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Ward Melville High School

Residents of the Three Village Central School District rooted the Patriots on to a homecoming win against Walt Whitman High School Oct. 6.

The Patriots varsity football team beat the Walt Whitman High School Wildcats 32-10. Ward Melville now ranks 5-0 in the league, which is the first time since 1974.

Before the big game, students and families enjoyed a parade and carnival where attendees participated in games, crafts and listened to live music.

The Patriots will travel to William Floyd Oct. 13 and Longwood High School Oct. 20. Their next home game is Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.

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Kelsey Ge, front left, and Jay Sangwan, front right, are joined by volunteers as they drop off dental hygiene products collected by Mission Toothbrush at Long Island Cares. Photo from Mission Toothbrush

Some Ward Melville High School students are doing their part to make the world a better place, one toothbrush at a time.

On Sept. 16, volunteers from Mission Toothbrush, a nonprofit dedicated to collecting oral hygiene products for those in need, will be holding a drive at Stop & Shop in South Setauket. In addition to toothbrushes, the volunteers collect toothpaste, dental floss and mouthwash that they distribute to nearby churches, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, including St. James R.C. Church in Setauket, Long Island Cares in Hauppauge and Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson.

Kelsey Ge, left, and Jay Sangwan, right, with former president Ethan Li, center, drop off dental hygiene products collected by Mission Toothbrush at Pax Christi. Photo from Mission Toothbrush

“Hygiene products — dental hygiene products in particular — can prevent a range of diseases that take place within the mouth and the entire body,” said sophomore Neil Mehta, director of outreach for the organization.

Junior Jay Sangwan, co-president, said there are added benefits to being able to keep on top of dental hygiene.

“Having a healthier smile is obviously good for self-esteem and confidence, which is extremely important, as we all know,” he said. “So, a big part of our mission is that we want to share a smile with those who are less fortunate allowing them to be more confident in themselves and have higher self-esteem.”

Co-president Kelsey Ge, a junior at Ward Melville, said those who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters have told Mission Toothbrush representatives they receive a lot of food and clothing, but not enough hygiene products.

“The good thing about [dental hygiene products] is that they are nonperishables,” she said. “So, they’re very easy to collect and store. I think in general it’s a great way for people to contribute in a unique way.”

The organization was founded in November 2015 by Josh Farazhad and Hugh Ferguson, who both graduated from Ward Melville High School in 2017. Students Ethan Li, Ge and Sangwan then stepped in as co-presidents, and after Li’s graduation in June, Ge and Sangwan continued the tradition with Mehta; Katherine Liu, director of finance; and Preeti Kota, director of operations.

Mission Toothbrush has collected $40,000 worth of dental items and monetary donations since its inception, according to Ge. The organization estimated the products have included 5,000 toothbrushes, 8,000 ounces of toothpaste, 95,000 milliliters of mouthwash and 30,000 yards of dental floss.

Jay Sangwan and Kelsey Ge drop off dental hygiene products collected by Mission Toothbrush at Pax Christi. Photo from Mission Toothbrush

The students said volunteering is not limited to those in high school, and from time to time, middle schoolers have helped out. Each drive averages 10 volunteers from the school district lending a hand.

The group will soon solicit other hygiene products including diapers and feminine hygiene products that those donating may overlook during community outreach drives, and the board of directors also wants to create branches in other areas in the future.

“Being able to open some sort of new branches outside of our local area is important,” Ge said. “Because of our focus on local community, it’s a really great way to concentrate on the needs directly around us, but one of the limitations is we really can’t reach the wide population who truly need these supplies.”

Sangwan said he hopes expanding will help more high school students interact with others in their areas. “A big part of this was not only to help the community and to raise awareness, but also it was just a really good life skill, we thought, for high school students to have these interactions,” he said.

Mission Toothbrush’s drive will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 16 at Stop & Shop located at 260 Pond Path. For more information about Mission Toothbrush and future community drives, visit www.missiontoothbrush.org.

Dan Graziosi

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2017 there were more than 550,000 homeless in the country. Three alumni from Ward Melville and Commack high schools have asked a simple question: How many are stuck that way simply because nobody can see their résumés?

“You never really know why someone became homeless,” said Dan Graziosi, 22, a Ward Melville graduate. He is chief executive officer of Lazarus Rising, a nonprofit created in 2015 that helps homeless people write their résumés and get ready for job interviews. 

“A lot of the people don’t necessarily see the skills that they themselves have, and sometimes showing this person that they have value is almost more important than making a résumé for them,” Graziosi said.

Matthew Sobel

Co-founders of Lazarus Rising, Ward Melville alum Matthew Sobel, 23, and Commack alum Matthew Rojas, 23, gave birth to the organization wondering, as sophomores at the University of Delaware, that if creating a résumé for them was difficult — two people who considered themselves privileged — then how tough would it be for a person without access to resources such as a computer?

“There’s a really unfortunate number of people who are experiencing homelessness,” Rojas said. “While some are unfortunately addicts, a lot of them don’t have basic things like a printer, Microsoft Word or they just haven’t had an interview in a long time.”

As they first walked into a Delaware homeless shelter in 2014, just a block away from their freshman dorm, the two did not have much in the way of community service experience. Yet at the shelter they met a man named Jeff, that while he had fallen on hard times since the 2008 recession, he also had years of experience managing more than 20 people at a warehouse. The only problem was his résumé was five pages of a single-spaced biography rather than the commonly accepted single page bulleting a person’s most applicable skills.

“It kind of took our breath away knowing that an employer is throwing that right out the window,” Sobel said. “It’s not Jeff’s fault — he just didn’t know what standards there are in résumés.”

In 2015 Sobel, Rojas, Graziosi, along with several other friends and compatriots, incorporated their talents into the non-profit Lazarus Rising, all while they were still undergrads. 

Matthew Rojas

“There is a subset of the homeless population that have the skills to be an amazing employee, but they simply lack the skills that we take for granted like being able to write a résumé,” Sobel said. “We all realized we came from super-fortunate situations, being from where we came from and what schools we came from. I came into college with minimal community service. It’s one of those experiences you really can’t understand until you do it.”

Lazarus Rising has grown to host more than 200 volunteers offering their services either in school or during their free time. They have college chapters at Binghamton University, University of Delaware, University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh and professional chapters in New York City and Philadelphia. Graziosi estimates that the organization has aided more than 300 homeless participants.

Volunteers for Lazarus Rising often spend approximately one hour with a homeless person working on his or her résumé. They then spend more time after completing mock interviews or even help the person navigate applying for jobs online.

Rojas said that it is one of the greatest satisfactions of his life having helped these people get back on their feet. “It’s a feeling that what I’m doing actually makes a difference,” he said.

Meanwhile the group hopes to expand its reach in New York state and eventually Long Island, most likely through local colleges like Stony Brook University.

All three alumni are out of college and have either found jobs or starting ones, but that has not stopped any of them from being active in the organization. While Graziosi will soon be taking on a job as a technology consultant for Ernst & Young, a professional services organization, he still plans to run as the nonprofit’s CEO into the foreseeable future.

Graziosi’s mother Sheila, a Setauket resident, said what her son and his friends have been able to accomplish has not only changed their lives, but the lives of many homeless.

“He’s amazing — I’m just so proud of him,” Graziosi’s mother said of her son. “He’s really getting so much out of it.” 

Lazarus Rising is looking for more volunteers. For more information about volunteer opportunities or to donate to Lazarus Rising, visit lazarusrising.org.

Ward Melville 2018 valedictorian Ethan Li, second from left, poses for a photo before graduation with Liv Halvorsen, salutatorian Michael Lu and student government president Jillian Becker. Photo from the Three Village Central School District

By Rita J. Egan

Ward Melville’s valedictorian felt like he had been checkmated, but then he heard some good news.

Ethan Li was at a chess tournament in Ohio, and he said he was feeling down after losing an important game when his friends started texting him. He discovered his 105.77 weighted average earned him the valedictorian honor for 2018.

Ethan Li

Li moved to Stony Brook from Arizona at the beginning of ninth grade, and it was a big transition from a small private school to a large school district, but he said he’s happy his family made the move.

“I definitely felt there were more opportunities for internships, research, just in general, meeting different kinds of people who had different talents in different fields [here],” he said. “And, I felt like that was a really helpful experience to be able to reach out to them and learn somewhat from them.”

Li said he’s been inspired by his classmates through the years. A couple are former students Hugh Ferguson and Josh Farahzad, who started the nonprofit Mission: Toothbrush, which distributes oral hygiene products to those in need on Long Island. This year Li became co-president of the nonprofit.

Li will attend Princeton University this fall where he will major in operations research and financial engineering — ORFE for short. He said he became interested in ORFE while talking to friends who were first- and second-year students at the university on the same track.

“Initially, I wanted to do neuroscience, but this program combines mathematical modeling with computer science and economics,” he said. “And this seemed a lot like what I was interested in. Ideally, I would still like to combine some kind of aspect of neuroscience in my eventual career, but this just hits so many points that I’m interested in.”

With this course of study, he said plenty of career options will await him when he finishes school. He said he would love to start a company that addresses or brings innovation from neuroscience to the public sector. He said if his plan to own a startup doesn’t work out, he can work in finance or for companies like Google and Facebook in their computer science departments.

Ethan Li and his date Catherine Jiang are all dressed up for prom. Photo from Ethan Li

He said a recent program conducted by Google caught his attention. It involved central processing units playing chess against each other and teaching themselves in isolated loops. He said research like this relates to what he wants to do in the future: applying machine learning and pattern recognition study to neuroscience and neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

In addition to his studies, which included several advanced placement classes, Li started the chess club at Ward Melville, and he volunteers to teach the game to students in the district. This summer he will travel to Paris, France, for a week for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine annual meeting. The research project he did two years ago titled “Differences in Subcortical Brain Volumes Between Expert and Novice Chess Players” was selected for the conference.

Li said his dad Alan, who works in China for a construction business, and his mother Fung Wang, who works at Stony Brook Cancer Center in data sciences, have always inspired him with their work ethic. The valedictorian said his parents didn’t have any expectations, but instead just provided never-ending support so he could live up to his potential.

When it comes to juggling his education and activities, Li said he thinks of the old Nike ad, “Just Do It.”

“When you start doing one thing, it’s a domino effect upon activity,” he said. “You just want to do more and more.”

Michael Lu, second from right, poses with his parents and sister after graduation June 24. Photo from Michael Lu

By Rita J. Egan

After graduating from Ward Melville High School with a 105.2 weighted average and earning the salutatorian title, Michael Lu isn’t missing a beat when it comes to pursuing his career goals.

Michael Lu

For part of this summer he will be in a lab at Stony Brook University researching electrical activity in the heart, which he started last year, and he said he is hoping to publish the results in the near future. The East Setauket resident is set to attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall where he will pursue a degree in biochemistry on the pre-chemistry track.

“I aspire to be a respected physician-scientist in the future, preferably focused on cardiology, so that I may combine my interest in cardiovascular research with my interest in the humanitarian aspect of medicine,” Lu said.

The salutatorian said he first developed an interest in becoming a physician talking to his father Zhongju Lu at the dinner table every night. He said his father was a doctor in China, but when he moved to the United States, he was unable to practice medicine due to different education requirements, so he dedicated himself to research. A few years ago, his father decided to become a doctor. He started his residency in his mid-30s, which is later than most doctors, and his father overcoming hurdles to become a physician has inspired Lu.

Lu said his interest in medicine grew while volunteering at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital where he had a chance to interact with patients and visitors at the front desk, work in different departments and watch nurses and doctors treat patients.

“Being a practicing physician interests me on two fronts,” he said. “One is that I really do want to be involved with research, and I also like the aspect of helping people.”

“Being a practicing physician interests me on two fronts. One is that I really do want to be involved with research, and I also like the aspect of helping people.”

— Michael Lu

For a future physician-scientist, it’s only appropriate he found out the news he was salutatorian in Advanced Placement Chemistry class.

“I was so grateful when everyone in class took the time to congratulate me on the good news,” he said. “After a good five minutes, we all returned quietly to completing the assessment, but I was still riding on that feeling of joy for the rest of the day.”

Lu, who took several advanced placement classes at the high school, started his studies in the Three Village Central School District in second grade. Before then he attended kindergarten and first grade at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School in Port Jefferson.

During his senior year, Lu was vice president of the chess team and debate club and captain of the mock trial team. He said his participation in the extracurriculars through the years has cultivated his public speaking skills, and his time at Ward Melville has taught him the value of time management and planning. Those skills, he said, are essential in an environment where students have many opportunities to explore their interests.

“Besides providing me with a wealth of resources — excellent teachers, a variety of clubs/extracurricular activities and a strong academic support network — Ward Melville has an ingrained culture of hard work and perseverance, all of which have helped to propel me to academic success,” he said.

Ward Melville High School’s class of 2018 had a storybook ending to their days in the Three Village Central School District June 21.

This year the prom theme was Once Upon a Time. As the students entered the school, they found the building was decorated like scenes from various fairytales including Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

Students arrived at the prom in classic and luxury model cars. Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand founder Maddie Mastriano pulled up in a horse and carriage with trumpeters playing.

Parents and friends waited on bleachers since the morning to see the students stroll down the red carpet before the big event, which was livestreamed and posted to YouTube.

P.J. Gelinas Junior High School Principal William Bernhard will take Alan Baum’s place as Ward Melville principal in August. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Rita J. Egan

Some junior high school graduates will see a familiar face among staff members at Ward Melville High School in September.

P.J. Gelinas Junior High School Principal William Bernhard will take on the role of high school principal when Alan Baum moves to the school district’s administrative office to start his new position as executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources in August.

“This is a truly wonderful community where the primary emphasis is on our kids.”

— William Bernhard

Bernhard has been principal at Gelinas for four years and has worked for the Three Village Central School District for 21 years. Before becoming principal of the junior high school, Bernhard said he was a math teacher and mathematics chairman in Ward Melville. He also has lectured at Stony Brook University’s mathematics and applied math departments for more than two decades. His work at SBU earned him the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching for the academic year 2016–17.

The Stony Brook resident said he was excited when he heard he was going to be the new principal at Ward Melville.

“This is a truly wonderful community where the primary emphasis is on our kids,” Bernhard said. “I look forward to working with the school’s outstanding faculty.”

Working with exceptional co-workers is something Bernhard is familiar with, and he said he will miss the staff members at the junior school.

“There are amazing people at Gelinas who do so much for students,” he said. “They have inspired me.”

Three Village Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said Bernhard’s previous experience in the district will be an asset in his new position.

“Mr. Bernhard is a dedicated leader who is able to make strong connections with parents, students and staff.”

— Cheryl Pedisich

“Mr. Bernhard is a dedicated leader who is able to make strong connections with parents, students and staff,” she said in a statement. “Given his previous work at Ward Melville and passion for education, we are confident that he will enable our district to continue the tradition of providing an excellent education befitting the Three Village community.”

In his new role as high school principal, Bernhard said he hopes “to continue to strengthen the academic program of this historic institution.” To help him with these goals, Baum offered some advice.

“Ward Melville is a great institution filled with incredible students and amazing staff,” he said. “Be sure to include them in your decision-making process and never lose sight of your objective: To help provide a well-rounded, enriched educational experience for all students. Stay open-minded, be fair and, above all, enjoy this professional opportunity to grow.”

The Three Village school district is currently searching for a replacement for Bernhard. In his new role, the principal said he looks forward to seeing Gelinas students in the near future.

“I will be waiting for you at our wonderful high school to take on exciting new endeavors,” he said. “Keep the spirit of Gelinas alive by practicing kindness and wisdom.”

Principal Alan Baum addresses attendees at the 2017 Ward Melville graduation. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Rita J. Egan

As Ward Melville High School seniors graduate this June, they won’t be the only ones moving on to new endeavors in the fall.

Alan Baum, who has been the high school principal for 10 years, will be transitioning to a new position within the school district in August. He will be taking on the role of executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources in the district office, while William Bernhard, current P.J. Gelinas Junior High School principal, will take over in the high school.

Alan Baum, current Ward Melville principal, will begin a new position in the school district’s office starting in August. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Baum began his career in the Three Village Central School District in the middle of the 2003-2004 school year when he became assistant principal. The Three Village resident said he taught at Commack High School, and before pursuing a career in education, was a lawyer.

Baum said he always had an interest in working in administration, and when the chance came he took advantage of it.

“The opportunity to fulfill these professional goals was presented, and I wanted to take advantage of utilizing the expertise I have developed over my many years as a secondary school teacher and administrator, as well as my knowledge as a former attorney,” Baum said.

District Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich is supportive of the change.

“Dr. Baum possess a strong skill set and professional background — both in the classroom and as part of our administrative team — that will enable our district to develop initiatives to enhance our overall program,” Pedisich said in a statement. “He is committed to ensuring that our students as well as staff are supported in a way that promotes personal growth, and we are confident that he will be a true asset in this new role.”

When it comes to starting his new position, Baum already has goals in mind.

“This new role gives me the opportunity to work more closely with our superintendent and district leadership in helping our district enhance our instruction and resources to promote even greater successes and achievements,” he said.

While the principal is looking forward to his new role, there are aspects he said he will miss of his current position, like the students and staff.

“The day-to-day interactions, excitement and vibrancy of everything that is Ward Melville,” he said he’s going to miss.

During his tenure at the school, Baum tackled difficult issues, including the opioid crisis and introducing gender-neutral graduation gowns.

“Ward Melville is a great institution filled with incredible students and amazing staff.”

— Alan Baum

In a previous interview with The Village Times Herald, he said he never shied away from the local drug problem. In 2014, he was trained to administer Narcan, a medicine used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. After his experience, he had the high school staff trained in its use. Now, all elementary and secondary school staff members in the district have also been trained.

When it came to the debate over gender-neutral graduation gowns in the winter of 2017, while many students and parents were against the district abandoning the tradition of males wearing green gowns and females wearing yellow ones, and switching to green gowns for all students, Baum showed support for the school district’s decision.

“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 from how they identify,” he wrote in a March 2, 2017, letter to Three Village parents.

When it comes to navigating the issues and concerns that a high school principal may encounter, Baum had advice for Bernhard.

“Ward Melville is a great institution filled with incredible students and amazing staff,” he said. “Be sure to include them in your decision-making process and never lose sight of your objective: to help provide a well-rounded, enriched educational experience for all students. Stay open-minded, be fair and, above all, enjoy this professional opportunity to grow.”

The principal said he is proud of the students of Ward Melville and also had some parting words for them.

“I would like our students to always feel empowered to do their best in whatever they chose to do and always do the right thing — to be positive ambassadors for change not only in our community but our world,” he said. “I would remind them that their actions today can have great ripple effect on our future and to embrace the strong system of support they have not only at our high school, but within our school district and broader community.”

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Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

Two students in Three Village Central School District were schooled on what not to post online.

On the morning of March 14, before high school students staged a walkout joining teens across the nation to demand stricter gun legislation, the administrative staff at Ward Melville High School was notified of a social media posting allegedly made by a student. The posting was a cause for concern, according to an email to parents from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich. The student was removed from school and the Suffolk County Police Department was notified.

Later that afternoon, parents received another email from Pedisich. The superintendent said in the message the SCPD closed the investigation after concluding “the posting was a foolish decision and a lack of proper judgment by the individual.”

The school district sent a message once again the morning of March 15. The administrative staff was notified of another concerning post allegedly made by a student. Later in the day, Pedisich notified parents that the SCPD determined there was no credible threat to the safety or security of students and staff.

“As part of their investigation, the police were informed that the photo in question had originally been shared privately with another individual and subsequently posted publicly online by an additional third party,” Pedisich wrote in the email.

In the notification, the superintendent shared advice when it comes to posting on social media, asking parents to remind students to think twice when it comes to what they share digitally.

“In light of today’s and yesterday’s incidents, I cannot stress enough the importance of creating a heightened sense of awareness for the appropriate and proper use of social media and other communication devices,” Pedisich wrote. “Students need to understand that what is shared digitally — whether it be via text, Facebook, Instagram or any other medium — is not private. Those thoughts, photos and comments that are shared can be and are often seen, shared and interpreted by anyone, anywhere and at any time.”

The superintendent wrote that while it was disheartening to have to issue two concurrent messages about students’ inappropriate postings, she was grateful for those who brought the matters to the district’s attention.

“Our parents and all residents are an integral part in helping to ensure that our safety and security is not compromised,” she wrote, “I continue to encourage anyone who sees, hears or notices something suspicious to inform the district immediately.”

Ward Melville High School students walked out of classes March 14 as part of National Walkout Day to support gun legislation and remember the Parkland school shooting victims. Photo by Claire Miller

Ward Melville High School students were determined to make their voices heard.

Despite the Three Village school district’s official decision March 9 to not allow students to stage a walkout March 14, approximately 250 of them did so anyway. The walkout was held in conjunction with events across the nation honoring the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14 to call for stricter gun control laws. Parents and students were told it was a joint decision by the board of education, principal and district’s lawyer to not encourage the walkout.

The students walked out of the gym entrance and headed toward Old Town Road so they could be seen by drivers passing by. Across the street two dozen parents and residents stood, some with signs, to support the teens.

A student holds up a sign during the March 14 walkout. Photo by Claire Miller

During the walkout, the students chanted “enough is enough,” and stopped for a moment of silence. Bennett Owens, a Ward Melville student and one of the walkout organizers, delivered a speech.

“We, the students of Ward Melville High School, along with hundreds of thousands of students across the nation have had enough,” Owens said. “We’ve had enough of gun violence. We’ve had enough of Congress’ inaction while nearly 1,300 kids are slaughtered each year as a result of gun violence. We’ve had enough of the [National Rifle Association] buying our representatives with their blood-soaked money. We’ve had enough of the argument that since we’re kids, we can’t change anything. We’ve had enough of adults telling us we can’t.”

Owens said asking Congress to introduce or support legislation that bans assault weapons, like the AR-15, was part of the students’ goal. Parents standing across the street from the walkout said they were proud of their children and their friends. Caren Johnson, whose daughter is in 10th grade, said she had tears in her eyes watching the students march out.

“This is really the first movement my daughter has been politically active in and I’m here to show her support,” Johnson said.

Osbert Orduña, a parent of a 11th-grader, said he believes it’s important for parents to come out to support the social activism of their children, especially when it comes to protesting assault weapons and discussions like school staff members being armed. Orduña held a sign that said he was a Republican and veteran who is against the NRA and assault weapons in the hands of everyday people.

“The kids are out here, and they are doing the right thing by voicing their opinions and voicing their displeasure with our elected officials,” Orduña said.

A parent shows her support for students during the March 14 walkout. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At the end of the school day March 9, the school district released a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board of education President William Connors explaining the district’s position on the matter. Various discussions were held with students and staff to find the best way for students to participate in what has been called the #Enough movement, according to the letter.

“As a result of these discussions and with the guidance of our legal counsel, our district will not be encouraging or condoning a walkout involving students exiting the building or leaving campus,” the letter read. “We feel that this type of demonstration would not only disrupt the educational program but would severely compromise our mission to ensure building security and student safety.”

In the letter, the district also informed parents that any student who leaves the building without authorization will be asked to return to class. Parents will be contacted if their children disregard the direction, and students who are disrespectful or disorderly will be subjected to the district’s code of conduct. The district could not be reached by deadline to confirm if any parents were called or any students were disrespectful or disorderly.

As an alternate to the March 14 walkout, the district offered voluntary activities for high school and junior high school students, according to the school district. A moment of silence was held at the high school and both junior high schools. A forum moderated by instructional staff and supervised by administrators was held in the Ward Melville auditorium for interested students to discuss issues connected to the #Enough movement. R.C. Murphy Junior High School students had the opportunity to write letters to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, and P.J. Gelinas junior high schoolers gathered in the gymnasium during fourth period to hear student government leaders read memoriam notes and listen to a brief music interlude.

The decision came a week after students interested in participating in a walkout sat with Principal Alan Baum to discuss their plans at a March 2 meeting. Both Owens and fellow organizers were optimistic after the meeting, but despite the students’ optimism, the district released a statement that read no plans were final after thatß meeting.

Students display the signs they created for National Walkout Day. Photo by Hannah Fondacaro

After the walkout, senior Hannah Fondacaro said it was energizing to participate in a peaceful protest.

“It felt amazing knowing that we are letting the MSD students know they’re not alone,” Fondacaro.

Samantha Restucci, 16, said she felt great after participating in the walkout. She said if adults refuse to fix the gun violence situation then it was up to young people to take action.

“It felt like I was a part of something — like I could do something important,” Restucci said. “It brought out a variety of emotions. I was angry for what happened but hopeful for what is to come. I hope this walkout wakes people up, and I hope that we are taken seriously.”

The morning of the walkout, parents received a message from Pedisich saying the administrative staff at the high school was notified about a social media posting that was a cause of concern. The student in question was immediately identified, removed from the school and the incident was reported to the Suffolk County Police Department, according to Pedisich’s message. It is unclear if the threat was related to the walkout.

“Please know that the district takes these matters very seriously and will investigate any suspicious act to the fullest extent possible,” Pedisich said. “I encourage you to take this opportunity to remind your child(ren) to be mindful when posting to social media. It is important that they understand a posting that they may make to be humorous can be viewed vastly different by another individual and/or misinterpreted to be dangerous.”

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