Education

Centereach High School in the Middle Country School District. The district superintendent is just one of many concerned about impended state aid cuts. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Schools are staring down the barrel of funding cuts because of the COVID-19 crisis.

While students have been returning to their new normal of hybrid classes, remote learning and plastic barriers between desks, school districts across New York state are concerned about the news surrounding a potential 20% state funding cut.

Elwood Super Ken Bossert, pictured above before the pandemic, said every single school will need to make painful cuts if things don’t go their way. Photo from Heather Mammolito

According to New York State Education Department, the State Division of the Budget has begun withholding 20% of most local aid payments, forcing reductions in some payments to school districts across the state. The reductions in aid, combined with increased costs during pandemic times, could affect not only students, but community members too.  

“All public schools throughout New York state will have to make deep and painful cuts if federal assistance in the form of school aid is not secured,” said Ken Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district. “The governor’s proposal of reducing aid by 20% will impact districts that rely heavily on aid in a devastating way. Not only will programs and staffing be redacted, the gap between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ will widen.”

Mark Secaur, superintendent of Smithtown school district, noted that during the height of the pandemic in New York last spring, the state adopted a budget that contained three review periods, in which local aid distributions might be reduced on a rolling basis, based on the revenues the state received. 

“On August 18, districts throughout New York state received a state aid payment for the 2019-2020 school year that withheld 20% of the expected payment,” he said. “Also included was a note that all future payments would be reduced by 20% in the absence of federal relief.”

Secaur added that for Smithtown, this equates to a potential loss of upward of $9 million in state aid. 

“When developing our 2020-2021 school budget, the district took into consideration the potential loss of state aid and made adjustments,” he said. “However, these losses, coupled with the unfunded expenditures required for the safe return of students, will likely force the district to significantly utilize the fund balance and reserves to balance the budget.”

In addition, the budget doesn’t cover the costs that are protecting children returning to their classrooms. 

“Cleaning supplies, dividers for rooms … the cost is close to $4 million,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country school district.

That sum didn’t include the cost to keeping the schools operational — even when students weren’t in them when the pandemic hit. 

“There was still a cost to keep the schools running,” Gerold added. “It was a rough couple of months.”

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, agreed.

“In a time when students need more, we won’t be able to provide that,” he said. 

While Poole and his peers are trying to stay optimistic, and are pleased to have students back, he wonders if it will be sustainable. “It’s an uncertain time — it won’t be the easiest thing for districts to put a budget together this year,” he said. “We just have to take it day by day.”

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen.”

— Roberta Gerold

While each district is different on the Island, they can all agree that continuing to plan during an uncertain time is very difficult. 

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen,” Gerold said. “If we have the info, we can figure that out. … It’s a scary time for sure.”

Miller Place school district declined to comment but did release a letter Sept. 3 penned to elected officials, asking for their support.

“As our elected officials we implore you act quickly to stop any and all federal and state reductions regarding payments to New York state school districts,” the letter said. “As district leaders we remain focused on the mission of returning students to our classrooms, and providing them with the social, emotional and academic supports they need in order to achieve their 2020-21 instructional goals.”

The letter continued, “Please recognize any reductions in federal or state aid payments would dramatically reduce our ability to sustain our district’s fiscal health, as well as maintain the support needed to ensure our students and staff physical health.”

Student scholarship winners, from left, Gabrielle Caine, Melissa Mandel, Esther Duclair, Allison Brook, Michael Golub, José Suarez and Jessica Ringston. Not pictured, Samuel Abramson, Shaun Gibbons and Rachel Schlesinger

A MUSICAL FUTURE

The Long Island Music Hall of Fame has announced the recipients of its 2020 student scholarships. This year LIMHOF acknowledged five students with the Distinction in Music award and an additional five students with the Merit in Music award for their accomplishments. All ten students are from Long Island and plan to pursue music studies in college. 

This year’s applications came from all four counties and the winners represent Bayside, Brooklyn, Elwood, Franklin Square, Half Hallow Hills, Hampton Bays, Huntington, North Babylon, Roslyn Heights, Sayville, and Smithtown.

Students in Brooklyn, Nassau, Queens and Suffolk counties are eligible to apply for the scholarships. This program is in addition to other Education acknowledgements that the Long Island Music Hall of Fame sponsors, including the Music Educator of Note and the High School Recognition Awards.

LIMHOF is able to provide these scholarships thanks to support received from the Long Island music community and from Jill’s Dreams, a foundation established in the name of, and in memory of former LIMHOF Board member Jill Nees-Russell. For 2020, an additional memorial scholarship in honor of Len Rothenberg, a longtime friend of LIMHOF has been awarded. 

LIMHOF commemorated each recipient’s dedication to music and support their college plans with an outdoor reception held in August where students were able to receive their awards, visit the Mobile Museum and celebrate their achievements.

“Long Island Music Hall of Fame is honored to have the opportunity to support and acknowledge accomplished high school seniors who are pursuing a future in music. There were many amazing candidates and our committee was honored to be able to recognize some additional students.  The talent that exists on Long Island is something we at LIMHOF want to celebrate.  In addition to following their own dreams, we believe these students will encourage and inspire others,” said LIMHOF Education Chairman, Tom Needham.

2020 Distinction in Music Scholarship winners included Melissa Mendel and Michael Golub:

Melissa Mandel

A graduate of Elwood-John Glenn High School in Elwood, Melissa attends the Berklee School of Music and plans to major in Music Performance and Music Management.

“Melissa is a talented and intelligent young woman, who is highly involved in our school’s music community. I have had the pleasure of having Melissa as a student for four years, and the unique experience of getting to know her in her most natural element; music. She has worked collaboratively with other musicians in the department while displaying leadership and a high level of personal responsibility for each project,” said Rachel Nagle, Melissa’s Choir Director.

“As a performer, Melissa is always looking to better not only herself, but the choir. She is a perfectionist and a team player. She looks for constructive criticism, applies, and adapts. She can do this as a musician, and as a student in general. Melissa is responsible, communicative and reliable,” she added.

Michael Golub

Michael Golub graduated Smithtown High School West and majors in music performance in college.    

“Michael is an exceptional music student who is challenging himself and succeeding at every opportunity. He is highly committed as a musician and works diligently to achieve the upmost results. In my 25 year career, Michael is among the best music students I’ve heard.  His excellence is marked by his high-quality coursework dedication community into compassion for his peers. Michael will certainly succeed at the next level and dominate in his musical career path” shared Smithtown High School West Chorus Teacher, Timothy Cassera.

Other winners were Allison Brook (Brooklyn Technical High School), Gabrielle Caine (Hampton Bays High School) and Esther Duclair (North Babylon High School).

2020 Merit in Music Scholarship winners included Samuel Abramson and José Suarez:

Samuel Abramson

Samuel Abramson graduates from Half Hollow Hills High School this month and will attend Ithaca College in the fall. He plans to major in Music Education.

Choral Director Dr. Danielle McRoy shared “Sam’s commitment to music and theater are a testament to the kind of dedication he possesses in everything in which he chooses to take part. He has become a true leader within the department, holding leadership roles in multiple organizations. What has impressed me most is his quiet dedication to grow and learn. His musical and vocal growth has been incredible.”

José Suarez

José Suarez graduated from Huntington High School this month and will attend Syracuse University in the fall.  He plans to major in Music Education.

“José is not only a very talented musician, but his work ethic is second to none. Most days you will find him in the band room after school, practicing for one ensemble or another. He’s always prepared, self-motivated and always goes above and beyond. He is a mature performer with great technical proficiency expression and tone quality,” said his Band Director, Jason Giachetti. “In my AP music theory class, José was a leader and he developed a deep interest in music theory. José is incredibly passionate about and dedicated to music and will be quite successful,” he said.

Other winners were Shaun Gibbons  (Sayville High School), Jessica Ringston (Carey High School Franklin Square), and Rachel Schlesinger from North Shore Hebrew Academy in Lake Success.

For more information about LIMHOF, visit www.limusichalloffame.org.

Suffolk County Community College accepted the donation of a 2020 Volkswagen Atlas to its Automotive Technology Program on Sept. 16 as part of Volkswagen’s Drive Bigger initiative. Volkswagen and local dealers are donating vehicles to universities, colleges, and technical and trade schools to develop future Volkswagen-trained automotive technicians.

New York State Assemblyman Douglas Smith, whose district includes Suffolk’s Ammerman Campus, presented certificates of recognition to the assembled Volkswagen dealer and corporate representatives as a thank you for the generous donation.

Photo from SCCC

Suffolk County Community College Interim President Louis Petrizzo thanked the Volkswagen executives for this donation to Suffolk’s program and explained that the College “… is very much aware of industry needs for automotive workers. We are proud of the technicians we produce. They are professionals that are not only going to be skilled auto technicians, but also have the ability and talent to move into supervisory and management positions,” Petrizzo said. “Our students, importantly, are also taught communication and soft skills that we know are important to the industry.”

“We are extremely fortunate to have strong support from our local area dealerships and manufacturer partners. The support they provide allows us to provide quality automotive education for our students resulting in a prepared workforce for their businesses,” said Automotive Technology Academic Chair David Macholz.

NYS Assemblyman Doug Smith, at left, tours Suffolk County Community College’s Automotive Technology facility in Selden on Sept. 16.

“These vehicles will be essential in assisting the next generation of Volkswagen technicians to interact with and learn the latest technology that is part of our exciting model lineup” said John Peterson, Director of Fixed Operations. “At Volkswagen we strongly believe in investing in the next generation and with our growing model lineup, it’s critical we give young technicians the opportunity to be hands on with our vehicles to help ensure we continue to deliver a high level of customer satisfaction in the future.”

Pictured in top photo, from right, Michael Siegel, Dealer Principal Legend VW; Dan Anderson, VW of America; Fixed Operation Manager Northeast Region; Louis Petrizzo, Interim President Suffolk County Community College; Dave Macholz, Academic Chair, Suffolk Automotive Technology; Ed Merman, Smithtown Volkswagen Service Manager; Bill Moran, Donaldson’s Volkswagen Service Director; Suzanne Cochrane, Bayside Volkswagen General Manager; John Peterson, VW of America Director of Fixed Operations Northeast Region;  Joe Romano, Service Manager, West Islip VW.

Suffolk County Community College’s Automotive Technology program is an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Education Foundation certified course of study that is designed to prepare students for employment as automobile technicians and is intended for those seeking careers as employees of automotive service facilities.

All programs have academic as well as automotive classes that fulfill requirements to obtain an A.A.S. degree. Suffolk’s program is also the only at a northeast college to offer the state-of-the-art Tesla START technician training program.

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Playgrounds like the one above at Village Chabad preschool in East Setauket will play an important part in preschoolers’ days during the pandemic. Photo from Village Chabad

Students in the Three Village Central School District buildings aren’t the only ones that are dealing with a whole new world when it comes to attending school, children in daycares and preschools are also navigating new waters.

Preschools and daycare centers are taking new precautions which include teachers wearing masks, taking students’ temperatures, utilizing outdoor space more frequently, meeting parents outside and more. And while frequent handwashing and cleaning have been common practices in preschools in the past, now bleaching and more thorough cleaning of regularly touched spots such as doorknobs is required.

Mary Cain, executive director of Stony Brook Child Care Services, said the center closed down temporarily March 16 but then opened up shortly after to provide daycare for essential health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital. The daycare and preschool had less children the last few months due to non-essential employees working from home.

During the early months of the pandemic, the center took care of 47 children of essential workers. With eight classrooms in total — four for infants and toddlers and the other four for preschoolers — only five were used. Earlier guidelines allowed 10 children to a room. Cain said the center took things a step further by limiting it to 10 people in the room, which included students and employees. With a maximum capacity of 160 before the pandemic, currently the childcare service has 90 enrolled, and Cain said it could go up to 120 eventually.

For children who didn’t attend, teachers would touch base with them and their parents via Zoom, and with some returning, the director said these children still recognize teachers even when they are using masks.

Teachers were concerned infants wouldn’t be able to handle their teachers wearing masks since they so often rely on facial expression, Cain said, but so far, the coverings haven’t hindered interactions.

The director added that teachers have been able to have conversations with preschoolers about physical space and the importance of distancing.

“They know there’s something going on out there in the world,” she said. “They don’t seem to be too concerned with it.”

Each classroom at Stony Brook Child Care has its own play yard so classes can go outside whenever the teacher feels it’s appropriate instead of waiting to take turns, which she said is also a big help. Cain said she’s surprised with how smoothly things have gone.

“With knowing every day there was new information and new guidelines, I didn’t think it would go as smoothly as it has,” she said.

Rivkie Grossbaum, preschool director at Village Chabad Center for Jewish Learning in East Setauket, said she is grateful that for the past year the school has more space than it did in its earlier days to help with social distancing. The preschool was established more than 30 years ago, and Grossbaum worked out of her house for one year and then from the Chabad’s Lake Grove location, which was smaller than the current space. The Chabad’s new location opened in June 2019 on Nicolls Road.

In addition to utilizing the indoor space, the preschool recently installed a new playground dedicated by Investors Bank. The director said it will enable even more outdoor play, which she said is important during these times, and each child will have separate bins so teachers can divide supplies such as crayons and clay.

While the preschool closed back in March, Grossbaum said she is happy that they’ve been able to reopen as she believes the relationships formed during preschool are important, and the staff is ready to help community members of all faiths.

“We may have more children if other schools don’t have early childhood programs,” she said. “We are willing to help in any way.”

Maddy Friedman, educational director of Play Groups School in East Setauket, said students were excited to return to school Sept. 14. Before the first day, teachers sent videos to their students to show them how they look with and without masks. While preschoolers are not required to wear masks, Friedman said if parents want their child to wear one, teachers will leave it on as it’s important to respect families’ wishes, “because we really don’t know the answers.”

Friedman said like other preschools, Play Group is also incorporating more programs outside on its half-acre of land which allows for socially distanced play. Friedman said teachers have used outdoor learning regularly in the past, and there are distinct areas to view birds and read books. There is even a stage and garden cupola.

The educational director said when schools first closed down due to the pandemic, she was hopeful that the shutdowns wouldn’t last long, and she never imagined the school being closed for months with teachers using remote learning tools such as Zoom and Facetime. Despite her being proud of her staff in “expertly” using the digital platforms as well as keeping in touch with families via traditional snail mail, she said she doesn’t feel it’s the best way to teach. Friedman said she was desperate to see schools open because she said it’s important for children to be with others their own age and have a “sense of classroom community.”

She added that children lost out on a lot with virtual learning, including end of the year activities such as taking a train trip into Port Jefferson and going to Theatre Three.

“I think it was a loss for the children,” Friedman said. “They adapted, but I wouldn’t look to do it permanently. However, it filled the gap and kept us connected to the community.”

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Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal announced Thursday afternoon in a call to parents that the entire campus would be closed Friday, Sept. 25 after a high school student tested positive for COVID-19.

The Mount Sinai High School Student was in cohort A, which goes to in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday, according to school board trustee Ed Law in a post to social media. The student has siblings in both the elementary and middle schools, so the district announced it was being cautious and closing all schools for Friday.

All students will be using remote learning that day. 

On Monday schools will be closed in observance of Yom Kippor. The district said students are planned to return to school Tuesday, Sept. 29.

 

*Update* On Sunday, the Port Jefferson School District updated parents saying that after the middle school student was determined as positive for COVID, the Department of Health has quarantined a number of other students and staff who were determined to be in contact with the individual. All the individuals have been notified by the district.

The Department of health has determined students are cleared to return to the building on Monday. Staff not made to quarantine are supposed to report Monday as well as the students scheduled to be in school for learning that day. 

“The situation today is a reminder about the importance of social distancing,” said Superintendent Jessica Schmettan in a letter to parents. “The community needs to remain vigilant to avoid closures in the future.”

Original Story

The evening of Friday, Sept. 18, both the Rocky Point and Port Jefferson school districts reported positive COVID cases among a single student each.

Rocky Point Superintendent Scott O’Brien wrote in a letter to parents Sept. 18 that a student at the high school had tested positive for COVID-19. The district said they were in contact with the Suffolk County Department of Health, and “all appropriate areas are being cleaned and disinfected over the weekend.” The school is planned to reopen Monday to follow the school’s hybrid schedule.

“As per the Suffolk County Department of Health, the individual who has tested positive for COVID-19 was last in the building Thursday, Sept. 17 and will not be allowed to return to school for at least 10 days after a negative test result has been provided to the district,” the school’s statement read.

The district is assisting the county DOH in contact tracing. Those contacted by the DOH will need to remain quarantined for 14 days from last exposure to the individual.

PJSD

Following another case Monday where Port Jefferson School District officials said an elementary student had tested positive, the district again sent a message to parents Friday saying that, after dismissal, the district was notified a middle school student had tested positive.

“We have been in contact with the Department of Health and have begun contact tracing procedures,” the district said in its notice to parents. “Students or staff members that were in contact with this student will receive a separate correspondence and a possible quarantine from the Department of Health.”

The district asked that people be mindful of their interactions with people as the investigation by the DOH is ongoing. The district said it will update parents of any further details once they recieve more guidance from the department of health.

Stony Brook has set up a fund that helps students attend while dealing with small financial hurdles. File photo by Kyle Barr

Like so many other plans this year, the goal for Stony Brook University’s Student Emergency Support Fund has changed.

SBU students like Rijuta Mukim have relied on funds from the university’s emergency fund for their studies at home. Photo by Mukim

The fund, which SBU’s Dean of Students Richard Gatteau launched in January, was originally planned as an endowed source of funds that would help students in need. Amid the ongoing financial dislocation caused by the pandemic, the fund has now provided everything from money for car repairs, which some students need to get to campus, to books, iPads, or even rent.

Through July, the emergency fund provided about $935,000 in support to 1,194 students, according to the dean of students.

“Once COVID hit, we realized in March and April, the need was overwhelming,” he said. The school put in a new strategy to raise more money to expand the focus to include basic life essentials, like paying the electric bill or groceries. The university “didn’t want this circumstance to force someone to drop out.”

For some students, the financial need, especially in the current economic environment amid job losses and higher unemployment, exceeds the resources that financial aid, grants and loans can offer.

“We’re working with students on the margin,” Gatteau said. The parents of many students don’t have the financial ability to support them, either.

Many of the students who initially received money from the emergency fund  were remote learners who needed internet access or other remote support.

That included SBU junior Rijuta Mukim, who was working from her home in southern India when her computer broke down and her internet connection was unstable.

Taking classes and studying during the night and sleeping during the day to continue her education amid the time difference, Mukim was kicked off her Zoom calls for her classes within five minutes.

“I had a lot of trouble attending class,” Mukim said.

Without a fix for her computer and a better connection, Mukim, who is majoring in biology and psychology and hopes to attend medical school after she graduates, would have had to withdraw during the spring.

After she heard about the emergency fund on Reddit, she applied. Within a few hours, she received an email indicating that the school was trying to reach her by phone to make sure she was all right. She revealed her needs and received $1,000 within a week.

In the meantime, the support team explained her situation to her professors, who gave her extra time to complete her assignments.

Mukim had originally planned to work this summer at the Staller Center, but she was appreciative of the university and the donors who contributed to the fund for financial assistance, even as she worked from home several continents away.

“A thousand dollars might sound like a small amount but it helped me to ride through the spring and summer classes,” Mukim said. Having this kind of support “during a crisis is wonderful. It is satisfying to know there is a community helping you and looking out for you.”

Gatteau said other students also appreciated the calls soon after they made their requests.

Students “want an opportunity to tell their story, [to hear] a friendly voice on the other end of the call, to hear what’s going on,” he said. “Many students have faced challenging situations, with job losses and deaths related to COVID.”

A call from the emergency fund team can be as much about financial support as it is a counseling session with a student that helps them know how much the university cares about them.

As the fall semester started, the fund recently relaunched and has received between 130 and 150 applications for economic support.

The fund, which received a $75,000 donation from SBU President Maurie McInnis and is soliciting additional donations, is trying to rebuild after the earlier disbursements. 

The call for donations has just gone out to community members, prior donors, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

“We’ve done a full marketing campaign across all of the stakeholders who donated [previously] and then we try to reach out to new people,” Gatteau said.

The dean of students said the school is collecting donations of any size.

“Small amounts have made a big difference collectively,” he said.

The school estimates that $100 supports Wi-Fi access and other online learning costs; $200 contributes to lab fees and books; and $500 helps with groceries and rent.

The fund doesn’t currently allow donors to earmark their contributions for any specific purpose. Gatteau said the top priority with any student is for academic needs.

Despite the financial hardship caused by COVID and higher unemployment, officials said Stony Brook has not had many students drop out for financial reasons.

Amid concerns nationally about students ignoring social distancing or mask-wearing rules, Gatteau endorsed the way students have complied with rules. 

“We’re very lucky,” he said. Students are motivated to prevent closures. “They want [the school] to stay open,”

Students whose financial need exceeds whatever the emergency fund can provide may be able to update their Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — forms, to see if they are eligible for additional financial assistance.

Meanwhile, students can apply to the Student Support Team at www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/studentaffairs/studentsupport. Students provide basic information and discuss their specific issues and challenges on a call.

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State Dashboard Shows Comsewogue HS With Two Positive Tests, But District Says Not to Worry

PJSD said the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School has been temporarily closed and all students moved online after on student was tested positive. Photo from Google maps

*Update* The night of Sept. 16, Port Jeff Superintendent Jessica Schmettan released a follow up letter about the student who was confirmed positive. She said the elementary school was “thoroughly” cleaned after the district received the news. The New York State Department of Health interviewed the family and district, and has since advised the district that classrooms are cleared to reopen, saying the student was not infectious while on school grounds.

Students who had close contact with the student have been contacted, and contact tracing is underway. 

“The situation today is a reminder about the importance of social distancing, the use of masks, and proper hygiene,” Schmettan said in the letter. “The community needs to remain vigilant in order to avoid closures in the future.”

Original story:

Parents in the Port Jefferson School District received a message Wednesday morning saying a student was tested positive for COVID-19 and that the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School would be closed for the meantime.

“This morning the Port Jefferson School District was notified that a student at the elementary school tested positive for COVID-19,” Superintendent Jessica Schmettan wrote in a message to district parents shared with TBR News Media. “Following our procedures and protocols and guidance from the [New York State] Department of Health, the elementary school is closed today for distance learning.”

The district added they will be conducting contact tracing and disinfecting the elementary school. Parents will be updated as the situation develops.

As of Sept. 15, Comsewogue High School has been listed by the New York State dashboard as having two positive cases in the Comsewogue High School. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn described the situation as two siblings who had tested positive for COVID in another country, though she said the name of the country was not released for fear of the students being outed to their peers. They were cleared by the New York State Department of Health to come back to school, though while in school another test taken in the states came back positive.

Quinn said the Department of Health was aware of the situation, and health officials told the district the two students were likely positive because of the viral load still in the body, though they were not infectious. Both students have volunteered to stay home in the mean time.

 

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A teacher at St. James Elementary School was confirmed with COVID-19, but district officials say they're taken every precaution for reopening. Photo from Google Maps

For one staff member in the Smithtown Central School District, the beginning of the school year has been put on pause.

Mark Secaur, deputy superintendent, sent out a letter Sept. 2 to notify the community that earlier that day the district was notified of a St. James Elementary School staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to the letter, the person was last in the building Aug. 27. In accordance with the district’s reopening plan, the case was reported to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which will investigate and initiate contract tracing.

“Remember that our best chance to limit the spread of this virus is to work together and follow appropriate New York State Department of Health guidance,” Secaur wrote.

Two other districts on Long Island, namely Islip and Bellmore-Merrick, have also announced they had teachers who were confirmed with COVID-19 before the school year’s start.

Smithtown students are set to be back in school Sept. 9. Click here for more on Smithtown’s hybrid learning plan.

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EXIT Realty were with Comsewogue officials delivering over 200 backpacks for kindergarteners. Photo from EXIT Realty

A backpack for every incoming kindergartener. Supplies for every fresh face to the Comsewogue School District. It may seem like a tall order, but a local realty office and donations from the community helped make it happen for the second year in a row.

EXIT Realty’s Jason Furnari, right. Photo from EXIT Realty

Last year, EXIT Realty Island Elite in Port Jefferson Station started a fundraising drive to buy every incoming kindergartener a backpack for the upcoming school year. Doing it again this year, the realty office helped facilitate the donations of 246 backpacks, enough for every incoming student starting their K-12 journey. The backpacks are also filled with a number of school supplies such as pencils, colored pencils, erasers and markers. While it won’t be everything the student needs throughout the year, it’s a good start.

Jason Furnari, the broker owner of the PJS realty office, said upon opening just a year and a half ago he knew he wanted to support the community in some way. He himself is a Comsewogue alumunus, having graduated in 2003. He also said it’s a continued legacy of Joe Rella, the popular former superintendent who passed away this year in February. Rella was Furnari’s chorus teacher in middle school.

“I really like the area we’re in, so we decided to give back to the Comsewogue School District,” he said. “It’s always about giving back to people and doing good for people, and that’s what the community’s about, it’s really family based.” 

The realty office set up an Amazon wish list and posted it to community social media groups and in notices around their office and elsewhere in the local area as well. All who participated would go online and order the items they wanted for delivery to the Port Jeff Station office. Some community members also donated some lightly used backpacks from students who have already aged past the early grade levels.

The backpacks are a great boon, but especially in a time like this where so many have been financially hit by the pandemic, having to not worry about at least one kid’s school supplies can be a big help.

Comsewogue superintendent, Jennifer Quinn, said the backpacks do a world of good for incoming students. 

“We live in such a great community — we have so many businesses willing to help our school district and EXIT Realty is one of those,” Quinn said.

The realty office has also supported two graduating seniors with $1,000 scholarships both last year and this year. 2020 graduates and siblings Tricia Sandhala and Arav Sandhala were recipients of this year’s awards. 

Furnari said the office will continue with their backpack and scholarship donations into the future.

“We’re really excited to start the school year and end the year helping out the young generation coming in and those on their way off to college,” he said.