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Social media applications. Pixabay photo

By Toni-Elena Gallo

According to News12 Long Island, thirteen Long Island school districts are suing social media companies Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook, citing increased mental health concerns among students.

South Huntington, Kings Park and Port Jefferson are just three of the school districts taking part in the class-action lawsuit.

South Huntington Union Free School District superintendent, Vito D’Elia, commented on his school district’s decision to join the lawsuit in a notice on the district’s website, saying, “We know the damage it’s doing to our students. We see it. We’re dealing with it. We see students that are more focused on their interactions on social media as opposed to their education. And, the ramifications are extremely dangerous.”

This stance was, recently, corroborated by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, when he said that “it is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms,” citing found evidence that more than three hours per day on social media can double the risk of poor mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Social media use is a major component of the vast majority of adolescents’ lives. According to data obtained by Pew Research Center in 2022, up to 95% of youth, ages 13 to 17, use at least one social media platform, and more than a third use social media “almost constantly.”

A prime motive for joining the lawsuit is hiked mental health service costs, as students have been showing symptoms of internet overexposure.

South Huntington school district is seeking increased funding to employ more mental health professionals, as well as implement “social emotional learning lessons more,” including assemblies and workshops, on safe digital use.

Social media harm to students’ psyches has forced the school district to revamp their curriculum in recent years, with teachers having to focus on things “other than their actual lesson plans,” explained South Huntington Board of Education president, Nicholas Ciappetta, who added that the board’s decision to join the lawsuit was unanimous.

“There are costs associated with [our plans],” he said.

The lawsuit is also asking for the social media companies to implement appropriate and stricter safeguards including improved age verification, parental notification upon sign-up, improved management of age appropriate content and the design of their algorithms.

Ciappetta did add that the purpose of social media is not completely negative, or in vain.

“We’re not trashing social media,” he said. “[The school district] certainly uses it as a way of getting our message out. But if you look at any of the platforms, there’s a lot of negativity on there. And I think the negative always gets amplified. So you need a little more positivity and you need a little more kindness. And that’s something that the social media companies can invest in too. They can partner with us to promote that message.”

Joining the lawsuit comes at no cost to the school districts. Lawyers taking on this case will get a percentage of a monetary recovery, if any, that comes out of this legal challenge.

By Katherine Kelton

Three Village resident Matthew Niegocki. Photo courtesy Matthew Niegocki

Three Village resident Matthew Niegocki has been ranked No. 91 Top Best-in-State Financial Security Professionals on the 2024 Forbes list.

TBR News Media sat down with Niegocki to learn about his work and how he earned the coveted Forbes title. 

Niegocki, who grew up in Ridge, had to make a difficult decision upon graduating college: Did he want to become a police officer or pursue an insurance career? He admits to not knowing much about financial security as it was more of an area of intrigue for him. 

Though his proficiency in the job is undeniable: “Right out of college, after interviewing at different financial advising positions, I chose Prudential. Graduated in May and started in June, 18 years later here I am.”

Niegocki’s dedication to his profession is unparalleled.

He shared a recent story that underscores his clientele relationships.

“I have a client out in Glendale, Queens — a senior woman,” he said. “She called me up asking for funds out of one of her accounts to make home improvements. So, I sent her some of the money. Then, she calls up again asking for more money — and this is someone who doesn’t spend extensively, and lives below her means. Her taking out large deposits, to me, raised a red flag.”

He continued by saying he had a conversation with her about exactly what home improvements she was having done that cost such a deep investment: a 7-foot flat roof for which she was going to be charged $136,000. Niegocki immediately called the Queens district attorney’s office and a contractor friend of his, who traveled out to the woman’s home.

It was clear to Niegocki that his client was being scammed.

“The guy that was scamming her got two guys from Home Depot, and they weren’t even using the correct tools,” he said. His contractor was able to complete the job, charging only a fraction of the original at $11,000. 

“My philosophy is to have a conversation,” he added. Taking time to build relationships with clients is key. With new prospects, he asks many questions, ensuring he is properly understanding them and their concerns, on a personal level.

Prudential Financial, the financial security company for which Niegocki has worked his entire career, has been designated one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies — an award given by the Ethisphere Institute, for the last 10 years.

Niegocki does admit that most firms in the financial security industry are “good companies.” He says that there is not a lot of competition within the industry, “believe it or not.”

He usually advises people not to switch their financial advisers, so long as they are happy. 

Prudential does have a unique outlook on insurance, Niegocki shared.

“It’s more of a needs-based approach. So, we sit down with families, individuals and business owners and have a conversation to see what their concerns are and what they’re looking to accomplish. Based on that, we tailor retirement planning and life insurance around that,” he said.

The Forbes distinction gives Niegocki extra credibility, as it will distinguish him from other advisers in the state.

Outside of work, Niegocki’s life does not revolve around phone calls, computer screens or emails. He enjoys a very active lifestyle, biking around the shores of the Three Village community, gardening and spending time with his family.

Matthew Niegocki, pictured with the Three Village Dads. Photo courtesy Matthew Niegocki

As a part of his community appreciation, he joined the Three Village Dads Foundation. This group has raised over $100,000 for the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. The nonprofit, additionally, fundraises for local businesses and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3054, which serves the Three Village area.

“I love the Three Village community,” he said. “I feel like it’s a community like no other. There’s so much history. It’s great to raise a family and own a business — it is beautiful here.”

Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. Wikimedia Commons photo

By Peter Sloniewsky

On Thursday, June 11, Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R) was joined by Brookhaven Town Supervisor Dan Panico (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) to promote a new I/A water filtration system, soon to be installed at Cedar Beach.

Innovative and Alternative On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems use advanced treatment methods to remove nitrogen and other pollutants from wastewater before it is released into the environment.

As of July 2021, Suffolk County requires installment of I/A systems for most new residential construction projects. However, much of Long Island, especially Suffolk, uses septic systems instead of sewers due to the area’s historic low population density. While septic systems are cost-effective and efficient, increases in population have led to nitrogen pollution in both surface-level and underground bodies of water. This nitrogen pollution causes harmful algal blooms, which can destroy ecosystems by consuming excess oxygen in water and cause a variety of conditions in exposed humans.

The more-than 1.5 million people of Suffolk County rely on more than 380,000 cesspools and wastewater systems, including over 209,000 systems located in areas that already have environmental risks. Bonner, who represents the town’s District 2, told TBR News Media that “we have a water problem, with a direct correspondence to cesspools.”

Additionally, the sewer systems already in place on Long Island have a tendency to contribute to road runoff, with a similar effect of nitrogen pollution. When there is more water than sewer pipe systems can handle, partially treated wastewater can flow directly into nearby bodies of water, which can include waste, pesticides, oil and litter. Bonner clarified that “the topography [of the North Shore] lends itself to road runoff … I/A systems and sewers will certainly help that.”

In Suffolk County, there are two types of I/A systems which have been approved by the Department of Health Services — FujiClean and HydroAction. Both technologies have been proven to reduce total nitrogen levels far below the county standard, and to reduce those levels more than 80% from conventional septic systems (which do not typically meet the standard).

The Cedar Beach filtration system will be paid for by a $100,000 grant funded by the Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program. This program was revised and extended in late June, and was sponsored by Romaine.

Revisions to the program include the establishment of a referendum for this November’s general election ballot, which, if approved, would establish an additional sales tax of one-eighth of 1 percent to fund a new Water Quality Restoration Fund. Romaine claimed he “cannot emphasize enough the importance of this referendum” to address water contaminants, and the language of the referendum itself claims that its passage will ensure “county funding to 2060 for clean water projects, improvements in drinking water, bays and harbors” — such as the I/A system to be installed at Cedar Beach.

Bonner told TBR News Media that this new fund would be “split between I/A systems and sewers,” and Romaine described the fund as vital to fund sewer construction especially in less developed areas of the county.

Rendering of artist locations around the village for the Music Throughout the Village event. Photo courtesy Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce
Local organizations collaborate to host weekly event

By Aramis Khosronejad

This past weekend, a musical addition to the Port Jefferson community has been added to the charming local streets, Music Throughout the Village.

A collaboration between The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council and Port Jefferson Retailers Association, it is a program that will bring music to this cozy, small town.

This summer event consists of local musicians, who will have the opportunity to play for spectators at set locations. Passersby will be able to “shop and dine in our community,” according to the retailers association, while enjoying the relaxing ambiance.

The ultimate goal for this musical program is to get it “codified” so it can become a permanent fixture of the community, said Barbara Ransome, director of operations for the chamber of commerce.

The program will run every Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. from July 13 to Oct. 20. Each musician has been carefully reviewed and vetted by the arts council.

Through the coming weekends, the musicians can be heard in select locations around the village.

“There are four locations though that can, certainly, be expanded,” Ransome said. The current venues are at the intersection of Arden Street and Main Street in downtown Port Jefferson (next to the local Starbucks), as well as by the popular restaurant Salsa Salsa on Main Street, the Kate & Hale store on East Main Street and, finally, near Tiger Lily Café further down East Main.

This past weekend’s musicians, Hank Stone, Denise Romas, Faith Krinsky and Karl Blessing, were from a variety of musical genres.

“What better way than to walk through a beautiful town hearing beautiful music?” said a spokesperson from the retailers association.

To view a map of current and future concert locations and for additional information, go to the chamber of commerce and retailers association’s Instagram pages, also the respective Facebook pages.

Former Port Jefferson Village Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. File photo

By  Aidan Johnson

Former Port Jefferson Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden has announced her candidacy for the village mayor position in 2025.

In a July 8 press release, Snaden stated that “with a year of extensive reflection and growth behind me, I return to the political arena with renewed vigor, authenticity and a stronger connection to the community I love.”

Snaden first ran for trustee in 2018, losing by just four votes. She then went on to be elected in 2019, reelected in 2021 and was appointed as deputy mayor by Mayor Margot Garant.

After Garant did not seek reelection in 2023, Snaden had an unsuccessful bid for the mayoral position, losing to current Mayor Lauren Sheprow.

Snaden’s announcement comes early, with the mayoral election being nearly a year away.

“The reason I decided to announce now is because I want the time … to be able to build relationships with people that I might not otherwise have that opportunity later on as we get closer to election time,” she said in a phone interview, specifying that she is not yet campaigning but has instead only announced her intention to run.

Snaden also discussed why she’s running, along with the issues facing the village.

“The main reason I’m running again is because I feel like my goal in running initially and being involved in politics in the village has never gone away, which is to be the voice of the community for the people who feel they don’t have a voice,” she said.

She further explained that she is running to represent the people and “not because I have my own agenda,” adding, “It’s always to listen to what the community wants and represent them in Village Hall.”

She sees the East Beach bluff and uptown revitalization as major issues, along with public safety as a more recent concern.

“Residents have been discussing different incidents that have not been brought out in the news or by the government, that are happening but aren’t being discussed publicly … and people are not feeling safe,” she said.

Snaden specified that she will no longer be running on the Unity Party line, which was created by Garant and shared with village trustee Stan Loucks, saying that the line “became something that people gave a tag to, that it represented the old guard, it represented the Garant administration, that it was Mayor Margot’s way of thinking,” but it’s “not how I do things.”

“Was I her deputy mayor for two years? I was. That doesn’t mean that Mayor Garant and I thought the same on many issues. It doesn’t mean that we agreed on many issues,” she said, elaborating that her voting record shows her differing views from Garant. However, she said that they still had a mutual respect for each other and a good relationship.

A sand tiger shark, a common species that lives and feeds in coastal New York area waters. Photo courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society

By Sabrina Artusa

“Shark Week” originated as a Discovery Channel television program in 1988, appealing to the public’s long-standing curiosity of one of the ocean’s fiercest predators. Thirty-six years later, it remains one of the most popular programs, as well as the longest-running cable television event. It’s a testament to America’s fascination with these exotic fish.

Over time, the program has tended to succumb to fearmongering and docufiction — a combination of documentary and fiction — against these largely misunderstood fish. As a result, episodes have gravitated toward harrowing depictions of sharks rather than the research-backed realities of these creatures. Contrary to what episodes such as “Mystery of the Black Demon Shark,” and “Air Jaws: Fins of Fury” suggest, sharks aren’t malevolent creatures, but rather a necessary part of our ocean’s ecosystem.

Last year over 20 million people tuned into the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” event, so here is a little bit of clarity regarding the unique place of sharks on our Island’s shores.

Sharks on Long Island

Sharks are often on the minds of beach-loving Long Islanders due to a wide variety of visiting sharks, such as the dusky shark, the sand tiger shark, the white shark and the sandbar shark. The New York Police Department captured the first shark sighting of this summer season using drone footage. The sharks were seen off the coast of Rockaway Beach.

Sharks have been known to appear in beaches like Robert Moses State Park, Long Beach and Kismet beach on Fire Island. In the last two years, 13 people were involved in shark-related incidents. However, this isn’t cause for fear. Since the surge in shark sightings on Long Island, the NYPD and New York State Parks have implemented more thorough measures to track sharks, such as drone tracking.

A ‘hot spot’ for wildlife

Long Island, an under-researched area in regards to sharks, has optimal conditions for sharks. Their visits to our island are certainly not new, according to Oliver Shipley, Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences research assistant professor.

“In the summer the South Shore of Long Island is a hotspot of wildlife,” he said. “There is so much going on there. And it is a very productive system for all different animals, not just sharks.”

Shark research in New York began seriously 10 years ago. Stony Brook started tagging sharks for tracking purposes in 2017. In order to make scientifically sound conclusions, Shipley said SoMAS would need 10-15 years of data.

Is there an increase?

Researchers do not view the increase in sightings and incidents these past two years as an increase in the number of sharks. In truth, the numbers of sharks that exist along our coast presently are only a fraction of the numbers pre-1950s.

Shipley said that this “increase” of sharks is only an increase of people noticing them. There are more drones on the water and more people patrolling, which will result in more sightings. Indeed, five shark attacks were recorded during Independence Day weekend in 2023 — a stretch of days when there would have been more people than usual at the beach.

Some species of sharks, such as the sandbar sharks, have had dangerously low populations, leading to the species being listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list of threatened species. The population’s return to a stable number could also contribute to increased sightings.

Warming temperatures could be bringing sharks up north. Shipley has noticed different animals associated with warmer habitats moving closer to Long Island — water temperatures are important for these cold-blooded creatures to regulate their body temperature — but the research assistant professor is hesitant to definitively blame climate change due to lack of data.

“It’s important to understand that this is a really complex thing that we are studying and there is not a single cause or effect scenario,” he said. “We have really poor historical data to compare to.”

“We are doing everything we can to plug the gap and find out as much as we can about this animal,” Shipley said.

Richard McCormick. Photo courtesy Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

The State University of New York Board of Trustees has named former Rutgers President Richard McCormick, 76, interim president of Stony Brook University as the school continues its search for a seventh president.

McCormick, who will take over the reigns at the downstate flagship SUNY school on August 1st, replaces Maurie McInnis, who left Stony Brook after four years to become the president of Yale University on July 1.

Dr. Bill Wertheim, Executive Vice President for Stony Brook Medicine, has been serving as Officer-in-Charge and Stony Brook University Hospital’s Governing Body since July 1.

McCormick, who was president of Rutgers from 2002 to 2012 and has taught and studied United States political history in the 19th and 20th centuries, has over four decades of experience in higher education, including leading several highly ranked public universities.

McCormick will oversee Stony Brook University and Stony Brook Medicine and will serve as part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“Each step we take in this leadership transition is important, and we welcome Dr. McCormick,” John King, Jr, SUNY Chancellor said in a statement. “His vast higher education experience will continue to move this esteemed university forward as the campus conducts a national search for its new president.”

McCormick welcomed the chance to lead Stony Brook during this transition period.

Stony Brook “has achieved national stature yet remains fully engaged with its Long Island community, for which it is an economic engine,” McCormick said in a statement. “My thanks to the SUNY Board of Trustees, Chancellor King and the Stony Brook Council for this opportunity.”

As an interim president, McCormick will not be a candidate to become the next permanent president.

In addition to his tenure at Rutgers, which started in 1976 when he joined the history department, McCormick also was vice chancellor and provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1992 to 1995 and was president of the University of Washington from 1995 to 2002.

The incoming interim Stony Brook president earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College in American Studies and his PhD in history from Yale in 1976, 20 years before McInnis also earned her PhD in the History of Art from the New Haven-based Ivy league school she now leads.

McCormick started his academic career at Rutgers, where he was a member of the history faculty from 1976 to 1992. He was also Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

McCormick is the son of Richard Patrick McCormick, a former Rutgers professor and Katheryne Levis, a former Rutgers administrator.

McCormick and his father co-taught an American history course.

An author of several books, McCormick is writing a book on the history of American political corruption from the 17th century to the present.

Rutgers achievements

McCormick, who earned his high school diploma from Piscataway Township High School in Piscataway, New Jersey, orchestrated constructive changes in his hometown university during his presidency.

McCormick helped raise $650 million while he was president.

Four years after becoming president, the university reorganized the undergraduate colleges on the New Brunswick campus into a School of Arts and Sciences and School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

The reorganization included a comprehensive new curriculum at the School of Arts and Sciences, first year seminars, signature courses, expansion opportunities for undergraduate research and honors programs and support for top undergraduates competing for highly competitive scholarships and awards.

In the final years of his tenure, he merged Rutgers with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and divisions of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. The New Jersey Legislature passed a bill to integrate almost all units of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey into Rutgers.

“Dr. McCormick’s notable accomplishments as president of Rutgers from 2002 until 2012 included reinvigorating undergraduate education, elevating its standing in the top tier of public research universities, realizing a longstanding goal of returning medical education to the university’s portfolio, and improving and strengthening connections with important partners, including alumni and local communities,” Wertheim said in a statement. “He is the ideal leader to help Stony Brook sustain its momentum as New York’s flagship university.”

The former Rutgers president led the school when it installed 40,000 high-efficiency solar panels over two large surface parking lots on the Livingston campus, producing over eight megawatts of power, which, at the time, was the largest renewable energy system built on a college campus in the country. Rutgers has continued to add solar panels.

Stony Brook momentum

McCormick’s experience with solar energy dovetails with some of Stony Brook’s recent environmental initiatives and successes.

With the support of the Simons Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, Stony Brook University won the competitive process as the lead institution to create a climate solutions center on Governors Island. The New York Climate Exchange will develop and deploy dynamic solutions to the global climate crisis, will provide educational and research opportunities and will serve as a place for New Yorkers to benefit from the green economy.

The Climate Solutions Center will include 400,000 square feet of green-designed building space, including research labs, classroom space, exhibits, greenhouses, mitigation technologies and housing facilities.

McCormick takes over as interim president at a time when Stony Brook has achieved some important financial and academic victories.

A year ago, the Simons Foundation made a $500 million endowment gift to Stony Brook. The gift, which will be spread out over seven years, was the largest unrestricted donation to an institution of higher education in United States history.

The Foundation gift, which the state will match on a 1:2 program, and other philanthropic contributions are expected to increase the endowment by as much as $1 billion.

Stony Brook recently climbed 19 spots in the rankings of colleges from US News and World Report, ranking 58th in the rankings. That’s the highest ever rank for a State University of New York institution. The school also placed 12th among national universities for social mobility rank.

“Stony Brook is a world-class institution, moving on an upward trajectory, educating the next generation of leaders and thinkers and bettering our society through research and economic development,” Stony Brook Council Kevin Law said in a statement. “I am pleased to welcome Dr. McCormick, whose accomplishments and vision in higher-education leadership are nothing short of extraordinary, as our interim president, and to begin the search for our next permanent president.”

Challenges ahead

McCormick will likely face the same some of the same challenges other university presidents, interim or not, have dealt with as protestors have expressed their frustrations over the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

At numerous universities, protests disrupted exams, classes and graduation ceremonies.

College presidents have tried to balance between the rights of students to assemble and express themselves and the university’s need to protect various groups of students from intimidation, bullying, or threats.

Local politicians welcomed McCormick. “I look forward to getting to know Dr. McCormick and collaborating with him to ensure that Stony Brook remains a premier institution of higher learning, providing a safe environment for students of all religions,” said Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY1).

By TBR Staff

Port Jefferson residents enjoyed a day of American patriotism, which included a procession of community members, festively dressed families with red, white and blue-adorned pets and more for their annual 4th of July parade. The parade began on Main Street at 10 a.m. and was held by the Port Jefferson Fire Department. 

– Photos by Bill Landon

Scenes from Centereach High School’s graduation. Photos courtesy MCCSD

Middle Country Central School District celebrates 2024 high school graduates

Newfield High School and Centereach High School, of Middle Country Central School District, hosted respective commencement ceremonies for their 2024 graduating classes Thursday, June 27.

The ceremonies highlighted the achievements of the graduating seniors, while looking forward to their futures.

The event was attended by students, families, faculty and distinguished guests.

“Congratulations to the exceptional Class of 2024. These remarkable young individuals have positively influenced the Middle Country community through their academic and personal accomplishments, excelling in academics, creativity and athletics,” said Scott Graviano, principal of Newfield High School.

During the graduation ceremonies, the Class of 2024’s valedictorian and salutatorian took the podium to reflect on the last four years of their high school journeys, and expressed their gratitude to their teachers, parents and peers. The valedictorians are Michael Cosmo for Centereach and Saitta Roy for Newfield. The salutatorians are Gregory Mears for Centereach and Danica Lyktey for Newfield. 

“I am immensely proud of the Class of 2024, and all they have accomplished,” said Centereach High School principal, Thomas Bell. “I’d like to thank our teachers, staff and families for their relentless support and dedication to our students’ success. We look forward to seeing the amazing futures this class will create.” 

For more information regarding Middle Country Central School District and its students’ achievements, please visit the district’s website at www.mccsd.net.

Elwood-John H. Glenn High School’s Class of 2024 graduates celebrated their commencement ceremony on June 28. Photo courtesy of Elwood School District

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School proudly celebrated the graduation of its Class of 2024, in a poignant ceremony.

This milestone event marked the students’ culmination of years of hard work, dedication and academic achievement.

Amidst a backdrop of cheers, applause and heartfelt speeches, the graduates of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School bid farewell to their alma mater, and embarked on the next chapter of their lives. The ceremony was attended by proud parents, family members, faculty and distinguished guests.

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan, and High School Principal, John Ruggero, delivered a heartfelt address to the graduating seniors.

As the evening concluded with the traditional tossing of caps, the atmosphere was filled with a sense of optimism and excitement for the bright futures that lie ahead for the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School students.

For more information regarding the Port Jefferson School District, and its students’ many achievements, please visit the District’s website at https://www.portjeffschools.org, and follow our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PortJeffSchools.