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Prodell Middle School

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Albert G. Prodell Middle School students study abroad with Madrid 2017 classmates. Photo from Marc Dinowitz

By Kevin Redding

A total 3,521 miles separates Shoreham-Wading River and Madrid, Spain, but thanks to a long-running school program, the two regions couldn’t be closer.

Every February since 1983, a pack of eighth-graders studying Spanish at Albert G. Prodell Middle School travel to Madrid for an immersive and unforgettable exchange program. Nineteen students will embark on the 35th annual trip Feb. 9, during which they will be matched with host families, attend school at IES Santamarca and tour the expansive city for two weeks — relying on and strengthening their foreign language skills along the way. In April, following tradition, the school will welcome students from the Madrid school, who stay with their corresponding host families in Shoreham and absorb American culture through the lens of Long Island. Although the program’s locations have remained the same for nearly four decades, the itineraries of the trips are always unique — being based on the parents and students involved.

Shoreham, the only public school district in the nation with this kind of program, has held onto it against several odds. Even in 1991, in the midst of the Gulf War when people were afraid to travel, enough support for the program existed to send four students abroad.

“It’s so deeply rooted in the community — I’m so proud,” said Barbara Gaias, who started the program after being hired as a Spanish teacher at the middle school in 1981, and maintains her involvement even in retirement. “Now we have students going whose parents went when they were younger. People say they want to take Spanish instead of French because they know they have the chance to go to Spain. Their Spanish skills are just unbelievable upon returning.”

Throughout the trip, Gaias said Shoreham students are expected to make orders while in restaurants and regularly communicate with strangers.

“We try to put them in uncomfortable situations — we want them to be able to use their language ability,” she said. “When they come back, the kids are so much better, particularly in listening skills. As a result of the trip, they really serve as leaders not just in Spanish class, but in the school. They’re junior ambassadors.”

Marc Dinowitz, whose daughter Jillian went on the trip in 2014, volunteered as coordinator of the exchange program in June 2017. Together, with a band of parents, he spearheaded fundraising efforts to pay for the events that take place during the two weeks in April. This year, 20 Madrid students will be visiting Shoreham. In past years, Shoreham’s fundraising efforts have gone toward providing the visiting students with a tour of the Montauk Lighthouse and museum, a ride on a water taxi around the Statue of Liberty and tickets to a New York Yankees baseball game.

The trip to Spain is paid for by each individual participant. Dinowitz and four chaperones will be joining the Shoreham students this year.

“It’s all worth it for me to watch the kids’ transformation by the end of the program,” Dinowitz said. “And getting to see them integrate into those families and then having the other kids come back and become part of our families — these are lifelong bonds and friendships.”

Kim DiPaola, a 1993 Shoreham graduate, said she had an incredible experience when she took part in the program, and was immediately supportive when her daughter, Isabella, expressed interest in going this year.

“I hope that she more or less experiences what I did,” DiPaola said. “I learned so much about Madrid’s culture, and just got to experience such a different way of life.”

Isabella said she’s been geared up to go to Madrid for a while now, between her mother’s experience there and seeing some friends’ pictures of their trip from previous years on social media.

“I’ve been looking forward to it since I was in sixth grade,” Isabella said. “I’ve honestly never been more excited for something in my life.”

Melinda Murray, on left, and Karen Acompora, on right, who are the founders of Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, gave Shoreham-Wading River Girl Scout Jordan McClintock, at center, a $400,000 grant to help with her Gold Award project. Photo by Kevin Redding

A Shoreham-Wading River senior showed a lot of heart this past weekend by making sure her fellow students and community members got theirs checked out.

Jordan McClintock, a 17-year-old Girl Scout, saw the culmination of a two-year Gold Award project Saturday, Oct. 14, as Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s gymnasium became a mini medical center fully staffed with cardiologists, physicians and nurse practitioners from hospitals across the state, bringing with them life-saving equipment. The medical professionals provided more than 400 registrants — between the ages 12 and 25 — with free, all-day heart screenings in an effort to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in young athletes.

A volunteer shows a girl how to use an AED machine. Photo by Kevin Redding

With help from a $400,000 grant by Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, McClintock’s event allowed students from Shoreham-Wading River and beyond to get thorough cardiovascular screenings, which included an electrocardiogram test, a blood pressure reading and final consultation with medical professionals. Pediatric cardiologists were available in case further testing was needed and students were given hands-only CPR and automatic external defibrillator training after their exams.

As heart screenings are not generally covered by health insurance, the event also made it possible for parents to evaluate a crucial component of their children’s health without spending up to $1,000 per exam.

“This is amazing,” said Maureen MacDowell, whose son, a cross country runner at the school, was screened Saturday. “It’s a huge deal that the girl who organized this did so. It’s definitely worth having.”

Marlene Baumeister, the mother of a football player, said other school districts should use the event as a model for their own heart screenings.

Tony Zajac, a Shoreham-Wading River parent and coach, called the program excellent.

“It’s very educational for these kids and more in-depth than I thought,” Zajac said. “It gives them feedback on their own heart health while teaching them how to potentially save somebody else’s life.”

Sudden cardiac arrests claim the lives of more than 2,000 people under 25 in the country every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and yet they are not included in most routine physical exams or pre-participation sports physicals. One out of 100 students that attend a heart screening will discover an underlying heart condition.

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it.”

—Jordan McClintock

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it,” said McClintock, an aspiring pediatrician. “I’m really hoping it initiates some conversations among my peers and their families.”

The Girl Scout developed her project as a freshman after she got her own heart screening done at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, which was offered in partnership with Heart Screen New York, based on her family’s history of cardiac problems.

It was through the procedure, which she referred to as “painless” and “relieving,” that McClintock began her years-long correspondence with Karen Acompora, the co-founder of Heart Screen New York.

Acompora lost her 14-year-old son to a sudden cardiac arrest during a high school lacrosse game in 2000 after a ball struck his chest between heartbeats. She and Melinda Murray, a Queens-based mother whose son collapsed on a basketball court and died from an undetected heart condition, formed Heart Screen New York together as a way to detect heart trouble in local youths and prevent as many deaths as possible.

Heart Screen New York hosts only two screenings per year due to the expenses and resources needed for each one.

“I thought it was an amazing program and would be great if I could bring it to Shoreham,” McClintock said. “Out here we’ve never really had anything like this that’s free and promotes cardiovascular health in student-athletes and the community in general. I was very inspired by Karen’s story.”

McClintock’s perseverance paid off, literally, early last year when Heart Screen New York representatives informed her Shoreham-Wading River would be the site of their October 2017 screening.

A young boy is shown how to perform CPR. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think the screening is certainly opening a lot of eyes in the Shoreham community and Jordan’s done such a nice job of advertising and promoting the event,” Acompora said. A founder of another group called the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation, in memory of her son, the Northport mother hopes heart screenings will eventually become a mandatory part of physicals. In fact, she and Murray have been pushing legislation for years to make electrocardiograms part of student-athlete’s preparticipation screening process.

“There’s a lack of knowledge on the part of individuals who feel it’s too costly to do heart screenings, but how do you put a price tag on life?” said Murray, whose 17-year-old son Dominic died in 2009, exactly three years after his father died from a massive heart attack. “We’re really proud of Jordan. It’s having a great impact at the school and is really spreading the awareness of the importance of heart screenings.”

Among the volunteers at the event was Shoreham senior and baseball player Jack Crowley, who, two years ago, at 15 years old, was declared medically dead after a line drive hit him in the chest. Crowley’s heart stopped and he was unable to breathe. He was brought back to life from the shock of an automatic external defibrillator — which Heart Screen New York had pushed to make available in as many locations as possible.

“They’re the reason I’m here,” Crowley said. “Get a heart screening. It’s so much better than learning the hard way that you have an issue.”

Senior volleyball player Lindsay Deegan said of the screening: “This is something I never would’ve thought of doing this before, so it’s cool to know what’s going on.”

McClintock is expected to receive her Gold Award during a ceremony in Spring 2018.

“Girl Scouts pledge to help people at all times, and Jordan’s stellar work truly exemplifies that promise,” said Yvonne Grant, President and CEO for Girl Scouts of Suffolk County. “Jordan’s Gold Award project is an inspiring and extraordinary way to bring awareness.”

Shoreham-Wading River assistant principal Kevin Vann will be replacing retiring Albert G. Prodell Middle School Principal Linda Anthony this June. Photo from Kevin Vann

Kevin Vann will be returning to his roots this June.

The now assistant principal at Shoreham-Wading River High School will be reentering middle school doors, but this time as principal of Albert G. Prodell Middle School.

“I feel a strong sense of loyalty to Shoreham-Wading River,” Vann said. “The district gave me my first opportunity as an administrator, and I think I’ve developed some great relationships. I thought this was a great opportunity to stretch my wings a little bit and still stay connected to a community that I really have a lot of respect for and enjoy working with.”

Albert G. Prodell Middle School Principal Linda Anthony will be retiring at the end of this school year. Photo from Linda Anthony

Vann will be replacing retiring principal Linda Anthony, who has been at the helm for the last 11 years. An English teacher in Japan for four years, she took a unique approach to special education and at-risk students, also living in California before returning to New York.

Anthony said she’s fortunate for the extended stay that helped her move the Prodell middle school in the right direction.

“A lot of different instructional practices were put into place in the middle school, the culture of the middle school changed quite a bit — I was able to hire about 40 percent of the staff,” she said. “With so many years you can really initiate change, sustain change and then lock change.”

Some of the changes she made include increased collaboration with teachers and the level of rigor for students.

Anthony has a long history with art, and upon retirement, hopes to get back to her roots, too. She also said she wants to assist in some way with the refugee crisis.

After working with Vann, and attending a weekend conference with the soon-to-be principal, Anthony said she knows what he’s capable of doing in his new position.

“I think he will be an outstanding principal and I think he really is the best possible choice,” she said. “He will take the school to the next level. I have full confidence in that.”

Dan Holtzman, principal of the high school, said the last decade has been productive and meaningful, especially having Vann at his side the entire way.

“He has been my right hand, my support, and even more importantly, my friend,” Holtzman said. “We have worked tirelessly in creating a safe and welcoming learning environment for our students, and I am very proud of the outcomes. I think this transition will prove to be a smart move for the district and Kevin. The strengths he will bring will be an asset to the middle school. I could not be happier or more excited for him.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of change kids go through at that level physically, socially and emotionally. We’re looking to make kids feels supported and know there’s adults in the building that care about them, and try to give them good opportunities to develop and to learn.”

—Kevin Vann

Vann began his career in education at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, working in the business world prior to earning a job teaching social studies in the Patchogue-Medford School District. He also worked on a grant for the Office of Safe and Healthy Students while in Pat-Med, and was the dean of students at Shoreham-Wading River High School. In both capacities, he said the administrative and disciplinary actions he learned to take will help guide him in his new position. He also earned a master’s degree from Touro College in educational leadership.

Prior to him working in the district, there hadn’t been a tenured administrator in over a decade. Anthony, Holtzman and Vann helped change the Wildcats culture.

“There was a lot of turnover — a lot of inconsistency and a lot of uncertainty with students and parents — so we worked hard to create a culture of acceptance, and a student-centered environment where the students could always come talk to us,” Vann said. “We wanted to have an open line of communication.”

To assist with that, the district brought back an advisory period, where for 15 minutes in the middle of the day, kids can connect with teachers. Advanced Placement training for educators was also added to increase subject concentrations, and the College Board has recognized the school as a result.

“We wanted students to know that their opinions and ideas were respected, and when dealing with parents we wanted them to know our goal was to create the best environment possible for their students to succeed,” Vann said. “I think that really has happened.”

Now, he said he’s hoping he can carry down what he’s learned as assistant principal at the high school, while continuing the current successes already put in place.

“I know they have a highly-engaged staff that’s connected to the students, so I’d look for any opportunity I have to continue to foster that growth,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of change kids go through at that level physically, socially and emotionally. We’re looking to make kids feels supported and know there’s adults in the building that care about them, and try to give them good opportunities to develop and to learn.”

Renewal bond brings construction upgrades to K-5 buildings

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials break ground to mark the beginning of new construction at two elementary schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

Administrators and board of education members within the Shoreham-Wading River school district were cheered on by smiling kids last week as they broke ground on the second phase of the $48.5 million renewal bond construction project that will bring much-needed improvements to the district’s elementary schools. The first phase was implemented at the beginning of 2016, with renovated tennis courts and a new turf field at Shoreham-Wading River High School.

Equipped with hard hats and shovels, the district team held back-to-back ground-breaking ceremonies Jan. 19 at the Miller Avenue School and Wading River School to highlight for the students their upcoming construction projects, the majority of which will take place over the summer in order to be completed by the time school starts back up in September.

Children watch at Shoreham-Wading River school district officials break ground to commence construction at two elementary schools. Photo by Kevin Redding

Some of the work being done includes the construction of four brand new kindergarten classrooms at Miller Avenue School , as well as a complete reconfiguration of the building to make it a more child-friendly and productive space — planned installation of bathrooms in the classrooms, for instance, serves to eliminate daily lesson disruptions caused by frequent and time-consuming trips down the hallway.

“It’s really going to make instruction a lot better,” Miller Avenue School Principal Christine Carlson said.

The Wading River School will see the renovation of 10 classrooms, the addition of four new ones, the construction of a cafetorium, as well as significant interior upgrades like making its bathrooms Americans with Disabilities Act accessible.

Neither building has received major improvements since they were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and so, the bond will also go toward to replacing a lot of the original infrastructure like the weathered roofs and windows.

“It’s a long road [still], but it’s great and exciting,” board trustee and co-president of the bond committee Michael Lewis said. “It’s going to be difficult — there’s going to be a lot of construction here, some disruption for the kids and parents, but in September, everyone’s going to be overwhelmed by the amount of work that was done and how great the schools are going to look.”

“This will impact K-12, arts, sports, your typical classroom settings, everything.”

—Michael Lewis

Lewis formed the bond committee with other board members in an attempt to get as much done in as short a period as possible. They spent about nine months reviewing building conditions, weighing options and finding potential upgrades needed to bring the district to “modern standards of design, safety, codes and efficiency” while landing on a total cost that the community would accept.

The $48.5 million bond project was met with overwhelming approval by the community with a vote of 1,421 to 585 on Jan. 13, 2015, allowing the district to get its renovations underway.

“Each of the four schools [including Prodell Middle School] is getting between $12 and $13 million,” Lewis said. “It’s spread pretty evenly, which is great. It’s not a bond that just touches one school. This will impact K-12, arts, sports, your typical classroom settings, everything.” The Shoreham-Wading River district plans to begin construction projects to Prodell Middle School next year.

At the front of Wading River Elementary, the school’s entire student body, as well as its teachers and administrators, joined the board members in a groundbreaking celebration the ceremony, kicked off with a  performance by the fifth grade band.

Principal Louis Parrinello addressed the group of kids, calling for a round of applause to the board members.

“They’re here because behind the scenes they’re the ones that helping to make this all happen, plus all your parents at home and community members that voted to make your school even more beautiful for you, and all the little kids that are gonna come forward,” he said. “It’s going to have a big impact.”