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Stanley the Fox. Photo from Long Island Game Farm
New education programs connect kids to nature
As schools are preparing for their first long break of the year, the Long Island Game Farm in Manorville is inviting families and visitors of all ages to spend time at the farm with the animals, like Nala the African serval cat, Stanley the fox, lemurs, goats, and more.
Nala the African serval cat. Photo from the Long Island Game Farm

The game farm is also offering special programming for infants to children age 12 during the break, beginning February 19. Kids can learn how animals prepare for winter, including adaptations, migration, and hibernation; sketch some of the resident animals; and engage in imaginative play using stuffed animals, music, and dance.

These programs will be presented by the Foundation for Wildlife Sustainability, the game farm’s nonprofit arm that aims to connect people with wildlife and the natural environment through awareness activities and engaging experiences.

“We’re thrilled to offer families educational and fun experiences during February break this year,” shares Long Island Game Farm president Melinda Novak. “The Foundation for Wildlife Sustainability’s programming at the game farm encourages children and adults alike to foster an appreciation for nature through engaging experiences. We also have a great education team to lead these programs, so we’re very excited for all to come this year.”

Animals in Winter – Monday, February 19 @ 9 a.m.

In this program for children ages 5 to 7, educator James Carey will discuss how animals prepare for winter using adaptations, migration and/or hibernation. The fee is $35 per child.

Animals in Winter – Monday, February 19 @ 1 p.m.

In this program for children ages 8 to 12, educator James Carey will discuss how animals prepare for winter using adaptations, migration and/or hibernation. The fee is $35 per child.

Sketch the Animals – Wednesday, February 21 @ 10:30 a.m.

Bring your sketch pad and drawing tools to the Long Island Game Farm’s Woodland Hall to see and sketch select resident animals up close. For ages 8 and up. The fee is $25 per person.

Make Music with Ms. Jenna – Friday, February 23 @ 10:30 a.m.

Spark imagination and create music using stuffed animals, song, and dance in this program for children up to age 5. The fee is $20 per child and adult. Each additional child is $10.

Registration is required and can be booked online at longislandgamefarm.com or by calling 631-878-6644.

For those that wish to spend more time at the game farm, attendees to these classes will receive half-off admission for the day of class. The teacher or staff will meet students at the ticket booth.

Long Island Game Farm, 489 Chapman Blvd., Manorville will be open on weekends in February and for winter break from Monday, February 19 through Sunday, February 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All paying guests will receive a free cup of animal food in February. For more information, call 631-88-6644 or visit www.longislandgamefarm.com.

 

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

The reality of aging is that we sometimes wake up feeling like we’ve got less than a full tank of gas, or, for those of you driving electric vehicles, a fully charged battery, with which to maneuver through the day.

Maybe our ankles are sore from the moment we imagined we could still dive across the grass to catch a foul ball. Perhaps, less ambitiously, we twisted our ankle when we took a bad step on a sidewalk as we did something much less heroic, like texting an old friend or playing a mindless video game. Or it hurts because it, like our jobs, our cars, and our homes, inexplicably needs attention.

What’s the antidote to the numerous headwinds that slow us down and make us feel exhausted earlier each day?

The start of a new year can provide that energy and inspiration. We get to write 2024 on our checks, if we’re still writing them, we can imagine a blank canvas on which we can reinvent ourselves, find new friends, get new jobs, travel to new places, live our values and contribute meaningfully to the world.

We can start jotting activities into that new calendar, smiling as we imagine seeing friends we haven’t seen in years or decades or fulfilling long-held desires to shape our lives, our bodies or both into what we’ve always imagined.

On a more immediate scale, we have other ways to boost our energy. We can grab a steaming hot cup of hot chocolate or coffee, loading our nervous system up with caffeine, which can wake us up and help us power through the next few hours.

We can also grab a donut, a cookie, or some other food loaded with sugar, knowing, of course, that we run the risk of emptying that short-energy tank quickly after the sugar rush ends.

I have discovered plenty of places I can go, literally and figuratively, to feel energized and inspired. My list includes:

Our children: Yes, they are draining and can be demanding and needy, but their youth and energy can be restorative. They take us to places we hadn’t been before, give us an opportunity to share books we might have missed in our own education and offer insights about themselves and their world that amaze us. Their different interests and thoughts keep us on our toes, focused and, yes, young, as we try to meet them where they live. As we relate to them, we can also imagine our own lives at that age.

Our pets: Watching a dog chase a ball, its tail or a frisbee, or observing a cat push a ball of string across the floor can be invigorating. If we threw that ball or tossed that string, we become a human partner in their games, giving us a role to play even as they expend considerably more effort in this entertaining exchange.

Nature: Energy surrounds us. Water lapping on the shores of Long Island at any time of year, small leaf buds responding to the cues of spring, and birds calling to each other through the trees can inspire us and help us feel alert, alive and aware of the symphony of life that serenades us and that invites us to participate in the evolving narrative around us.

Science: I have the incredible privilege of speaking with scientists almost every day. Listening to them discuss their work, when they don’t travel down a jargon rabbit hole filled with uncommon acronyms, is inspirational. The insatiable curiosity of scientists at any age  and any stage of their careers makes each discovery a new beginning. Each of their answers raises new questions. Scientists are always on the verge of the next hypothesis, the next great idea and the next adventure. Their energy, dedication and unquenchable thirst for knowledge invites listeners to participate in the next chapter in the evolving knowledge story.

Sunrises: Okay, if you’ve read this column often enough, you know I’m a morning person. I try to be quiet in the morning, for my family and for anyone else who stayed up late into the night. Sunrises, however, bring a welcome introduction to something new and original.

History: reading about or studying history puts our world into perspective. We not only can contrast previous time periods with today, but we also can enjoy and appreciate that we have the opportunity to share in and shape this moment.

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

When our children were young, a friend recently told me, she viewed the parents of people she met through a binary process.

A mom of two boys, she figured she had a better chance, at least in the first 10 years or so of her sons’ lives, of interacting with the parents of other boys. When she met girls and their families, she was polite and friendly, without putting too much effort into getting to know them.

Fast forward almost two decades, and her children, like mine, are out of the house. She and her husband have an adorable small dog that they dote on, transferring their abundant parenting attention to a canine companion.

Nowadays, my friend said, she sees people through a similar lens. She takes her small dog to a dog park, where a fence separates pets under 40 pounds from the bigger, heavier versions. When she meets someone outside the park with a dog, she’s more likely to pay attention to their names and their stories if they have a small dog.

As I considered what she said about the parents of boys and girls, as well as the owners of dogs of different sizes, I wondered about the metaphorical fences we create.

Sure, those fences make it easier for us to find people who have similar interests and opinions and who might not challenge us or disagree with us in our decision-making. Those fences also, however, separate us from others with whom we might have even more connections or common interests than we thought, especially if the filter for our “in” and “out” groups is as arbitrary as having sons, daughters or small dogs.

What if a man with a large dog worked in a similar field, had two children about my friend’s offspring’s ages, and went to the same college at the same time? Then again, what if a woman on the other side of the fence had nothing in common with my friend? She had no children, grew up in another country, worked in a completely different field, and didn’t see any of the same movies or read the same books? Would that make her less or more interesting? Perhaps that woman might be fascinating for her life experiences, compelling for her opinions, and amazing in her own way.

Recently, I sat in the window seat of a plane next to a large man who was stuck in the middle. An army veteran, he laughed as we reached our destination, saying he was unaccustomed to landing in planes. I took the bait, asking him why. He said he’d made over 150 jumps out of airplanes. 

He and his unit jumped out of planes at 800 feet, although he didn’t need to do much jumping, as he felt as if a hand pulled him out when he got to the opening. He never had to pull a chord, as the parachute automatically started opening within a second of leaving the plane.

On one type of plane, he stepped out and immediately started falling. Another had a small “bubble” outside the entrance, where he and others stood before leaving the plane. One of his army unit once forgot about the platform, took a small hop on the landing, and then rolled along the entire side of the plane. The others heard as his body scraped the airplane all the way to the back. Fortunately, the impact didn’t cause severe injuries.

One of the many instructions he received was to keep his chin on his chest as he exited. On his first jump, he didn’t, which caused enough discomfort that he never made that mistake again. He reached the ground at 38 miles per hour, at which point he was supposed to tuck and roll, ending on his back. Once, a crosswind turned him upside down and he landed on his head, cracking his helmet and causing a concussion.

Listening to his stories, I learned about something I will likely never do and connected with someone I will likely never see again. He did, however, expand my horizons and share his compelling life experiences, among other stories. I appreciated the opportunity to connect with someone who lives outside whatever fences I intentionally or unintentionally put up around me.

Last month, Terryville Road Elementary School celebrated National Random Acts of Kindness Day. Guided by the school social worker, Tiffany Liebling, students practiced kindness by participating in Kindness Bingo. Boys and girls could check off a box on their board by paying a student from a different class a compliment or making someone smile.

“It’s an absolute joy to see how thoughtful Terryville students are! I feel blessed to work with such exemplary children,” said principal Annemarie Sciove. 

A student-created poster contest depicting thoughtful quotes and artwork decorated the building for the last few weeks and winners were just announced. Congratulations go to 5th grader Anderson Latt, 4th grader Paige Stonehill and 3rd grader Gia Ochoa. And a special acknowledgement to Mrs. Stoeber’s class who won the Kindness Bingo and will enjoy a pizza party next week. 

“It’s good to take care of the world,” said 3rd grade winner, Gia. 

Photo from SWRSD

How many opportunities are there to celebrate the number 100? Miller Avenue School staff and students celebrated the 100th day of school with STEM projects galore, dressing as if they were 100 years old, having a 100th Day Parade and so much more.

Science, art, technology and, of course, math skills were used throughout the building to celebrate this exciting milestone. 

Students in Vicki Radonavitch’s kindergarten class used their growing imaginations to build whatever their engineering skills would allow out of 100 different manipulatives. Cara Behrens and Janelle Belotti’s first grade students built with 100 cups, Legos, pattern blocks and snapping cubes. They also organized stickers and fruit loops into 10s to make necklaces. 

“We had so much fun,” Ms. Behrens said. “It was an exciting day with the students collaborating together to work as a team and develop their interpersonal skills.” 

Other classes completed various center activities throughout the day, incorporating the number 100 and signifying the successful move forward in the academic year.

Stock photo

Local health care providers were eager to start administering doses of COVID-19 vaccines to children who are 5 to 11 years old, which they can now do after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the shots for children late Tuesday night.

“We definitely saw more cases [of COVID-19] in children after school started this year,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We’d like to prevent that.”

Health care providers would also like to stop household transmission, in which a member of a home spreads the virus to everyone else with whom that person lives.

“Children usually get milder forms of COVID, but they can transmit disease to people around them,” Dr. Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital, explained in an email. “It is not unusual for children to bring COVID in the home and then household members to be exposed and get COVID, especially if they are unvaccinated and immunocompromised.”

In considering whether parents should get shots for their children, doctors urged parents to speak with their family pediatricians.

“They are the experts in your child’s care,” Nachman said. “They’ll have the most insight into who your kid is.”

Pfizer BioNTech said the vaccines, which were a third of the dose of an adult shot, were over 90% effective against symptomatic COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization for vaccines for this age group.

“Authorization of the vaccine for younger children is an important step in keeping them healthy and providing their families with peace of mind,” Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the group, said in a statement. “The vaccine will make it safe for children to visit friends and family members, celebrate holiday gatherings, and to resume the normal childhood activities that they’ve missed during the pandemic.”

Doctors urged parents with children who have underlying cardiac or respiratory issues to give serious consideration to vaccinations that could prevent the spread of a virus that could be especially problematic for their children.

“Someone with underlying cardiac issues, if they were to get COVID-19, would have increased risk of poor outcomes,” Nachman said. “They should be prioritized. Waiting to get COVID is not a good idea.”

The same holds true for children with asthma, who could develop more problematic symptoms from contracting the virus, Nachman said.

While the doses for children will be lower, the immune system of younger people is more reactive than that for adults, which is why pharmaceutical companies tested a lower dose in their clinical trials.

Even with the smaller volume of the vaccine, “children will still not have waning immunity,” Nachman said. “It will be just as effective” as the higher dose for adults.

Besides having more reactive and resilient immune systems, healthy children also will likely have milder side effects from the vaccine because of the lower dosage.

To be sure, every child who is in this age range and becomes eligible for the shot shouldn’t immediately receive the vaccination.

The clinical trials didn’t include children with cancer or with other immunological difficulties.

“We did not enroll [children with those conditions] in clinical trials,” so it would be difficult to know how effective the vaccine would be for them, Nachman said.

Down the road, vaccinating a classroom of children in this age category could lead to a reduction in the current restrictions designed to protect the health of students and their educators.

“It’s too soon to say the next steps,” Nachman said, which could include learning without masks. Further information about the spread of the virus after vaccinations would inform future guidelines.

Popp added that booster needs for children in the future is also unknown.

“Data will be gathered and [officials] will see if this will become necessary,” Popp said.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

One day, you wake up and your kids who called noodles “noonies” are getting ready for college.

No, not exactly. It’s a long journey filled with skinned knees, ripped tee shirts — don’t ask — eye rolling and muttering between clenched teeth. Still, here we are, as our kids prepare to move on from the educational minor leagues. Along the way, we went through numerous milestones. Please find below a few of the phases in our journey.

— Deer in the headlights. I’ve seen deer in my headlights. The only difference between them and us when we first brought our children home is that the deer’s eyes are open much wider. We almost instantly became sleep-deprived. Other than that, we had that frozen not-sure-where-to-move feeling, knowing we had to do something, but not exactly sure what or in what order to take care of those needs.

— Hating everyone. People meant well back in the days when our children were young and cried. Numerous people, who didn’t live with or even know our needy infants, offered unsolicited advice about what this scream or that scream meant. Strangers would tell us how our daughter’s cry meant she had gas, was hungry, needed her diaper changed, or was hot or cold. Yes, thanks, those are the options. Thanks for the help!

— Cooking the plastics. Yup, back in the early days, I was so sleep deprived that I put plastic bottles in a pot of boiling water to sterilize them and fell asleep. It wasn’t until I smelled the burning plastic that I realized how long I’d been out.

— Carrying everything: We couldn’t go four blocks without a diaper bag filled with everything, including the special toy each of them needed, diapers, wipes, ointment, sunscreen, bug spray, rain jackets, boots, and extra clothing.

— Straining our backs: Picking the kids up and playing with them was fun when they were under 20 pounds. When they reached 50 and above, holding them the entire length of a ski slope became impossible.

— Crazy sports parents: This phase lasted much longer than it should have. It was only when the kids reached late middle school that I appreciated the fresh air, the sparkling sunlight and the excitement of the moment. Exercise and making friends are the goal. Everything else, including winning, is gravy.

— Giving them space (aka, it’s not about us). As they reached adolescence, our children needed to make their own decisions. Tempting as it was to jump in and redirect them or even to kiss them before they left the car for middle school, we bit our tongues as often as we could, leaving us feeling lonely and nostalgic in our cars as they joined their friends.

— Beautiful naps: Giving them space allowed us to do what we wanted. After years of living our lives while monitoring and helping theirs, we had a chance to do exactly what we wanted, which started with restorative naps.

— Sending them into space. We aren’t putting them in a Jeff Bezos rocket ship or sending them to the International Space Station, but we are preparing to give them an opportunity to explore the world outside our house.

— Looking at the calendar differently. With both of them on the way to their futures, we can choose places to visit that didn’t interest them. We can visit these places when school is in session, which should mean lower costs for us.

— Telling other people how to take care of their kids: With our free time, we see parents struggling with young children. We, of course, know better. Or maybe not.

The exterior of Stony Brook Children's Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

COVID-19, which was considered especially threatening to the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, may also have triggered an inflammatory illness that is sickening children in several places throughout the world, including in Suffolk County.

An inflammatory illness in children with symptoms that mimic Kawasaki disease has sickened seven in Suffolk County and officials are expecting more cases of the rare condition here and throughout the country.

Stony Brook Pediatric Hospital has admitted two cases of the multi-inflammatory pediatric condition, for residents who are 10 and 19 years old.

With other hospitals showing rare but similar unusual pediatric cases, including in the United Kingdom and New York City, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is preparing to release an alert about the inflammatory condition, a CDC spokesman told CNN.

Symptoms of the new illness include an extended fever, a rash, red eyes, red lips, a strawberry tongue, lower blood pressure and abdominal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.

Stony Brook, Pediatric Hospital has been “treating patients like we would treat and approach Kawasaki Disease,” said Christy Beneri, the Fellowship Program Director in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. The hospital has provided intravenous immunoglobulin, a high dose of aspirin and steroids to decrease inflammation and other medications to help suppress the inflammatory syndrome.

This rare inflammatory process in children has developed weeks after a likely mild or asymptomatic case of COVID-19 in mostly healthy younger patients.

Patients can develop symptoms from “days to weeks” after an infection with the virus that has caused the pandemic, Beneri said. The majority of people with this inflammatory reaction are either testing positive for COVID-19 when they come to the hospital or have a positive antibody test, which indicates their immune systems mounted a defense against the virus, Beneri added.

It is unclear to doctors what is causing the progression from a manageable response to the virus to an inflammation that may require a trip to the hospital and to the Intensive Care Unit.

“We are trying to understand how the coronavirus is causing vasculitis,” Beneri said. “It has something to do with how the virus is affecting blood vessels and organs.”

To be sure, Beneri reassured children and their parents that most of the children who are infected with Covid-19 will not develop these inflammatory symptoms later.

“The majority will do well,” Beneri said.

Nonetheless, Beneri anticipated that more pediatric residents in Suffolk County would likely show signs of this inflammatory response.

“If their child is having fever for a number of days, significant vomiting or diarrhea, belly pain, red eyes or a rash, it is important that they speak with their doctor,” Beneri said.

One of the reasons Suffolk County is seeing some cases of this Kawasaki-like response in children now, weeks after the pandemic infected thousands in the area, likely relates to the timing of the peak infections, which occurred in the middle of April.

Based on conversations Beneri has had with other pediatricians who are treating patients with similar symptoms, she said the patients tend to be “healthy kids” who have often had a contact with someone in their house who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19.

The child may have brought the virus into the home and passed it along to a parent, who became sick. The child, however, later develops these multiple-symptom inflammatory issues.

While some children have died from this condition, Beneri said the majority of them are recovering.

The duration of hospital stays has varied, with some patients requiring 10 days in the hospital, while others have recovered within a few days. Beneri said Stony Brook has already sent one patient home.

Beneri added Nassau County has also had several teenage patients come in with the same symptoms. She expects more Suffolk pediatric patients with similar symptoms to come to county hospitals.

Parents should be on the lookout, primarily, for persistent fevers over the course of several days with significant abdominal pain, Beneri said. “If they start developing other symptoms, such as red eyes and a rash and they are not getting better” then parents should contact their doctor or a hospital, Beneri advised.

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File photo
Men inside store. Photo from SCPD

Two men who used a child to help them steal a saw from a Port Jefferson Station store are currently being sought by Suffolk County Police.

Security footage of men entering with child. Photo from SCPD

Two men, accompanied by two children, entered MVP Power Outdoor Equipment, located at 86 Comsewogue Road, May 8 at around 10:30 a.m. Police said one of the men instructed one of the children to remove a Stihl concrete saw from the shelf and the four then walked out of the store. The stolen saw has a value of approximately $1,050.

The men are wanted for grand larceny and endangering the welfare of a child.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 800-220-TIPS (8477) or texting “SCPD” and your message to “CRIMES” (274637). All calls and text messages will be kept confidential.

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The North Shore Youth Council recognized Parents of Megan’s Law founder Laura Ahearn, center. Photo from NSYC

The North Shore Youth Council has dedicated its attention to children across the local hamlets, but last week the organization thanked one group which looks to stop sexual violence against minors.

More than 150 students, their families and elected officials packed the ballroom of Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point, as the NSYC hosted its Big Buddy-Little Buddy and Volunteer Celebration May 20 and honored Laura Ahearn, an attorney and the founder and executive director of the Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center for her dedication to helping youth in the community. 

“Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.”

— Janene Gentile

The council presented Ahearn, who recently donated $5,000 to NSYC to develop the Laura Ahearn Resilience Scholarship, with an award and plaque. 

The scholarship will be given to high school students who have overcome sexual abuse to pursue a post-secondary education, and will be distributed in $1,000 increments during the next five years as students pursue higher education. 

Janene Gentile, executive director of NSYC, said the council is very grateful to be receiving the grant funds. 

“We are very excited to be giving this scholarship to a student, hopefully in September,” she said. “Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.”

Ahearn said it meant a lot to receive an award from such an active organization

“I want to thank them for all the great things they do in the community,” she said. 

The attorney said the council does a lot to protect kids from becoming sexual abuse victims. 

“For me, I’m really grateful that there are so many volunteers and people who want to dedicate their lives to help kids,” she said. “When kids don’t have the support they need, they become very vulnerable.”

Ahearn said it is very meaningful for her to be able to give out these scholarships, along with the support of the many people that made it possible for her to help people in the community. 

The attorney said the project has come full circle for her.

“I wanted to give back to an organization that took the time to listen to me when someone wouldn’t 20 years,” she said.  

During her acceptance speech, Ahearn spoke about her 25-year journey, her experiences with her organization and the importance of sexual abuse prevention. 

“The only way to stop this epidemic is to educate folks in the communities, educate your children and yourself,” she said. “Sexual predators are not strangers, they look like you and me, they act just like you and me — you would never know.”

The NSYC’s Big Buddy-Little Buddy program, which began in 1993, gets high school students paired up with younger children to become mentors for them. They engage in a variety of group activities that demonstrate, encourage and reinforce social competency skills.

“This is a celebration of our peer mentorship programs,” Robert Woods, the director of youth development at NYSC said. “Whether it’s helping them with homework, or talking about their day, it gives them a safe space to open up.”

This summer Brookhaven National Laboratory will collaborate with the Rocky Point nonprofit to offer a free STEM program. In addition, they will be working with the Staller Center at Stony Brook University to bring in young musicians to work with the children in the program.