Education

The seed starter kit, above, is a wonderful educational tool (plants in photo not included). Photo by Sam Benner

By Melissa Arnold

There’s nothing quite like spring in full bloom — the weather’s finally breaking, flowers are popping up everywhere, and it’s easy to get the kids outside for some fresh air and sunshine, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, most of the area’s most beloved spring locales are closed, their events canceled indefinitely until cases of COVID-19 have declined to safer levels. Without their usual income, many small businesses are struggling to pay the bills and must find creative new ways to keep the lights on.

Among them are Benner’s Farm in Setauket, well known in the community for its seasonal festivals and educational opportunities for both children and adults. With in-person field trips and large gatherings impossible, they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.

“Normally this time of year would have class after class coming in to see the farm and our new animals,” said owner Bob Benner. “We’ve had births of lambs, goat kids, chicks and bunnies, but no one can visit them — there are no workshops or Mommy and Me events, no birthday parties …. there’s literally nothing. So we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’”

At Easter time, with 20,000 candy-filled eggs ready to go, Bob awoke in the middle of the night with an idea: What if they sold 50-egg boxes for families to have their own hunts at home? By the time the holiday arrived, they’d sold 100 boxes. Encouraged, the Benners sought to continue the momentum.

Next came an online store, with t-shirts and maple products for sale at www.bennersfarm.com, and a GoFundMe campaign which raised more than $6,000 to keep staff paid and animals fed.

Now they’ve created a “My First Garden Learning Kit” geared toward children containing everything you need to grow a dozen different flowers and plants. The kits include planters, potting soil, a template to sort and examine seeds, plant markers, and an instruction booklet with pictures and information about each plant at various stages of growth.

Both Bob and his wife Jean have spent decades working as teachers in addition to running the farm. Jean said that they work hard to approach every project with an educational focus, trying to see each aspect as a child would.

“We purposely chose seeds that are all different sizes and shapes, mature at different times, and are not too tiny so that kids can handle them,” she explained. “The seeds we’ve chosen are all meant to be interesting and recognizable. Marigold seeds look like tiny paintbrushes; calendula seeds resemble tiny worms.” 

The seed starter kits went on sale at the end of April. Within two days, they’d sold 70 kits and were ordering more boxes to fill. So far, so good. 

“It’s been successful especially because people are telling their friends and family. We’ve had orders come in from other places around the country, too,” said Jean.

The Benner family moved to Setauket from Northport in the late 1970s. Their eldest son, Ben, said that his earliest memories involved being dressed in overalls and driven to see the badly overgrown property. The area was first farmed in the 1750s, and the Benners revitalized it using books on homesteading as a guide. What was originally meant to be a hobby for Bob and Jean slowly evolved into something much more.

“This is our life here, and it’s so strange to see the farm empty,” Ben said. “We miss the energy of the kids, getting to see people every day, hosting our programs. This is all we want to do.”

While the Benners have no idea what the future holds or what events they’ll be able to host next, they know that the success of the farm rests in continuing local support and encouraging a love for nature in children.

“As a society, we’ve lost a certain amount of knowledge and appreciation for nature. Kids that grew up in previous generations would be out working in farms and gardens, and that doesn’t happen much around here anymore,” Ben said. “I think it’s such an important thing to learn about the process of how plants grow, and it’s a lot of fun to go out and pick your food, knowing where it comes from and knowing you did it yourself. We want to spark that interest in as many kids as possible.

Seeds included in the garden kit:

Calendulas

Sunflowers

Zinnias

Marigolds

Green squash (zucchini)

Purple bush beans

Peas

Corn

Beets

Swiss chard

Radishes

Tomatoes

Each kit costs $25. They can be picked up from Benner’s Farm at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket. Call ahead to arrange an in-person, contactless pickup. Prepayments using a credit or debit card are preferred, but arrangements can be made for cash payment. Online orders placed at www.bennersfarm.com are $35 each and will be sent out within 24 hours. For the latest information about the farm, to make purchases or donations, call 631-689-8172 or visit their website.

 

The Strovink family, including, from left to right, youngest son Kyle, dad Eric and oldest son Brennan. Photo by Christine Strovink

By Rich Acritelli

“As a major league scout for over 38 years and the last 18 for the New York Mets, the Strovink family is without a doubt the finest players and people that I ever scouted.”

Eric Strovink playing baseball with his two children at a young age. Photo by Christine Strovink

So said longtime baseball scout Larry Izzo, who watched some of the best talent to emerge from Long Island to play in the major leagues. Izzo wrote the earliest scouting reports on Houston Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio from Kings Park, career hitter and Smithtown native Frank Catalanotto and over the last couple of years Ward Melville talent and pitcher Stephen Matz of the New York Mets. Izzo repeated several times how wonderful his relationship was with the Strovink family from Rocky Point over the last several decades. Armed with the ability to hit the ball over many different fences and a trademark smile, Eric Strovink and his two boys, Brennan and Kyle, always present a natural passion and respect for this game.

As a kid growing up in the 1980’s, it was likely that when you read the local papers and Newsday about the prominent players in Suffolk County, Eric’s name was a constant presense. During his first season playing the game, he only made contact once and it seemed as if baseball might not be the sport for Eric, but through the guidance of his father who coached his earlier teams and a strong determination, Eric began hitting the ball consistently and became a feared player on the local fields and teams of Wading River. His talent was noted when Eric as a fifth grader hit a homerun 325 feet in a game.

His father was not originally tied to the game, but he went to work at an early age, was an ROTC army officer after he graduated from college and was a noted photographer and film maker that worked on projects for Brookhaven National Laboratory and Grumman. But his father loved the game and believed in the importance of analyzing baseball statistics. It was this aspect of the game which allowed Eric to identify his own strengths and weaknesses and for him to closely watch the opposing pitchers. He also learned about the unique way of harnessing “visualization” from his dad, who taught his son how to properly concentrate about future playing situations.  Eric always credited the devotion of his father for helping prepare him for the most stressful games.

Always smiling, this 50-year-old physical education teacher from Mount Sinai School District vividly recalled his earliest moments of success on the diamond as if it just happened. After his varsity game was over, it was observed by his coach, mentor and friend Sal Mignano during an at-bat junior varsity game in Easthampton the explosive potential that Eric held. He was amazed at the past ability of the then-13-year-old to hit a homerun that completely surprised the older members of the varsity team. Mignano marveled at the strength of his former player and the extensive knowledge and motivation that Eric held in his early years. 

As a junior, Eric’s batting average was .465, where he drove in 45 runs and batted in and hit another nine homeruns. During his senior year, his average climbed to .516, and while pitchers attempted to throw around him, he was continually on base. He was a three-time all league, two-time all-county, featured as a Daily News all-star and was an all-state player. Along the way, he guided his team to many winning seasons in league, county, and capped it by achieving a New York State Championship title in 1987. Eric recalled the benefits of the visualization that his father taught to him and the lessons his good friend Keith Osik taught him about where they saw themselves in pressure game time situations. Izzo recalled Eric’s father and believed that “he was one of the kindest and sincerest parents that was extremely supportive, and he could always be seen taking pictures at the games with a high-powered camera.”

Eric Strovink was a renaissance man of sorts, playing Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo from Strovink family

Always with a genuine manner, Eric laughed that he was not even the best player within his own household. For a time, Osik lived with his family and he is considered a brother to Erik and an uncle to the Strovink kids. Osik was a phenomenal athlete and a dominant pitcher that was recognized as the best baseball player in Suffolk County through the Yastrzemski Award winner, while Eric was the runner up. These players were a dynamic hitting duo that saw Osik constantly reach base and Strovink drive him home numerous times during a game. Osik played at Louisiana State University and was later a professional ball player for several years with the Pittsburg Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, and Baltimore Orioles. Both Osik and Eric’s hitting skills tormented the best pitchers in state.

Eric also demonstrated his athletic presence as a feared Suffolk County Wrestling Champion at 215 pounds. Although he did not wrestle until the sixth grade, Eric held his own against all-state and national wrestlers like that of Adam Mariano from Comsewogue High School. And when he was not playing sports, Eric was a devoted thespian within his school’s drama program. He performed in an arousing performance as Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” 

Eric was motivated to further his baseball career in college where he garnered interest from the powerhouses of Clemson, Georgia Southern, Nebraska and North Carolina State. When a scout from Louisiana State University watched Osik during a high school game, Erik showed his own skills by hitting three homeruns. In 1988, this powerful tandem left the to play baseball within the deep south in Louisiana.

At college, Eric was amazed about the vast amount of instruction that was given to each player through every part of this game. Always a student of this game, Eric always absorbed the intricacies of baseball information from this college and when he was an instructor for Mignano’s clinics and camps. For years as a coach, he constantly presented tidbits of wisdom to his players. 

“You can learn more baseball tips in one practice from Eric, compared to what others learn in a season,” Said Rocky Point’s athletic director Charlie Delargy.    

At LSU, he became good friends with pitchers Ben McDonald who played seven years for the Baltimore Orioles, and Russ Springer, a pitcher for 18 years who played for 13 different teams that included the New York Yankees.  

As Eric enjoyed attending LSU, he had to leave school and play closer to home. It was a hard time for him, as his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to be near his family.  While he was dealing with this sickness, he played for a junior college in New Jersey and eventually made it to C.W. Post in Brookville. This was a bittersweet moment for him, as he dealt with the sickness of his beloved mother, Eric once again excelled in front of local fans by hitting 17 homeruns and driving in 50 runs to help his team win their conference.

This was a painful time for Eric, while he played well, his mother passed away after a battle with cancer. While he dealt with this heavy loss, it was Izzo that wrote the scouting report on Eric that allowed him to be signed by the Texas Rangers to a free agent contract. Leaving CW Post and Wading River, Eric was sent to Port Charlotte, Florida. He earned $850 a month, lived with several different teammates and was a “starving” rookie within this league. Eric was on the field with ball players that were just drafted and were rehabbing from injuries. His time with this organization came to an end after the following spring training, after it was explained to Eric that while he was a solid player, he might not have the chance to reach the major leagues.  With baseball behind him, he returned home to finish his college education, to coach wrestling at Shoreham-Wading River and to work for his father. By May 29, 1994, he married his high school sweetheart Christine and they looked to start a family of their own.

Resembling his father, Brennen Strovink was also a dynamic figure within the Rocky Point High School baseball and wrestling teams. Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, this 2014 graduate of Rocky Point was a three-year starter on the varsity team. Brennan immediately made his mark as a sophomore who attained a .370 average and led the county with six homeruns. As a senior, Brennen was a finalist for the Yastrzemski Award, and he was named most valuable player for his league. Many teachers and coaches enjoyed having Brennen in their classes, club’s and teams. 

These warm thoughts were echoed by his former baseball coach Andrew Aschettino, who said he was a “larger than life personality and incredible role model. My kids simply look up to him and I can’t think of someone better in that role.”

Like his father, he was an aggressive wrestler who enjoyed the competitiveness of this sport.  During his junior year, he took first place as a heavy weight in his league and was the runner-up as a sophomore.  He wrestled extremely well through the difficult Eastern States Tournament where he placed sixth in the contest. While he established himself as one of the premier heavy weights, Brennan was unable to reach his goal of possibly being a county champion because of a necessary back surgery.

Brennan Strovink rounds a base during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

As an all-state baseball player, Brennan received a scholarship from Division I Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He was excited to hit against some of the best college pitchers in the nation, but after a year, Brennan suffered another back injury that led to a second surgery. Brennan had to stop playing baseball and for a brief time he came home and attended Suffolk Community College. At this moment, his grandfather believed that his lefthanded hitting grandson had the chance to change his luck by hitting righty. In an amazing accomplishment, Brennen resurrected his college career by learning how to hit from the right side of the plate.

With his best friend Joseph Zabbara who was a college baseball player who was recovering from a serious arm injury, both young men had the opportunity to suit up for Hudson Valley Community College. With a positive mindset that enabled him to become a switch hitter, that old feeling of consistently making contact returned to Brennan as he attained an over .300 batting average. In a short period of time, his confidence returned, and he again faced pitching from the left side. When this happened, Brennan in his first eleven hitting lefty, he was on base with eight hits. Once this rejuvenation occurred, both Brennan and Joseph hit the road again as they enrolled into Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina.  

During his first at-bat for this school, he hit a homerun and was a fixture in the lineup as a first baseman and a designated hitter. Although he was in a different atmosphere, Brennan was nagged by reoccurring back injuries that made him make the permanent decision to stop playing.  Always with a positive demeanor, Brennan was pleased with his time at Limestone where he was able to become a first base coach and attain a degree in physical education.  

Finally, Kyle is the youngest Strovink to continue the family tradition of playing this game hard and doing it with a smile. Like his dad and brother, Kyle was a dominant varsity player during the extent of his high school years. As a capable catcher, Izzo stated Kyle has a “major league arm” to quickly prevent base runners from stealing bases.  

With grit and determination, he handled the pitchers and challenges of this strenuous position.  Like the two elder Strovink’s, he was a fierce competitor that opposing pitchers struggled to get out. As a sophomore, Kyle hit .392 with two homeruns. As a junior, his average climbed to .429 with four homeruns and eight doubles, and while he batted .349 as a senior, he was playing with a broken hand. Kyle was Rocky Point’s first All-American and one of his proudest moments was playing in front of a thousand local fans in the semi-finals set against Shoreham-Wading River.

During the winter months, Kyle, like his brother and father, was a tough wrestler. Unlike the other males in his household, Kyle wrestled only for one full year and still he placed second in his league at 195 pounds. Though he had limited experience, Kyle pinned two all-county wrestlers during his senior year.  Longtime assistant wrestling coach and a state champion Billy Coggins was always pleased with the progress. 

Kyle Strovink during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

“Kyle was a rare athlete that you could plug into any sport and he would find a way to succeed.  He was an important factor that helped our team secure a county championship,” Coggins said. 

Always with a big smile, Kyle was the President of the Rocky Point Varsity Club where he made two speeches for the 9/11 and Veterans Day programs. This genuine young man shook the hands of the rescue workers, veterans and alumni and thanked them for their service to our nation.

Like his brother, Kyle had the plans to play at Lamar University, but he decided to play at a junior college in Douglas, Arizona near the Mexican border. Kyle played in excessive, dry heat of 110 degrees — vastly different from the conditions at Rocky Point. At Cochise College, Kyle was 2,500 miles from home, and he wanted to transfer to play at the east coast school of the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. Right away, he enjoyed his head coach that still calls Kyle during special moments and holidays. After playing extremely well, Kyle was offered a scholarship to play ball at Limestone, where he was reunited with his older brother Brennan.  Again, Kyle demonstrated his ability to hit with a commanding .308 average and he eventually became the clean-up hitter for this team through a shortened season due to the COVID-19 virus.

At Limestone, Kyle continued to demonstrate his catching prowess in throwing out opposing runners through his impressive arm strength. During a pro-day scouting program, it was estimated that Kyle had an extremely quick release from home plate to second base that was only 1.8 seconds. Izzo was not surprised about this catcher’s abilities and he believes that Kyle is a “special player.” While Kyle has lost part of his season, he is pleased to be spending time with his family. Looking at the Strovink’s, it is easy to see why people are always drawn to their good will. Every year Kristine Strovink organizes a team community service trip to a soup kitchen, she helps run the Live Like Susie fundraiser baseball game against Mount Sinai and serves the team an annual breakfast. While this family is led by these likable big men, Eric credits the devoted role that his wife and daughter Katie play in running their household.  

Retired social studies teacher Brooke Bonomi loved to joke with the boys and talk sports with them on a regular basis. As the teacher that created the Live Like Susie Kindness Award Night, Bonomi enjoyedStrovink’s participation to help honor the character of Rocky Point High School students through the outstanding memory of Susie Facini.  Bonomi glowingly stated that the “spirit of happiness runs deep in each Strovink. Their good cheer always inspires others to become better people.” Similar feelings towards this North Shore family has also been described the by the decades of respect that Izzo holds within these local ball players. This long-time major scout sums up the make-up of this family whom he considers to be the absolute best, saying “the way you play the game, is the way you’ll live life.”

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Gianna Pellela and her family volunteering for those in need. Photo from Pellala

It goes without saying that these are difficult times and many things going on that we have never witnessed before. Many articles and news stories appear daily about some pretty bad things going on. However, the focus of this article will be to look at some of the positive things we are seeing; from the eyes ofboth the young and old.

An Intro

By Andrew Harris

Recently, I have seen so many things going on on during this crisis that I haven’t seen in many years. Some of these happenings have been positive, and I wanted to take the time to stop and point some of them out. The first thing I noticed was something that used to be more common, but I have not heard in many years. It was the sounds of playful laughter of young children outside in their backyards almost on a daily basis. I started to notice more and more positive things that are going on and wanted to focus on these things and see if some of our students might see some positivity for a younger persons perspective. I was impressed by what they were noticing, like how helping others helps to take any negative focus off yourself, how young people are staying connected and supporting each other and finally how our environment seems to be improving on a daily basis.

Helping Others

By Gianna Pellela

Gianna Pellela and her family helped collect items for those in need. Photo from Pallela

In this time of crisis, it can be very easy to focus on the negatives in our lives. My family and I have tried to find ways to both occupy ourselves and help others even though we can’t physically see too many people. Being able to focus on the positives makes this quarantined time a lot easier. The situation we are in can really be a good time of self reflection and personal improvement. It can also be used to be a time of unity amongst all of our communities.

While I have done many things to keep up with my own well being, I have also helped in a food drive. This food drive was held at the cafe owned by my church. Throughout the week, the community dropped off food and supplies that all got disinfected. My family and I went to the cafe where we were alone, and we divided these foods and supplies into bags for the community members in need. We also filled bags for nurses and medical workers. These bags had items such as bonnets, masks, waters and more. Then, people drove through the parking lot one at a time and opened their trunks so that we could place the bags into their cars. This was an amazing event that allowed me to give back even considering the circumstances.

Unity in Distance
By Daniela Galvez-Cepeda

Despite the fact that physical contact has been cut off from us during the quarantine, it is important to remember that we are not alone. Through different social media apps and discussion boards, high school seniors are communicating with others about an array of topics.

I have experienced this first hand. Along with my Student Government co-president, we figured it was important to let our whole community know the talent the Comsewogue Class of 2020 holds. That is why we created the @wogue.2020 Instagram page, which posts pictures of seniors and the colleges they are going to. Classmates “liking” and “commenting” on each other’s posts really shows that we can still be connected despite the distance.

Not only are our Comsewogue seniors interacting online with one another, but they are also meeting the people they will go to college with. Since campus tours and visits aren’t available right now, colleges have created special channels for their incoming students to learn about the school they are going to. Students can send a quick text or email to an upperclassman or dean knowing that they will get a response in a matter of minutes. I, personally, have been connected with so many current students and future classmates from my college that it has made my decision to go there so much easier.

These cases show that, even though we are going through some rough times, we can still find alternative ways to build new relationships and make new lifelong connections.

Noticing the Improvements in Our Environment

By Ashley Doxey and Alyssa Morturano

Since it started, the Coronavirus outbreak has devastated most of the world. On Dec. 31, 2019, the government in Wuhan, China, confirmed that health authorities were treating dozens of cases. Since then, there have been outbreaks in 210 countries and almost 200,000 deaths. But the outbreak is also having an intriguing impact on Earth’s environment, as nations restrict the movement of people.

The Coronavirus has halted tourism. Since the lack of boat traffic, the Venice canals are thriving andare clear enough to see the fish swimming below. This lack of boat traffic has allowed for fish, like mosquito fish, to roam the canals. There is still a lack of water purity, but all of the sediment has settled to the bottom. Even swans and dolphins have been spotted in the nearby port. Now, the canal is filled with tiny fish, scuttling crabs, and an array of multicoloured plants.

Since the Coronavirus outbreak, the arrival of fish in Venice isn’t the only improvement this world has seen. People are using less oil, and carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions are falling too. This leads to better air quality. More animals are roaming the empty city streets. The coronaviruspandemic is terrible, but in this time of hardship, we must look at the positives. These environmental benefits are another reason for us to stay indoors.

These are some of the positive things we are seeing from the current situation. Focusing on helping others helps us not be so self-centered and only concerned with ourselves. Learning new ways to connect with others, even virtually, can be positive and even when things get back to normal may help us make new and more connections. Finally, we are all breathing in cleaner air and seeing new environmental improvements all around us.

Perhaps this can remind us to turn off the television, stop watching all the negativity and start seeing and creating more positive things out of all of this.

Family, My Silver Lining

Derek Order

Quarantine. Who would have ever thought at any point in my life I’d be held to a quarantine. I have only heard of quarantines in movies and television. No friends. No girlfriend. No trip to Europe. No gym. My senior fashion show was cancelled, and both my graduation and senior prom are to be determined. Unbelievable.

From the beginning, my mom has told me to try to find the silver lining. There is always a silver lining?  How could there be a silver lining when my senior year is ruined? I am going to college in the fall, and this is how I am going to spend my last few months; quarantined with my family?

And then it occurred to me. Family is my silver lining. I have spent these two months with the most important people in the world. My mom has taught me to cook. I’ve spent countless hours in Monopoly tournaments with my brothers. I caught up on some classic television with my Dad. Entering this quarantine, I thought it would be miserable, but it is not. It is actually a blessing.

Outro: An Adendum

By Andrew Harris

The students who wrote this article did so completely voluntarily and out of the goodness of their own hearts. The additional writing they do is purely on their own and not part of their normal heavy and challenging workload. They continue to impress me during these challenging times. All people are hit hard with what we are going through, but as a student the new normal has changed dramatically. Learning online can be extremely difficult to navigate. Having your sports, graduation and all your in-person socialization cancelled, as a teenager, is difficult to say the least. I applaud them.

Stock photo

In his ongoing effort to provide temporary property tax relief, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) spoke with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin last night.

Bellone said the conversation was “positive” and he hopes to hear back soon about whether Suffolk County, which is short of the required population size, can access the municipal liquidity fund.

Bellone thanked Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) for facilitating the call and supporting the county’s bid to tap into short term borrowing created by the federal CARES Act.

Bellone also announced that former County Attorney Dennis Cohen would return to his former role.

“This is even more critical to us now because of he crisis and because of the long road ahead on recovery we know we will have,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters.

As testing continues throughout Long Island, including at hotspots including Coram which began today, the number of people who have a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 has continued to climb. For the first time in several days, that number rose by over 1,000, bringing the total to 31,294.

“That is higher than what we’ve been seeing over the last week,” Bellone said.

Bellone also announced that the county was piloting a food assistance program at the Brentwood testing site.

On the state side, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he would soon be making a decision whether schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. The question will depend on where they see the resiliency of the virus, and also ongoing fears for another peak somewhere later in the year. Doctors are concerned that peak could come at a time when the nation would be going through its regular flu season as well.

On the positive side, total hospitalizations continue to decline, driven down by another triple digit number of discharges.

The total hospitalizations fell by 22 to 1,318. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds also declined by 16 to 478.

The ICU decline “is very good news,” Bellone said.

The number of people who have left the hospital over the last day was 132.

The number of people who died rose by 34 to 993. That includes the first Long Island Railroad Employee who passed away from complications related to coronavirus.

“I want to acknowledge and thank the employees of the Long Island Railroad today,” Bellone said. They have “stood up and met the challenge” created by COVID-19 and have “done an amazing job.”

Poseidon, Greek god of the sea/ Drawing by Vanderbilt artist Megan Gallipeau
Dave Bush. Photo by Ken Spencer

 

The Reichert Planetarium at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport is closed for now, but its astronomy educators, artists, and show producers are busy creating new programs to make it easy for parents and children to enjoy its offerings — at home.

“We are producing an array of virtual planetarium programs that we will begin posting on a YouTube channel called Reichert Planetarium’s Virtual Outreach. The first episode, titled How to Use a Telescope, is now live,” said director Dave Bush.

“Other projects will include a comic strip based on Konnie – our affectionately named planetarium star projector; a coloring book; crafts and projects targeted to family groups for home use; and educational materials for teachers to download and use with their at-home students,” he said.

Some programs will be posted on the museum’s website and on social media.

The planetarium’s Konica Minolta star projector was the inspiration for a character called “Konnie” to be featured in a comic strip that presents astronomy information in an entertaining way. 

“Konnie will become a comic strip and we’re considering turning the strips into coloring books,” said Bush.

When the planetarium reopens, visitors will see several fresh, original programs. Bush and his staff have created new program scripts for staff who operate the projector and star-ball systems through the command console in the rear of the planetarium’s William and Mollie Rogers Theater. The programs explore stars visible during the different seasons, and feature trips to the planets.

“The programs cover a wide range of subjects,” Bush explained, “including tours of habitable worlds, the history of space exploration, the solar system, the life cycle of stars, how far Earth is from the stars, and how astronomers measure that distance. Console operators are developing their own 20- and 45-minute star talks, with their personal choice of music, narration, imagery, and humor.”

Bush plans to produce virtual planetarium shows using the popular conferencing app Zoom. He is creating the shows remotely, away from the planetarium, using professional recording equipment and video-editing software.

The Reichert Planetarium staff is creating downloadable worksheets for children. “Our challenge is, what do we add to make sure kids stay interested and engaged?” Bush said. “We want to make pages that make sense visually, with fun information, games and characters.”

The team is also developing new mythology shows for both recorded and live presentations. The shows will be a series of short constellation stories from ancient civilizations around the world.

“We have talented artists on staff who can create the characters, scenery and panoramas that will be displayed on the domed projection screen of the planetarium,” Bush said. “We’ve tossed around the idea of turning Konnie into a time machine. We can imagine traveling through time in an imaginary spaceship. We can be magically transported to lands in ancient places like Greece, Rome and Stonehenge, as well as to original, imaginary landscapes. Whatever we want!”

While Bush and his colleagues produce new programs, they are also “touching up” existing educational programs for school groups. “Now we have the time to focus on what we need to do to enhance programming,” he said.

For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org and select Virtual Learning.

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Jennifer McGuigan's five children work on their schoolwork at home. Photo by McGuigan

By Deniz Yildirm

With the arrival of the Coronavirus, New Yorkers have been forced to practice social distancing and with that, so called distance learning. Distance learning is a relatively new phrase which means a method of studying in which lectures are broadcast and classes are conducted over the internet. And while many teachers at Comsewogue are familiar with online tools, there is still a steep learning curve. 

Don Heberer, the District Administrator for Instructional Technology and Frank Franzese, the district’s Educational Technology Specialist teacher have been working tirelessly to help teachers and students shift to distance learning. 

“Everyone is putting in long hours” Franzese said. “There’s no such thing as a one way email. Every teacher is trying to give their classes a first rate education using technology, even when it’s stressing them out. So I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

Despite the speed of setting up this distance learning, the quality of work is really outstanding. “I’m so impressed with the level of collaboration and dedication my teachers have to making this work and connecting with students.” said Terryville elementary Principal Annemarie Sciove, who has has two young children and said she understands how important it is for children to feel connections with their teachers and the challenges of working from home. Despite this challenge, third-grade teachers Mrs. Sciarrino and Ms. Benson are working together to create some of the most comprehensive google classrooms for their students. So far they’ve uploaded countless resources and worksheets even though it’s their first time using google classroom. Sites like xtramath.org, storyonline.net and classroom.magazine.com are just a few of the websites they’ve shared with students to help them continue to grow at home. And even though spring break has been cancelled, these teachers have found a way to make this week extra special by planning a “virtual vacation.” Students will “visit” special places via youtube and google earth then report back to their teachers. 

“It’s a great learning experience and a warm up to our country report project in May,” Sciarrino said. 

Teachers have also been uploading videos of themselves, including teachers Mrs. Dunn and Mrs. Zoccoli who have created videos for their classes where they are offering support and encouragement. 

Physical education teacher Mr. Chesterton posted a video challenging his students to a jumping jack countoff (he got up to 50 while one student reported 100). This kind of teaching is really meaningful to the kids who are stressed out and missing school. 

Just ask Jennifer McGuigan, like so many parents she is facing the challenge of supporting her five children (the oldest John in college, 11th-grader Joe, ninth-grader Lydia, seventh-grader William and fifth-grader Lila.

 “I want them to know it’s okay and it’s easier to do that with the support of the teachers,” McGuigan said. “It can be a lot sometimes, every one of them has at least five classes they have to check in to but it’s a welcome distraction.” 

She also says it’s helpful to establish a schedule and reiterate that no one is looking for perfection, teachers are just looking for students to do their best. 

Superintendent Dr. Quinn couldn’t agree more, as she’s recently said in her call home, “We’re in this together.”

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School. For students, she has posted a video showing how they can make a temporary library card so they can borrow ebooks.

Printers at Stony Brook University were donated by the Comsewogue School District. Photo from Deniz Yildirim

By Deniz Yildirim

The Comsewogue School District is helping Stony Brook University in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Comsewogue found out about the project from David Ecker, a professor and director of iCREATE at Stony Brook University. Ecker was inspired by an article he read about a good samaritan producing face shields for a hospital upstate and thought if he could we do it with a 3D printer? He went out the next day with his wife to gather supplies from Joan Fabrics, Home Depot and Staples. He produced a sample face mask that was so impressive, Stony Brook University asked him to make five thousand more. That Sunday morning, Ecker met with his team at Stony Brook University. 

“I designed stations; a station for inspecting the 3D-printed models, another for putting on the weather stripping, inserting the foam, cutting the elastic to size and finally adding the face shield.” Ecker said. “This process allows multiple people to work at the same time while still practicing social distancing.” 

Comsewogue was excited to lend a helping hand by providing over 1,000 yards of filament, the material used to make the frame of the face shield. Comsewogue also delivered five of its MakerBot Replicators and 3D printers for Stony Brook to borrow for this project. Vincent Verdisco, an art educator for over 20 years who teaches Auto-CAD in several of his courses said, “it’s so rewarding to be able to help out during this crisis.” 

Verdisco has been working with Ecker to help improve the mask designs for this project. 

“Now more than ever we have to support one another and it’s nice to show my students the real-life application of what we study in my courses,” Verdisco said. A list of materials and links to the designs are available for free at https://nyinnovate.com/faceshields. 

“It’s a great community effort and I am so thankful we can do this,” Ecker said. “We are doing what we love, innovating to help the front line medical professionals in any way possible.”

Other school districts or organizations want to lend their 3D Printers should contact [email protected]

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School.

The College Board has said they are pushing back this year's SATs to August. Stock photo

The College Board has canceled the June 6 Scholastic Achievement Test and SAT Subject Tests.

The Board hopes to restart the test in August and will offer the test every month through the end of the calendar year, if it’s “safe from a public health standpoint,” the board announced on its web site.

The new schedule includes an additional date in September, as well as the originally planned Aug. 29, Oct. 3, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5 test dates.

Students can register for these tests starting in May.

Given that the College Board has canceled several tests this spring, the board is planning for a significant expansion of their capacity for students to take the tests once school reopen. They are calling member schools and colleges, as well as local communities, to add to testing capacity to give every student who would like to take the test the opportunity.

Students can get early access to register for August, September and October exams if they are already registered for June and are in the high school class of 2021 and don’t have SAT scores.

In the event that schools don’t reopen this fall, the College Board will provide a digital SAT for home use that will be similar to the digital exams three million Advanced Placement students will take this spring.

The College Board and Khan Academy are providing free resources online, including full length practice tests and personalized learning tools.

In May, students registered for June can transfer their registration to one of the fall SAT administrations for free. Students who want to cancel their SAT registration can get a refund through customer service.

Beverly C. Tyler, historian for the Three Village Historical Society, at the grave of Culper Spy Abraham Woodhull during filming on April 6.

By Beverly C. Tyler

The Three Village Historical Society’s virtual local history programming is kicking off this week with a series of virtual SPIES! bicycle tours to locations that include spy videos, ciphers, codes and the stories of the five principal Setauket members of the Culper Spy Ring. 

This will be followed by a series of virtual Founders Day tours that will take you to seven locations in the Town of Brookhaven Original Settlement area. Students, teachers and family members of all ages will be able to enjoy these local history explorations initiated every Monday for the next twelve weeks on the Society’s web site. 

For the next five weeks we will be exploring local sites of Setauket’s Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring. At each site you will learn about a spy who played a key role in the ring and you will be able to decode a spy message and send your  decoded messages to the Three Village Historical Society. On Friday of each week the decoded message will be posted on the Society’s web site.

Following the Virtual Spies Tours we will take you to seven Founders Day locations in the original settlement area of Setauket, including the Village Green; Setauket Presbyterian Church and graveyard; Frank Melville Park Sanctuary at Conscience Bay; Caroline Church of Brookhaven graveyard and Emma S. Clark Library; Frank Melville Memorial Park, mill and historic miller’s home; Setauket Neighborhood House, general store and post office; and Patriot’s Rock. 

At these locations you will discover stories about Setalcott Native Americans, agents for the English settlers, artist William Sidney Mount, Setauket’s war heroes, Three Village immigrants, philanthropists, millers, farmers, ship captains and more.

We don’t know when we’ll open our doors to in-person programs again, but please know that we are doing everything we can to prioritize the services and programs that you love and enjoy during this time of social distancing. 

For more information check out our web site at: https://www.tvhs.org/.

To go directly to our virtual spy tours, visit https://www.tvhs.org/virtual-programming.

Photo from HCDS

After more than two weeks spent at home as a result of the COVID-19 school closure, students at Harbor Country Day School in St. James continued to remain fully engaged — academically and socially — through the school’s ‘distance learning’ platform. 

Leveraging the online conferencing website Zoom, alongside Google’s ‘Classroom’ app, students have managed not only to continue learning, but also to come together in a unique and special way to recognize those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of their ‘distance learning’ co-curricular art instruction, teacher Amarilis Singh tasked students with the challenge of displaying gratitude and inspiring positivity through art. Leaning on Maya Angelou’s famous quote, Try to be the rainbow in someone’s cloud, which the kindergarten class had been studying prior to the school closure, and paired with a musical selection from a recent school concert, “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman, the students’ work was created into a slideshow.

Harbor Country Day School’s music teacher, Donna Siani, initially shared the slideshow with SUNY Stony Brook University’s Director of Community Relations, Joan Dickinson, to thank front line medical workers for their extraordinary efforts during the most unusual and frightening of times.

Still, the students recognize that there exist many others on the front lines and hope their message can be heard by all. To view and share this beautiful gesture from the students at Harbor Country, please visit https://vimeo.com/402577169.