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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.”

Miller Place and Rocky Point will host indoor forums, Shoreham-Wading River is undecided

Mount Sinai High School students will be able to leave the building for 17 minutes and head to the athletic field to reflect on the Florida school shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In the aftermath of the most recent mass shooting, students across the nation are planning to rise up and walk out — a movement that is being handled very differently across local school districts.

On March 14, exactly one month after gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 students and faculty members dead, students plan to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. — both in honor of the Parkland victims and as a call for legislative action to help put an end to deadly shootings. The nationwide protest, the seeds of which have spread across social media with the hashtag #ENOUGH, was launched by the activist group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, whose members are demanding Congress do more than “tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence” and that “students and staff have the right to teach in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms,” according to the group’s website.

The movement was initiated by Parkland survivors, whose outcry against guns following the shooting has reverberated throughout each and every state. An impassioned speech given by senior Emma González Feb. 17 went viral by stating that she and her fellow classmates would change the law in the country so that her high school would be the location of America’s last mass shooting.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating. There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions.”

— Keri Rooney

Across the North Shore, school districts have begun addressing how they will handle the localized version of the movement, with Miller Place and Rocky Point firmly opposed to letting their students leave the building — echoing widely shared concerns over safety. Mount Sinai is on board with letting students participate in the national movement, while Shoreham-Wading River is still weighing the situation.

Miller Place

During a board of education meeting Feb. 28, where Superintendent Marianne Cartisano outlined for parents the district’s enhanced security measures, including the newly assigned four armed guards for its four buildings, she addressed the walkout.

“We are looking to see how we’re going to manage it here to allow students to have a voice, but I can tell you right now — there is no way that I’m going to have students walk outside at 10 o’clock in the morning,” Cartisano said to applause in the room. “The reason is that if everybody knows that children are walking outside at 10 o’clock in the morning, then who are the obvious victims? And that may or may not happen in our nation — and I pray every night that it doesn’t — but what I can tell you is that’s not going to happen here.”

She explained to residents that she and other administrators want students to have a voice, but in a way that doesn’t create a health and safety issue, or turn into “a political movement.”

“Our students’ voices do have to be heard about ending school violence and returning schools to the safe havens that they once were,” the superintendent said. “We’re spending a tremendous amount of time talking about student demonstrations and how we can provide students with a voice against school violence while also recognizing those who have lost their lives.”

She said students will be able to participate in a safer alternative inside the building March 14. Senior Jake Angelo, student representative on the board, later suggested the indoor event could involve an anti-bullying sentiment and a flower sale to raise money for those in Parkland.

Students in Miller Place will host in-school reflections during the national walkout March 14. Photo by Kevin Redding

Amanda Cohen-Stein, a parent in the district, said later in a community Facebook post that while she originally supported the walkout, she changed her mind following Cartisano’s comments.

“It is best they not leave school grounds,” Cohen-Stein said.

Keri Rooney, a Sound Beach resident with ties to Miller Place, said she didn’t feel comfortable about the walkout.

“I told my kids I do not want them participating,” Rooney said. “There are other ways to learn, protect and voice your opinions. Walking out of school is not the answer and leaves them as an easy target.”

Rocky Point

Michael Ring, superintendent of the Rocky Point district, recently sent a letter to parents in which he said that organized, student-run walkouts “are not a viable option for our schools,” and that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school, will be “subject to administrative action.” He did not specify what the specific consequence would be.

“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. “Any student found to have left school without appropriate permission on any school day during the year will be subject to administrative action in accordance with the district’s code of conduct.”

He made it clear that this decision was based on heightened attention to school safety and security, and that, despite not being allowed to leave the grounds, students wishing to participate in the movement March 14 can do so through districtwide activities planned for the day by administration and staff.

“Many in our schools have expressed interest in engaging in activities aimed at not only honoring the lives lost in this national tragedy, but also giving voice to the hope that a similar event does not happen again,” Ring said.

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises.”

—Michael Ring

For high school students, these include a moment of silence and the viewing of a tribute to the 17 lives lost in Parkland; a discussion led by teachers encouraging students to participate in 17 acts of kindness during the day in order to “increase positive interactions within the school community”; and opportunities
during social studies classes to voice their opinions on ways to better enhance safety and security in the school; and write letters either to elected officials or the survivors and family members of victims in Parkland.

Although this is considered a high school initiative, Ring said that there will be similar activities, including the letter writing, in the middle school and a moment of silence and kindness-geared activities in both Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School.

Mount Sinai

After Principal Robert Grable met with 20 members of the student government last Friday to gauge student’s perspectives on the walkout, it was decided — in correspondence with Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and the board of education — that Mount Sinai students who wish to participate can do so March 14.

The students will stand outside on the high school’s athletic field for 17 minutes, school officials said, during which time the campus is expected to be shut down with tightened security by the entrances on the North Country Road and 25A sides of the property, which will be closed and locked.

Grable said in speaking with student leaders he made it clear that he wanted the walkout to be structured, safe and well supervised.

“I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that.”

— Rob Grable

“It’s a very hot topic right now,” Grable said. “I think everybody is emotional about it, including the student body, and I didn’t want to cut them off, so if there was a way to do this safely and securely, I was certainly willing to do that. I don’t think it will be that major of a distraction and it will accommodate both parties — the administration as well as the students who wish to demonstrate their support of this initiative.”

Student Council President Joe Kelly, a senior, said he and his peers believe the event should be focused on reflection.

“I talked to a lot of students and we think the walkout should be more for remembering the 17 lives lost with a moment of silence rather than bringing up anything political,” he said. “I talked to many people, all of whom have differing political opinions, and they all wanted it to not be political. They only wanted to do the walk if it was in respect for those in Florida.”

Available teachers, administrators, aides and the district’s school resource officer will be asked to monitor the students. While Brosdal said currently there is the potential for all 800 students to be out there, he predicts there will be many who wish not to be involved. Those students will be able to remain in their classrooms with their teachers.

The superintendent said he supports the students’ rights to take part in this national movement if they choose to.

“I guess we’re getting to the point where enough is enough, not just in terms of the horror of the shootings and the kinds of people that come in, but how unsafe schools are now,” Brosdal said. “I believe truly, in a student’s heart, if they want to experience this and reflect and commemorate this tragic event, they should be permitted to do it. I don’t anticipate misbehavior. I believe in our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River

“The district is currently discussing this matter, and once a decision is made it will be communicated with our parents and students,” said Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email March 6.

“It will make the students walking targets.”

— Chris Albinski Simion

On a closed Shoreham-Wading River community Facebook page, parent opinions on the walkout ranged from adamant support to heated opposition.

“Definitely against it,” Chris Albinski Simione wrote. “It will make the students walking targets. Every wacko in the country will know when and what time these kids will be outside the schools.”

Another resident, Linda Kelly, asked, “And a walkout will accomplish what exactly? No need to do this on school time.”

But Judy Shaffer Noonan said it will, and always will, be young people who make the biggest changes in society.

“The adults failed,” she said. “Historically, the young have impacted change. The young are the future. I don’t think these kids are doing this out of a sense of entitlement … I’m very proud of the Parkland students who are standing up and demanding change.”

Tyler Holmes, a district graduate, said it will be a historic day.

“I’ll do my part to engage in any positive and well-represented protest instead of sitting home,” he said.

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There’s a lot of talk about public-private partnerships at all levels of government. If our state officials can strike a deal to benefit New York’s inmates, we think it’s time to negotiate for the benefit of our collective future — Suffolk County students.

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced a deal with a private company, JPay, to provide free tablets to approximately 51,000 state prisoners. JPay is a Miami-based company that provides technology and services to help the incarcerated stay connected with people outside prison. The state prisoners will be able to read e-books, listen to music and even have family send money back to them.

“The decision by New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to allow inmates to be provided free tablets is a slap in the face and an insult to every hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying family across New York State that struggles to provide these same tablets and other school supplies for their children,” said state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

We have to agree. To be clear, helping incarcerated citizens develop tools for success upon their release is a worthwhile endeavor for both the individuals and the society they hope to assimilate back into at the conclusion of their sentence. However, if such a deal can be struck for those in jail, we’d like to see the New York State Department of Education at least attempt to negotiate a private-public partnership with technology manufacturers or educational software providers to see if a similar arrangement can be made.

It’s no secret that many Suffolk County teachers wind up purchasing basic supplies — crayons, construction paper, glue, markers, calculators and other supplies — for their classrooms out of their own pockets. If a penny of funding for basic staples is coming from teachers’ pockets, more expensive, big-ticket items must also be a problem, despite the passage of the Smart Schools Bond Act in 2014, which was enacted for the purpose of updating technology in schools.

Kings Park High School announced it received approval for its state technology initiative in November 2017, one of the first districts on Long Island to do so. It is the first time the district can afford major technological upgrades in 10 years. Let that sink in — the computers, networks and internet capabilities our students rely on are more than a decade old.

Suffolk County’s public schools educate more than 235,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the New York State Department of Education’s figures for the 2016-17 school year. While this is five times more than our state prisoners, it should not be perceived as impossible.

We’d like to see the state education department and our school districts get creative in finding solutions to budgetary problems. School budget season is getting underway and finding and negotiating public-private partnerships with some of the large businesses in their backyard could be the solution taxpayers are looking for.

Suffolk County 6th Precinct's Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman talks to sisters Natalie and Katherine Byrnes at the Coffee with a Cop event in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County police officers recently paid a lengthy visit to Park Avenue Plaza in Miller Place — not to make arrests, but to make friends.

Three members of the 6th Precinct mingled with residents of all ages at Crazy Crepe Cafe July 13 for “Coffee with a Cop,” a monthly initiative that gives police officers and community members a chance to meet one another, discuss concerns, or just share a coffee and some laughs.

Sisters Natalie and Katherine Byrnes received badge stickers after meeting with members of the 6th Precinct at the Coffee with a Cop event in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Originally launched in 2011 in Hawthorne, California to better connect officers with the citizens they serve, the concept was adopted by each of Suffolk County’s precincts just over a year ago.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to approach the police in a nice, calm setting,” Community Oriented Police Officer Enforcement unit Sergeant Walter Langdon said. “Usually when we have interactions with the public it’s when dealing with something bad or stressful. [Coffee with a cop] is a way for them to see we’re not just here to arrest people, we’re here to help people and give them advice any way we can.”

Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman called the initiative a “homerun” for residents.

He said discussions with them ranged from suspicious activity in their neighborhoods, to the county’s heroin problem, to future employment with the police force.

“It’s a unique forum and it’s unconventional by prior standards in a sense because time isn’t always there for us to have that extended conversation with people,” Zieman said. “So here we can engage on a totally different level, and it’s really cool and we see incredible results from this.”

Suffolk County 6th Precinct’s Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman and Crime Section Officer Dena Miceli talk to residents about issues, concerns or anything else they’d like to talk about at a Coffee with a Cop event hosted by Crazy Crepes in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

With crayons and junior police badge stickers in hand, Zieman knelt at a table to chat with 7-year-olds Natalie and Katherine Byrnes, who asked him what it took to be a police officer.

“The most important thing right now is everything you do in school and how you behave and interact with people matters,” Zieman told the Miller Place elementary students. “School is super important, because they go back to your schoolwork, check report cards and want to know what kind of students you were, and if you pass that process, you can become a police officer.”

When Zieman gave them free passes for a police event at Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Sinai next month, the girls beamed.

“I thought it was awesome,” Natalie said with joy after meeting the officer.

Rocky Point resident Debbie Donovan, who wandered into the cafe for lunch with her kids not knowing about the event, said it was a great idea.

“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults.”

— Debbie Donovan

“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults,” said Donovan, who wanted to speak to the officers about escalating drug problems in her community.

“Unfortunately, Rocky Point is changing and not for the better, especially on a particular side of town,” Donovan said. “It’s hitting way too close to home. I do see police more visible than I recall growing up, which does provides a sense of security.”

Her 11-year-old daughter Rhiannon said she likes that the police interact with the community.

“To some people, cops are just, ‘you did this, so you’re going to jail,’ but cops here want people to enjoy themselves,” she said.

Sixth Precinct Crime Sections Officer Dena Miceli, a plainclothes cop who explained to Rhiannon and her brother Jake about daily tasks on the job, said it means a lot when kids show an interest.

“If we can make some kind of difference in their lives and be a positive role model, that’s really all that we can ask for,” Miceli said. “This is such a helpful thing not just for residents, but for us also.”

Suffolk County 6th Precinct’s Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman, Crime Section Officer Dena Miceli and COPE Sergeant Walter Langdon talk to kids, like Jake and Rhiannon Donovan about what cops do in the area. Photo by Kevin Redding

Zieman said through the initiative, the department aims to collaborate with any and all local businesses and elected officials within each precinct to try to expand community involvement as much as possible. When he reached out to Crazy Crepe Cafe on a whim, manager Nick Mauceri was immediately on board.

“We love getting involved with the community in any way and this is something different than we’ve ever done before,” Mauceri said. “The conversations and exchanges are so personable and relatable, it’s great to see.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) worked alongside the 6th Precinct to make the event happen.

“The best resource for our law enforcement are the residents and they need to understand the police are here to help them,” Anker said. “Communication ties the fibers in our community and this is a great way to encourage people to create a relationship with our police.”

The next “Coffee with a Cop” event will be held at Smith Haven Mall Aug. 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All ages are welcome. Visit www.facebook.com/SuffolkPD/ for more information.

Dressed in green and white cap and gowns, Harborfields High School seniors made their way across the high school gymnasium and received their diploma on June 24. The celebration, which traditionally takes place outdoors, was based inside due to inclement weather but did not dampen the spirits of the proud graduates.

Family members, friends, staff, board members and administrators gathered for the momentous occasion which marked the end of an era for retiring Board President Nicholas Giuliano and a first for Harborfields High School Principal Timothy Russo and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Francesco Ianni.

The stands of the high school gymnasium were filled with anticipated guests as the graduates made their entrance to “Pomp and Circumstance” by Sir Edward Elgar, played by the high school band. The ceremony kicked off with the Pledge of Allegiance, a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” from the senior members of the high school choir and the Alma Mater.

Russo welcomed those in attendance and Dr. Ianni addressed the graduates. During his speech, he gave special recognition to the board president for his commitment to the board of education for the past 15 years.

“Mr. Giuliano, this is your class,” he said. “The students that you see in front of you were in Washington Drive Primary School when you started and they were the direct recipients of the many decisions that you and the board made during your time at Harborfields. What you have in front of you is one of the best graduating classes that Harborfields has to offer.”

Russo also commended him for his consistent direction and support in the district. He proudly presented him with the first diploma of the ceremony.

Salutatorian Ishaan Lohia addressed his fellow graduates and offered a humorous speech about his high school experience and what he learned over the years, while class president Sean Tully wished his classmates the best of luck in their future endeavors.

In addition, valedictorian Casandra Moisanu spoke to the Class of 2017, reflecting back on their high school years, their outlook for the future and the strong connections made within the graduating class.

“I want everyone to remember that no matter where we end up, we are still an HF Family,” she said. “I know we would all like to see each other succeed and I trust that we will be there for each other in the future.”

Voted on by the graduates, featured speaker and social studies teacher Daniel Greening offered his best wishes, while Russo shared his own praises and encouragement. To leave the students with something to hold onto, Russo gifted each of them with an evergreen tree to help them remember their roots.

Kings Park High School students celebrated during their graduation ceremony Thursday, June 22. Family members, friends and community members lined the new turf field to cheer on the graduates.

Shoreham-Wading River high school students and Long Island business owners connect during the school’s first School-to-Community meeting in April. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

High school students within Shoreham-Wading River are getting a head start on real-world job opportunities, thanks to a new community networking initiative rolled out by the district.

The School-to-Community Program, which held its first meeting April 3 and a second May 16 at the high school, helps students of all grade levels and interests prepare for postschool jobs by providing access to business leaders from local community organizations who discuss job tours and shadowing opportunities.

Participating students include those in the school’s science research program; AP Capstone program; science, technology, engineering and math program; and special education population, all of whom are in search of mentorships and internships.

They’ve connected with business leaders representing a wide range of companies like ASRC Federal, a service provider that resolves challenges within federal civilian, intelligence and defense agencies; the Tesla Science Center, a not-for-profit working to develop a regional science and technology center in Wardenclyffe; and Island Harvest, a hunger-relief organization that serves both counties. Representatives from Brookhaven National Lab and the North Shore Youth Council have also been involved.

The two meetings held so far will be the first of many in a continued development between the school and community, according to Amy Meyer, director of STEM for grades K-12 at the district.

“We want all of our students to have access so they have a little bit more real-world experience that will go on to help them choose what they’re going to do.”

— Amy Meyer

“We’re preparing students for jobs in industries and areas where it’s changing so much because of technology and everything else … it’s really important to stay current with what’s happening in those industries in order for students to know what they should expect and what areas they should target,” Meyer said. “We want all of our students to have access so they have a little bit more real-world experience that will go on to help them choose what they’re going to do.”

During the April meeting, 26 business representatives, 17 educators and nine students met to brainstorm programs and events that would accomplish the district’s goal for authentic learning experiences, according to the school.

The May event was an annual STEM symposium — a fair-style gathering that brought awareness to 21st century careers. Students showed off their STEM-related projects, which included robotics, while community leaders spoke from exhibit booths about how their industries are involved with STEM and what educational measures students can take to break into specific industries.

John Searing, an ASRC Federal employee and engineer by degree and trade, got involved in the program through a presentation he made in his daughter’s AP Science class at the school. The teacher of the class recommended he get involved as someone adept at dealing with the students in regards to career and STEM opportunities.

“I think it’s an absolute opportunity to work with the kids as they head into college or some other field, especially technical, and teach them some of the soft skills and nuances about the workplace that can help them along,” Searing said. “I’ve suggested working with them an hour or two every week in a classroom setting to bring some real-world problems we find in the workplace and let them try and solve them.”

A career plan is already in place for next year, Meyer said, which will focus on specific growth industries on Long Island.

“One of the thoughts is that if students know what is available here on Long Island, they may be more apt to stay on Long Island and focus their career on those things,” she said.

The School-to-Community initiative, which has the full support of the school board, curriculum and instruction team, was first proposed in March of this year, and approved right away to lay the groundwork for it to be firmly established next year.

“The school and district want to work together to provide learning and growth opportunities for our students,” Shoreham-Wading River High School Principal Dan Holtzman said in an email. “It is an important step in bridging the community and district together to educate students on career paths and exploration.”

Miller Place art teacher Julia Vogelle helped form The Brick Studio and Gallery nonprofit. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Who better to bring vibrancy and revitalization to downtown Rocky Point than a group of local artists? With the support of elected officials, a new nonprofit organization is leading the charge to help enrich, educate and electrify the Rocky Point community and surrounding areas.

The Brick Studio and Gallery is an art collective of more than 20 local artists and instructors with aspirations to grow and develop into a full-fledged community studio and hub.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and professional ceramicist Justine Moody, the group blossomed around the time Stony Brook University’s Craft Center and ceramics studio closed for renovations in January 2016, leaving potters and artists without a space to do what they love.

Pottery making will be offered at The Brick Studio and Gallery. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Vogelle and Moody, who shared dreams of opening up a cooperative to bring art back into the community, met in the wake of the Craft Center shutdown and enlisted the help of the “homeless” artists to form the organization.

Since then, the project has grown, culminating in a Kickstarter campaign with an ambitious goal of $18,000 to turn a dream into a reality. With 120 backers, their goal has already been exceeded, raising a total of $18,150.

The money will cover the start-up costs to find a location and equip and supply the studio with 14 pottery wheels, two electric kilns, kiln shelves, clay, glazes and ceramic tools. According to the fundraiser page, the studio “has the potential to begin a renaissance in historic Rocky Point, with other artists and artisans joining in bringing life to other empty buildings” and plans to open in early spring.

“My vision is to have this cultural center energize and bring all the money back into the hamlet,” Vogelle said. “Rocky Point has a lot to offer. People 16 and up can come; we’d have services for students, seniors, veterans and anyone who would like to work. I want to look at Broadway in Rocky Point as ‘artist’s row.’”

In addition to pottery, glass and jewelry making, the studio will be a venue for documentary showings, live poetry, trivia nights and  live music.

Moody expanded on the grand vision.

“I think it’s going to become a destination place … I don’t know that Rocky Point has one, and there are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own,” Moody said.

She’s hoping it could be a place to attract locals during the summer to take lessons, and others from outside the community on Friday nights, saying she envisions big events on weekends and other pop-up events throughout the year.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) believes The Brick has the potential to be a tourist attraction that could boost Rocky Point’s foot traffic and revenue — much-needed since the state built the bypass, which encourages traffic to go around the area, hitting downtown businesses especially hard.

“There are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own.”

— Justine Moody

“So many of our residents come in from the Long Island Expressway, from Sunrise Highway, and they look to go east from the North Fork, and my hope is that maybe they’ll turn left and go west to experience what Rocky Point and Shoreham have to offer,” Anker said. “There are so many high-level artists that live in the area and this will hopefully give them a way to stay local and promote their craft to the public.”

Anker has been involved in North Shore revitalization plans since 2011, participating with the Rails to Trails project and the clean-up of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, and said that art is not just trendy.

“We underestimate how important art is, it needs to be cultivated,” she said. “It’s part of our culture and it has an educational component. It will definitely benefit downtown Rocky Point.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who contributed $100 to the art collective’s Kickstarter campaign, said she’s so excited about the studio and points to Vogelle and Moody’s hard work and dedication.

“They’re very dedicated and committed and they’re not looking for somebody else to solve their problem … grass isn’t growing under feet at all and it’s hard not to pay attention to that,” Bonner said.

As a 30-year Rocky Point resident, the councilwoman is hopeful that the artists can bring people back to downtown Rocky Point and trigger change.

Vogelle feels the same, stating that she believed that the art can bring value to homes and surrounding businesses.

“If you put art into a community, people want to move in,” she said. “If you put music in town, people want to gather around and enjoy it. A cultural center like this always connects with schools in the district and it will also help people realize there’s so much culture that’s hidden. And anyone can get hooked on ceramics — the elderly, veterans, teens. Once you touch mud, you never go back.”

Ward Melville's graduation ceremony will look a little different this year. File photo

Things will look a little different at Ward Melville High School’s graduation ceremony this year.

Gone now are the separate green and gold gowns for males and females. Replacing them, are gender-neutral green ones with gold stoles that feature the high school emblem, breaking the school’s half-century commencement tradition.

“This year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Three Village Central School District, we are focusing on honoring the traditions of the past, while building new traditions for our future,” Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum wrote in a letter posted on the school district’s website March 2.

The letter came after nearly 100 students participated in a walkout March 1, protesting the news of even the possibility of a color change.

One of the factors considered in making the decision was to meet the concerns of transgender and gender-fluid students.

“In addition to creating a unified senior class, it is our hope that creating a unifying color scheme will eliminate the anxiety that is caused by forcing a young adult to wear a gown that labels them differently than how they identify,” Baum wrote in the letter. “This decision also reflects the progressive nature of our district, our high school and our community. Through the use of the unified gowns, we are no longer separating our students by gender; rather, we will be promoting a more inclusive practice at graduation.”

News of the gown change circulated on social media Feb. 28, prompting a number of students to start petitions and participate in the walkout.

Seniors Brianna LaSita, Charlotte Schmidt and Isabelle Antos were motivated to start a petition on Change.org to support same-colored gowns. The trio sent a joint statement to The Village Times Herald to explain their motive.

“We created our petition in response to the petition that was made in support of keeping the traditional colored gowns,” the three wrote. “As it gained supporters and hateful comments, we decided we needed to support our class and protect our LGBTQA+ peers from the hateful rhetoric featured on signs during the walkout.”

Some of the signs held by students had slogans like “Straight Lives Matter” and “Don’t Tread On Me.”

David Kilmnick, CEO of the LGBT Network, a Long Island-based nonprofit, said the organization heard about the debate after the walkout. He said a few students from the school emailed his group seeking help, claiming they heard anti-transgender rhetoric spewed from students and teachers.

“Through the use of the unified gowns, we are no longer separating our students by gender; rather, we will be promoting a more inclusive practice at graduation.”

— Principal Alan Baum

The CEO said the decision to have one gown color solves the issue of transgender children feeling a sense of anxiety when it comes to choosing a color. He said when making such a decision, most feel that if they choose the color that represents their true identity, they’ll risk harassment from their peers. If they don’t choose the color, they’re “not feeling whole in who they are.”

“This is not as simple as black and white, or even about green and gold anymore — this fair debate over tradition has devolved into an excuse to promote transphobic hate speech,” the petitioner organizers wrote. “That is not what our community is about.”

As of March 8, their petition to support the same colored gowns had almost 700 signatures. One petitioner wrote on the site: “I would be so grateful if we can all leave Ward Melville more loving and empathetic individuals, we should always be working to ensure that all of our class feels comfortable every day but especially a day as special as graduation.”

A senior at the high school, who asked to remain anonymous, said many students were disappointed by the color change, especially after having already had their senior portraits taken adhering to the now-former color tradition. The school rectified the problem by notifying parents March 7 that students could retake their graduation photos at no additional cost.

According to the student, it was felt the gown change was made by the administration after consulting with only a few students.

The senior wrote that even though a portion of the student body felt the change was only based on the needs of transgender students, those upset were not discriminating against anyone, but were just hoping to continue tradition.

“My issue, and the issue that my peers that participated in a walkout protest during class today share, is that a choice is being made that benefits a minute minority of people, not the majority,” the student said. “This is an underlying theme that is playing out across the country. Lawmakers, educators and school administrators are making changes based on what a small population wants, not what the majority of the school or state or the entire nation feels is right.”

Ward Melville’s old cap and gowns were green for boys and yellow for girls. File photo by Bob O’Rourk

Jennifer Segui, who is the mother of two children at W.S. Mount Elementary School, said she was disappointed when she read a number of negative reactions on social media after the decision.

“It would have been so beautiful if the idea of the new graduation gowns had been embraced by all students and parents from the beginning,” Segui said. “Sadly, that didn’t happen. Hopefully, people can learn and move forward.”

But the anonymous student said those who participated in the protest felt as though the administration did not listen to opinions from most of the students when making the decision.

“Instead of listening to our voices, our principal brought our protest in the auditorium, and basically stifled our statements in what was a clear attempt to silence us,” the student said. “It is clear, to me at least, that the school has no intention of doing what is right. They would rather follow in popular culture than face the fact that what they are doing is blatantly unfair. Again, I carry no prejudice. I speak with the basic ideal of a democratic republic that what is done should be decided by the majority.”

Ward Melville isn’t the first Long Island school to break tradition, following in the footsteps of Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington and Island Trees High School in Levittown. Kilmnick said he feels the administration made a bold move in the right direction.

“I think we’re seeing a movement,” Kilmnick said. “Even though Ward Melville is the third school on Long Island to do this, I think we’ll see a lot more on Long Island. And we’re certainly seeing schools across the country getting rid of the separate colored gowns because they’re not inclusive for all students. What the change does, in fact, is let everyone in Ward Melville wear green and gold, from looking at the new gown, and it allows the entire school to move forward as one community, and to celebrate graduation in a safe, inclusive manner — and make graduation celebratory for all.”

Huntington middle school students smile with math teachers Christine Lofaro, far left, and Susan Llanes, far right. Photo by Kevin Redding

Huntington students taught the community a thing or two about computer science and coding at a board of education meeting Dec. 12.

Sixth-grader Sarah Crowin, along with fifth-graders Samantha McGloin, Ben Edgar McNerney and Uma Shtrom, showed those in attendance how they were able to make “math move” and come to life in creating their own mazes and games.

They explained how this new passion has helped them in other areas.

McGloin, a student at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School, said coding helped her become a better problem solver.

“When you’re coding, it’s all trial and error,” she said at the meeting. “If something doesn’t work, there’s no pop-up explaining what to do … you have to know your lines of code and what you wrote to see what you did wrong and learn from it. It helps with perseverance because you have to work on something and there’s no such thing as overnight success.”

She said coding has taught her to put all of her effort into something — otherwise it won’t work out the way you want it to.

Shtrom, also a student at Jack Abrams, said coding changed the way she thinks.

“When I see video games like Minecraft or Temple Run, I think about the coding conditions behind the game,” she said. “Coding had also helped me to better understand math concepts … like grid coordinates … x and y coordinates … and angles.”

Back in October, students at Woodhull Intermediate School and the STEM Magnet School started using the platform called kidOYO, or Kid On Your Own, in the classroom to create coding scripts and explore learning outcomes in the fields of computer science, engineering and entrepreneurship education.

This program, which Huntington has implemented in grades kindergarten through eighth, encourages students to demonstrate knowledge and problem solving skills through various programming tools.

Students of all ages within the district are able to access kidOYO from home as well as school, and so far they said they’ve been excited to learn and utilize this new language of code.

“It’s wonderful to see students engaged in this,” Christine Lofaro, a Huntington Response to Intervention math teacher, and one of the facilitators of the program said.

She said even though not all the students participating in the program are necessarily heavy academic students in terms of math and science, they love to do this and it’s never a chore to get them involved.

“I was in a kindergarten class on Friday and was thinking, “How am I going to do this with kindergarten students?” she said. “They were totally in it, totally in the game and excited, right from the get go.”

She and fellow Huntington RTI math teacher Susan Llanes had the opportunity to attend the “kidOYO Summer Experience” at Stony Brook University for three days in July and while there, they trained alongside computer science instructors and learned a lot about the benefits of the program, especially for young students.

They immediately brainstormed how they were going to bring this back to their school.

Lofaro and Llanes emailed principals and the district’s Director of Elementary Mathematics Marybeth Robinette about how to roll this out as soon as school was back in session in the fall.

Robinette said every 21st century student should have a chance to learn about algorithms, how to make an app, and learn how the internet works, just as they should know what photosynthesis and H2O are.

“Right now, there’s no expectation in our schools that students should even have a basic understanding of these concepts, even though they’re driving a large part of our society,” said Robinette.

The director of elementary mathematics said computer science is foundational and affects every field in residents’ lives. Whether it’s navigation systems on the road or computing breakthroughs in health care, every single day ,the trend of coding is growing in every single industry.

She explained that right now computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the U.S.

“There are more than 500,000 job openings [in this field], but we’re not graduating kids from college with computer science degrees,” Robinette said. “One of the reasons is that kids don’t really know how computers work and think it’s really difficult and scary. But through kidOYO … we’re showing that all kids can participate in this.”