requirements.

Students can build a strong case by challenging themselves appropriately and going beyond basic requirements. Create future opportunities by taking advantage of all that your high school has to offer, and by building a rigorous class schedule around your personal strengths. Start thinking about it now. When it comes to college admissions, effort matters.

Ryan DeVito is a Miller Place native and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo. DeVito is a counselor at High Point University and also started his own college advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students and their families.

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Thanks to a recently passed transportation bill in the United States Congress, small communities like those across the North Shore can more easily invest in bicycling. Stock photo

By Dan Rowe

At a time when public opinion of the federal government seems to be at a historical low, I want to commend Congress for passing the FAST Act, a five-year transportation bill, and specifically thank U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin for his support and leadership throughout the process.

I am a member of the Hauppauge, Long Island, business community and the vice president of sales for Finish Line Technologies, a leading producer of bicycle maintenance products. We employ more than 30 people year-round in our Hauppauge headquarters. We pay local, state and federal taxes while supporting the local community in a number of other ways, including donating bicycle maintenance products to local teams and cycling clubs.

Bicycling provides important benefits to our community. Making modest, cost-effective investments in bicycle infrastructure increases property values, boosts retail sales, improves transportation choices and creates healthier, more active communities. For example, several of our employees participated in our local Long Island Bike to Work Day on June 24, 2015. This one-day event was a fun and effective way of building awareness of safe cycling and bicycle commuting on Long Island.

Safe and appealing places for bicycling encourage more people to bike and good things follow. Communities become more active and road congestion and air pollution are reduced. Cities become more attractive for people to live and work. No wonder so many mayors, community leaders, developers and businesses are getting on board with bikes.

I am grateful for Rep. Zeldin’s leadership on the passage of the five-year transportation bill. The FAST Act opens the door for communities to continue to make modest, cost-effective investments in bicycling infrastructure. Thank you, Rep. Zeldin for your support of more and better places to ride.

Dan Rowe works as vice president of sales for Finish Line Technologies.

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An anti-Common Core rally in Smithtown. File photo

By Gary D. Bixhorn & Susan A. Schnebel

After years of legislative gridlock in Washington, President Barack Obama has signed the Every Child Succeeds Act into law and called it a “Christmas miracle.” The bill had strong bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Educators across the country have eagerly awaited the passage of this bill, which replaces the 15-year-old Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind Act and the subsequent Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program. In combination, these two initiatives significantly expanded the federal government’s role in educational matters traditionally subject to state and local control. It’s been New York State’s implementation of these overreaching federal initiatives that’s generated so much dissent within the educational community and ultimately resulted in a public revolt in the form of the opt-out movement.

It appears, based on the new federal legislation, which scales back federal involvement and restores state and local control, that our leaders have learned an important lesson: A parent will not let their child’s education become an academic research project or a campaign platform. Parents expect schools to provide a safe, secure environment where teaching and leaning is fostered and protected. Given the new federal direction, it’s now time for the state to work with local school districts to give parents what they expect and students what they deserve — schools meeting high standards, with outstanding teachers and rich program offerings.

Clearly, now is the time to “hit the reset button” on reform efforts. Many of the more controversial provisions of the state’s effort to reform education were put in place to align with federal requirements that are now changing. Accordingly, key members of the state legislature are beginning to voice support for a moratorium on new state legislative requirements involving testing and teacher evaluation in accordance with recommendations of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and others. In addition, both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state education commissioner have established advisory councils to help sort out the tangled web of issues that have been created.

We cannot delay in taking advantage of the unique opportunity that the new legislation and a moratorium offer. We have an unusual second chance, a chance to “get reform right.” This time we must approach the issues in an inclusive, collaborative manner. In order to do this we have to identify the key issues and assign responsibility appropriately for addressing each of them.

What are the issues? Simply stated, they include the adoption and introduction of higher educational standards, appropriate student assessment, meaningful teacher evaluation, equitable school finance and state support, turning around failing schools and serving student populations with unique needs. A comprehensive, coordinated approach to addressing statewide needs in each of these six areas should begin without delay.

The Board of Regents and the commissioner of education, in concert with the governor and legislative leaders, should begin to draw up a plan to bring together stakeholders and form work groups focused on each of these areas. The work groups should include nationally recognized experts in the area of focus, as well as parents and seasoned practitioners. The work group looking into school finance and state support should also include representatives of the Division of Budget, the State Education Department, the comptroller and the legislature to assure that their work is tied to the reality of the state’s budgeting process.

Overall coordination of the effort should be within a structure agreed upon by the governor, legislative leaders and the Board of Regents. This isn’t as complicated as it may sound because so much effort has been expended in working through recent difficulties. There are many people who have a wealth of experience in dealing with these issues who would willingly contribute to such an effort.

We already know what the problems are; we’ve already made our mistakes. We should take advantage of our recent experience and immediately begin a comprehensive, coordinated, inclusive and transparent process and “get reform right” this time. The stakes are far too high to delay.

Gary D. Bixhorn is the executive director and Susan A. Schnebel is the president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

By Emma Collin

The Eiffel Tower is surrounded by protesters at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Photo by Emma Collin
The Eiffel Tower is surrounded by protesters at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Photo by Emma Collin

It’s the morning of Dec. 12 as I hurriedly make my way across Paris. Today will be my first real engagement with civil disobedience. Under a broad state of emergency, French President François Hollande has banned demonstrations, which the state defines as “more than two people sharing a political message.” In the weeks leading up to today, citizens who publicly criticized the egregiously dangerous deal brewing in the 21st United Nations Conference of the Parties climate talks were confronted with state-sanctioned violence, tear gas, and arrest. I emerge from the metro and scan the scene. Imposing graffiti on the bank of the Seine River nearby reads “L’état d’urgences pour faire oublier les tas d’urgences,” or “A state of emergency to ensure other emergencies are forgotten”.

Let’s back up. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change convened heads of state in an old airport hanger in a suburb north of Paris. World leaders were tasked with drafting and signing a binding agreement that would prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. COP21 comes after years of unproductive conversation around climate; e.g. the notorious COP15 in Copenhagen 2009 produced only a vague document with no legal standing.

After an emotional and exhausting two weeks, not to mention an extended deadline and a few all-nighters, a deal heralded by most major news outlets as “historic” and “groundbreaking” was signed.

In many ways, the deal is historic. World leaders unanimously signing a deal at all signals progress. This forward movement is undoubtedly a testament to grassroots power built by communities around the world who are demanding action — for example, the more than 400,000 people who took to the streets of New York City last September for the People’s Climate March.

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The author holds a monkey. Photo from Emma Collin

While acknowledging that victory, here are some things you should understand about the Paris climate accord. For one, it is functionally unenforceable. Emission reductions are based on voluntary commitments by each nation. To adhere to the desperately needed 1.5°C warming limit that appears repeatedly in the document’s text, we need to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels almost immediately. Instead, the tangible commitments to emission-reduction lock us into 3.0°C warming or more, which spells catastrophe, especially for the global south. Furthermore, language on indigenous and human rights were stripped completely from the body of the document. The words “fossil fuels,” “coal,” or “oil” don’t appear once.

One of the most debated and divisive sections of the document is called “loss and damage.” It outlines the idea that compensation should be paid to vulnerable states to aid adaptation to climate change. In a predictable move, representatives of developed countries like the United States fought hard to make this section non-binding. This strips poor nations — those already feeling the brunt of the consequences of climate change despite a historically negligible contribution to emissions — of any mechanism for claiming damages or compensation. Contrast this with international free trade agreements, which give corporations concrete mechanisms to sue nations for projected loss of profits. I know this deal is inadequate, and I know others know it too.

So when I exit the metro on Dec. 12 and quietly walk past swarms of Parisian police officers in full riot gear, I find myself in a crowd 15,000 people. I stand with people peacefully singing and chanting and defying a protest ban because they understand that we can do better. I stand next to my family and fellow delegates of Gulf South Rising, an inspirational group of community and indigenous leaders from the five southern states on the Gulf of Mexico, who are uniting to build just economic, political, and energy systems that heal their communities. And I stand with the understanding that what happened this month is just the beginning — that we must operate from a framework of resistance where we demand the healthy and safe communities we know we deserve.

The Paris Climate Accord will not get us there, but with world leaders committing, however theoretically, to action, it is a tool we can leverage as we continue this fight.

Emma Collin, a Centerport native, graduated from Harborfields High School. She recently moved to New Orleans, La., and is a senior project manager at Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy and a community organizer with Gulf South Rising.

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