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Rocky Point High School

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Since Rocky Point High School was built in 1971, its graduates have gone on to become musicians, scientists, college athletes and more; but many also have gone into the armed services.

Now, the Rocky Point school district is looking to show its appreciation for those graduates turned veterans by creating a new Wall of Honor featuring the faces of close to 60 men and women who made the choice to serve after high school.

“We recognize the students for so many different things throughout the school year, whether it be academics, sports-related accomplishments, clubs — and this is just one thing that it’s nice to recognize these students for all they’ve done for our country,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.

Crossan had seen similar walls in other school districts such as Longwood and Comsewogue and said she figured it was time her school also honored its homegrown veterans. She originally pitched the idea to a number of history teachers at the high school, including Jamie Mancini and Heather Laughlin-Cotter, who came to appreciate the idea very quickly she said, though it was high school social studies teacher Richard Acritelli, himself a nine-year army reservist veteran, who truly picked up the idea and ran with it.

“Rocky Point is a blue-collar area with a lot of men and women in the service community, a lot of policemen, firemen and many who served in the armed services,” Acritelli said. “We have strong ties to the defense of this country.”

Since spring, many Rocky Point teachers and students worked together in an effort to find and contact the district’s veterans. Acritelli said it was a balancing act, doing their best to get students who attended Rocky Point High School many years ago in addition to ones who only graduated recently.

“We have a variety of veterans up on the wall, such as those in military academies, those who served in the Cold War, those in the War on Terror, young people in ROTC programs, and those who literally just left the school,” Acritelli said. “In a short period of time — with the number of names we were able to get compiled — it’s going to be really tastefully done.”

Acritelli said almost all funding was provided by local sponsors, including the Rocky Point Teachers Association, the Rocky Point Athletic Booster Club, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and the nonprofit Feal Good Foundation.

The wall is being constructed by Ronkonkoma-based Fricke Memorials, and each plaque will include a picture of the veteran, their name, rank and branch of armed service. Along with the plaques the wall will include black granite etchings and bronze emblems representing each military branch.

Some of the Rocky Point graduates named on the upcoming wall go back more than 50 years, before Rocky Point High School even existed, when students who graduated from the middle school instead traveled all the way to Port Jefferson to finish their education. Crossan said she expects more names to be added to the wall as the news of it in the community spreads.

“It’s very important that we show loyalty to the students who have served, that they know that their school has recognized their services at home and abroad,” Acritelli said.

The Wall of Honor will be located just to the right of the main entrance to the high school past the main auditorium entrance.

Crossan said the wall will be installed this coming weekend, and all plaques will be put up on the wall Nov. 12. The school will be hosting a school assembly celebrating Veterans Day Nov. 16, which will be followed by an unveiling of the wall.

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The Rocky Point School District came together under sunny skies to celebrate homecoming 2018 during the last weekend in September. Eagle fans of all ages lined the sidewalk in front of Rocky Point High School to cheer on those marching in the annual homecoming parade Sept. 29.

This year’s event was led by Rocky Point alumni, who were celebrating their 40th anniversary, and featured members of the marching band, cheerleading teams, colorful banners created by Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School students and homecoming floats fashioned by each high school grade level. The floats and banners each followed this year’s theme of “Rocky Point honors our armed forces.”

Throughout homecoming weekend, members of the high school varsity and junior varsity teams competed in challenging games against some of the region’s top high schools. The celebratory event was capped off with the traditional juniors versus seniors powder puff game, which collected donations for organizations committed to fighting children’s cancer.

In the game, Kings Park defeated Rocky Point 41-14, dropping the Eagles to 1-4 this season.

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Hauppauge’s varsity football team marched into Rocky Point Sept. 7 and dealt the Eagles their first loss of the season 34-14. Rocky Point will be back in action Sept. 15 at 2 p.m. at Eastport-South Manor High School.

Bryan Steuer. Photo from the Steuer family

Bryan Steuer will be remembered by his friends and family as someone who could hold the world together and yet be exceedingly humble. The Rocky Point native passed away on May 18 at the age of 34.

“Bryan lived by two simple things: Do the right thing and be there for people,” said Bryan’s sister Lisa Steuer, a former employee in TBR News Media’s editorial department. “When someone passes away you’re inclined to talk good about them, but when you’re talking about Bryan it’s really true.”

Bryan Steuer, standing, with siblings Joe and Lisa Steuer. Photo from the Steuer family

Her brother was laid to rest at the end of May, and in August family and friends of Bryan are planning to host a fundraiser to establish a college fund for his 4-month-old daughter. “We just want to make sure she is taken care of, because that is what Bryan would have done,” said Kevin Cain, a family friend and co-owner of Lithology Brewing Co. in Farmingdale. “If Bryan was here and things were opposite he would have done the same thing for my family.”

Bryan’s passing came as a shock to the very core of the family, according to his sister. Her brother’s death came only a month after he attended her wedding in the role of man of honor along with their brother, Joe.

Joe Steuer, the youngest of the Steuer siblings, said his older brother was the guy who walked him through everything, from getting married to buying a house. “Bryan was basically our leader,” Joe said. “He was everything I looked up to be.”

As a kid Bryan was both intelligent and athletic, his family said. He played basketball, soccer and baseball at Rocky Point High School before graduating fourth in his class in 2002. Steuer graduated from the University of Delaware and went to work as a chemical engineer for ExxonMobil. He worked hard and was promoted section head of numerous departments while at the same time helping to create two patents with the company. ExxonMobil eventually transferred him to Texas where he lived with his daughter and his wife until he died suddenly from an unknown ailment.

“He had a really big heart, and for a guy as smart as he was, he was a really caring person — he always checked in on you and made sure you were okay,” Bryan’s uncle and Rocky Point resident Dave Steuer said. “My family, we’re just shattered now. He was really kind of the glue that held us all together.”

Lisa remembered her brother in terms most brothers likely hope their sister would — as her protector. He helped her find her classroom as she walked off the bus at Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School. Years later, in college, she would text him using American Online Messenger and talk with him nearly every night as he helped her learn how to make new friends and get over the stress of school.

“Bryan was somebody unique in this world, and he didn’t have to tell people the good he was doing — he just did the right thing.”

— Lisa Steuer

“In this sort of age, we’re living in a time where you go on the internet, and it asks you ‘what’s on your mind,’ we’re so inclined to tout ourselves,” Lisa said. “Bryan was somebody unique in this world, and he didn’t have to tell people the good he was doing — he just did the right thing.”

Bryan Steuer is survived by his wife Maritza, daughter Alejandra, brother Joe, sister Lisa, and his parents, John and Kathy.

The Bryan Steuer Memorial Fundraiser will take place at Lithology Brewing Co., 211-A Main Street, Farmingdale on Aug. 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. There is a $25 suggested donation at the door, and the event will feature happy hour specials at the bar and free food. The Steuer siblings, Joe and Lisa, will be guest bartending, and any tips they earn will go toward the fund as well.

For more information or if you wish to donate, email bryansteuermemorial@gmail.com or search Bryan Steuer Memorial Fundraiser on Facebook.

Rocky Point High School seniors tossed their caps off in celebration of achieving an education milestone during their graduation ceremony June 22.

The Eagles are officially soaring over the district, displaying decorated caps, some of which showed off where they will be taking their next educational steps and others that displayed words of encouragement like “Let’s fly with your beautiful wings” and “Don’t dream it, be it.”

Rocky Point class of 2018 valedictorian Connor Middleton and salutatorian Kyle Markland addressed the crowd, as did Superintendent Michael Ring and high school Principal Susann Crossan.

 

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland, second from left, helps build a robot with his high school robotics team Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

By Kyle Barr

Even at 17, Rocky Point High School senior Kyle Markland is a renaissance man.

Markland is a scientist and a musician, an engineer and an artist. This past year, he competed in several regional and national science fairs with his project on improving GPS technologies in autonomous cars. On May, 6 he played double bass for the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland hoists up a championship trophies with his high school robotics team, Quantum Chaos. Photo from Lori Markland

“The balance of his technical skills and his creativity — how he’s able to excel in both areas at such a high level is tremendous,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susan Crossan said.

In 2013 Markland took a trip to the First LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the first stops he made was to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, where he saw pictures and models of the wondrous inventions of one of the world’s most famous engineers and painters. It inspired something within himself.

“It really took me back how intelligent he was — a lot of his engineering stuff, but also how he was an artist, with all his paintings like the Mona Lisa — he stands out in so many different areas,” Markland said. “It’s something that I want to do for myself — stand out and do the best I can in a lot of different arenas.”

Just like how da Vinci was an inventor and engineer, Markland too has a knack for understanding the way things work, and expressed his engineering skills through LEGO Mindstorms.

Mindstorms is a branch of LEGO where technic blocks are used to program robots that can perform any number of functions. The senior took an interest in robotics when he was in 5th grade, saving up birthday money for several years before buying his first Mindstorms kit.

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland performed with his bass at Carnegie Hall. Photo from Lori Markland

In 2014 he created the YouTube channel Builderdude35, where he regularly posts tutorials and videos of his LEGO creations. Markland has over 14,000 subscribers, and said he regularly receives questions and requests for help from people all over the world.

“The tutorials were a way of sharing my own experience that I learned through [school] or at home,” Markland said.

In April he published the book “Building Smart LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robots,” in which he highlights six of his unique robotics projects — all of which he built and coded. One of his flagship creations is a quirky interactive robot named “Grunt” that will eat different colored LEGO blocks and react differently to each one. The robot will respond to when waved at, and even stick out a small LEGO claw to shake your hand.

Markland’s mother, Lori, recalled her son marveling at the way things worked even at a young age.

“His passion was cars, building, robotics, machinery,” she said. “When we brought him to a cotton candy machine, he was looking at all the moving parts underneath it.”

The senior does all this with an incredibly busy schedule. He spends most of his time travelling, whether for scientific research, music or robotics, and still finds the time for schoolwork. To Markland, music is his most calming influence. It helps to settle his mind. He said the music is also not only just for him.

“I want to feel like I’m using my time for something bigger than myself,” Markland said. “I want to feel accomplished. The channel is a way to teach people, the book is a way to teach people; my music is something that makes people happy.”

Rocky Point senior Kyle Markland holds up a book he published on building robots. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Markland will graduate salutatorian of his class. He was accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and California Institute of Technology, and chose MIT not just because he sees it as the most prestigious, but because the admissions officer personally called to congratulate him.

“[It’s] crazy, because they don’t really do that,” Markland said.

Next week Markland will be travelling to participate at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he will face off against 1,800 students from over 75 different countries.

“From the get-go Kyle has been very self-motivated,” Markland’s science teacher and mentor at Nancy Hunter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a student who matches his ability define a problem, figure out how he’s going to go about solving a problem, and does it all.”

While the science fair sounds daunting, the student has been methodical in his preparation. In times of stress, he said he thinks of something his cousin, a soldier in the U.S Marines, told him: “He told me, ‘there’s nothing more powerful than one who plans his work and works his plan.’”

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Pete LaSalla rushes through Eastport-South Manor’s defense before rocketing a shot that finds the netting in a loss to the Sharks April 9. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point came from behind in the first half, but was victimized by a comeback late in an 8-7 home loss to
Eastport-South Manor April 9.

Up 7-3 heading into the fourth, the Sharks scored five unanswered goals and won the final faceoff with 1:34 left to seal the deal.

Zach Gill carries the ball across the field
despite longstick midfielders’ attempts to hold him back. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I think we did a good job early on offensively, but as the game went on we had many unnecessary attempts to force goals when we should have killed off time,” said Rocky Point’s Pete LaSalla, who finished with four goals and an assist. “As a team we need to continue to grow and be able to close out games and not let teams come back.”

The senior sparked the Eagles’ response in the first quarter when he scored from the right side 30 yards out unassisted with about a minute left to cut the Sharks’ 2-0 lead in half. Classmate Zach Gill knotted things up less than two minutes into the second to make it a new game, and by the 2:39 mark LaSalla scored his second and third goals for a 4-2 lead. He wrapped up his points in the first half with a dish to Gill for a goal that put Rocky Point up 5-2 heading into the break.

“Through the first three quarters I️ thought we played great as a team, we really put everything together and were playing as a whole,” said sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Kotarski.

Up 6-3, Rocky Point went a man down after a late hit and fended off shot after shot with the first-year varsity starter making multiple stops between the pipes.

“We had great goaltending from Tyler Kotarski,” LaSalla said. “When we went a man down I was happy that our defense stepped up and didn’t let up a goal.”

Tyler Kotarski prepares to put the ball in play after making one of his 12 saves. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The goalie said he was just trying to do his job.

“I was just trying to save every ball that came at me,” Kotarski said. “We killed both of the penalties with only four guys on the field — it felt great to get that defensive stop. During times like that I️ try not to pay attention to the scoreboard and act as every shot could be a game-winning goal.”

LaSalla scored in the final minutes of the third. Also taking faceoffs all evening, he won possession twice in the final quarter, but the Sharks found a way to steal it back, each time scoring to close the gap until the game was knotted at 7-7.

“We just need to keep the momentum going through all four quarters and finish strong,” Kotarski said. “Lacrosse is one of those sports where you can score multiple goals in a short amount of time, and that’s exactly what Petey [LaSalla] did and that’s exactly what they did in return. It’s been a real honor playing on varsity and watching our team improve as a whole. We’ll bounce back from this.”

Rocky Point looked to redeem itself with a game at Mattituck April 11, but results were not available by press time. Rocky Point returns home to take on neighboring Mount Sinai April 13 at 4:30 p.m.

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

“Books not bullets!” “We want change!”

A group of nearly 30 students shouted these words from behind the front gates of Rocky Point High School between 10 a.m. and 10:17 a.m. March 14, demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence one month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting left 17 students and faculty members dead.

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point high schoolers were among thousands across the country who took part in the school walkout demonstration during the time frame.

The district issued a letter to parents last week that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school will be “subject to administrative action.” Requests for what the repercussions might be were not immediately returned.

Students waved signs that read “Our voices deserve to be heard,” “I will not be a statistic” and “School is for learning, not target practice” as passing cars honked in support.

“We want legislators to take action against all assault weapons,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, one of the organizers of the event. “We don’t want guns in our schools and want to feel safe within our schools. That’s what we’re doing this for.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

Senior Bernard Sanchez said students should be allowed to have more of a voice.

“You can’t sacrifice the First Amendment to try to protect the Second,” Sanchez said. “Court cases have proven time and time again that we don’t give away every choice we have when we enter a school.”

Jade Pinkenburg’s father Chris said that the students involved in the protest attempted to meet with Superintendent Michael Ring at the start of the week but “nothing happened.”

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote in last week’s letter.

Chris Pinkenburg stood by and said he supports the students despite the district’s disapproval.

“I think it’s a very good thing,” his father said. “Obviously the adults don’t have any solutions, so I hope this will bring about great change. It’s time.”

Brianna Florio, on right, was honored by the Sound Beach Civic Association and president Bea Ruberto, on left, for her community involvement. Photo from Sound Beach Civic Association

A Sound Beach Girl Scout recently solidified the organization’s highest honor by helping children who live in a temporary shelter feel a little more at home.

Brianna Florio, an 18-year-old Sound Beach resident and a member of Rocky Point Girl Scout Troop 2945, has been working since last year to better the lives of 16 children who reside at Halo House in Sound Beach, a shelter for families in crisis.

While staffers within the home — which gets its funding from the Department of Social Services — do all they can to help the four families currently living under one roof get their cases under control, find employment and locate more permanent housing, helping young children adjust to their new environment is a constant challenge.

Brianna Florio will be receiving her Gold Award next month after working with children at Halo House in Sound Beach to paint a mural to make the place feel more like home. Photo from Brianna Florio

So when it came time to pick a community outreach project in summer 2016 to fulfill the requirements for her Gold Award, the Rocky Point High School graduate, who learned of the shelter from one of her troop leaders, set her sights on making it more kid-friendly.

“I knew this would be a good fit for her,” said Donna McCauley, her troop leader who first became aware of the Halo House through St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach. “Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

Florio utilized her artistic talent and painted a large mural on the wall in the shelter’s dining room depicting animals having a tea party, installed a bench to be placed in the property’s yard and hosted a toy and book drive at her high school. Through that event, Florio brought multiple boxes of donated entertainment for children of different ages to the Halo House — items that are sorely needed, according to shelter manager Joe Pellegrino.

“[Brianna] definitely helped bring the kids a sense of community within the neighborhood of Sound Beach,” he said, adding the children in the shelter were eager to be involved in her mural project. “The younger ones would wait for her to come, and when she got here, they would say, ‘Can you paint a snake? Can you put a hat and bowtie on it?’ It betters the children’s state of minds when they’re at the shelter, because they get a sense that it’s a home and not just a place they’re forced to live in.”

Pellegrino said the mural has become a center of pride in the home and is even used as an educational tool to teach the children about the different animals depicted.

“It really warmed my heart to see the kids and their smiling faces and just how excited they were about it,” Florio said of the mural. “It was really nice to see it all finished, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.”

She will officially receive her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County council in December.

Although it was an independent project for the Girl Scout, Florio was able to acquire paints and various supplies through local donations, like from Costello’s Ace Hardware of Rocky Point. She also received support from her school district, where she was a member of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club, a group that cooked for the homeless and performed songs at senior citizen homes during the holidays.

“Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

—Donna McCauley

“I think if anybody is deserving of a Gold Award, it’s Brianna,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susann Crossan said. “What sets her apart from everybody else is she has a constant concern for other people. She’s been involved in so many activities within the high school that involve giving back. She was an extremely well-rounded and kind student.”

Florio’s project was also no surprise to Nancy Kloska, the director of an aftercare program for children at Mount Sinai Elementary School, where Florio currently serves as a mentor helping students with homework, playing games with them and leading fun activities.

“She’s warm, approachable, responsible and the kids really love interacting with her — Brianna always has a large group around her,” Kloska said. “I think she just brings out the best in the kids and is such a positive role model. I can’t say enough good things about Brianna. I think she’s wonderful.”

Florio was bestowed a certificate of appreciation by elected officials and community members for her Gold Award efforts during a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting Nov. 13. Civic president Bea Ruberto later said in an interview that Florio is a shining example of upstanding youth in the community.

“We were so proud to honor Brianna at our meeting — she’s very community-minded and is always there to help and give back,” said Ruberto, pointing out that Florio has helped with the civic’s pet adoption efforts and contributed a drawing in honor of the civic’s 40th anniversary. “We often hear about all the kids who behave badly and do this or that, and we really make an attempt in the civic to showcase the good kids. She’s a very fine young lady.”

Florio is currently pursuing a career in computer science and game programming as a freshman at Stony Brook University.

Kaileigh Blessing and some friends construct the frames for the bat houses. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

She may not wear a cape or cowl, but 17-year-old Kaileigh Blessing is serving as a hero to the Village of Shoreham by bringing more environment-boosting bats to the area.

Blessing, a senior at Rocky Point High School and member of Venturing Crew 777, a co-ed youth development program of the Boy Scouts of America, has spent the last year designing, funding, building and installing seven bat houses throughout Shoreham.

Kaileigh Blessing presents her original idea for how to build the bat houses to The Shoreham Village Association as part of her Summit Award. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

The houses are to be installed in parklands along Woodville Road and private properties. It is a project constructed in Blessing’s pursuit of her Summit Award — the Venturing Crew’s highest program-level award. She became involved in the project in October 2016 when members of The Shoreham Village Association launched a subcommittee to expand the number of bat houses hanging in public as a way to coax more of the nocturnal animals into the area.

While they once carried a reputation as fearsome creatures, the public perception of bats has changed drastically in recent years as they have been proven to greatly benefit the ecosystem of their surroundings by eating thousands of small insects per hour — including the ever-increasing population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Shoreham, like the rest of Long Island, has lost a majority of these more environmentally friendly bug eliminators due to an increased use of dangerous pesticides and the spread of white nose syndrome, a fungus that grows on and kills hibernating bats along the East Coast.

“Bat houses are needed everywhere,” said Laura Miller, a member of the association’s subcommittee and one of the recipients of Blessing’s bat houses. “The bat population in general has decreased drastically and it’s a real concern, agriculturally, especially for farmers. Bats are generally very beneficial and people don’t realize it because of the whole nature of what they think a bat is.”

Kaileigh Blessing and a few of her friends piece together the bat houses. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

During last year’s October meeting, members of the subcommittee held a raffle drawing for the houses to be built and installed for two village residents and, in figuring out who should be the one to take on the project, the idea to involve a local Boy Scout troop and expand the number of houses came up. Through Venturing Advisor Tom Seda, Blessing was proposed as a fitting candidate as she wasn’t too interested in the more traditional routes of building a park bench or installing a garden for her final project.

“I wanted to build something that was a bit more impactful environmentally, so I gratefully took up that
offer,” Blessing said. “I’m so glad I went with this and I’m looking forward to coming back and hopefully hear from the women of the association that the bats have returned.”

The Venturer, who first joined the youth-powered organization when she was 14, dove into the project with “gusto,” according to subcommittee members. She raised funds for construction materials by recycling scrap metal and bottles and pledging for donations at various businesses like Home Depot and Benjamin Moore, where she received paint, stains, lumber, drills and screws. With the help of her dad and a group of friends, Blessing spent hours on weekends building the large, single-chamber habitats — each one large enough to house 20 to 50 brown bats — which contains a ventilation area for warm air to filter out and grooves in its back panels to act as grips when the bats fly and grab onto the house.

Kaileigh Blessing and a few of her friends help glue together the bat houses for her Summit Award project. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

She also scouted locations for the houses in the village and sought out PMM Landscaping, a Middle Island-based group, to mount them on trees. She is currently designing a bat house information kiosk that she hopes will be installed at Major Hopkins Park in Shoreham.

“I really didn’t know anything about bats when I started this, but through research and everything, I just find it all really intriguing and interesting now,” she said.

Jean Jordan Sweet, chair of the subcommittee, commended Blessing for her tenacity throughout the strenuous project. Sweet said she met with the subcommittee several times throughout the year, made presentations, and had to wait on approvals from the village board of trustees and the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts every step of the way.

“She’s very impressive,” Sweet said. “She had to go through so much authorization and processes for this project, but she’s a real self-starter and took this very seriously.”

While her project, and Summit Award, still needs to be fully approved by the Scouts, which might take several months, the association will present a summary report and recognize Blessing’s efforts during an event Nov. 11.

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