Education

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The Three Village Central School District board of education trustees were sworn in July 8. Back row, Vinny Vizzo, Irene Gische, Inger Germano and Deanna Bavlnka. Front row, Dr. Jeff Kerman, Bill Connors and Jonathan Kornreich. Photo from Three Village Central School District

By Andrea Paldy

The first in-person Three Village school board meeting since schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic July 8 was eventful. Everyone wore mandatory face masks, and seating was arranged for social distancing. Most notable was the tense public participation session marked by sharp opinions.

“It is important tonight that we distinguish the personal from the political.”

— David McKinnon

There was also the routine swearing in of board members — incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman — for new terms. The board elected Germano as its new president. She succeeds Bill Connors, who continues to serve as a trustee. Gische was reelected vice president.

Rising to the forefront, though, were recent parental criticisms of the district, though those who spoke during the meeting sought to balance their criticism about distance learning and district governance with their support for teachers.

“It is important tonight that we distinguish the personal from the political,” said David McKinnon, a professor of Neurobiology at Stony Brook University and recently an unsuccessful school board candidate.

“At a personal level, there’s a high level of respect for the teachers in our district, and there are deep ties of gratitude within the community to individual teachers for their efforts to advance the education of our children,” said McKinnon, who was not on the slate of candidates endorsed by the Three Village Teachers Association.

However, he said, when it came to the political system, the school board elected to “facilitate parental oversight” of the district wasn’t doing its job. The TVTA, he said, is both a labor union and a special interest lobby group, which “aggressively pursues its own agenda,” and has made decisions for the district that exacerbated an already challenging situation.

McKinnon went on to say that he believed that the nearly 3,800 votes cast for both him and Shaorui Li respectively represented “a massive vote of no confidence” in the board and union leadership. In order to win back the trust of a large segment of parents, McKinnon said the district would need to have a “clean and functional school board, with independent, parent-backed candidates who know and care about education.”

Li said that she and other parents wanted to help teachers, not attack them.

“In the Asian culture, we have a very high respect for teachers, and we rely on teachers to give our kids their education,” the engineer and entrepreneur said.

McKinnon’s wife, Barbara Rosati, who is president of the Three Village Parents Alliance, which counts more than 250 district families among its members, also spoke. She made the distinction between her concerns about TVTA president Claudia Reinhart’s “role in the governance of our district and its consequences on our children” and her appreciation for the district’s teachers.

“I cannot believe I was dragged here tonight to say unequivocally that we support and we love our teachers, that we believe in their expertise and guidance,” she said, alluding to the pandemic. Rosati, a research assistant professor at the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at SBU, questioned the leadership of Reinhart, who she said “is not teaching currently and is not involved in any parent-teacher interaction.”

She added that it was “irresponsible and cruel to let teachers believe that our community is at war with them.”

Addressing teachers and administrators, Rosati added: “We have your backs. We will be here to help and support you like we have always done.”

“I am here because we, along with our administrator colleagues and the board of education, are under attack.”

— Claudia Reinhart

Reinhart rejected claims that the criticism was not directed at the teachers, paraprofessionals and teaching assistants the union represents.

“I am here because we, along with our administrator colleagues and the board of education, are under attack,” she said.

The union president said they’d been forced to listen to people “like Ms. Rosati” and others who had written to the board to “demand answers and reactions to nothing more than hearsay — hearsay that is usually completely incorrect.”

Reinhart, who taught music in the district, said the union does not try to hide the fact that it endorses candidates.

“Why would we?” she asked. “We want people on the board who understand public education and the needs of students and staff. We want people on the board with a proven record of overcoming challenges and moving us forward in good times and bad. Your candidates lost the election. The community has spoken. You need to get over it.”

Reinhart directed comments to the many teachers at the meeting.

“We must stand together united against this attack,” she said. “We must stand together to defend our professions, the work we do and the job we have done. We have nothing to be ashamed of. It is time we started saying that out loud.”

She urged parents, teachers, administrators and the community “to stand up and say, ‘Enough.’” She ended by drawing from the words of the late Albert Shanker, former president of the United Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers, saying, “Along with the responsibility of negotiating good contracts, it is the obligation of teacher unions to preserve public education.”

“That is our goal,” Reinhart told the audience. “There is nothing less at stake than our future,” she added, sparking enthusiastic applause.

Fall Plans

Besides those who spoke in-person at last week’s meeting, three parents sent letters that included appreciation for teachers, but also expressed concern about the district’s spring execution of remote learning, plans for the fall and limited communication from the school district.

“We must be prepared for whatever the decision may be from the state Education Department and the governor.”

— Kevin Scanlon

Responding, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that she shared parents’ frustration about the upcoming school year.

“I feel as though we are all navigating in the dark at this point because we have not received any direction at all from our governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] or the SED [New York State Education Department],” she said.

Earlier that day Pedisich had sent a letter acknowledging parents’ “unanswered questions about the reopening of school this fall” and shared the governor’s most recent plan to release guidance July 13 [see details at end of article] and require districts to return their plans for reopening by July 31.

During the meeting, Pedisich noted that other states — Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, among them — had already provided their school districts with plans for reopening.

“I will tell you that we are working very hard … over the last several weeks, and I apologize for the lack of communication,” she said, adding that she would not “deal in conjecture and supposition,” because she didn’t think it was fair to families and staff.

The superintendent specifically addressed concerns about remote learning.

“We are looking at all options to make it more effective for our families,” she said. “We understand that there were numerous challenges, and we won’t make excuses for those. But moving forward, I think we are in a much better place. And I have great confidence in the members of our team, and I have confidence in our administration, our staff and our parents. We will do the best for the community. We owe it to them, and they deserve nothing less.”

So far, Pedisich said, the district plans for every student from kindergarten to 12th grade to have access to a Chromebook for remote instruction, and a survey about distance learning was sent out to parents and staff last week.

In an email, Kevin Scanlon, assistant superintendent for educational services, said the district has also offered more than 90 courses to its staff, with the majority focused on online instruction. There are more than 1,500 teachers, administrators, assistants and paraprofessionals enrolled in the courses to prepare for the fall, he said.

“We must be prepared for whatever the decision may be from the state Education Department and the governor,” Scanlon said.

The state released its reopening guidelines on Monday. The document offers districts guidance on face coverings for staff and students, configuring classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms and other shared spaces to maintain social distance and safety, as well as recommendations for ways to maximize in-person instruction. While the document states that “the goal is to return all students to in-person instruction,” it encourages districts to prepare “a phased-in approach or hybrid model” because of “the dynamic nature and risk of community transmission” of the virus.

District plans will have to address how they will conform to state recommendations on social distancing, personal protection equipment, hygiene and disinfection, extracurriculars and transportation, as well as health monitoring and containment.

Stock photo

While Suffolk County remains well below the level of positive tests for the country as a whole and for states like Florida and Texas, the percentage of positive tests in the area has crept higher than it’s been in recent weeks.

Among 4,517 tests, 84 people tested positive for the coronavirus, which is a 1.9% positive test rate, The positive tests have been tracking closer to 1 percent for the last several days.

“If you attended a party last weekend on July 4 or a larger gathering, be sensitive to how you are feeling,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his almost daily conference call with reporters. “You may want to reconsider visiting friends and family who are vulnerable.”

Given the large number of tests throughout the country, the wait time to get results has increased to five to 10 days, Bellone said.

Additionally, Saheda Iftikhar, the Deputy Commissioner for Department of Health Services, said the time between exposure and a positive test is usually at least 48 hours. That means a person attending a gathering on a Sunday when he or she might have been exposed to someone with the virus should wait until Wednesday before taking a test, to avoid a likely false negative.

The 84 positive results from the July 12 data likely came from tests administered days or even a week earlier, which means that these tests could indicate any increase due to gatherings around Independence Day.

To be sure, Bellone said he doesn’t put too much stock in any one day’s numbers. Nonetheless, he said the county will remain vigilant about monitoring the infection rate over the next few days.

“Be smart,” Bellone urged. “If you attend a gathering in which social distancing or the guidelines may not be strictly adhered to, be very conscious of any symptoms you may have,” Bellone said.

Bellone also urged people to be responsive to calls from the Department of Health, as contact tracers gather confidential information designed to contain any possible spread of the virus.

The other numbers for residents were encouraging.

The number of residents in the hospital was 40, which is a decline from 54 on Friday. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds was 14, which is up from 10 from Friday.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 70 percent, while ICU occupancy was at 61 percent.

Hospitals discharged 13 people who had suffered with symptoms related to the virus.

For the last 48 hours, the number of fatalities has been zero. The total number of people who have died from complications related to the coronavirus is 1,993.

Bellone highlighted a financial report from New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, titled “Under Pressure.” The report indicated that, statewide, local sales tax collections declined by 24 percent in April and 32 percent in May.

“Local governments are only beginning to feel the impacts of COVID-19 on their revenue,” Bellone said. Reductions in state aid are still possible, which puts counties cities and less wealthy school districts in an “especially tenuous position.”

Local governments will need to take drastic measures to fill enormous budget gaps. That includes Suffolk County, which may have a deficit as large as $839 million this year.

Separately, as school districts try to figure out how to balance between in-person and remote learning, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) issued guidelines today designed to provide specific targets.

Schools in districts that have reached Phase 4 of the reopening, which includes Suffolk County and where the infection rate is below 5 percent, can reopen. When the positive testing percentage on a rolling 7-day basis exceeds 9 percent should close, Cuomo advised.

School districts will make their decisions about opening between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7.

The governor also announced a new requirement that people traveling into New York from 19 states with rising rates like Florida, California, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas will have to give the state contact information before leaving the airport. Those who fail to do this will receive a summons and face a $2,000 fine

Luke Muratore

By Leah Chiappino

Each year, students who earn a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 or higher choose a representative to speak at graduation. This year Luke Muratore received the honor.

Muratore earned a final GPA of 4.52 and will attend University of Maryland, College Park, in the College Park Scholars program. He plans to major in computer science with a minor in business and hopes to work as a software engineer or program manager in New York City one day.

Throughout high school, Muratore served as president of the National Honor Society and as captain of varsity cross-country and varsity track. He was also the public relations officer for the Math Honor Society, Relay for Life team captain and was involved in Athletes Helping Athletes and DECA. Muratore says his favorite high school memory was competing in the Business Olympics.

“It was such an exciting moment to smile and present my team’s idea in front of a crowd of friends, family and teachers,” he said. “Later on in the night when it was announced that we won, I felt such a massive rush of energy.”

The honor speaker said he has his parents to thank for helping him succeed.

“My parents have always been comforting, helpful and inspiring and are a huge reason why I push myself to work hard in everything I do,” he said.

He added that he is grateful for the education he received at Smithtown West.

“I’ve never had a ‘bad teacher’ at Smithtown West,” he said. “Every teacher, coach and club adviser I have met has impacted the way I think in a unique and positive way.”

He added that the district’s efforts to try to “normalize” senior year helped him stay positive in the wake of having events canceled due to COVID-19.

Muratore encourages next year’s seniors to stay positive and to savor their time in high school.

“Make sure to smile, laugh and make the best out of every moment of high school,” he said. “Keep a positive mentality and don’t let the bad moments ruin your year. While we may be having more bad days in coming months, we must focus on the best parts of our lives rather than dwell on the worst. Achieving happiness means brushing off negativity and striving to do well as a person and community.”

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Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. Photo by Kyle Barr

With this school year coming to an end, the Port Jefferson School District is looking back on the last few months of school to figure out what did and what didn’t work regarding distance learning.

Though Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said she would rather call the rush to create a learning apparatus for students at home an “emergency remote instruction,” she added, “We did the best we could considering the circumstances.”

It was a case, she said, of creating something from nothing. Now with some experience under its belt, the district has commissioned a committee to help establish its reopening agenda. The nearly 50 members of the task force are broken up into four subcommittees, Schmettan said, including facilities, curriculum and instructional, social and emotional wellbeing, and personnel. Included on the committees are representatives from the teachers union, clerical union, facilities union and members of parent-teacher groups like the Port Jefferson Parent Teacher Association, Parent Teacher Student Assocation and Special Education Parent Teacher Association. 

Last week, these local PTA groups released an open letter, which was published in the July 2 issue of the Port Times Record, saying that instruction was uneven across different teachers, where some held live sessions, others would use prerecorded sessions while others only posted content to Google Classroom.

The letter suggested a number of items the district could improve on, including live or prerecorded teaching time that matches what students would receive on a normal school day, and clear schedules for students to follow, including time for outdoor activities.

Schmettan said much of that is likely to be discussed within the committees. There were differences between staff members in how they were able to adapt, she said. Most teachers were using Google Classroom for schoolwork along with Google Meet and Screencastify for hosting teaching broadcasts, though some did use other online subscriptions to have students complete coursework. 

Schmettan said the biggest lesson the district has learned is that not all students are going to respond the same way to the same instruction. Likely, she said, the district will set minimum expectations for both teachers and students as far as what each will be required to do in that distance learning plan. What that will look like will be part of the committees’ discussions.

“We have to differentiate for all the learners involved, and we have to account for their individual needs on a much greater scale than we were able to do the first round,” she said.

Though practically all districts prefer in-person classrooms to distance learning, the Port Jeff superintendent said the thing students most lack from online education is the social aspect of school. The committee will have to consider how that might be amended, as well as how better to facilitate the physical component of education if students are not around for phys-ed teachers guidance.

“When you’re in a distance learning model, you’re isolated, you may not have that same interaction you have within a classroom, or you may not have that ability to discuss concepts with your age-appropriate peers,” Schmettan said. “So much is lost from not having that social impact and play, it’s a detriment to a lot of our students.”

All this still depends on what state guidance will be, whether schools will have to take a hybrid model of in-person/remote education at different parts of the year, if schools will remain virtual or go back to a full in-person learning experience. The problem is, there are different levels of government potentially giving contradictory advice. 

At the state level, there is already the NYS Education Department’s reopening task force, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) reimagine education council. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released school guidance for how best to distance children. This week Betsy DeVos, secretary of education, has effectively demanded that all schools reopen and become “fully operational” on a conference call with governors, despite southern and western states seeing a massive surge in COVID-19 cases in the past month.

“We have to plan for three different scenarios and hope that we can have [the students] back in the classroom full time,” Schmettan said.

Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Odeya Rosenband 

Stony Brook University’s newest class of medical residents began their careers head first, graduating early to take on the fight with COVID-19.  Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU led a virtual graduation ceremony that took place two months ahead of schedule, in early April. 

SBU Vice Dean for Graduate Medical Education Dr. William Wertheim. Photo from SBUH

In line with other medical schools such as Hofstra University in Hempstead and New York University, SBU resolved to graduate their medical students in early spring in order to readily transition them into the workforce. This decision was “definitely a natural step,” said Dr. William Wertheim, vice dean for Graduate Medical Education at Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) “took away a lot of roadblocks in helping us utilize the staff that were capable of doing this, so that was really helpful.” 

Starting in April, 52 residents began volunteering at SBU Hospital and predominantly focused on emergency COVID-19 cases, rather than their specialties. While resident education typically consists of 80-hour work weeks, the Renaissance School adopted a shift schedule that included five days off following every five days working, given the heightened emotional difficulty residents were facing. 

Beginning July, Stony Brook Medicine welcomed over 300 medical residents across SBU, Stony Brook Southampton and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island hospitals. This number included the residents who had been volunteering with COVID-19 patients.

“Residents are interesting in that they both are doctors taking care of patients, and they are learners in an educational program,” Wertheim said. Aside from in-person training in personal protective equipment, the residents learned other essential information such as employee benefits and payroll over virtual modules. 

“Top to bottom it’s a different place than we were in one year ago,” the vice dean said.

The continued focus on education was also felt by the new residents. Dr. Kelly Ieong, a urology resident and 2020 graduate of the medical school, said, “Going into my residency, I had the expectation that I’m just going to work, not learn much, and just help out as much as possible. But all of the teams did carve out time for our education and we had virtual meetings over Zoom, even during lunch. I felt very safe during my entire shift, unlike my friends who worked in other hospitals.” Additionally, she said residents were each assigned a specific mentor who provided the residents with an extra layer of support. 

After feeling helpless when some of her family were diagnosed with the virus earlier this year,  Ieong knew she wanted to be a volunteer when given the opportunity. 

“I definitely think volunteering was a helpful experience because a lot of the difficult conversations that I was having with my patients and their family members are something that you can’t learn in the books,” she said. “You don’t learn it in medical school, it’s something you have to learn through experience.” 

Although Wertheim said “everything is a bit slower when you can only put two people in an elevator,” he added that SBU was quick to adapt and optimize their eager students. Online platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams helped meet the demands for educational conferences, especially as residents may be on rotation at other hospitals. It’s clear that these platforms are here to stay, according to him. 

“Medicine in general tends to adopt things slowly unless we have to… and we really had to,” he said.

In thinking about the possibility of a second surge in coronavirus cases, Wertheim noted, “now that we’ve been through this experience once, as hard as it was, it is going to be easier to swiftly redeploy all of those residents as well as all of the other doctors.” Regardless of the future of the coronavirus, there have been benefits for the medical residents, according to the vice dean.  

 “I think the fact that all of these residents from different specialties had to work together to the same end, even though it was an arduous task, gives them a sense of mission that you don’t always get when everyone’s doing their own thing,” Wertheim said. “And I think that that’s definitely a positive that comes out of all of this.”

Evan Jenkins, Centereach Salutatorian and Gianna Gurovich, the Valedictorian. Photos from MCSD

Evan Jenkins — Centereach High School Salutatorian:

Jenkins finished his high school career with a 101.91 weighted GPA. The senior was an AP Scholar with Distinction, recipient of the Rensselaer Medal and the Centereach High School AP Platinum Award. Jenkins served as National Society treasurer, a Tri-M and All-County percussionist and a member of the All-State symphonic band. 

The Centereach native plans to attend Lehigh University in the fall and will study engineering.  

“I’m going to miss Centereach, I’ve met some of my best friends here and I’ve gotten to know some amazing teachers- especially this year,” he said. 

Jenkins said the decision to take physics this year helped solidify what he wanted to pursue in college. He credited his physics teacher, Al Levik. 

“Taking his class really had a positive impact on me and led me to want to be an engineering major,” he said. 

Jenkins is excited to get on Lehigh’s campus saying that the school is planning on opening back up in August. 

“I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and having that college experience,” the senior said. 

He plans to be involved in performance arts at the college either joining the wind ensemble or jazz band. 

Jenkins gave advice to incoming freshmen. 

“I would say to get involved as much as possible and take advantage of a free public education,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to take AP or college level courses, you learn so much valuable information and it can help you find your career path. Also, it’s important to stay motivated.” 

Gianna Gurovich — Centereach High School Valedictorian: 

Gurovich finished her college career with a 100.36 GPA. The senior was an New York State champion gymnast, recipient of a Silver Medal in World Championships and President’s National Service Award, member of the National Honor Society, Science Olympiad, vice president of the Italian Honor Society and Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar. 

Gurovich will attend Cornell University in the fall where she will be studying biomedical engineering. 

The Centereach native said she’ll cherish her time at the high school and enjoyed being around her friends and getting to know her teachers. 

“We just found out that Cornell will allow us to move onto campus, I’m looking forward to getting involved in their club gymnastics and staying active in the community,” she said. 

Gurovich credits her family, friends and teachers for helping her get to where she is. She also shared some advice for incoming freshmen and lowerclassmen. 

“Be involved as much as possible, go to every event,” she said. “It is also important to stay focused and set goals for yourself.”

Mount Sinai 2020 Valedictorian Aaron Angress and Salutatorian Skyler Spitz. Photos from MSSD

The two young men heading up Mount Sinai’s Class of 2020 are mathematically minded individuals hoping to reach new heights in their careers. 

The top of Mount Sinai’s class this year includes salutatorian Skyler Spitz and valedictorian Aaron Angress.

Angress, with a total weighted grade point average of 105.17, has been a member of the National Honor Society, the decorated Ocean Bowl Team, active in STEM ROV building and a National Merit Scholarship finalist. On the artistic side, he is a member of All-State and All-County symphonic band, a member of the pit band and mini-ensemble group.

The valedictorian said one of his favorite activities during high school was his participation in the school’s Ocean Bowl team, which participates in quiz-bowl competitions based around oceanography. The team qualified for a national competition in Washington, D.C. 

The graduating senior, who moved to Mount Sinai when he started fifth-grade, said growing up in the hamlet was “pretty great,” and the district “played an integral part in my process of growing up.”

His best memories from high school, along with the Ocean Bowl team, was playing saxophone with the various groups around New York and his senior trip to Disney World.

Angress plans to attend Northeastern University to study mechanical engineering and physics. He said he would enjoy being involved in scientific research, and if the stars align, his dream is to visit space as an astronaut.

Spitz finishes the year with a weighted GPA of 104.86. He spent his high school years as a student council vice president, a National AP Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society, varsity tennis captain, member of Mathletes and Future Business Leaders of America All-Sate winner. He said the best part of his extracurriculars are the memories and friends he made.

He too felt the best moment of his high school career was being able to take his senior trip despite the start of the pandemic.

The salutatorian will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to major in statistics and analytics in the hope of becoming an analyst at a quant in the future. 

Though their years were cut short because of the pandemic, Angress said those students entering their senior year should figure out what it is they want to do and prepare for the future.

“Personally, the pandemic has taught me to take nothing for granted — I’ll certainly cherish everything much more now, even the little things,” Angress said.

Spitz said that the year had been nothing but disheartening, but he suggested students look to take advantage of their senior year to have at least some fun.

“I was looking forward to creating many more memories this year and can now only hope that I will be able to graduate alongside my friends,” he said. “Everything will work out, and you might as well enjoy your final moments in school rather than worrying about the small things in life out of your control.”

Miller Place 2020 Valedictorian Joseph Bisiani and Salutatorian Larry Davis. Photos from MPSD

Miller Place High School’s top two students are looking to leave their mark in both the local community and the wider world.

This year’s top students at Miller Place are valedictorian Joseph Bisiani and salutatorian Larry Davis.

Bisiani is graduating with a weighted grade point average of 101.54. In school, he was the Rubik’s Cube Club founder and president, senior class president, National Honor Society vice president, a National Merit Commended Scholar, Academic All-County varsity soccer, Natural Helpers peer leader and member of Tri-M.

He said being the person behind the Rubik’s Cube Club was especially exciting, as he has been “speedcubing” since he was in eighth-grade, and now he had the opportunity to show the mathematics behind a Rubik’s Cube to his peers. As class president, he said he was involved in fundraising food sales and had petitioned the board of education for a class trip, though those plans were squashed due to the pandemic.

Otherwise, he thanked his parents, his brother and sister and his Catholic faith, which he said was the backbone of his life and his efforts to “be a good person.”

“I am so grateful to have been brought up in Miller Place, due to the small-knit community and closeness we all have to one another,” he said. “I loved having a school where I could know everybody in it, and have a close relationship with all of my teachers.”

Bisani plans to attend Stony Brook University in the Honors Program and major in math and physics on the pre-med track. He added he would like to take some politics courses while in college.

Davis is graduating with a 101.35 weighted GPA. Through his high school career, he made Eagle Scout last December, was a Metropolitan Youth Orchestra principal hornist, Scholar-Artist Merit Award, French Honor Society president, NYSSMA All-State participant, varsity badminton player and member of the Nassau-Suffolk jazz ensemble.

As part of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, he said he was able to travel to Europe, which became “one of the fondest experiences I was lucky enough to have, between making friends, performing music and appreciating foreign culture.”

As a musician, he said going to the All-State Music Festival was one of the unforgettable experiences of his high school career. Otherwise, he thanked his parents and sister for their support in his academic, musical, athletic and Scouting endeavors. He also thanked the teachers “who have pushed me to improve myself both in my work and in my daily life.”

Davis plans to attend Columbia University and major in biomedical engineering. Beyond that, he said he wants to pursue a career in disease research to help find treatments for current and future illnesses.

The salutatorian said it’s important for students to embrace a sense that whatever happens, happens, especially considering the way this year was turned on its head due to the pandemic.

“ven though this year’s situation is pretty unprecedented, it’s important to look ahead and stay on the bright side, because something absolutely astounding can come out of it,” he said.

Northport High School. File photo

By Leah Chiappino

In light of graduation season, Northport High School has named Peter DeTolla and Alea Brummel valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Peter DeTolla

Like all members of the Class of 2020, both students have attempted to rise to the challenge of celebrating senior year in the face of a pandemic, while mourning the loss of classic senior moments, such as prom and traditional graduation.

“I definitely would have preferred to have finished my senior year in school with all of my classmates, but I am trying to make the best of the situation,” Brummel said. “While I am sad that I didn’t get many of the opportunities I would have had if we had been in school, I am extremely grateful for the efforts our principal Mr. Danbusky and all of the other staff and teachers at Northport High School who have made efforts to ensure we get a special ending to our senior year such as lawn signs or the drive-by parade we had.”

“The pandemic was really a slap in the face, as everyone in the Class of 2020 missed out on the best part of high school,” DeTolla added. “However, my school made a great effort to make us feel appreciated and I thank them for that.”

DeTolla finished high school with a 102.78 grade point average and plans to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, with hopes of becoming a mechanical engineer.

The valedictorian was involved in Students for 60,000, a Northport High School-based service organization dedicated to helping the needy. Through the club, DeTolla went on a service trip to Nicaragua, which he says was a highlight of his high school experience. “My experience in Nicaragua as a part of Students for 60,000 is something I’ll never forget,” he said. “I’ve become so appreciative of the life I have, and those trips are a big reason for that. The memories and friends I made there are truly remarkable.”

DeTolla added that another highlight from high school was beating Ward Melville High School “on their home turf,” at a record-breaking lacrosse game.

“It was a euphoric feeling that I share with every member of the team,” he said.

One of four children, DeTolla said he grew up in a close, well-rounded family, something he attributes to his success.

“My mother and father, Aimee and Peter, raised me to be a balanced individual with a strong work ethic and kind spirit,” he said. “Our family is very close, and I can’t imagine not being a part of it … I would like to thank every teacher, coach, older cousin and any other role model in my life for giving me the tools to succeed.”

Alea Brummel

Brummel, who earned a 101.62 GPA, is headed to Baylor University in the fall to study chemistry and mathematics on a pre-med track, with the hopes of working in sports medicine. For the salutatorian, it was her combined love of sports and science that led her on this path. At Northport, she was the head student athletic trainer and was able to assist the district’s athletic trainer in treating and rehabilitating injured student-athletes. The times when she was working directly on the football field, she said, were some of her favorite memories from high school.

“I am a huge football fan, and it was awesome to not only go to games but to also get to work as a student trainer for the games,” she said. “It was an amazing experience to be on the field with the players, and I am hoping to potentially pursue a career in sports medicine so it was incredible to get to see what the atmosphere is like.”

Despite her school and training commitments, Brummel also was involved in community service through her church. For the past two years, she has gone on a service trip to the Dominican Republic over February break.

Brummel said she has loved growing up in Northport and “had an amazing experience at Northport High School.” She praised all of her “amazing teachers,” but gave special thanks to her AP Chemistry teacher, Don Strasser, as his class was a major factor in Brummel choosing chemistry as a major. She said her math teachers likewise fueled her passion for mathematics, and that she is deeply grateful to her mentors in the sports medicine program, Tracey Braun and Shawn Scattergood. Brummel thanked her family for “always being incredibly supportive of me and always being there for me.”

She advised next year’s senior class to take the time to cherish senior year.

“Make sure you take advantage of all of your opportunities and make sure to have fun and enjoy your senior year,” she said. “This year especially has shown us, not everything is guaranteed to happen as expected, so make the most of what you experience — go to the game, go to the dance, go out with your friends.”

Rocky Point 2020 Valedictorian Hope Lantz-Gefroh and Salutatorian Molly Lambert. Photos from RPUFSD

Rocky Point High School is proud to announce that seniors Hope Lantz-Gefroh and Molly Lambert have been named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Class of 2020.

Lantz-Gefroh’s diversified high school career includes president of the National Math Honor Society, member of the National Honor Society, a member of Compassion Without Borders, a math and science tutor, a regional team dancer and dance teacher, and is employed at a formal wear boutique in Mount Sinai.

The valedictorian will join the freshman class at Texas Christian University where she will be on the pre-med educational track.

Lambert’s list of achievements is comprehensive and includes being a member of the National Honor Society, the New York State Mathematics Honor Society, the National English Honor Society and the Thespian Society. She was selected to represent the Rocky Point school district at the New York State School Music Association’s All-County and All-State conferences as a senior, took part in the high school’s Pocket Theater Productions for three years and has been a leading character in numerous high school musical productions. She also took on the responsibility of assistant director on the school’s most recent show “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The salutatorian intends to major in biology and minor in English at Colgate University in the fall.

“In addition to being at the top of their class, these two exceptional students are both well-rounded in their academics and interests,” Principal Jonathan Hart said. “Their ambitions and defined goals will lead them to greater achievements and we all look forward to hearing about their successes in the future.”