Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District announced that Peggy Yin and Massimo Cipriano as the class of 2021 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. 

Valedictorian Peggy Yin has had numerous academic accomplishments throughout her high school career. She was captain of the Science Olympiad team and has been a top medalist in both state and regional competitions. As a junior, she helped initiate a partnership to mentor elementary students in science fair projects. 

Photo from PJSD

Peggy served as the editor-in-chief of the Mast literary magazine, president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, president of the Latin Club, captain of the Academic Team, an officer of the National Honor Society and an officer and treasurer of the Drama Club. This year, she helped to spearhead a food drive that raised more than $3,000 and food donations for those in need. Peggy is a founder and editor-in-chief of the news media platform, The Current, and is collaborating with Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) on several initiatives. 

She has served as a summer intern at both Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, where she worked on cutting-edge projects.

Peggy is a National Merit Scholarship finalist, Battelle Scholarship recipient and a Coca-Cola Scholar semifinalist. Music plays an important role in her life and her musical achievements are plenty with All-County, All-State and All-Eastern honors as a vocalist and flutist among them. She has performed twice onstage as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, has been on the Manhattan School of Music Dean’s List for three years and has been a recipient of five international vocal competitions.

She is active in community and volunteer initiatives, including serving as a youth ambassador for Concerts in Motion and a live radio show host and broadcast engineer for China Blue on WUSB 90.1 FM. 

Salutatorian Massimo Cipriano has excelled in many of his classes in Port Jefferson. 

He was a member of the Student Organization as a freshman and sophomore and served as secretary for the class of 2021. He served as a student representative for the district’s PTSA and three years as president of the Varsity Club. This year, he was co-president.

Photo from PJSD

Massimo has also been a Royal, a three- sport athlete in his high school career, as a member of the soccer, basketball, and baseball teams. He was also part of the founding team members of The Current, the independent online newspaper, where he is the head of the sports column. 

He participates in numerous volunteer and community service actions and recently helped spearhead a pen pal program with veterans at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. 

Citing English as a favorite subject, Massimo would like to study journalism when he begins college in the fall.

Massimo used his four years in high school to tap into many of the school’s offerings, helping him to become a well-rounded scholar. He commends several high school teachers with encouraging him to continue to embrace the world with kindness, empathy and a positive mindset, and values the mentors and role models they are to him. He is also pleased to have been a student in the district since childhood, citing his gratefulness to a school community that has encouraged lifelong relationships and inspired him to keep his best foot forward.

Both students were honored at a virtual celebration hosted by New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), recognizing the accomplishments of Long Island’s most accomplished students. 

“It was a great pleasure speaking with these remarkable students and hearing about their future plans, accomplishments and favorite memories from high school,” Palumbo said. “We wish them all the best in their future endeavors and congratulate them and their parents on their significant accomplishments.”

Legislator Nick Caracappa with Dr. Karen J. Lessler, President of the Middle Country Central School District’s Board of Education

At a recent Board of Education meeting for the Middle Country Central School District, Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa was recognized and awarded with a Certificate of Appreciation.

The certificate was the Board of Ed’s way of thanking the Legislator for his efforts in successfully eliminating Stagecoach Elementary School in Selden as a polling location for general and special elections. Caracappa, a former Middle Country School Board member himself is currently in negotiations with the Suffolk County Board of Elections to eliminate polling locations from other schools in the district as well.

“Thank you Legislative Caracappa for following through on protecting our students by removing the voting from Stagecoach Elementary.  We certainly appreciate the partnership,” stated Middle Country School’s Board of Ed. President, Dr. Karen J. Lessler. Superintendent Dr. Roberta Gerold commented, “Middle Country thanks Legislator Caracappa for his commitment to the safety and security of our district – we appreciate him!”

“Our children’s safety is the number one priority in these efforts,” stated Legislator Caracappa. “I acted on this measure not only as an elected official, but as a father. I am humbled by the recognition for what was truly a community effort. My thanks go out to the Selden Fire Department, along with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine for providing alternate polling sites for voters. Additionally, I thank Dr. Lessler, Dr. Gerold, and the entire Board of Education for acknowledging me with this Certificate of Appreciation.”

Photo from MPSD

Graduating with the class of 2021 of Miller Place High School, Kyla Bruno will be leaving as valedictorian, finishing at the top of her class with a weighted GPA of 102.34. Kyla plans to attend college at Northwestern University and will be majoring in mathematics, with a minor or double major in music. 

Photo from MPSD

Throughout her high school career, Kyla has accomplished a tremendous amount academically. She was awarded AP Scholar with Honors, Performing Arts Teeny Award for Outstanding Instrumentalist, and was recognized by the College Board National Hispanic Recognition Program.

Consistently achieving honor roll while enrolled in all AP and honors courses, Kyla has also received Special Recognition of Excellence in language arts, geometry, Spanish, and orchestra. She was additionally named an All-State Musician. 

Not only is Kyla academically gifted, but is a very active athlete as well, earning the Scholar-Athlete Award for tennis and track. She is a member of both the spring and winter track teams and was recognized as All-League and All-County on her tennis team.

Leaving with a 101.30, the second-highest GPA in the Class of 2021, Jason Cirrito was named salutatorian at Miller Place high school.

Jason was notably awarded for his academic excellence, but also had a big involvement in his community. He achieved High Honor Roll for every marking period since 9th grade and received awards for Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors and the Geometry Honors Award.

He was also given the Outstanding Acts of Kindness Award for helping his classmates and community members without expecting anything in return. 

Spending his time at the Port Jefferson Library, Jason helped coordinate events and also served as the assistant coach for the Miller Place Parent Teacher Organization basketball team. 

To add to his stellar academic and community service achievements, Jason was known as an involved student-athlete. He was a member of the cross-country team, soccer team, and the winter and spring track teams. 

This fall, Jason will be attending Vassar College and plans to major in math education and become a secondary math teacher.

Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton hosted a virtual Elementary Science Fair awards ceremony on June 4. Suffolk County students from kindergarten through sixth grade who garnered first place and honorable mentions in the 2021 Elementary Science Fair Competition were honored. 

Volunteer judges considered a total 184 science projects by students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Seven students earned first place in their grade level for stand-out experiments Fifteen students received honorable mentions for their experiments. Students qualify for Brookhaven Lab’s competition by winning science fairs held by their schools.

Students who earned first place in their grade level received medals and ribbons, along with banners to hang at their school to recognize the achievement. Here are the winners and their projects:

Kindergartener Violet Radonis of Pines Elementary, Hauppauge Public Schools, “Which Mask You Ask? I Am on the Task.” 

First grader Ashleigh Bruno, Ocean Avenue Elementary, Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, “Rain, Rain Go Away” 

Second grader Celia Gaeta, Miller Avenue School, Shoreham-Wading River Central School District, “How the Moon Phases Affect Our Feelings”       

Third grader Emerson Gaeta, Fort Salonga Elementary, Kings Park Central School District, “Can You Hear Me Through My Mask?” 

Fourth grader Matthew Mercorella, Sunrise Drive Elementary, Sayville Public Schools, “Shh…I Can’t Hear” 

Fifth grader Grace Rozell, Ocean Avenue School, Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, “Edible Experiments” 

Sixth grader Patrick Terzella, Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge Public Schools, “Too Loud or Not Too Loud?”

View all science fair projects:

Finding fun in the scientific process

This is the second year that the Office of Educational Programming (OEP) at Brookhaven Lab organized a virtual science fair to ensure that local students had the opportunity to participate safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each year, the competition offers thousands of students a chance to gain experience — and have fun — applying the scientific method. The Brookhaven Lab event recognizes the achievement of the students in winning their school fair and acknowledges the best of these projects.

“The Brookhaven Lab Elementary School Science Fair encourages students to utilize the scientific method and answer a question that they have independently developed,” said Amanda Horn, a Brookhaven Lab educator who coordinated the virtual science fair. 

Students tackled a wide range of questions with their experiments, including exploring how the moon phases affect our feelings to testing different materials, investigating how to improve their at-home internet connection, and finding safe masks for their friends and families.

First grader Ashleigh Bruno, who garnered a top spot for an experiment on acid rain, evaluated the pH levels in local water sources to learn if animals could live safely within them. 

“I was really happy because I learned how to test the water and it was really fun to do with my family,” Bruno said.

Third grader Emerson Gaeta explored whether wearing a frame with different kinds of face masks could improve how we hear people who are speaking while wearing a mask. She used a foam head equipped with a speaker to measure how loud sounds came through the masks.

“I was here once before and I didn’t win,” Gaeta said. “Now I won first place so I’m really happy about that.”

Fourth grader Matthew Mercorella said he was excited to learn of his first-place win for his experiment seeking to find the best sound-proofing material. He found the best part of his project to be the process of testing materials by playing music through a speaker placed inside of them to see which put out the lowest and highest decibels.

“It encourages the students to think like a scientist and share their results with others,” said Horn. “Our goal is to provide students with an opportunity to show off their skills and share what they have learned.”

Honorable Mentions:

Carmen Pirolo, Bellerose Avenue Elementary, Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, “Egg Shells and Toothpaste Experiment”
Filomena Saporita, Ocean Avenue Elementary, Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, “Rainbow Celery”

First Grade
Evelyn Van Winckel, Fort Salonga Elementary, Kings Park Central School District, “Is Your Mouth Cleaner Than A Dog’s?”
Taran Sathish Kumar, Bretton Woods Elementary, Hauppauge Public School District, “Scratch and Slide”

Second Grade
Luke Dinsman, Dickinson Avenue School, Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, “What Makes a Car Go Fast?”
Adam Dvorkin, Pulaski Road School, Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, “Salty Sourdough”
Lorenzo Favuzzi, Ivy League School, “Prime Time”

Third Grade
Ethan Behrens, Tangier Smith Elementary, William Floyd School District, “Deadliest Catch”
Anna Conrad, Dayton Avenue School, Eastport-South Manor Central School District, “Hello Paper Straws”

Fourth Grade
Michael Boyd, Cherry Avenue Elementary, Sayville Public Schools, “Utility Baby”
Michaela Bruno, Ocean Avenue Elementary, Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, “Weak Wi-Fi, Booster Benefit”

Fifth Grade
Hailey Conrad, Dayton Avenue School, Eastport-South Manor Central School District, “Breathing Plants”
Rebecca Bartha, Raynor Country Day School, “Natural Beauty Makes a Better Buffer”
Colin Pfeiffer, Tamarac Elementary, Sachem Central School District, “Turn Up the Heat”

Sixth Grade
Akhil Grandhi, Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge Public School District, “Which Fruit or Vegetable Oxidizes the Most in Varied Temperature?”

For more information, visit

Ward Melville High School. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Kimberly Brown

At Three Village school district’s board of education meeting Tuesday, one of the agenda items was the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Task Force formed to address diversity, equity and inclusion.

The responsibility of the task force is to work with students, staff and the community to educate, work collaboratively and understand the importance of why a social justice task force, such as their own, is essential.

“Our job in this committee is to recognize our children that walk into our buildings every day and perceive themselves to be not part of the makeup of what could be — and is — a beautiful Three Village school,” said Paul Gold, director of social studies and committee chairperson.

According to Gold, the long-term goal of the task force is to make every child feel included, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, academic ability, gender or sexuality.

Some parents, as in other school districts, are concerned that the task force applies critical race theory. The academic movement has been criticized for creating divisiveness.

Another concern is that the task force would eventually be consumed by special interest groups.

“I was told there was no CRT in our school district, yet we are hiding it as DEI,” parent Tara Geruso said. “Make no mistake, when you click on the [Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion] link on the Three Village homepage, the resources are all from those who support CRT.”

Several parents such as Shoshana Hershkowitz, who is also a member of the task force, praised Gold for creating “an authentic space” for children to express themselves, as the intention of the task force is to collaborate as a community.

“I have never heard of critical race theory until a few months ago, and I had to Google it as I imagine many people did,” Hershkowitz said. “When I went down that rabbit hole, it never led me to educational websites, it led me to legal ones. So, I want to make the point that this is not a mainstream educational issue.”

Hershkowitz added the CRT debate is a distraction from the real issues that need to be discussed in the district, especially since Long Island is among the top 15 most segregated areas in the country, according to her.

Despite the differences, the parents, task force and board of education plan to work collaboratively to resolve any further issues.

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In the Three Village school district, the $222.6 million budget did not pass a second time with a larger turnout.

On June 14, a district official said 2,027 voted in favor of the budget, while 3,211 rejected it.

Back in May, the budget did not pass (yes – 2,286, no – 1,677) as 60% approval was needed to approve the budget that pierced the 1.37% cap with a proposed tax levy increase of 1.85%.

The second rejection of the budget means the district now goes to a contingency budget and there will be no increase to the tax levy.

In a statement, Three Village school district officials said,  “While disappointed in the defeat of the proposed budget, the district respects the voice of the community and the voter response received at the polls. In the coming days, the district will finalize a plan for our contingency budget that has the least impact on student programs and services.”

During an interview with The Village Times Herald in May, Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, said if the budget failed it would mean a shortfall of about $3 million and that major construction or improvements to district property would not take place. He also said during the interview that it would not be disastrous and the district would “make it as painless as possible for the kids.” He also said the district would then use all of the federal money for the coming year. The district is receiving $1.85 million in federal aid, which is earmarked for COVID-related expenses.


Reichert Planetarium educator Erin Bennett teaches astronomy via Zoom. Vanderbilt photo

The National Grid Foundation (NGF) – a longtime partner of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and its STEM programs – has been essential to the Museum’s outreach efforts to high-needs schools on Long Island.

For nine years, NGF support has enabled the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium to take its highly regarded astronomy and science education programs into under-served schools – free of charge – and to serve more than 25,000 students.

The current 2020-2021 school year marks the third year in a row that NGF has supported the Exploring the Universe: Traveling Astronomy Program, taught by educators from the Museum’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium. Normally, they teach on-site in schools. This year, however, the educators traveled to schools virtually, live via Zoom. During the current school year, 1,685 students in more than 60 classes participated.

Dave Bush, director of the Reichert Planetarium, said, “We are happy to extend our professional expertise in the field of astronomy education to schools that would not otherwise be able to visit the Reichert Planetarium. Our goal is to provide quality programming that sparks curiosity, wonder, and excitement. Students who partake in our presentations are afforded highly engaging visuals and activities that leave lasting impressions.”

Exploring the Universe (ETU), developed and presented live by highly trained Vanderbilt science educators, immerses students in grades K-8 in an engaging astronomy course. An exciting multimedia presentation primes students to learn and inspires them to consider a variety of astronomy topics. ETU offers two live virtual programs, Space Adventure to the Moon and Exploring the Solar System.

Exploring the Universe is designed to offer educational experiences beyond the walls of the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium. Educators provide materials to help students learn and explore in greater detail the topics taught in the classroom. The program serves the communities and schools of Nassau and Suffolk counties to provide exciting learning experiences about the world of astronomy.

For more information, visit


May 27 was Silly Hat Day at Goosehill Primary School in Cold Spring Harbor…and these kids did not disappoint – WOW! What innovative ideas and imagination, hopefully there was not a contest to win “best in show,” because it would be impossible to decide on a winner? Great job Goosehill students — we should have a hat parade in your honor!

Photos from CSHCSD

Old Field Montessori

Students, parents and teachers of the Montessori School at Old Field participated in the 13th annual Great Brookhaven Cleanup on May 15. “Everyone agreed that keeping the environment clean is always a worthy cause,” said Ditas Alcala, the school’s director.  Photo from Old Field Montessori

Stock photo

The Three Village Central School District Board of Education will put its rejected budget up for a second vote. At its May 25 meeting, the board elected to resubmit the failed budget unaltered for taxpayers’ approval. 

“Since this is what the majority supported, this is what we should put forward,” said Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, during a phone interview last week. 

Although 57.7% of taxpayers voted in favor of the $222.6 million budget — 2,286-1,677 — it failed to pass. That was because the proposed budget pierced the 1.37% cap on the tax levy increase, necessitating a supermajority approval, or 60% of the vote, to pass.

The failed budget has a tax levy increase of 1.85%, which officials say would bring in an additional $777,000 in revenue and represents a tax levy difference of $58 per year for the average taxpayer.   

“We want to get back on track” and position the district for long-term financial stability, Carlson said of the decision to pierce the cap.  

After spending close to $7 million from district reserves to enable a full reopening last September, the district needs to start paying itself back. It has budgeted about $800,000 to do so in the coming year.

Carlson added that the district needs to have flexibility in its budget in case there is a resurgence of COVID-19 in the fall. After a year of having schools open to all students every day, “we don’t want to go backward,” he said.   

The district is receiving $1.85 million in federal aid, which is earmarked for COVID-related expenses. While some districts received much larger allocations and must spread out their spending, Three Village does not have such restrictions, Carlson said. District officials would like to use the money over the next two years. Carlson explained that a one-time use would create a gap in the budget that would then need to be filled in the following year.

If the budget fails again, there will be no increase to the tax levy. That would mean a shortfall of about $3 million and that major construction or improvements to district property would not take place. Carlson said during the interview that it would not be disastrous, and the district would “make it as painless as possible for the kids.” He also said the district would then use all of the federal money for the coming year. 

Cuts would likely be made to some electives, and class sizes might increase on a district level, Carlson said. He added that funds budgeted for capital projects, which under a passed budget could only be used for building repairs and other maintenance and improvements, could be shifted to other areas of the budget. 

“Our buildings are in good shape,” he said, and it would be better to put capital projects on hold for a year rather than adversely impact academic programs.

The budget hearing was due to be held Wednesday, June 2. The revote will take place, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday, June 15, at Ward Melville High School located at 380 Old Town Road. The vote will take place in one location to make it easier for community members to know  where to go, Carlson said.