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Commack High School

Sarah Strent with her CTeen Female Leader of the Year award. Photo from The Chai Center

Sarah Strent, 17, a senior at Commack High School and a resident of Commack, was recently named CTeen Female Leader of the Year at the CTeen International Shabbaton, an annual event where thousands of Jewish teens gather in New York City. She was chosen by her peers from among 3,000 leaders worldwide.

CTeen, comprised of teens from 37 countries with 625 chapters around the world, is the fastest growing Jewish teen network. Its mission is to inspire and facilitate teens who want to give back to their community and environment, with an emphasis on positive character development. 

Strent is a leader with the West Suffolk Chapter of CTeen, which is based at The Chai Center in Dix Hills. “We are so immensely proud of Sarah,” Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum, Youth Director at The Chai Center said. “Sarah has helped us on a local level create programs like cooking for needy families, packing gifts for children in hospitals and creating a bowl-a-thon for special needs kids and children with cancer. She became a regional leader helping to create programs for over 50 chapters in the New York and New Jersey area. In the last 18 months, Strent was named an international leader serving on the board of CTeen.”

The CTeen Network provides a nurturing environment fusing fun, friendship, humanitarian outreach, mitzvah observance, and engaging Torah study. The CTeen Network believes in the power of youth and transforming the teen years into a time of purpose and self-discovery. The goal is to turn youth into leaders.

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Northport led by two in the closing seconds of the game Feb. 25 when Commack intentionally fouled Sean Walsh with six seconds left. Senior Walsh went to the line and swished both to seal the deal for the 49-45 victory in the Class AA semifinal at Longwood High School.

Walsh topped the scoring chart for the Tigers with five triples, two from the floor and his final appearance at the charity stripe for 21 points. Teammate Pat Healy finished with 10 points, and senior Larry Citrola chipped in nine.

Commack senior Spencer Malloy led his team with 17 points, and senior Nick Greco netted 15 to conclude the Cougars’ season at 11-2, 16-5 overall.

The win lifts No. 2 Northport to 13-0 in league, 20-1 overall, and advance to the county finals where they’ll face top seeded Brentwood at Farmingdale State College Feb. 28. Tickets are $10 cash at the door. Game time is 8:30 p.m.

 

 

By Leah Chiappino

Carly Tamer and Deniz Sinar have earned the title of Academic Leaders at Commack High School, which is given to the two students with the highest weighted GPA upon the completion of high school.

Tamer finished with a 105.04 GPA, earning her a spot at Northeastern University

as a Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry major. She has aspirations to work in research “with a focus on antibiotic resistance.”  This stems from  her experience working as a research assistant with Dr. Nathan Rigel at Hofstra University, where she studied protein tracking in gram negative bacteria.

She was involved in the National, Science, and Spanish honor societies, and was the Vice President of the Math Honor Society at Commack. She was also a leader for  CTeen, an international Jewish youth organization, where she took part in volunteer work, and represented the organization at conventions. She also made time for her passion of the arts, as she danced all throughout high school and even worked a professional acting job when she earned the lead role in the First Daughter Suite at the Public Theatre in Manhattan in 2015. She plans to continue performing and acting in college.

Tamer thanked her family and teachers for getting her to where she is, “I attribute much of my success to my incredibly supportive family who was there for me through both the rough times and the exciting times during my educational career,” she said. “Without their love and encouragement, I would not have achieved this amazing honor. Teachers, such as Mr. Pope, who taught IB HL Math and Dr. O’Brien, who taught IB Chemistry, inspired my thirst for knowledge and desire to aim high.”

She cited her favorite Commack memory as “the day before winter break, where my math class and I went around the school to different classrooms singing “Calculus Carols.

“We changed the lyrics of classic holiday songs to fit our calculus theme and everyone around the school looked forward to hearing us sing,” she said. “It was the perfect blend of both of my passions, and I will never forget how fun it was.”

Sinar graduated with a104.57 weighted GPA, and will attend Cornell in the fall  as a biological engineering major, with hopes of eventually earning a doctorate degree and being the

principal investigator of her own research lab.

At Commack, she was involved in the National, Italian, Tri-M Music, and Science Honor Societies, and was the secretary of the Math Honor Society and Varsity Math Team. Sinar raised money for Long Island Against Domestic Violence and volunteered to visit nursing home residents through Commack’s Glamour Gals Club. She was also a member of the Chamber Orchestra for three years and took part in Future American String Teachers Association Club, Pathways Freshman Art and Literary Magazine.

She is the winner of several awards including a National Merit Scholarship, the President’s Award for Educational Excellence, New York American Chemical Society High School Award, Excellence in Italian Award, Science Department Senior Award, Suffolk County Math Teachers’ Association Course Contest third place school-wide, American Association of Teacher of Italian National Exam Gold Medal Level 5, American Association of Teacher of Italian Poetry Contest Silver Medal Level 4, New York Seal of Biliteracy, and the WAC Lighting Foundation Invitational Science Fair third place in General Biology.

She cites her participation in the American Association of Teacher of Italian Poetry Contest as her favorite high school memory, because it was so unlike anything she had ever done before, and it required “a lot of determination,” as she had to memorize the poem in Italian and “dramatize” it in front of judges. “When I received the second-place award, I had a moment when I truly felt like I was almost fluent in the Italian language since I actually recited a renowned poem, understood every single word, and crafted an emotional performance that impressed the judges,” she stated.

Sinar developed a love of science through her participation in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Partners for the Future Program, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Science camp, Science Olympiad, the Hofstra University Summer Science Research Program, and the Columbia University Science Honors Program. “These activities have allowed me to navigate many different science topics, which led me to realize the ones that I am most passionate about,” she stated.

Sinar commended her parents for her success and thanked them for “being so supportive no matter what I did and always pushing me to do my best.”

As far as advice for next year’s seniors, Sinar advises them to “stay focused throughout the year but be aware of when you need to relax and set your work aside. You will be dealing with a lot of work at once, so managing responsibilities and allotting time to de-stress is as important as actually working.”

 

 

 

Third-place winners from Commack High School from left, Luke Maciejewski, Nathan Cheung, Riley Bode, Louis Vigliette and Kevin Chen. Photo from BNL
Commack and Walt Whitman high schools take home honors
Fourth-place winners from Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, from left, Rena Shapiro, Eliot Yoon, Matthew Kerner and Aiden Luebker. Photo from BNL

Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton held its annual Long Island Regional High School Science Bowl on Jan. 26. Out of 20 teams from across Long Island, Levittown’s Island Trees High School took the top spot and was awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Finals in Washington, D.C., scheduled for Apr. 25 to 29. 

Old Westbury’s Wheatley School took home second place; Commack High School placed third; and Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station placed fourth.

The event was just one of the nation’s regional competitions of the 29th Annual DOE National Science Bowl (NSB). 

A series of 111 regional high school and middle school tournaments are held across the country from January through March. Teams from diverse backgrounds are each made up of four students, one alternate, and a teacher who serves as an adviser and coach. These teams face off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format where they are tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy and math. The NSB draws more than 14,000 middle- and high-school competitors.

“The National Science Bowl has grown into one of the most prestigious and competitive science academic competitions in the country, challenging students to excel in the STEM fields so vital to America’s future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “I am proud to oversee a Department that provides such a unique and empowering opportunity for our nation’s students, and I am honored to congratulate Island Trees High School for advancing to the National Finals, where they will be competing against some of the brightest science, technology and engineering students across the country.”

The top 16 high school teams and the top 16 middle school teams in the National Finals will win $1,000 for their schools’ science departments. Prizes for the top two high school teams for the 2019 NSB will be announced on a later date.

In the competition at Brookhaven Lab, participating students received a Science Bowl T-shirt and winning teams also received trophies, medals and cash awards. Prizes were courtesy of BNL’s event sponsor, Brookhaven Science Associates, the company that manages and operates the lab for DOE.

For more information, visit www.science.energy.gov

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The Commack girls varsity volleyball team was proud to defend its title as Suffolk County’s Class AA champions Nov. 8. The Cougars tore apart Connetquot, 3-0, at county finals held at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus.

This is the second straight year that the Cougars have gone undefeated in Suffolk with an overall record of 13-0.  The Commack girls volleyball team competed against Long Beach vying for the Long Island Championship title Nov. 11 and came up short 2-3.

Dan Graziosi

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2017 there were more than 550,000 homeless in the country. Three alumni from Ward Melville and Commack high schools have asked a simple question: How many are stuck that way simply because nobody can see their résumés?

“You never really know why someone became homeless,” said Dan Graziosi, 22, a Ward Melville graduate. He is chief executive officer of Lazarus Rising, a nonprofit created in 2015 that helps homeless people write their résumés and get ready for job interviews. 

“A lot of the people don’t necessarily see the skills that they themselves have, and sometimes showing this person that they have value is almost more important than making a résumé for them,” Graziosi said.

Matthew Sobel

Co-founders of Lazarus Rising, Ward Melville alum Matthew Sobel, 23, and Commack alum Matthew Rojas, 23, gave birth to the organization wondering, as sophomores at the University of Delaware, that if creating a résumé for them was difficult — two people who considered themselves privileged — then how tough would it be for a person without access to resources such as a computer?

“There’s a really unfortunate number of people who are experiencing homelessness,” Rojas said. “While some are unfortunately addicts, a lot of them don’t have basic things like a printer, Microsoft Word or they just haven’t had an interview in a long time.”

As they first walked into a Delaware homeless shelter in 2014, just a block away from their freshman dorm, the two did not have much in the way of community service experience. Yet at the shelter they met a man named Jeff, that while he had fallen on hard times since the 2008 recession, he also had years of experience managing more than 20 people at a warehouse. The only problem was his résumé was five pages of a single-spaced biography rather than the commonly accepted single page bulleting a person’s most applicable skills.

“It kind of took our breath away knowing that an employer is throwing that right out the window,” Sobel said. “It’s not Jeff’s fault — he just didn’t know what standards there are in résumés.”

In 2015 Sobel, Rojas, Graziosi, along with several other friends and compatriots, incorporated their talents into the non-profit Lazarus Rising, all while they were still undergrads. 

Matthew Rojas

“There is a subset of the homeless population that have the skills to be an amazing employee, but they simply lack the skills that we take for granted like being able to write a résumé,” Sobel said. “We all realized we came from super-fortunate situations, being from where we came from and what schools we came from. I came into college with minimal community service. It’s one of those experiences you really can’t understand until you do it.”

Lazarus Rising has grown to host more than 200 volunteers offering their services either in school or during their free time. They have college chapters at Binghamton University, University of Delaware, University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh and professional chapters in New York City and Philadelphia. Graziosi estimates that the organization has aided more than 300 homeless participants.

Volunteers for Lazarus Rising often spend approximately one hour with a homeless person working on his or her résumé. They then spend more time after completing mock interviews or even help the person navigate applying for jobs online.

Rojas said that it is one of the greatest satisfactions of his life having helped these people get back on their feet. “It’s a feeling that what I’m doing actually makes a difference,” he said.

Meanwhile the group hopes to expand its reach in New York state and eventually Long Island, most likely through local colleges like Stony Brook University.

All three alumni are out of college and have either found jobs or starting ones, but that has not stopped any of them from being active in the organization. While Graziosi will soon be taking on a job as a technology consultant for Ernst & Young, a professional services organization, he still plans to run as the nonprofit’s CEO into the foreseeable future.

Graziosi’s mother Sheila, a Setauket resident, said what her son and his friends have been able to accomplish has not only changed their lives, but the lives of many homeless.

“He’s amazing — I’m just so proud of him,” Graziosi’s mother said of her son. “He’s really getting so much out of it.” 

Lazarus Rising is looking for more volunteers. For more information about volunteer opportunities or to donate to Lazarus Rising, visit lazarusrising.org.

Meet the Class of 2018's valedictorians, salutatorians and honor speakers in Smithtown

Commack High School's Class of 2018 throws their caps skyward in celebration. Photo by Karen Forman

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Across the Town of Smithtown, hundreds of graduates stepped forward to receive their high school diplomas last week. Among the graduates are those who have excelled academically, achieving consistently high marks to rise top of their class to earn the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian. 

Commack High School Honor Speaker: Matthew Ciurleo. Photo by Karen Forman.

Commack High School

Honor Speaker: Matthew Ciurleo

GPA: 105.12 (weighted)

College: Harvard University

Major: Economics

Ciurleo served as president of the National Honor Society, a captain of the varsity boys golf team and was a member of both the Boys Scholar Athletic Leadership Club and Italian Honor Society.

 

 

Kings Park High School Valedictorian Lina Rohrer. Photo from Kings Park school district

Kings Park High School

Valedictorian: Lina Rohrer

GPA: 106.04 (weighted)

College: Not disclosed

Major: Physics

Rohrer plans on continuing her education by studying physics.

 

 

 

Kings Park High School Salutatorian Keiffer Acoba. Photo from Kings Park school district

Kings Park High School

Salutatorian: Keiffer Acoba

GPA: 105.01

College: Carnegie Mellon

Major: Computer Science

Acoba was named among the Top 300 Scholars in Regeneron’s Science Talent Search, a Coca-Cola Scholar finalist, and a Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Regional finalist. He was vice president of the Independent Science Research, co-captain of the math team,  head programmer of the robotics team and president of Science Olympiads.

 

Smithtown High School East honor speaker Matthew Timmel. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown High School East

Honor speaker: Matthew Timmel

GPA: 4.13

College: Florida State University

Major: Business finance, computer  science

Timmel served as president of DECA, senior leader of RYLA, a member of the National Honor Society and played on the varsity boys badminton team.

 

 

 

Smithtown High School West Honor Speaker Kevin Camson. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown High School West

Honor Speaker: Kevin Camson

GPA: 4.08

College: University of Notre Dame

Major: Political Science

Camson served as student liaison to Smithotwn’s board of education; founder and president of Student Pipeline; member of the teen council for the Robin Hood Foundation; founder and leader of Project Smith-Stead; founder of Tables to Enable; a member of the School Start Time Steering Committe; and on track and field.

By Karen Forman

More than 550 Commack High School graduates looked to their future Friday night. 

Commack High School held its annual commencement exercises June 22 on the athletic fields.

“Be present in your daily lives,” Commack High School Principal Leslie Boritz told the Class of 2018. “Be here now for yourself and for others. Living in the present is how we can make a difference.”

After the students tossed their caps in the air, Master of Ceremonies and English teacher James Desmond told the graduating seniors, “While the flight of your caps is limited, may your future never be.”

 

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Jake Nieto’s research findings have potential to reduce the need for painful kidney biopsies

Dr. Prakash Narayan and Commack High Schoo senior Jake Nieto. Photo from Commack school district.

By Kevin Redding

Most teenagers don’t spend their summer developing new scientific methods that have the potential to revolutionize medical care. But Jake Nieto, a senior at Commack High School, is no ordinary teen.

In 2016, Nieto, a then 15-year-old math and science whiz was looking to spend his summer break continuing research he had gleaned in his chemistry and biology classes. He told his Commack science teacher, Richard Kurtz, who connected him with Dr. Prakash Narayan of Uniondale’s Angion Biomedica Corp., a clinical stage organ restoration company that opens its doors to student researchers.

“He was very precocious. His knowledge and abilities were very advanced for someone his age. If I gave him a problem, it would keep him awake at night.”

— Prakash Narayan

In Angion’s labs, Nieto applied his academic strengths — advanced biophysics, statistical analysis, computation — to an in-depth, months-long project on kidney disease. Despite being the youngest person working at Angion, he often worked four days a week from 8 a.m. to sometimes as late as 5 p.m.

“He was very precocious,” said Narayan, the vice president of preclinical research at Angion. “His knowledge and abilities were very advanced for someone his age. If I gave him a problem, it would keep him awake at night. It’s not like if he couldn’t solve it, he’d let it go.”

Nieto said, as with everything in his life, he was driven by genuine curiosity.

“I just found it so interesting that I could take what I learned from school and finally apply it to actual problems,” he said.

Both of Nieto’s scientific research papers based on that summer’s findings were published by PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open access scientific journal. The first paper,  published in October 2016, details a formula he came up with and dubbed the “Nieto-Narayan Formula” — that estimates the volume of cysts found in the kidney of a person with polycystic kidney disease.

In a second paper, published this January, Nieto outlined a better approach to determining the amount of scar tissue in the kidney of someone with chronic kidney disease with the aim to alleviate the use of biopsies — the painful process of injecting a long needle through a patient’s back to examine the kidney scarring. For this project, he modified the commonly used elliptical formula in order to obtain more accurate measurements and volume of a kidney.

“I was so excited,” Nieto said. “It was really awesome and humbling to think that something I worked on could potentially be read by other people who are in the field.”

He and Narayan are confident, down the line, that his research has the potential for clinical study and could become part of normal kidney monitoring.

Commack High School teachers Jeanette Collette and Richard Kurtz; Dr. Prakash Narayan, vice president of preclinical research at at Angion Biomedica; and Commack senior Jake Nieto. Photo from Commack school district.

“Jake’s research really opens up the door for noninvasive characterization of kidney disease,” Narayan said. “I believe it can revolutionize the diagnosis and will greatly reduce very painful kidney biopsies. And, of course, for any 15-year-old to walk to spend the summer in a facility here, when other 15-year-olds are doing whatever they’re doing, and achieve this —  I think that’s very remarkable. I’m very proud of him.”

Nieto’s grandfather Ray Ingram, a Queens resident, said he was not in the least bit surprised by this achievement.

“Since he was 4 or 5 years old, Jake was outside looking through a magnifying glass,” Ingram said. “He had a microscope, a telescope, a chemistry set — everything he touched, he took apart and figured out how it worked and figured out a way to improve it.”

At the high school, Nieto is a competitor on the Science Olympiad and mock trial teams. He is president of the Spanish honor society and science honor society, plays trumpet in the marching band, and tutors other students in science and math. While unsure what college he will attend, Nieto knows he wants to study physics and engineering.

When asked if he is ever able to rewire his mind off science, Nieto laughed.

“I try to still have fun and obviously be a normal kid when I’m with my friends,” he said. “But I have my moments where I’ll start looking at something and try to make a scientific connection and be that kind of annoying person. Whenever I see something, I really just want to know why.” 

Commack sophomore Christian Berbert has appealed to Section XI to be allowed to compete on the girls varsity gymnastics team this season. Photo from the Berbert family

As young as 7, Christian Berbert knew what he wanted to do with his life. After his parents set up a trampoline in the backyard, Christian wasted no time in putting it to good use. The natural-born athlete approached the trampoline less as a fun accessory and more as a mini training facility.

“He was like a dolphin to water,” Wayne Berbert said of his son’s first foray into gymnastics. “He just started jumping and flipping within days of having it. This has always been his sport — nothing compares to this.”

But Christian, a Commack High School sophomore and member of Artistic Gymnastics in Hauppauge, is now being forced to defend his dream in front of a panel of county officials.

Christian, 15, has been repeatedly denied the opportunity to join the high school’s girls varsity gymnastics team this season despite three appeals before Section XI, the governing body of athletics in Suffolk County, since the start of the 2017 school year. Because there aren’t any varsity boys gymnastics team in New York State, competing with the girls is Christian’s only shot to pursue his passion in a school setting.

The sophomore has the overwhelming support from members of the girls gymnastics team, his school’s adminstrator and athletic director.

“We will continue to advocate to provide an opportunity for this young man to compete alongside the girls as we feel it would be in the best interests of our student to participate on the Commack team,” read a statement on the school district’s home page Oct. 10, the day of the most recent appeal.

However, the Section XI panel, headed by Executive Director Thomas Combs, has blocked each request, saying Christian carries too much of a competitive advantage over the girls because he actively trains as a gymnast. There is also a concern among the board that his placement on the team will take a spot away from a girl.

But their arguments don’t hold water, according to Christian’s parents, who have appeared in his defense during the appeals process. Berbert said it’s unfair to claim his son has a competitive advantage since he’s never actually competed against the girls “so there’s no way to determine that.”

He also added that just because Christian’s a boy, it’s wrong to assume he is physically stronger than the girls.

“In gymnastics, strength is not really a determining factor,” Berbert said. “And the girls team doesn’t cut anybody from the team so everyone would be able to participate.”

“It’s deplorable how people in public education can do this to a child,” Christian’s father said. “They should be doing everything in their power to include kids, not exclude them. He’s being told ‘you can’t do the thing you love to do’ and for a 15-year-old kid, that’s tough.”

Christian’s mother, Karen Berbert, said while she agrees with the notion that girls should have equal opportunities, “you can’t diminish the boys and take away from them.”

“The same thing that the board is arguing, that the girls should have every opportunity, and they should, but so should the boys,” said his mother, who fears her son’s inability to compete in high school could affect his chances at receiving scholarships for college. “He wants to be part of the school. He wants to be involved. Gymnastics is his right arm.”

In September, the girls on the team wrote personal letters to Section XI members in support of Christian’s appeal to compete.

Alexandra Lewis, a sophomore gymnast, said the team “will develop more teamwork, school spirit, and positivity by having [him].” Sophomore Stella Rentzeperis wrote it was unfair to deny Christian a chance to compete because “our gymnastics program does not say girls or boys … both genders are allowed.”

Lilli Ferro, a sophomore on the team, said Christian comes to every practice and meet.

“We all really like him and he really wants to be on the team,” Lilli said. “I don’t believe it would hurt us if he was on the team. He would help us.”

Christian’s situation coincides with that of Liam Summers, a 15-year-old sophomore and gymnast at Connetquot High School, who is currently being denied to join his school’s girls team by
Section XI. He was able to be on the team last season because he had never competed in school or in a private club. Now, with more experience, he’s looked at as having a competitive advantage.

Christian, who trains four days a week and three hours each day, said the Section XI board is not
doing the right thing.

“What they’re doing to me and all the other kids trying to do what I’m trying to do is all wrong and completely unfair,” Christian said. “I think I can do real well on the team and give them support and help and just make the team stronger and better. But they don’t see that and, instead, think I’m going to ruin the girls’ chances. They’re completely