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Newfield High School

Selden residents lay out candles to spell Jenna’s name on the Newfield High School football field. Photo by Kyle Barr

On the green turf football field at Newfield High School, the Selden community, also swaddled in different shades of green, laid out candles in the grass. The crowd came together like a tide. As they stepped back, the candles spelled out the name “Jenna.” Underneath her name, the flickering yellow and green electric candles and tealights also framed a heart.

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Jenna Perez, 17, a Selden resident who worked at the Five Guys in Port Jefferson Station was killed Aug. 24 while crossing Route 347 southbound at around 9:25 p.m. She crossed around 300 feet west of Terryville Road, police said. The driver who hit her sped off, and police said they are still searching for that person.

“She was one incredible kid from the day I met her,” said Scott Graviano, the Newfield High School principal. “A very quiet spirit, but always with a smile on her face, always saying hello. And with that sweet, soft quiet personality, she gained the love of support and respect of this entire community.”

For the hundreds of community members looking for ways to heal, remembering Perez as the loving and outgoing high schooler was the best way to deal with their pain. Wearing green, Perez’s favorite color, friends, family, faculty and more from the community held glowing electric candles while the sky slowly darkened Aug. 31. Several friends spoke for her, talking and remembering her fun-loving personality.

“She lived a short life but clearly left a significant imprint,” said Asia Austin to the crowd gathered at the vigil. “As someone who has been grieving recently, I want those to understand that we should not follow down that road in thinking we have no purpose … with support from family and friends, you will find yourself and you will be OK.”

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Donna Austin was her guardian for the past three years, taking care of Perez and her twin sister Janell in Selden. She had met the twins in 2008 when they were 8 years old living in the Bronx as she went there to take care of one of their relatives. Austin would eventually run a community center out of the building where the Perez family lived, and the twins would always be there to decorate her offices for whatever holiday came up. When their grandmother died, she took both sisters in to live with her back in her hometown of Selden.

“Jenna’s face would have lit up, and she would have been smiling, looking at all of her friends who had come to her like this,” Austin said.

Their caretaker said Jenna thrived in Selden, making innumerable friends and rising higher at Five Guys. She was set to take up her first supervisor training sessions at Five Guys on her birthday Sept. 6. Austin said she had been extremely excited and proud. 

Naziyah Dash, one of Perez’s high school friends, said she has been heartbroken since she learned of her friends death.

“Your story will always be cherished,” she said. “I will keep you alive in my heart.” 

The community is helping monetarily with three separate GoFundMe pages that have been set up in  Perez’s name. The first, which is donating funds to twin sister Janell, has reached close to $9,500. The other two GoFundMe pages are for funeral expenses.

Newfield High School Principal Scott Graviano speaks at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The Newfield community is an amazing place — deep rooted, full of love and support, and that’s evident here tonight,” said the principal. “Janell, we love you very much as a community, I hope you know that. We will continue to love and support you.”

An additional memorial service will be held Sept. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Church on the Sound, 335 Oxhead Road in Stony Brook.

A funeral for Perez will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home, 524 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx Sept. 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. Burial will be at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx Sept. 12 with a time still to be determined.

File photo

Newfield High School students are mourning the loss of a classmate.

On its website, Middle Country school district shared the news of the death of senior Jenna Perez, 17, who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that occurred Aug. 24 along Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station.

“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the tragic loss of one of our own,” Principal Scott Graviano said in the statement. “Jenna Perez, scheduled to start her senior year at Newfield, was killed in a hit-and-run accident last night in Port Jefferson Station.”

The high school started providing grief counselors Aug. 26, according to the statement.

“Please keep Jenna, her twin sister Janell, her family and friends in your thoughts and prayers,” Graviano added.

Perez, of Selden, was crossing Nesconset Highway southbound, approximately 300 feet west of Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station, when she was struck by a vehicle believed to be traveling westbound on the roadway at around 9:25 p.m. Aug. 24, according to Suffolk County Police Department. The driver fled the scene in the vehicle.

Perez left work at Five Guys and was walking to Taco Bell when she was hit, according to SCPD officials. Where she was crossing there is no light or crosswalk, and it’s possible she was hit by more than one vehicle.

The high school senior was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

A GoFundMe page In Memory of Jenna Perez has been set up to help her family with burial costs. On that page organizer Emily Keuler describes the Newfield student as “a beautiful, hardworking, intelligent teenager who strived to create a good life for herself, despite obstacles that may have come her way.” As of Aug. 28, nearly $7,500 had already been raised, surpassing the $5,000 goal.

“She did not deserve the fate she suffered at the hands of someone so careless and negligent in their actions,” Keuler wrote in the post.

Another GoFundMe page Justice for Jenna Perez was set up by Jose Ortiz on Aug. 27. According to information posted on the page, the funeral will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home in the Bronx and information would be posted once dates are confirmed.

According to a post by Ortiz on the page, Perez was an employee for more than two years with the Five Guys franchise and training for a management position.

“She enjoyed photography, taking pictures of her dog, her favorite pastime, and did volunteer work for peers with special needs,” Ortiz posted. “Her perspective was a glass half full mindset and she was loved by many.”

Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555.

A scene from the 2019 Newfield graduation ceremony. Photo by Greg Catalano

Loui Chen

As Newfield High School valedictorian, Chen graduated with 51 college credits and an unweighted GPA of 98.12. The valedictorian also has been a member of the pit orchestra, chamber orchestra, the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra and SCMEA All-County orchestra. Athletically, he served as captain of the varsity fencing and soccer teams and helped lead the soccer team in his position as goalie to the Suffolk County League III title.

Chen said Newfield High School prepared him well for the future.

“I think the biggest lesson I took away from Newfield was being accountable for my own actions,” he said. “The teachers and coaches I’ve had have always allowed us to grow at our own pace and while they did push us to become better — a lot of the motivation had to come from ourselves as the students. They have taught us the importance of taking responsibility for our own actions and being accountable for both our successes and failures. Newfield has given us a step in the right direction, but still allowed us to take that step on our own feet so that we are able to continue walking on our own after we leave Newfield.”

Chen will attend Yale in the fall to study math, something he has loved since he was a child.

“I think I’m a very logical thinker and I love solving puzzles, so I always leaned toward math growing up,” he said. “As a major and a future career however, I am very undecided on what I want to do. The situation is more of me going to college to see what there is and see what I like rather than already knowing what I want to do. I am going with more of a blank slate and I am open to seeing all the possibilities that I may not have been exposed to in high school.”

Anaya Zaineb

Newfield High School’s salutatorian, Zaineb, graduated with nearly 40 college credits and an unweighted GPA of 98.1. Her success in AP-level courses earned her the title of AP Scholar with Distinction. She also was a member of the newspaper club, the book club, student government, environmental club, treasurer of the National Technical Honor Society, historian of the Foreign Language Honor Society and president of the National Honor Society. In addition, she was a member of the varsity fencing team, a homework helper and an assistant teacher at her Brentwood mosque.

“Attending Newfield High School has helped me find my true voice in the community,” she said. “I was presented with an abundance of clubs, activities and sports to discover myself at Newfield. The bonds I have formed with some of the teachers will forever be inseparable and have molded me into the person I am today.”

The salutatorian will be attending Stony Brook University’s eight-year dental program.

“From a young age, I always knew I wanted to study something in the medical field,” she said. “It wasn’t until volunteering and job shadowing that I discovered my true passion for dentistry. Thus, being accepted into Stony Brook’s Scholars for Dental Medicine program has been a true honor. The program’s flexibility and exposure to the dental community is perfect for my plans in becoming a dentist.”

Newfield High School held it’s commencement ceremony June 29.

After the “The Star Spangled Banner”, doves were released, and  Valedictorian Loui Chen and salutatorian Anaya Zaineb delivered their speeches.

Jon-Michael Lasher, of Selden, died of brain cancer April 22. He was 45.

Lasher, Connetquot Central School District’s director of fine arts and music, began his tenure in the district, his alma mater, as a band teacher in 2003 and was promoted to director in 2009. Right before his time at Connetquot, he was the band director at Newfield High School. From 1998 to 1999, he was band teacher at Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park.

Jon-Michael Lasher

Dean Mittleman, assistant superintendent of Connetquot schools, notified parents and students of Lasher’s passing in a letter posted to the district’s website. He described the director as “the type of educator that instilled a love of learning in so many, and surely has helped to develop some of the world’s emerging talents.”

Mittleman credited Lasher with spearheading many initiatives and encouraging “young artists to pursue their passions.”

“A graduate from Connetquot, Mr. Lasher worked in the district for many years and was known to many as a champion for music and fine arts education,” Mittleman wrote. “As a young student, he possessed a true love of the subject, and therefore it was only a natural progression that he became an educator and worked to help shape the lives of the next generation of student-musicians and artists. His tenacity for a fine arts education resulted in elevating our robust programs to new heights and his unmatched dedication to his colleagues and students is one that stemmed from the heart — the best sign of a great educator.”

Mittleman’s sentiments were echoed by many on the Connetquot High School Band Facebook page, including John Leddy, Stony Brook University Athletic Bands director emeritus.

“Jon was a gifted and dedicated student, an inspirational teacher and an innovative administrator,” Leddy wrote. “He served the music program, a program that thrived under his guidance. He was a leader of consequence and significance. Connetquot is diminished with his passing as it was elevated with his presence. This is a sad day for our community.”

Leddy was a music faculty member when Lasher was a student at Connetquot, and later the two became colleagues. Leddy said in an email, when he retired, Lasher asked him to be an artist in residence for the jazz program at the high school for a week, something that meant a lot to Leddy. 

Lasher grew up in Bohemia and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from SUNY Potsdam, where he met his wife, Susan. He earned a master’s degree in music performance from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and a certificate in school district administration from Long Island University.

Ten years ago, Lasher began showing neurological signs and was diagnosed with a brain tumor, according to his wife. He was the founder of Tumor Tacklers, which raises funds at the Long Island Brain Tumor Walk. Tumor Tacklers has raised more
than $30,000.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Maggie, 16; son, Thomas, 12; parents John and Lucille Lasher of Bohemia; and siblings Laurie Tramuta of Fredonia, Jacqueline Rizzuto of Bohemia and James Lasher of Hauppauge.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. A funeral Mass was held at St. Margaret of Scotland R.C. Church in Selden April 27. Visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

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By Bill Landon

Centereach and Newfield high schools’ fencing teams competed in the Suffolk County championships Feb. 9.

It was Newfield foilist Jake Hempe who stole the show winning his third straight Suffolk County title at Newfield High School where his team finished second overall falling to Ward Melville in the final round.

The Cougars as a team finished sixth overall.

Former newspaper adviser Edward Wendell, center, is pictured with MCPL director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips and Comsewogue Public Library director Debbie Engelhardt.

By Karina Gerry

Middle Country Public Library librarians Stephanie Vecchio and Carol Gray look through issues of The Quadrangle from the 1970s. Photo from MCPL

A retired Newfield High School teacher’s forgotten files turned out to be a treasure for Middle Country Public Library.

Edward Wendol donated original issues of The Quadrangle to the library last month in hopes of preserving a unique piece of history. The Quadrangle, the Newfield High School paper, was supervised by Wendol during 1970-76. Wendol kept the papers all these years in a file in his attic, where he admits he forgot about them until he stumbled upon them one day.

“With the popularity of items being digitized today, I thought this would be the perfect item to be digitized at the Middle Country Public Library [in the district] where I worked,” Wendol said. “I thought it would be the most appropriate place to bring them.”

During his 27 years with the school district, Wendol worked as an English teacher and volunteered to serve as the adviser to The Quadrangle after having a positive experience at his own high school newspaper.

“I had students that were with me their entire high school career,” Wendol remembered fondly. “I think several of them may have even ventured into the journalism aspect.”

Wendol, who has served as a trustee on the Comsewogue Public Library board since 1972, Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue library, and Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of MCPL, met in December at the Middle Country library so Wendol could hand over his original editions of the paper.

Copies of Newfield High School’s The Quadrangle, above, were donated to Middle Country Public Library in December by Edward Wendol.

“I thought it was absolutely incredible that Mr. Wendol kept all those papers from way back when,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “To have the foresight to do that and the fact that he wanted to give them to the library, I just thought was tremendous that he cared enough about working at Newfield and working at Middle Country school district.”

While the library’s website has a digitized photo collection of the old pictures they’ve received in recent years, this is the first time, in Serlis-McPhillips time at the library at least, that they have been given any type of periodical or newspaper.

“We’re just in the process of cataloging them and putting them on our website so that anyone can share them,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “You know it’s interesting to go back and look at the ads and the events that they were doing, and it kind of gives you a picture of history.”

With his donation, Wendol’s biggest hope is that past students are able to see their work.

“The reason why I brought it to Middle Country where the school district is located is to see if there are students who still live in the school district,” Wendol said. “If they have access to the public library and are willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s see what you have regarding my old high school newspaper at my old high school that I attended.’”

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By Bill Landon

Newfield went toe to toe with West Islip Dec. 18 in a home game that wouldn’t be decided until the final seconds. The Wolverines fell just short losing a League III matchup 27-26 at home.

Sophomore guard Chinelle Nelson led her team in scoring, netting five points from the charity stripe along with a field goal for seven points. Freshman guard Megan Spina along with senior forward Oliva Bond, both banked triples and a field goal for five points apiece.

The Wolverines are back in action when they hit the road against Huntington Dec. 20. Tip-off is at 4 p.m.

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville squared off against the Newfield Wolverines out on the strip Dec. 8 in a three-way bout with Brentwood. The Patriots had their hands full with a surging Newfield squad but edged the Wolverines 16-11 to remain unbeaten 3-0 in Suffolk League II.

The Patriots are back out on the strip Dec. 13 where they’ll host Centereach starting at 5 p.m. at Ward Melville High School. The Patriots and Wolverines will also compete in a holiday tournament invitational Dec. 15 at Brentwood High School. First bout scheduled for 9 a.m.

Smithtown High School East trampled over the Newfield Wolverines, 38-24, to claim victory at their Sept. 29 homecoming.

The Bulls’ offense came in ready to play, picking up 17 points in the first half. The Wolverines countered with three points, putting the score at 17-3 going into halftime. The offense for Smithtown East continued to do well in the second half, scoring another 21 points to put the game away.

The win improved the East Bulls standing to 3-1 as they hit the road to take on Deer Park Oct. 5 at 6 p.m. Newfield falls behind with the loss to 1-3 for the 2018 season and will host the Huntington Blue Devils Oct. 5 at 5:30 p.m.