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Ward Melville High School

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From left, Jessica Chen, Isabel Xu, Riley Gavin, Kaitlyn Ehlers and Hannah Lin from Ward Melville’s girls swimming team competed in state championships in November. Photo from Riley Gavin

The Ward Melville girls swimming team has a storied history in Long Island high school sports, at one point winning 23 straight years county championships. The 2019-20 team capped off another successful season by securing another league and county crown for the school.

Chris Gordon, head coach of the swimming team for 26 years, couldn’t have been prouder of how the team did this season.

“The team has done a great job this season, the mix of the team was really good … we had some young swimmers and some with a lot of experience,” he said.

The head coach said he was unsure how the season would play out as they lost some important swimmers to graduation. He pointed to their league victory against Northport as a turning point in their season. 

“They are always stepping up at the biggest meets, all the credit goes to them,” Gordon said.

He also credited the Three Village Swim Club for helping in the development of the swimmers as many of them go there for additional practice outside of school.

After winning the county championship Nov. 9, Ward Melville went on to compete in states. Riley Gavin, Hannah Lin, Jessica Chen and Kaitlyn Ehlers competed in the 200 medley as well as the 400 free relay along with Isabel Xu. Gavin also qualified and competed in the 200 individual medley and the 100 back. She went on to finish in the top 10 in all her events.

Gavin, senior captain, who will continue her swimming career at the U.S. Naval Academy said the nine-member team finished the season on a strong note.

“There were a lot of unknowns going into this season,” she said. “I think this was arguably one of the best seasons we’ve had in the four years I’ve been on the team.”

Gavin said they kept improving throughout the season and in turn grew closer with each other. She thinks the team has potential to be even better next season.

“It is bittersweet,” Gavin said. “I remember when I was a freshman it was always tough to say goodbye to the seniors back then. Two freshmen [Lin and Xu] came to states with us, I thought it was a good experience for them … I think they have the potential to win counties again and compete for states.”

By John Dielman

The Commack Cougars were no match for the Patriots at Ward Melville High School’s homecoming Oct. 19. The home team did not disappoint, delivering a 35-14 win on the big day.

The win topped off the homecoming carnival, and during the game, both the junior varsity and varsity cheerleaders performed as well as the school’s band.

The Patriots now are at 4-2 in Division I, while Commack is 3-3. The Ward Melville football team will travel to Sachem East Oct. 25. Game time is 6 p.m.

 

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Sophia Zhukovsky, a Stony Brook University sophomore and Ward Melville High School graduate, addresses the school board Sept. 18. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

Activism is strong in Three Village.

At the Sept. 18 Three Village school board meeting, parents, students and alumni came out in support of an issue that has concerned many members of the community: school start times.

“It’s very strenuous to strive for academic and personal success on half the medically recommended sleep time for people my age.”

Sophia Zhukovsky

Earlier in the month, the board heard from parents in favor of later start times for the district’s three secondary schools. Last week, the board heard from Ward Melville graduates and students, themselves.

“Sleep deprivation does not have to be a part of Ward Melville culture,” said Sophia Zhukovsky, a sophomore at Stony Brook University and a Ward Melville graduate.

“Ward Melville has a great deal of high-achieving, dedicated and bright students, but it also has a great deal of exhausted students,” she said. “It’s very strenuous to strive for academic and personal success on half the medically recommended sleep time for people my age.”

Student and parent speakers echoed Zhukovsky’s sentiments. They described mornings as a “time of family anxiety and stress” and shared personal stories about the impact of sleep deprivation on family time and emotional health.

“Even 30 minutes would do a lot for students at the school in terms of both mental health and for fostering community,” wrote Kirti Nath, 2017 Ward Melville valedictorian. Nath couldn’t attend the meeting, but her letter was read to the board by high school student Natalia Newton.

“Ward Melville is undeniably one of the best public high schools that I know of, and I am incredibly grateful to have gotten my start there,” said Nath, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore. “I write this because I think that the Ward Melville experience can be even better.”

Annemarie Waugh, a local artist, P.J. Gelinas parent and founder of Sidewalks For Safety, said allowing students more time to sleep would “level the playing field” both athletically and academically. She added yet another concern.

“The system now encourages inexperienced teenage drivers to be driving in the dark at the same time other students are waiting on busy roads with no sidewalks in the dark,” she said. “This arrangement doubles the risk of tragedy.”

In addition to drawing even more supporters than the previous board meeting, the It’s About Time: Three Village Parents For A Later School Start Time movement gathered more than 1,400 signatures in a little more than a week.

But breaking through the chorus of support for a later secondary start time was Vincent Sperandeo, a parent of Ward Melville graduates. “Changing us would also mean that other districts would have to change as well,” he said.

He pointed out that Ward Melville was within the range of start times for surrounding school districts and changing Three Village’s junior high and high school start times would have to be done “in coordination with other districts.”

While Ward Melville starts at 7:05 am, nearby districts range in start time from the 7:02 a.m. warning bell at Miller Place High School to 7:10 a.m. at Comsewogue High School, 7:20 a.m. in Smithtown and 7:30 a.m. in Commack, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai.

“The real world out there is not starting at 9 o’clock,” Sperandeo said. “The real world out there is starting when your job is telling you to start.”

Although districts in the immediate area have start times well before 8 a.m., schools across the nation have been taking a serious look at delaying start times.  Ever since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2014 that secondary schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., attention to the issue has grown. The State of California has even gone so far as to propose a bill pushing back start times for all of its secondary schools.

According to research, biological changes in the adolescent circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Waking up to catch an early bus interrupts the later part of their sleep cycle, preventing them from getting the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep their developing bodies and brains need.

Researchers at Seattle’s University of Washington and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, found that students at two Seattle high schools that changed to later start times got more sleep during the week, had fewer tardies and absences in their first period classes and had improved academic performance.

“Changing us would also mean that other districts would have to change as well.”

— Vincent Sperandeo

Despite the abundance of information favoring later start times, most U.S. high schools start before 8:30 a.m., and some schools that considered change decided against it because of logistics.

That’s why Barbara Rosati, founder of It’s About Time, has suggested that Three Village officials attend the Adolescent Health and School Start Times Workshop, in Pennsylvania, which would cover the “science, strategies, logistics and tips” for making a shift.

The Nov. 13 workshop is already full. However, the website indicated that the organizer — the national group, Start School Later — was considering a second session.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, who described the research on later start times as “cogent, valid and reliable,” said last week that the district would begin phase 1 of its investigation into the shift. This would mean “data gathering” so that there could be “meaningful conversation,” she said.

This process, the superintendent said, would include surveys of parents, staff and students, as well as conversations with districts that have made the time change and those that considered it, but decided against it. Pedisich estimated that if the board moved forward with a committee, it would take shape in January.

“The last thing in the world we want to do is give the impression that we’re not listening,” said board president William Connors during a telephone interview. “Fourteen hundred signatures is compelling and shows we have to listen and do our due diligence.”

But there are also a lot of factors to consider, he added, such as the “domino” effect on other grades and the fact that a shift could cost the district “literally millions of dollars” in additional transportation costs.

“I don’t like the idea of kids getting up at 5 in the morning, but we have to look at the alternatives and establish our priorities,” Connors said.

NEVER FORGET

John Dielman snapped this solemn photo of Ward Melville High School on Old Town Road in East Setauket at sunset on September 11. “Ward Melville honors 9/11 every year with American flags as a school tradition,” writes Dielman, who graduated from the school in 2015.

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

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Former Ward Melville girls basketball head coach Samantha Prahalis coaches the Patriots from the sidelines at a January 2018 game. Photo by Jm Ferchland

Ward Melville High School girls varsity basketball players, parents and residents lent their voices in support for former coach Samantha Prahalis at a district board of education meeting Aug. 21.

The speakers during the board’s public session hoped that they could convince the board to reconsider the decision to dismiss the varsity girls’ basketball coach, which was made earlier this month. But after nearly a one-hour public comment session, the board ultimately sealed the coach’s fate. It would not reevaluate their initial decision to sever ties with Prahalis, a former WNBA player, and she would not be returning to the sidelines.

William Connors, Three Village board of education president, delivered the news to the crowd through a prepared statement.

“While the district does not comment on matters of personnel, I can say the coaching position for the Ward Melville [girls] high school varsity team currently remains open for the 2019-20 school year,” the board of education president said. “The district will not be filling this annual appointment with the individual who served in that role for the past two years. As such, we are in the process of selecting the most qualified individual to lead our team next year.”

Supporters of Prahalis questioned the board’s reasons for the dismissal and argued they acted too harshly. Some also felt that the district ignored and chose not to meet with students during the board’s investigation of the former coach.

“They have been trying to reach out to you from May 19,” said parent Gina Agostino. “We sent out a letter that day because players wanted to share their feelings on coach. Emails have been ignored, phone calls were not returned, request for meetings were blown off. You chose not to hear their voices … and treated them like adversaries the entire time.”

District officials disputed those claims saying they had reached out to parents.

Chris Agostino said the fact that the district would have their own agenda is embarrassing.

“I’ll tell you something, if I had students like this standing up for a coach the way these young ladies are, its powerful,” he said. “… What I don’t understand is that you get one complaint, maybe two complaints from parents or players and as a board you acted. You never listened to these students. You’re not looking out for them. If you were, you would understand how they feel.”

A parent of a former varsity girls basketball player said he supported the decision to release the coach. He detailed how in May he received a phone call from the district asking for permission for his daughter to be surveyed by the district’s athletic department regarding Prahalis and the basketball team.

He said he told his daughter to tell the truth and others did too and added that it was more than two complaints.

“My daughter for three years was treated terribly and was abused verbally and mentally without the board knowing, she wanted it that way and I stood by her,” he said. “Sammy’s [Prahalis] abusive record speaks for itself and anyone that asked about her knew about her reputation.”

Six former players of Prahalis were present at the meeting. Many of them spoke of how their coach was the best mentor they ever had and how they had learned and grown so much as a player during that time.

“Coach has transformed me not only as a better basketball player but also as a better person,” said Katherine Kelly, a rising senior on the varsity team. “She helped me gain the confidence I’ve been lacking on and off the court. She helped recognize my potential … She has made this team a family.”

This summer the team won in their league during the Brookhaven Town recreation program playoffs and credited their former coach for the strong summer season.

Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, spoke toward the end of the meeting to clarify some things parents brought up, including that she had said to Prahalis in a meeting that the district had failed her.

“I said the district had failed her in not giving her the proper mentorship, that I think every coach deserves, every new coach deserves,” she said. “For new coaches that don’t have that opportunity to know how to work with students is a travesty. That was something incumbent on the district and the former athletic director to make sure that happened for all new coaches. Moving forward every coach that is new will be mentored in an appropriate way.”

Post was updated Aug. 30 to include a statement from Three Village district officials. 

Port Jefferson Country Club hosted a sectional qualifying round July 15 for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Championship, featuring local talent with the hope of making the cut to compete in the final round at Pinehurst (North Carolina) Resort and Country Club Aug 12-18.

The qualifier was one of 96 tournaments held across the country, and with 84 golfers vying for the top three spots to make the cut, Brent Ito of Ann Arbor, Michigan tied with Ethan Ng of New York City to finish at 7-under. Andrew Chambers of Boca Raton, Florida finished 5-under, to round out the top three.

Ward Melville alum and Port Jeff resident Gerald Mackedon, a junior at St. John’s University, shot a 68 in the first round followed by a 72 in the second, coming in at 4-under for the tournament to secure the first alternate position for the championship in Pinehurst.

Port Jeff resident Jon Sherman survived the first round with a 75 and shot a 79 in the second to finish at 10-over.

Port Jefferson resident and 2019 graduate Shane DeVincenzo, who earlier this season won his second consecutive Suffolk championship, went on to place second in the New York State championship round June 3 at Cornell University. DeVincenzo shot a 77.

Matthew Mirocco, another Ward Melville graduate, finished the day shooting 80.

Complete results can be found here.

Ward Melville High School valedictorian Elizabeth Wang, second from right, salutatorian Kelsey Ge, second from left, with Maya Pena-Lobel,left, and Megan Specht, right, were named Scholars in the 2019 Regeneron Science Talent Search, a program of the Society for Science and the Public. Photo from Three Village Central School District

One team captain and one integral member of the student-led nonprofit Mission Toothbrush graduated at the top of their class June 30.

Elizabeth Wang and Kelsey Ge are Ward Melville High School Class of 2019’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Valedictorian Elizabeth Wang in front of Ward Melville High School. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Elizabeth Wang

Wang, who graduated with a 105.91 grade point average, has attended school in the Three Village Central School District since kindergarten. She attended both Setauket and W.S. Mount elementary schools and P.J. Gelinas Junior High School.

The valedictorian was a member of the girls varsity lacrosse team, and she was the captain of both the varsity field hockey and varsity girls fencing team. Off the playing field, she was president of DECA, editor-in-chief of the school literary magazine Cinnabar, head news editor of the school newspaper Kaleidoscope and confirmation teacher at St. James Lutheran Church.

Wang, who took 12 AP classes in Ward Melville, said the school prepared her well for her future.

“Ward Melville High School offers a variety of different courses, electives and extracurriculars,” she said. “It’s the perfect opportunity to try new things and learn what interests you, what you enjoy and what you may be good at. I think I learned a lot about myself by experimenting with different things at Melville.”

This fall, Wang will be attending Harvard University, where she will major in neuroscience.

“My dream career would be something that combines medical research, patient care and teaching,” Wang said. “I like the analysis in the research setting, the practical application in the clinical setting and the interactive aspect of teaching.”

Salutatorian Kelsey Ge in front of Ward Melville High School. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Kelsey Ge

Ge graduated Ward Melville with a weighted GPA of 105.40. While she started in the Three Village Central School District at Arrowhead Elementary School, in fourth grade, she switched to W.S. Mount elementary for the Intellectually Gifted program. During her high school years, she took on 12 AP classes, two of which were college-level math courses.

She was involved in Model U.N., DECA, the math team and International Cultures Club. Outside of school, she has been the president of Mission Toothbrush since 2017. The student-led nonprofit organization collects hygiene supplies to donate to local charities and shelters. She also teaches an origami class for children at Stony Brook Chinese School.

Like Wang, Ge said she feels her years in the Three Village school district have prepared her for her future endeavors.

“The teachers and staff at Ward Melville are incredibly supportive and work hard to ensure that students are granted every opportunity to succeed, both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “They help students improve not just academically, but also as individuals prepared to face challenges in the future.”

The salutatorian is planning to attend Harvard University. While she hopes to major in economics, she said she is also interested in psychology, statistics and computer science.

The future looks wide open for Ge.

“Although I’m not sure exactly what my dream career looks like, I hope to work together with people with diverse interests,” she said.

By Andrea Paldy

The Harry Potter-themed façade in front of Ward Melville High School proclaimed, “Let the Magic Begin.” And at 11 a.m. on June 30 it did.

Led by valedictorian Elizabeth Wang and salutatorian Kelsey Ge, 546 seniors in green and gold emerged from the high school as students for the last time.

Sunday’s commencement exercises for Three Village’s 50th anniversary class were punctuated by a series of firsts.

William Bernhard, who gave his first commencement address as Ward Melville principal, officially recognized the district’s first graduating class — known as the “forgotten class” because it didn’t graduate on Ward Melville grounds. Bernhard awarded proclamations and honorary diplomas to class of 1969 graduates Joellen Fehrs McNamara, Cathy Haenlein and Elizabeth Toye Aktas.

The class of 2019 also left its mark on the festivities. By bestowing bells for Ward Melville’s iconic clock tower, the graduating class gave a gift that would be “heard loud and clear” and that said, “We were here. We were important,” student government president Lauren Walters said during the presentation. The bells chimed for the first (and second) time during the graduation ceremony, bridging the past, the present and the future.

Bernhard’s wish for the graduating seniors was a touching one. He said that he hopes that after going on to the military or to college and eventually into the workforce that the graduates will someday rejoin the Three Village community and raise their families here.

And when they hear the bells again, Bernhard hopes they’ll say, “That’s Ward Melville High School. That’s where my roots are. That’s where I made my lifelong friends. That’s where I got my wings — ready to soar and succeed in life.”

With a Harry Potter theme, Let the Magic Begin, Ward Melville High School’s senior prom was filled with whimsy June 27.

Students found various decorated rooms in the high school featuring the Hogwarts Express and rooms inspired by the fictional school’s houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.

Before the prom, students rolled up to the school in various vehicles including vintage cars and fire trucks.

Justin Zhang

Justin Zhang, a junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, won first place in the 2019 Model Bridge Building Contest at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

In this annual regional competition, coordinated by BNL’s Office of Educational Programs, high school students across Long Island design, construct and test model bridges made of basswood that are intended to be simplified versions of real-world bridges. Participants must apply physics and engineering principles to meet a stringent set of specifications. Their bridges are judged based on efficiency, which is calculated using the weight of the bridge and the amount of weight it can support before breaking or bending more than one inch. A separate award is given to the student with the most aesthetic design.

For this year’s competition, 132 students from 15 high schools registered bridges. Fifty-two students representing nine schools qualified. An awards ceremony to honor the winners was held at BNL on March 15.

Zhang, whose bridge weighed 12.75 grams and had an efficiency of 2819.03, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was participating in the New York State Science Olympiad. Zhang’s father accepted the award on his behalf.

“I had built bridges, towers, and, more recently, boomilevers (kind of like the arm at the end of a crane) as a participant on my school’s Science Olympiad team and I really love civil engineering,” said Zhang. 

“So, the Bridge Building Contest perfectly fit both my past experience and interests. Through the competition, I was able to improve upon the ideas that I had developed in years prior working on engineering challenges and apply some new things that I had learned. It was particularly challenging for me to adjust to all the specific rules involved in the construction process,” he explained.

Gary Nepravishta, a freshman at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, took second place with his bridge weighing 18.2 grams and having an efficiency of 1949.45.

With a mass of 13.88 grams and efficiency of 1598.68, the bridge built by senior William Musumeci of Smithtown High School East won third place. “I built one bridge and tested it to see where it broke, and then I used a computer-aided design program to make a stronger bridge.” said Musumeci, who will be attending Farmingdale University to study construction engineering.

Sophomore Benjamin Farina of John Glenn High School in Elwood won the aesthetic award for best-looking bridge.

An honorary award was given to retired BNL engineer Marty Woodle, who was recognized for his 40 years of service as a volunteer for the competition. 

“If you become an engineer, you are not necessarily trapped into one little aspect of science,” said Woodle. “The world is open to you to do some really fascinating work.”

Zhang’s and Nepravishta’s bridges have been entered into the 2019 International Bridge Building Contest, to be held in Baltimore, Maryland, in early April. For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov.