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Andrew Harris

Photo by Andrew Harris

 

By Andrew Harris

As soon as Comsewoge High School Students and Staff found out that Michael Abatiello, class of 2021, graduated from his Marine boot camp last week, they excitedly reached out to him. 

When he came back to the high school students and staff cheered and presented him with gifts that students fundraised for our Comsewogue Active Warrior Network.

“It is a priority for us to stay connected to our military graduates serving all over the world,” said Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools. 

Teacher Katy Dornicik agreed, and was happy that Michael was able to visit and be recognized by his peers.

“Michael always had one vision and would do anything in his power to make his dream become a reality,” she said. “Since 7th grade, he had his mind set on becoming a Marine. His work ethic and desire to succeed made it all happen. I am so proud of him.”

Students and administration will continue to honor any Comsewogue graduate (or their family if they are not able to be there) who are active in the  military at the club and craft fair at the high school on Saturday, Dec. 11 at noon.

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district.

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Students working in Jackie’s Garden at Comsewogue High School over the summer. Photo by Andrew Harris

As students and staff came back into Comsewogue High School this year, they were greeted by hundreds of beautiful sunflowers flourishing in the courtyard garden. 

The difficult work of maintaining the garden over the summer rested on the shoulders of only two students who did the hard work so that their fellow students can come back to the beginning of a joyful year.

While watching these students working so hard over the summer, Marge Piercy’s poem comes to my mind. 

In a verse of “To Be of Use” she writes about how much she admires those that go out and do the work — and not just talk about it, said Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools.

“I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again. I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters.”      

This type of student is typical of the Comsewouge community. Quinn said that in addition to outstanding academics, many of them participate in extracurricular activities and hold down jobs over the summer and when school is in session.

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than these students who stepped up to the plate and got to work. 

Students working in Jackie’s Garden at Comsewogue High School over the summer. Photo by Andrew Harris

“They went above and beyond what was asked of them, and even tended to another garden in the courtyard as well,” said Andrew Harris, a teacher at Comsewogue. “Keep in mind that they do this on their vacation and go very early as they also have full-time job responsibilities. It’s hot, dirty, and sometimes there is nobody around to give them the accolades or words of encouragement, but that’s not what they do it for.”

Harris said he hopes to encourage more students to have this giving attitude. 

“In the long run, I know they will reap the benefits of their positive proactive work,” he added.

The garden, “Jackie’s Garden,” has become a “magical place around the district,” according to Harris. 

“Each year a new miracle happens here,” he said. 

Since I don’t have a green thumb, perhaps the miracle is that I am the one who oversees this fabulous food and flower garden — I’ve never tried growing anything. But in all seriousness, and I know people find it hard to believe, but every year since we started our garden, these miracles continue to happen. 

Harris added that, “amazingly, this year hundreds of sunflowers started popping up. The weird thing is, we did not plant even one single seed. Keep in mind, that sunflowers are not perennials, and need to be seeded each spring; so yeah, you can consider that very, very, unique.”

This year in April I started to see a little something pop up. I thought maybe a seed or two was left over from last season, somehow got buried, and they were starting to grow. I planned on doing our normal seeding with my classes in mid-May, however, by then several hundred magically started appearing! I really can’t explain how that happened and I was at a loss for words.

Harris also mentioned the sudden influx of butterflies attracted to the garden the previous year. Dr. Rella told us that sunflowers and butterflies were Jackie’s favorites. I was going to buy something called a butterfly bush which will attract them. I looked outside one day and realized I didn’t need to buy one. There was a sudden influx of new butterflies everywhere. That and other crazy things have happened around this garden. The garden has Jackie’s Comsewogue jersey overlooking it. 

The year before that, Chris Friedl, the landscaper, planted two seeds to honor Joe and Jackie under the trellis. The same day hundreds of other seeds were also planted to honor our graduating seniors. Those two seeds popped up in under three days — which never happens. The other ones started to come up in about 7-10 days, which is the normal length of time for sunflower seeds to appear. So, yeah, now I believe in miracles.

“On behalf of the staff at CHS, we are so grateful for the time that Alyssa and Ashley spent beautifying our courtyard,” said Principal Mike Mosca. “Outdoor spaces are even more important than ever as we continue to navigate the challenges, we face due to COVID. Alyssa and Ashley’s efforts will give our students and staff a beautiful place to go for some fresh air.”  

When asked why they did what they did, the students communicated that nothing would please them more than having their fellow students enter the building and not only be greeted with friendly faces but an array of hundreds of sunflowers smiling at them as they go about their day.

Piercy’s poem ends like this and is fitting for the students who put in the hard work, “The people I love the best jump into work headfirst without dallying in the shallows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to become natives of that element.”

Arianna Morturano is a graduate of Comsewogue High School. She is currently a student at St. John’s and work sin the district. Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district. Triple C stands for Comsewogue Culture Club.

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Students like Mei Li Johnson spent their mornings volunteering at the local nursing home. Photo from Andrew Harris

By Deniz Yildirim

On Monday, June 21, the Comsewogue community celebrated its fourth annual Joe’s Day of Service — a day for students and educators alike to give back and complete service projects for the community. 

This year the day started with a special ceremony at the Comsewogue High School where a tree was planted and dedicated to the late superintendent of the district, Dr. Joe Rella, who died in February 2020.

As per the class of 2023, a Japanese red maple (Joe’s favorite) was planted in front of Comsewogue High School. Speakers during the planting included the current superintendent, Dr. Jennifer Quinn and Richie Rella, Dr. Rella’s son. 

Photo from Andrew Harris

They moved the crowd, including Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), with their words about the late superintendent and spoke about his love for the school and kind nature. 

“If anyone knew my dad, they knew it’s all he ever talked about,” said Richie. 

“And though Joe is no longer with us, it is his sincerest question that has guided Dr. Quinn during this incredibly challenging school year; How are the kids?”

After these heartfelt testaments, a small student choir, directed by Charlotte Johnson, performed “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. 

Afterward’s, two buses, donated by Suffolk Transportation, took volunteers to Woodhaven Nursing Home in Port Jefferson Station. Once there, students gifted residents with painted rocks and artwork. They also planted flowers and read handwritten letters from students from the elementary schools and JFK Middle School which were collected and paired with a blanket by school social worker, Ginger Guidone. 

“All in all, it was a day well spent and one we hope Dr. Rella would have been proud of,” said special education teacher and student character liaison Andrew Harris, who coordinated the event. 

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

Sixth grader Katelyn Murray with Ramsey. Photo by Julianne Mosher

By Melissa Levine 

Suffolk County lawmakers last week unanimously approved a proposal by Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) to designate April 30 as “Pet Therapy Day” in Suffolk County. 

Nationally recognized as a day to celebrate therapy animals through the efforts of Pet Partners — the nation’s leading organization registering therapy animals for animal-assisted interventions — Calarco felt it was important to mark the day on the county level to recognize the local groups working to improve the health and well-being of Suffolk residents through animal-assisted therapy and activities.

Legislators approved his resolution to designate Pet Therapy Day in Suffolk County at their April 20 general meeting.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Therapy animals and their human companions bring joy and healing to people of all ages in many different settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools and funeral parlors,” he said. “Designating April 30 as Pet Therapy Day is our way of saying thank you and recognizing all the good these animals and their handlers do to bring moments of joy to people in need in our community, especially given the difficulties of the last year.”

A furry friend joins a middle school class 

Since the onset of the pandemic, Comsewogue School District’s staff and students have endured the same challenge that thousands of schools across the globe are facing recreating normalcy in a time of chaos. 

Comsewogue special education teacher and student character liaison Andrew Harris is no stranger to the many benefits that come with therapy dogs.   

“Normally we visit Stony Brook Hospital’s adolescent psychiatric unit on a weekly basis,” he said. “The kids get a great deal from our visits.”

Harris has been training dogs for over 20 years, so he has grown incredibly familiar with the contagious charm and health benefits that dogs like his dog, Ramsey — a licensed therapy pooch — can bring to people of all ages. 

“It’s funny because the nurses and doctors are always the ones who rush in and cuddle the dog before the kids. After all, they too might be having an especially stressful day,” said Harris.  

Once invited into a particular institution, the dog is able to comfort people in hospitals, nursing homes and schools. 

After a few months of careful planning, Harris devised a therapy-dog-based proposition for the visits at the district’s schools. It didn’t take long to convince the administration to let Ramsey in. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Ramsey proudly wears his Comsewogue picture ID and therapy dog bandana upon entering John F. Kennedy Middle School.

Harris said he has taken much time to develop this program for school visits. 

“We have several progressive and successive lessons each time we come into a class,” Harris sad. “On the first visit, it is more of a meet and greet and demonstration of what the dog is capable of.”  

When Harris was tasked with getting his therapy dog certification, he had no idea how elaborate it would be. He went on to describe how certain tasks tested the dog’s ability to remain calm in stressful situations — something Ramsey is great at when demonstrating for students of different abilities.

Harris takes ample time to show the students the difference between a therapy dog (they are for you) and a service dog (they are for the owner). He also demonstrates some typical things a service dog might do by performing tasks like dropping crutches and asking the dog to pick them up and bring them to him. 

The dogs are capable of accomplishing many other feats too, like assisting people up staircases when requested, or alerting someone to wake up who has sleep apnea. 

“When we visit a class for the second time, I have the students do more of the work, instead of the dog and I doing it all,” Harris said. “The students can start by introducing themselves or reading aloud to the dog. Then on our final visit, we sit the dog in the back of the room and have the students do full speeches or presentations.” 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

The most important thing for Harris is that the students enjoy and learn during the time they spend with Ramsey. 

Melissa Levine is a senior at Comsewogue High School

Additional reporting by Julianne Mosher

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11th grader Michael Lussos honors Eddie Van Halen during the schools between-period Live at the Fishbowl concerts. Photo from Comsewogue SD

This article is thanks to a combined effort by Andrew Harris, a special needs teacher at Comsewogue, and 5th period life skills students at the high school.

The start of the 2020-21 school year has been a unique challenge for so many school districts, but Comsewogue is rising to the occasion.

Beyond the teachers and all the work they have been doing, even the simplest activities involving Jackie’s Garden at the Comsewogue High School have been improving the days of students, one sprig of lavender at a time.

Students present sprigs of lavender to the guidance department for those who may be experiencing anxiety. Photo from Comsewogue SD

“It ended in what seemed to be such a kind and simple act of students presenting lavender sprigs to our guidance department for students who might be experiencing stress and anxiety; but it was the culmination of some outstanding academic lessons from their teachers Heather Rand and Natalie Rubinstien” said Mike Fama, the principal at JFK Middle School.

Teacher’s Rand and Rubinstien explained it this way: ”Four years ago, we created the garden to honor Mrs. Jackie Rella. We grow vegetables for the school salad bar and just appreciate nature. This year, due to the stress of the pandemic, we read about how school gardens can benefit social/emotional well-being. Students started thinking of ways our own garden could benefit students at JFK. After reading about the emotional benefits of lavender, they decided to create bundles for the JFK guidance counselors to give to students who are feeling stressed.”

On the first day of school Sept. 8, high school students were welcomed by a smiling staff and hundreds of sunflowers that couldn’t help but bring their spirits up. Immediately, partially due to the pandemic, art, photography and all sorts of lessons naturally gravitated towards the garden and outdoors. There in the garden were beaming sunflowers, which were planted in May to honor those graduating seniors. 

“It was amazing how our entire community came to support our Class of 2020,” said high school principal Mike Mosca. “While these gestures could never replace the events they missed out on, it went a long way to show our seniors how much their community cared about their accomplishments.”

Actions like this are a part of the Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, which has become a priority at Comsewogue. If the kids feel safe and welcome, then certainly outstanding learning will follow. We all knew that going back to school would be anything but normal this year but Comsewogue, as it always does, tried their best to make the challenges they faced getting back to school an even better experience this year.

Overall, the district is creating unique and positive things that we have never seen before and are trying our very best to make it better than it has ever been. 

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said it this way, “We are providing a learning environment that not only makes our student’s health and safety a priority but are continually thinking of newer and better learning activities than we’ve ever tried before.” We aren’t satisfied with the ‘new normal’ but want it to be something even better and keep improving after that.

“Staff and students at Comsewogue as well as our community are a resilient group-perhaps like nowhere else,” Quinn said. “With the help of the community we were ready and added some new and dynamic learning opportunities.”  It’s equivalent to tripling the number of different schools we have. There are remote, virtual, and live classrooms happening all at once. Virtual is when a family made a decision to do all learning at home. Remote is for the students who come in every other day and are doing learning remotely on their days home. 

Technology wise, we prepared our students and staff for a giant leap into the future. 

Students actively take care our the courtyard garden, AKA, Jackie’s Garden. Photo from Comsewogue SD

“This is a big change for both students and teachers educationally. I have definitely learned quite a lot about new programs, Chromebook usage, and how to teach and connect with students using a remote/virtual platform” said special education teacher Cammie Zale. 

According to Don Heberer, the district administrator for Instructional Technology, “I think students, teachers and parents are realizing that teaching and learning with educational technology is no longer optional — there’s no going back. I feel like the technology needle jumped five years forward in a matter of a few months. We were already headed in this direction, but COVID-19 has propelled us forward at warp speed.” 

Mr. Heberer and our Educational Technology Specialist Teacher Frank Franzese hold frequent virtual professional development sessions for the staff to keep them abreast of the rapid changes going on. 

Like many educators, science teacher Shane Goldberg posts many exciting lessons that can involve video comments from her while simultaneously students can view the specific documents that she is using for the class or lab she is covering.

“While distance learning has presented some real challenges for both students and teachers, it has also created new opportunities for learning,” she said.  “By creating videos of my lessons, I can ensure that all of my students are able to access all of my lessons, even if they are absent from school. I have also seen that some students are doing very well learning in a virtual classroom. They have the freedom to work at their own pace. In a live classroom, some of these students may become bored because the teacher will need to slow the pace of instruction to meet the needs of all of their students. Unfortunately, it is the students that need frequent interaction and teacher direction in order to stay on task that may be having the most difficult time adjusting to this kind of learning environment. This is why I make every effort to encourage all of my students to ask questions frequently, using private messages. These students also have the opportunity to meet with me during live meetings several times a week.”

At John F. Kennedy Middle School, families dropping off their kids are welcomed by scores of staff members waving, smiling, and welcoming them into the school.  

“The greeting we get each morning warms my heart every time. We are blessed to be part of the Warrior Family.” said Denise Kline, a mother of an eighth-grade student.

Also beneficial are the many outdoor learning environments and activities established throughout the district. Since the first day of school, students have been seen on the lawn with their laptops doing various lessons while the teacher might be speaking about photosynthesis using the real plants right in front of them. If the teacher wants them to go more in depth, they can do research, watch a video, or take a test outside on a beautiful autumn day.

Elementary teacher Melissa McMullen’s students all bring their own yoga mats.

”In addition to the typical subjects we will stop for a moment to do some breathing or movement activities,” McMullen said. “It’s been shown that this helps stimulate our minds so why not?” 

2020 Graduate Alyssa Esencan receiving her Sunflower. Each graduate had their name read and were planted by staff members. Photo from Comsewogue SD

Taylor Zummo, a Social Worker at the high school, added, “The students have been enjoying the activity of Mindfulness in relation to their social and emotional learning. Simply taking time to reflect and be present in the moment has been so helpful for many students to feel less overwhelmed with school. This is a practice that can be done anywhere, which makes it so versatile. Using the practice of mindfulness outdoors is a way that students can pay attention to their feelings, as well as focus on the sounds of nature in order to find themselves some quiet and restful relaxation.”

Nicole Kidd’s physical education students can be seen doing much more outdoor activities as well. 

“We have been super lucky with amazing weather,” Kidd said. “My wellness classes have really enjoyed their yoga and meditation practice outside. We have been taking our mats out to the tennis courts and practicing there. It has felt so good to be in the fresh air and sun.:”

At JFK, science teacher Steve Nielsen can be seen walking through the halls with his puppy who the students adore. It benefits both the students and the dogs because one of the best places for these dogs to get used to is the atmosphere and activities at large institutions such as schools, according to the Guide Dog Foundation. 

“I never knew how profound an impact animals, especially dogs, can have on people,” Nielsen said. “Students and adults alike are drawn to this year’s JFK school mascot Named Pear. She is a delightful black Labrador guide dog in training and brings smiles to all that pass her by in the halls. Everyone wants to pet her.” 

Throughout September, Sunflowers blooming in the garden were given to many of the 2020 graduates.They were planted in May in their honor. Once they were gone, a generous local landscaper, Frank Prinzevalli, who operates Prince Landscaping and Design Corp., contacted us and said he is looking to help out our students and community. He felt that replenishing the beautiful flowers might bring everyone’s spirits up, so he decided to purchase and donate over 100 pots of mums. The was an overwhelmingly abundant amount to make our students and staff smile every time they  walk the hallways or look out into the flourishing courtyard throughout the Fall, 

“I have children of my own and we need to continue to keep them on a positive and happy path in these challenging times,” said Prinzevalli.

Recently, a mini concert series called Live at The Fishbowl was implemented at the high school courtyard. For the first one, a student musician entertained between periods while students scurried to their classes slowing down for a moment to take in the sounds. Students and staff enjoyed a timely tribute to Eddie Van Halen. It was broadcast live online, where many in the community were astounded at how good his rendition was. 

“We were excited to have Mikey Lussos perform for the school,” Mosca said.  “We have so many talented students who are unable to showcase their skills because of this pandemic. It was great to have him rocking out in our courtyard. We’re constantly looking for different ways to give our kids opportunities like this and Mike certainly made the most of it” 

Comsewogue, always one of the leaders in education. hopes to inspire not only their own staff and students, but continue to lead Long Island, if not the whole country, and continue to be better and more resilient and come up with more wonderful and unique learning experiences this year.

“The district is consistently reevaluating to ensure that we provide the best atmosphere for students in these unprecedented times,” said Assistant Superintendent Joseph Coniglione. “Our goal is now as it always was to make sure we offer students the best opportunities we can, even during a pandemic.” 

Chris Friedl, of Backwoods Landscaping and a Comsewogue High School graduate, plants sunflowers for Comsewogue’s graduating seniors. Photo by Andrew Harris

Comsewogue school district is trying to leave its seniors with a little bit more than a diploma for all those who saw their last high school year cut short.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione and Superintendent Jennifer Quinn look at the sprouts of sunflowers in Jackie’s Garden. Photo by Andrew Harris

The district has planted hundreds of sunflowers in the high school courtyard, known as Jackie’s Garden after the late wife of former Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, who in February also passed away. 

The seeds number over 320, and should bloom into massive golden yellow flowers by the fall. 

The plantings came together thanks to Chris Friedl, 26, from Backwoods Landscaping. A 2012 Comsewogue graduate, he said he was very empathetic to the 2020 graduating class who were missing out on so much as a normal senior year. 

“It sucks, there’s no other way to put it,” Friedl said. “Going through all they’re going through with all this adversity, it’s incredible.”

Andrew Harris, a special education teacher in the district, said he floated the idea to district officials earlier this year. Friedl jumped at the chance to help. He was also the person who donated material for Jackie’s Garden several years ago. He has come back now and again to provide small upkeep to the flower boxes. 

After clearing and cleaning the empty planting boxes, the district hosted a ceremony May 16 where students’ names were read as the landscaper planted the seeds.

Friedl asked if he could plant a seed for Joe and Jackie Rella. Though the garden was meant for students, Harris told him he could.

“He always remembered my name out of thousands of students,” Friedl said of Rella. “Nobody had a bad word to say about him or Jackie, which just says miles about the kind of people they were.”

A day and a half after they were planted, Harris said he came back to the garden. There, growing in the earth, he thought he saw weeds. Normally sunflowers take five to 10 days before one sees them start to sprout, but the two seeds planted for the Rellas were indeed springing from the earth.

“The hair on the back of my neck started to stand up,” Harris said. “I remembered how when I told Dr. Rella about this particular butterfly that kept coming back to our garden, even though we never had any butterflies before. He told me in his gruff Brooklyn-accented voice, ‘Andy, I believe with every fiber in my body that that is a sign from Jackie.’ I looked at the new sunflower sprout and had no doubt about what it meant.”

Official info on Comsewogue graduations is still to be determined, though students were delivered their caps and gowns this week.

Friedl offered some advice to seniors.

“Stay strong, the entire community is behind you, and keep your path,” he said. “The community really wants you to succeed.”

Andrew Harris’ therapy dog Ransey helped Stony Brook health care workers with a gymnastics routine, shown to nurses and doctors via video call. Photos by Andrew Harris

By Andrew Harris

Ramsey and I look forward to our Tuesday evening visits at Stony Brook University Hospital. We visit the Child Psychiatry Unit and try our best to bring smiles to the young children who may be going through difficult times. We are part of their Volunteer Pet Therapy program and Ramsey is a trained therapy dog certified through Therapy Dogs International. 

 

“Pet Facilitated Therapy has been a practice at SBUH hospital for many years  and has brought joy and peace to staff and patients during stressful times,” said Rosemaria York, the recreational therapy supervisor at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Ramsey knows when Tuesday comes around and looks forward to visiting. He gets so excited once he sees we are on the campus, and he absolutely adores interacting with the children who love him. Ramsey is used to working — especially with children. He can be seen at the Comsewogue school district often comforting and giving lots of love during stressful times like Regents exams and other high anxiety situations.

The first time that we could not visit the hospital due to the Coronavirus situation, Ramsey was in a sullen mood. I took him for a long walk in the woods instead, but it wasn’t the same. He missed going to the hospital and the adoration from the children and staff members. We always get stopped on our way to the unit by staff members, patients, and family members who want to interact with the dog. Once, we had a special request to go visit a staff member’s friend in the cancer unit. I was amazed by how much joy it brought to her and how great he was nuzzling up to the bed and cuddling with her. What I also saw was how so many staff members came by to say hello. One doctor told us that it was a particularly hard day in that unit so she needed some cuddles too, which Ramsey gladly provided.

“Recently, the Stony Brook Medicine Department of Volunteer Services in conjunction with the Recreation Therapy Department worked together with pet therapy volunteer Andy Harris and therapy dog Ramsey to bring Virtual Pet Therapy to de-stress staff on the units,” said York.

The next thing I knew we got a phone call from the folks at Stony Brook asking if we could possibly do a virtual pet therapy visit — this time for all the nurses, doctors and medical staff at the hospital. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but we were certainly willing to give it our best try to contribute to those fine people on the front line. York told us,  “Volunteer Services and Recreation therapy staff thought why not try Virtual Pet Therapy if we couldn’t have the usual visits? Stony Brook Hospital felt that because their employees were all working so hard and long, and in such a stressful situation, that perhaps a virtual visit might help in the same way that our actual visits benefitted the kids and staff. 

A Stony Brook Hospital worker watches Ramsey do stunts via video stream. Photo from Andrew Harris

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic when the hospital was unable to continue business as usual many practices became virtual, telehealth, etc,” York added. “So volunteer Services and recreation therapy staff thought why not virtual pet therapy if we couldn’t have the usual visits?” 

I knew it would be much different then our normal in-person visits and had to come up with some new ideas because we would be doing our thing from the backyard of our house. Simultaneously, the folks at Stony Brook would be working extra hard walking all over the hospital from unit to unit donned in full PPE gear. 

Normally with the kids, we sit down, chat or read a book and just let the kids cuddle with the dog. We demonstrate how Ramsey has learned not to take food from people or off the floor unless he is given permission. We show how he sits, waits patiently and knows all the different commands. As a therapy dog he has learned not to “shake hands” because this and jumping up on them could compromise people with vulnerable skin conditions. He is not allowed to eat any food because this could be a problem too if there are crumbs in the bed or on someone’s gown in a hospital or nursing home setting.

Sometimes the kids like to see the dog “work” and do some finds. They hide some articles of clothing like a glove or hat somewhere in the room as the dog patiently waits outside the room. As soon as he enters he sniffs it out and finds all the articles. Of course he always gets a reward each time he does a good job.

Since my yard is set up with plenty of things to do with the dog, we were ready to not only provide some therapy for the workers, but to entertain and show them what the dog could do. York said, “… so some recreation therapists armed with an iPad with Mr. Harris and Ramsey streaming live brought Ramsey and his athletic agility abilities along with a bark and a close up camera ‘social distanced’ kiss to the staff.”

Andrew Harris’ therapy dog Ransey helped Stony Brook health care workers with a gymnastics routine, shown to nurses and doctors via video call. Photos by Andrew Harris

First I had him doing the normal stuff, retrieve a ball and relayed the typical commands most people are familiar with. As I pointed the camera on my phone at him, I could hear some nurses getting a kick out of it all — so we decided to step it up a bit. The “ooo’s” and “ahhs” were noticeable especially when he climbed up the ladder to our playhouse and went down the slide. He then showed how he could run up the slide. His final performance, and the most difficult, was walking across a twenty foot ladder propped horizontally raised a few feet off the ground. For that he got a round of applause. When we went back inside he was very exhausted, lay down and took a long nap. We were happy to put a little smile to the wonderful staff at Stony Brook. 

York said, “staff stated that they were happy for the opportunity to interact with the therapy dog even if it was brief and virtual as it brought a smile to their day.”

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district.

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

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

An Intro

By Andrew Harris

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

Helping Others

By Gianna Pellela

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

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

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

Unity in Distance
By Daniela Galvez-Cepeda

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

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

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

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

Noticing the Improvements in Our Environment

By Ashley Doxey and Alyssa Morturano

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

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

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

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

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

Family, My Silver Lining

Derek Order

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

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

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

Outro: An Adendum

By Andrew Harris

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

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Kingstone and Miles Fowler practice distance learning. Photo from Kristina Fowler

During challenging times like these, the Comsewogue School District reacted to be fully prepared to not only provide and keep its classes and academic standards at a high level but also to keep the students’ social and emotional well-being stable despite no longer being in the school buildings.

The administration, staff, students and community saw fit to have educational packets and more in place while the upper grades were provided with Chromebooks and resources online available before school was closed. The technology department was in close contact and continues to be communicating with everyone on a daily basis with updates and more.

“I was happy to receive additional training available up to the very last day,” said Camie Zale, a special education teacher.

“Teachers and students are comfortable with using technology and communicating with various websites and apps on a normal basis,” said Andrew Harris, a teacher at the middle and high school. “Unfortunately, I’m nowhere as savvy as most of these students who have grown up with this technology. If I ever have any problem, I can ask any of my students who usually solve it in a matter of seconds … they are amazing.”

Don Heberer, district administrator for instructional technology, said the 1:1 take-home Chromebook program in the high school and classroom carts at John F. Kennedy Middle School had allowed students and teachers to become comfortable with using the technology for education.

Melissa McMullan, a sixth-grade teacher in the middle school, said the school did a great job getting Chromebooks into kids’ hands. The process, she said, has been tricky to find what works and what doesn’t on an online space.

“The kids and I will solve the need for distance learning together like we always do,” she said.

Students in the elementary schools have grade-level packets posted online along with hard copies sent home. The district is also providing support to both teachers and parents remotely on using the technology.

”Comsewogue has always prided itself on being innovative and willing to try something new,” Heberer said. “We know that it will be a challenging change for everyone; however, Comsewogue staff has worked hard to provide the students, teachers and community resources during this period.”

The Comsewogue district has taken to online as well for interteacher-related processes. Harris said teachers received a message from the Pupil Personnel Services department that they will hold upcoming annual meetings on Google Hangouts as part of their annual review process. It has taken time and effort but he feels he has become comfortable and “up to speed” with the various programs.

“For me, I am learning as I go,” Harris said. “The first day I mostly communicated the way I was most familiar with — I picked up the phone and called most parents to let them know what was going on with their child’s education. From there I switched to text messages, and finally have been using Google Classroom and more as I get better.”

After checking in with several of the students, Harris said many teachers realized they were perhaps giving too much work. One parent communicated that her daughter was working from early morning until about 5 p.m. on her assignments and starting to stress out.

“I think many of the teachers didn’t want the students to feel like they were on vacation and get complacent,” said Joe Caltagirone, a teacher at the high school.

Harris said he wanted his very first assignment to be something light and be beneficial to his students and their families. He posted a YouTube video on how to do Box Breathing, a technique of taking slow, deep breaths to relieve some stress and help concentrate.

“I know people are highly stressed so I asked that the student watch this video first,” Harris said. “I also requested that they teach members of their family how to do it. I know from experience when you teach others you become very proficient at what you’re teaching. I asked them all to comment on how it made them feel.”

Harris, also a yoga instructor, said that breath work is easy to learn and perhaps the best thing people can do in these stressful situations.

Having said all of this, there are many in the Comsewogue community that may not be as comfortable as students are with technology, though there are many people willing to help distribute food and other resources to our senior citizens.

“The problem is that they may not know that there is help out there. Where many of us can easily access social media sites, many of these seniors don’t have the ability to do so,” said Ed Garboski of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

“Currently, I’m trying to find a way to bridge that gap,” said Harris. “We are trying to put together an electronic way to have our students write letters to the senior citizens who are being quarantined at local facilities. If we have to, we will have the letters printed and distributed to those seniors directly or through the facility’s printer, so they are not compromised.”

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn stated that the whole staff is committed to doing whatever is necessary to make sure the students continue to get everything they need to have a great education, and much more.

Information and quotes provided by Andrew Harris

Comsewogue Won’t Be Stopped by COVID-19

By Deniz Yildirim

Like the rest of New York, Comsewogue School District is facing unprecedented challenges with courage and teamwork. Following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) orders, all six of the district’s schools were closed on Monday, March 16, for a tentative two-week period. Administrators and teachers worked hard to create packets and uploaded countless resources onto the district’s website so students can continue their education at home.

Preparing work for over 5,000 students with numerous and distinct needs such as learning disabilities and language barriers could only be completed with hard work and collaboration. Reading teachers, English as second language teachers, teaching assistants and even special area teachers like music teacher Ellen Rios came together to create comprehensive packets that were sent home with students on Friday, March 13. Parents could come in person to pick them up if their child wasn’t in school to get it themselves.

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn has been regularly calling parents with updates and also informed families that the district is even willing to lend out its Chromebooks to students who couldn’t otherwise access the online learning tools.

“This is a scary time for everyone and our students’ health comes first. We want to share what we have to make them feel safe and help them continue to learn,” said Quinn. “Families are advised to call the district so they can prepare the appropriate materials and ensure a smooth and sanitary pick up.

In addition to student work, Comsewogue is continuously posting statements on its website (in English and Spanish) in order to keep families informed. One such notice comes from Robert Pearl, the district’s new administrator for Pupil Personnel Services and Micheala Finlay-Essig, the assistant director of PPS; they have been rescheduling important meetings regarding student services that will now be “teleconferencing” meetings through Google Meet. The instructional technology department led by Don Heberer has never been more critical and everyone can testify to the key role they are playing.

“We’re here to help our students, teachers and community,” Heberer said. “We have been supporting our teachers through technology professional development, so the teachers can support our students’ learning. We are updating the district website and mobile app daily to keep our community informed and provide vital resources.”

Comsewogue graduate, parent and now teacher Kristina Fowler said she’s never been prouder of her community. Fowler has a unique perspective because she’s been in everyone’s shoes, so it’s particularly meaningful to hear her say that Comsewogue is going above and beyond her expectations. She supports her two sons, fourth-grader Kingston and second-grader Miles and lets them “play” with their friends via FaceTime. Most recently, Kingston and Kristina helped classmate Liam Schneph with a question he had about his new hamster.

“It’s so important to stay connected and let kids be kids,” she said. “Comsewogue won’t be stopped by COVID-19.”

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School

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Photography, art, science and several other classes do projects at and around the garden. Photo from Andrew Harris

Since the beginning of the school year, students have been gathering in the courtyard at Comsewogue High School on their off periods. 

Comsewogue students gather for festivities at the ‘Town Square.’ Photo from Andrew Harris

“Dr. [Joe] Rella always thought of our Rotunda as our town hall, and now we’ve expanded on his dream, by developing a Town Square,” said Superintendent Jennifer Quinn.

The space started with “Jackie’s Garden” a few years ago after the untimely passing of Rella’s wife, Jackie. Her passing left the school broken hearted, said special education teacher Andrew Harris, making them want to reach out. Harris suggested the idea, and “Dr. Quinn looked at me and said it was a beautiful idea, but asked me if I was sure I wanted to commit … because you know what happens to gardens?”

Harris knew exactly what she meant, having seen several gardens start-up and then eventually fall by the wayside. He promised her that for as long as he is a teacher at Comsewogue, he would make sure to maintain the garden.

The next thing the school knew, Boy Scouts from the High School stepped up and did their Eagle Scout projects to benefit the garden. Joey Rizzo, a junior, built several raised beds. He even created a barrier to protect the garden from other activities. Now-graduate Christian Freda built a raised bed for a student who uses a wheelchair, going further to design and build a bench that has wheelchair access. Last year, James Mantione, a junior, built a trellis that became the backdrop of many senior pictures at graduation. 

“These are amazing students who are doing wonderful things for our school,” said principal Mike Mosca. “These projects took up a lot of their own time and efforts while they developed great leadership skills. By next year, don’t be surprised to see grapes, eggplant, or even zucchini, growing from the trellis.”

Soon, community members and businesses asked to pitch in. Rich Crandle, from 4 Corners Produce in Port Jefferson Station, donated many of the flowers, plants and decorations for every holiday, which Harris called extremely generous. 

 “Ann Marie’s Farm Stand, Agway, and landscapers Chris Friedl, Tommy Deacy and Steve Long are a phone call away and will stop what they are doing just to help out clearing things or delivering soil and mulch,” said Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent. 

Joe Rella, Jennifer Quinn and Joe Coniglione during the naming of ‘Jackie’s Garden.
Photo from Andrew Harris

The Whole Foods Foundation gave the district a $2,000 grant for the garden, which allowed the garden to expand.

Recently, the school added a sunflower farm in the middle as a result of a class project. 

“This year, students gather by the beautiful sunflowers at every lunch period, it’s quite beautiful,” said a senior posing for pictures with friends. 

According to Rella, sunflowers were Jackie’s favorite. 

“Our life skills class took that idea and ran with it,” said Joe Dimino, who helped with the project-based initiative. 

The students planned, researched and set up the garden, watching it flourish. Harris said that they weren’t quite ready to plant after mid-May, but then the unexpected passing of one of the district students occurred. 

“I told the students that I really didn’t have a good explanation, but I did know that this year we could plant and dedicate the sunflowers to Jackson, the young middle school student who lost his battle to cancer,” Harris said. “We all got out there and got to work to focus ourselves on something positive in his memory. The students were so proud of their efforts to get it done in time.”

Harris described an amazing thing that started to happen. Students, teachers, clubs and administrators started to “plug-in” various projects at and around the garden. This Halloween, the district plans to conduct a hay ride for the kids who visit for the annual Trick or Treat Streets.  Shane Goldberg, who teaches advanced science classes, planted vegetables.

“For a bit, our sprinkler system wasn’t reaching the plants, so one of the AP students designed and implemented a system to keep the soil and plants hydrated,” Goldberg said. “It was the perfect idea and solution to a real-life problem.”

For the past several years, the school’s food service department has served special meals that were designed by and even prepared with the help of Heather Rand’s English Language Learner classes at the middle school. Rand and her classes developed their own “Jackie’s Garden’” at the middle school. 

“The amazing thing to see was that these kids enjoyed their hands-on experience while learning a whole new language as well as science,” said John F. Kennedy Middle School Principal Mike Fama. 

The ELL teacher said new English language learners were excited and passionate about the garden. 

“It became the ideal way to teach science and English because all the students could relate to what we were doing,” said Rand. 

In the first year of the garden, Charlotte Johnson, who teaches drama and chorus, serenaded Rella and his family as well as the whole district during an evening where staff, students and families participated. 

“There wasn’t a dry eye out there,” Harris recalled one of the parents saying. “It was quite emotional.”

Many Comsewogue students have used the garden for public projects. Photo from Andrew Harris

On a daily basis, the school sees students from art, photography, ELA and more using the garden to do their projects. Outside, on a crisp fall day, both Rand and Natalie Rubenstein’s classes were busy measuring plant length and looking into microscopes all while recording data into their science notebooks. 

In many ways, the garden has become the focal point of the school and district. Students can be seen doing fundraisers and other activities, some to raise awareness of what is going on around them locally and even internationally. On one occasion, students displayed pride flags, sold cancer awareness shirts, all while sharing space with recruiters from the armed forces. On another table, they were collecting for Comsewogue graduates who are currently serving in the military. 

“We are a tight community, and we want those men and women serving to know that we remember them,” said Michelle Mortorano, head of the Parent Teacher Student Association. “Some of the elementary students will be putting hand-written letters inside the boxes we send to show how much they care.”

Soon, the district will display holiday decorations, celebrating the district and community. The rotunda is currently being renovated by art students working on an intricate mosaic that people will see as they enter the school. 

“The mosaic in combination with our kind and welcoming attitude — makes this place one of the best places on Earth to walk into,” Harris said. 

Harris described a scene at the garden, where a few students were doing their homework in the garden on picnic tables surrounded by baskets of flowers. 

“One student looked up and said growing up in this school district and community was one of the best experiences of her life,” he said.

Information for this article supplied by Andrew Harris, Michelle Lautato and Comsewogue High School students.