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Middle School

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We have abbreviations for laughter, LOL; for humble opinions, IMHO; and for love, ILU. We need shorthand for something that’s “not about you” (NAY).

We live complicated lives and can often travel along a superhighway of speeding emotions. When someone we know sees us, we may be reacting to something we are feeling that has nothing to do with them. We may have received an email that we got the job, that we won a contest or that our bid for a house was accepted. At the same time, we may not want to share whatever someone else sees in us. It’s why the following conversation is repeated throughout the world:

“What’s up?”

“Nothing. I’m good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yup, thanks.”

So, maybe the conversation doesn’t track with exactly those mundane words, but the idea is the same: it’s NAY. Whatever someone is feeling in the moment, someone else appears who may have nothing to do with the arriving person. The facial expression, body language or vibe someone may have been transmitting has nothing to do with the other person.

The NAY phenomenon is a concept middle schools should teach their students. After all, most adults recognize the middle school years as among the toughest and least enjoyable periods in life, as each day is a battle to overcome fatigue, acne, self-conscious moments, and that impossible transition from adorable youth to uncomfortable adolescence. Middle school teachers work in a building that is a simmering cauldron of strongly held emotions that can and do change as rapidly as shifting winds during a storm.

After reminding students not to bully each other, to treat others the way they would like to be treated, to take responsibility for their actions and to stay ahead in their classes, schools should also encourage students to understand that snickering, laughing, eye rolling and head shaking are often NAY. If someone disapproves of something or someone, it’s quite likely that something in that person’s life is bothering him or her and that it has nothing to do with you.

When we become parents, we relive so many of the stages of our own lives vicariously, watching our children as they search for new friends, speak to their teachers, pick up a bat to hit a ball or put together the pieces of an instrument. Each step they take is their step, not ours. We can and do help and encourage them, transporting them to rehearsals, suggesting they practice singing arpeggios and providing structure for their lives. Ultimately, however, they reach their goals because of their efforts, their talents and their commitment. Our lives have become so linked to those of our children that we can feel the gut-dropping moment when the ball skids behind them into the goal, when they learn their test scores, or when their boyfriend or girlfriend ends a long-term relationship with them.

Our role, however, is not to pile our emotions on top of the teetering pile or to insert ourselves into our children’s lives. We have to step back, realize that their incredible successes or momentary setbacks are not about us, and try to figure out what they might need.

Children offer us an incredible opportunity for connection, commitment and love. They are not, however, a way to correct the slights we felt when we were young or a chance to become the winners instead of the losers. When anything or everything our children do becomes about us and not about them, then what they do is no longer for themselves, which deprives them of owning their mistakes and accomplishments. So, next time you’re drawn into their lives, make sure you remember it’s NAY.

Mother urges a switch back to elementary school

Mount Sinai parents have been asking to move fifth-graders from the middle school back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

Students in Mount Sinai are expected to grow up a little faster than those in other districts. While a majority of neighboring towns keep their fifth-graders in the elementary school, Mount Sinai, since the early 1990s, moves its 10- and 11-year-olds up to the middle school.

A mother challenged the concept during an Aug. 23 board of education meeting when she asked administrators to consider making fifth grade part of the elementary school again in the future.

The conversation has been ongoing ever since.

Renee Massari, a mother of two elementary school students, proposed the idea last month, saying she didn’t see the academic or social benefit of having fifth-graders learn under the same roof as eighth-graders. In fact, she believed the drastically different environment negatively affected the young students — who occupy their own wing on the second floor of the building.

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel.”

Renee Massari

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel,” Massari said during the meeting. “It’s almost like they feel deflated because it’s difficult for them to handle those responsibilities expected of our fifth-graders. Because [realistically], they aren’t middle schoolers.”

Massari explained to the board that, from her understanding, the fifth-graders’ premature graduation to the middle school was prompted solely by a lack of classroom space in the elementary school. She asked if an administrator could evaluate current classroom space, adding the school has seen a declining enrollment rate over the last few years.

“Ideally, I would love for the fifth-graders in this district to have the same transition that 99 percent of the districts on Long Island have,” Massari said. “We can house them in the elementary school, a building they’re familiar with, and keep the same program where they transition from classroom to classroom and get them exposed to that before going to a whole different building.”

Board Trustee Robert Sweeney agreed with Massari and said the decision decades ago to move the students into the next building had nothing to do with education and everything to do with space and misjudgment. He also urged the board to reevaluate the concept.

“It’s a fallacy to have elementary students up there,” Sweeney said. “I think we have to look at it because there’s no educational benefit [to it].”

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, an admittedly “old school guy” who said he would even like to see the sixth grade in the elementary school, told Massari her proposal would be explored — but classroom space, or lack thereof, in the district’s smallest building remains an issue. He said it will take a lot more than one available classroom to bring back the fifth-graders to the elementary school and expansions on the building would be costly.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Trustee Robert Sweeney listen to parents’ concerns at a board meeting. The two are in favor of moving fifth-graders back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

“But in the meantime, what we have to do is make sure the nurturing environment continues in the fifth grade,” Brosdal said.

Teachers, he said, know to treat their students with the same level of care and support elementary school students experience. And although the move up offers a completely new setting, with lockers and classroom changes and multiple teachers during the day, Brosdal sees it as a good transition opportunity.

“Plus, they’re kind of isolated and not mixing with the older grades when they don’t have to,” he said. “At the same time, I understand parents feel their kids are not ready to move up because of maturity and a lot of other reasons, and want them to remain in a nurturing environment.”

In the weeks following the meeting, Brosdal reached out to elementary school principal Rob Catlin, and together they projected six classrooms would be needed in the building to accommodate the roughly 175 students in the current fifth-grade class.

One would be hard-pressed to find three available classrooms, according to Catlin, who is currently in the process of meeting with parents about the issue.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it,” Catlin said. “As the year goes on, and if the topic continues, I’m more than happy to keep talking. But it’s in an early stage right now.”

Mount Sinai resident Beth Erdmann, whose children are in seventh and 10th grades, said every parent experiences panic in the midst of the elementary and middle school transition but soon realize it’s not a big deal.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it.”

Rob Catlin

“When it’s your first child, it seems too soon and scary, but they are in their own wing and it’s a nonissue,” Erdmann said. “There were no adverse effects to my children … fifth and sixth grade are still treated as elementary. The location is just in the middle school. I was worried and bothered at the time, [but] my kids were fine.”

Debra Wesolowski agreed, having gone through the transition multiple times with four children.

“Once they were there, I couldn’t imagine them in the elementary school,” Wesolowski said. “Kids are a lot more mature now than years ago … you see how mature and responsible the fourth-graders become as the year goes on [and] by the time they graduate from fourth grade they have outgrown the elementary school and need to advance to the next stage. The middle school does a great job transitioning them.”

But Jennifer Ruger Lazarou, an elementary school teacher, feels the kids are too young.

“I think keeping them in the elementary school one more year is a good idea, and will still make them just as prepared,” Lazarou said. “I teach in a K-through-six building and can’t even imagine the sixth-graders being exposed to middle school any earlier.”

Brosdal said district office and building administrators have begun the exploration of a move.

“It is too early in the process for the board to make a decision one way or another,” Brosdal said. “The expense of such a project would impact the district’s budget and bond proposal.”

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The John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth has named Port Jefferson eighth-grader Lucas Rohman one of the brightest middle school students from around the world. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth recognized a local middle school student recently, naming him one of the brightest in the world.

According to a press release from the Port Jefferson school district, eighth-grader Lucas Rohman received the honor based on his performance on the SAT and the ACT — tests classically taken by high school students getting ready to apply to college.

While more than 30,000 students participated in the center’s annual talent search, Lucas was one of 1,175 students chosen, qualifying him for “challenging and inspiring” programs and classes through the center, according to the organization’s website.

The talent search was open to students in second through eighth grade.

Lucas is a member of the Port Jefferson Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society and its Science Olympiad team, according to the school district. The boy said in a statement that he felt honored to be recognized.

“It has opened up a lot of opportunities to further my studies,” he said.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Next week, voters in Harborfields school district will head to the polls to decide yea or nay on two propositions totaling $13.6 million in capital improvements bonds ranging from room renovations, classroom upgrades, a new field at the high school and more.

Residents of the district will vote on the projects from 2 to 9 p.m. at Oldfield Middle School on Tuesday, Oct. 27. There will be two propositions presented for a vote. Proposition No. 1 pitches about $11.7 million in upgrades, encompasses infrastructure repairs, classroom reorganization and athletic facilities improvements, according to a district statement. If approved, bathrooms would be renovated, and damaged doors replaced. Some science labs would also be upgraded. The existing wellness center —which the district’s physical education classes and athletes use — would be transformed into a multimedia production computer lab, and a new, larger wellness center would be built by reconfiguring other rooms.

Also under that proposition, the district would upgrade the high school auditorium and gym. It would reconstruct certain athletic fields with natural grass. Permanent visitor bleachers would be added to the football field, four tennis courts would be renovated and a new wrestling room would be created.

Over at Oldfield Middle School, the science labs and the family and consumer science room would be renovated. Middle school fields and tennis courts would be upgraded and the locker rooms would be reconfigured and renovated.

Certain bathrooms in the school would be upgraded and outside masonry would be repointed. The gymnasium floor would be refinished and the bleachers would be replaced. The lighting system in the school’s auditorium would also be upgraded.

The first proposition also includes improvements for Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School and Washington Drive Primary School.

At the elementary school, upgrades include the installation of a new gym floor, replacement of curtains and risers in the multipurpose room, renovation of student bathrooms and the creation of a multi-sensory learning lab.

Outdated playground equipment would be replaced and the western parking area would be renovated and drainage to that area improved. The parking area would be expanded at the primary school.

Proposition No. 2, valued at about $1.9 million, is dependent on the passage of Proposition No. 1 and would include a transition to a synthetic turf field at the high school and using an alternative fill, such as Nike infill, instead of crumb rubber.

“The proposed capital improvement bond referendum addresses improvements to our instructional spaces and athletic facilities,” Superintendent Diana Todaro said, in an email statement. “The improvements would enhance opportunities for our students and community.”

About two years ago, Harborfields voters rejected plans for synthetic turf, which was the subject of a referendum.

“It is important for the community to understand that Proposition No. 2 is very different from the field proposition that was presented to the community two years ago,” said school board President Dr. Thomas McDonagh in a statement. “The field we are now proposing uses an alternative fill and addresses the concerns that residents had at the time.”

At a public forum earlier this month, residents offered mixed opinions on the propositions.

Many used the phrase “wants versus needs” when describing the difference between the propositions. Some residents said they felt the first represents genuine needs of the district, but Proposition No. 2 includes nothing crucial to the immediate needs of the district.

Chris Kelly, a Greenlawn resident, said he thinks both propositions are important to help Harborfields improve.

“It appears we are long overdue for upgrades,” Kelly said. “I really appreciate all the work that has been done for this and I will definitely be voting for it. The things on these propositions are very important, and I hope that this is just the beginning of a big turning point for this school to reach new heights.”

McDonagh said he supports both propositions.

“I am fully in favor of all the projects contained in proposition one and two,” he said.

The first proposition would carry an increase to taxpayers of approximately $76.20 per year, or $6.35 a month, for a home with an assessed value of $4,000, according to a district statement. The increase for the second proposition would be $13.08, per year if approved.

Victoria Espinoza contributed reporting.

From left, David Conover and Adam Conover pose for a photo on the set of an upcoming episode of ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’ Photo from Adam Conover

Adam Conover never used to ruin anything. More than one year later, that is exactly what Conover will do every Tuesday during “Adam Ruins Everything,” a new show on truTV.

Conover, a Smithtown native who grew up on the North Shore, hosts the comedy show, which blends comedy, history and science to entertain and enlighten viewers about common misconceptions in society. The show touches upon various topics including giving, security, crime scene investigations, childhood, sex and more.

His first episode covers giving and touches upon the history of engagement rings, why shoe companies that give away free shoes are harmful and the reality of food pantries.

But for Conover, creating a show wasn’t something he just set out to do. Everything simply fell into place.

Once Conover reached middle school and high school, he became more interested in drama and theater. His mother, Stony Brook native Margaret Conover, said she remembers her son being a handful as a child, saying that it was hard to keep him focused on a task. But his Shoreham-Wading River High School’s theater program was one of the few things that grabbed and maintained his attention.

Conover got his first acting break after a teacher selected him for one of the star roles in the school’s production of “The Clumsy Custard Horror Show.”

Conover said his overall experience in his high school’s theater program made an impression on him as it gave him a glimpse into working in a performing arts career.

“I think the biggest thing I took out of it was that … it was like a real theater program. We’re not just kids putting on a show,” Conover said in a phone interview. “We are putting on a real show with a real audience that has expectations and the show has to be good.”

Adam Conover’s father, David Conover of Stony Brook, said he remembers his son being in nearly all school plays when he attended Shoreham-Wading River’s Prodell Middle School and the Shoreham-Wading River High School.

“He became very passionate about certain things. Teachers that he loved in high school, he would do all the work for,” David Conover said in a phone interview. “Drama was one of those things he was focused on doing really, really well.”

Margaret Conover also added that the high school’s program helped her son as “the creativity that was fostered and allowed in [high school] really gave him a wake up.”

Comedy was also pushed to the forefront after Adam Conover begged his parents to upgrade their television subscription to include Comedy Central when he was in middle school. Until then, his mother said she wasn’t aware of his interest in comedy.

As a child, Adam Conover always loved learning. He remembered watching science programs like “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” among other programs that fostered his love for acquiring information. Science played a big role in his childhood as his mother and father work in science-based fields and have their Ph.D.s in botany and marine biology, respectively. His younger sister Emily also has her Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

A career in comedy was never the first thing that came to mind for his family. Regardless, his parents were supportive of his dreams even after he quit a web development job to pursue a full-time career in comedy in 2006.

Conover left his job and rejoined friends from his Bard College days — the same group he was with in the early 2000s when Olde English, their sketch comedy, was established. The change left Conover’s parents concerned for their son’s well-being but supportive nonetheless.

“We were concerned about whether or not that was a good way of making a living, but we didn’t attempt to dissuade him from doing so,” his father said. “We always believed that people should follow their passion and if you do oftentimes the rest of everything else works out.”

According to the father, Adam Conover’s work with his sketch comedy group helped him land a job as a staff writer and cast member of CollegeHumor Originals in 2012. And Jon Cohen, one of the “Adam Ruins Everything” producers, said the show was initially released as a web series and received positive feedback from viewers, which encouraged Cohen, Conover and Sam Reich, another executive producer, to produce and pitch the show to television networks.

TruTV picked up the 12 half-hour episodes of the show last October. Cohen said he realized they would work to produce the show after Conover informed him that the coconut water Cohen was drinking was not very healthy.

“He’s obviously playing a heightened version of himself,” Cohen said in a phone interview about Conover. “He truly believes and is passionate about all of the information he has and he just wants to share it with people, not because he wants to be a know-it-all but just because he wants people to know the truth and that’s what’s going to be great about this show.”

“Adam Ruins Everything” will debut on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 10 p.m. on truTV.

While his family never thought Conover would work in the entertainment industry, Margaret, David and Emily Conover agreed that they are proud of Adam and are certainly “not surprised” by his career choice.

“Making this show [was] my life goal, and true mission for me,” Adam Conover said. “This is exactly the kind of comedy I want to do, and is saying things I want to say. I suppose that if I had to think ahead, my goal would be to say those things even more effectively in season two, if we’re lucky enough to get one.”