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Comsewogue School District

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Sometimes it takes a village – sometimes it takes a whole district.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in North Shore school districts had to buckle down and create a new game plan from early on. March saw the closure of schools and the introduction of distance learning. September brought a return to in-person, but a host of new issues.

With constantly changing guidelines, they had to reconstruct their plans. Superintendents had to lead their districts to continue learning and to keep their students safe, while teachers, librarians, custodians, librarians and so many more worked and sacrificed to do the best they could, often exceeding what was expected. 

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, said it was a collaborative effort. 

Superintendent Gerard Poole. Photo from SWR school district

“So much had to happen for all of this had to be in place for the start of the school year,” he said. “Administrators who didn’t take any time off this summer, to teachers who had to move around classrooms. There were a lot of things that had to be done.”

One of those things that were applauded by community members was the reopening of the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham, which helped increase social distancing and lower the class sizes.  Poole said that in June, after they learned the 6-foot requirement between students and their desks was going to be in place, by opening up the formerly closed school they could have every student in five days a week.

But the superintendent stressed they couldn’t have done it alone. The school board was instrumental in making this happen, maintenance workers helped move supplies and nurses were there early on ready to work. 

“It was an easy academic decision to make, but equally as important socially and emotionally,” he said. “This year seems now like a major win.” 

And while SWR had to implement a plan to reopen a closed school, Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of Three Village school district, said early in the spring the district formed a committee that would look at the narrative, and implement a school opening plan with the ultimate goal to go back to school, as normal, five days a week.  

“The issue of health and safety was most important,” she said. 

Pedisich said they initially developed a hybrid model, but the more she and her colleagues discussed it, they became concerned of the lack of continuity, also the mental, emotional and social impacts being on a screen would have on students. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich. Photo from Three Village Central School District

“We wanted to bring our students back to school,” she said. “What we experienced during the spring were a lot of students’ mental health [issues]. The children felt very isolated — it was hard to connect. There was a lot of frustration in terms in the remote learning.”

By creating an education plan early on that opened the school up to five days a week head on, the district was able to hire more staff, and prepare for socially distanced learning. 

“Even though they’re wearing masks, they’re happy to be there,” Pedisich said. “We’ve had cases like anyone else, but no more cases than districts that went hybrid.”

And schools that run independently also had to figure out how to cope with these unprecedented times, including Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station, a nonprofit that offers an alternative education program. The CEO, Carol Carter, said they had to work with staff to handle the change. 

“We provided support to the staff and a strong leadership to the staff, so the teachers felt comfortable,” she said. “Then we did training on it. They had to learn along with us as we’re learning — they’re learning how to run classes online, how to put homework online and how to communicate with the students.”

While their school has a very small staff, they continued to help kids who were struggling at home. 

 “We would try and reach out to students and their families almost daily,” Holly Colomba, an English and science teacher at Sunshine said. “We were trying to check in, whether it’s with their mental health or educationally, just trying to keep in contact with them and let them know we’re still here — and that we were there to help them.”

And technology was huge in every district as the COVID pandemic was navigated. Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent at Comsewogue School District, said the district wouldn’t be running smoothly without the help and initiative from the technology department.

 “These guys made it possible with going remote and doing hybrid instruction,” he said. “They orchestrated training every teacher in the district and worked around the clock to make sure kids were learning. They went way above and beyond to help us operate in time.”

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Don Heberer, Comsewogue district administrator for instructional technology, said he remembered the day well. It was March 13 and he was at John F. Kennedy Middle School, scrambling and making sure every student had a device to use at home. They delivered about 300 Chromebooks to families who didn’t have devices. 

“I relied on my staff,” he said.  “And our number one focus was how can we make learning possible.”

Heberer and his colleagues — Jan Condon, David Rebori and Frank Franzese — made sure that communication was getting out to members of the community, students and their families. Teachers were constantly being trained and students were able to access their work online.

“We were in the middle of a crisis,” he said. “We have to remember people are losing their jobs, their lives, their entire livelihood. It’s important to be empathetic to that and doing everything we can to make it a little easier — students, teachers, parents and the community.”

He said they kept people in the loop using the districts app, which has roughly 7,000 people logged in. 

School librarians, too, had to change shape to keep kids reading. 

Monica DiGiovanni, a librarian at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point, said she and her colleagues focused this year on teaching students Sora, a reading app by OverDrive. 

She said that Sora is an electronic version of their library, so kids would still be able to access books and read them on their Chromebooks. 

Along with DiGiovanni, Rocky Point librarians Jessica Sciarrone, Catherine O’Connell and Bettina Tripp have been responsible teaching students how to use the system since the school library cannot be used due to the pandemic. 

Monica DiGiovanni, the school librarian in the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, was instrumental in getting kids e-books during COVID.
Photo from DiGiovanni

“As librarians, we were like, ‘Oh gosh we can’t give them books?’ That was a huge issue,” DiGiovanni said. 

After researching platforms to get them e-books, all four librarians decided to devote most of their library budget to the electronic reads.

“There’s so much that books provide that children get out of it,” DiGiovanni said. “They enjoy going to other places — fantasy worlds — so they can get that now with e-books.”

She said they’re definitely utilizing the service. 

“Some kids prefer them,” she added. “They like to be able to finish a book and go onto something new right away.”

At Port Jefferson high school, the Varsity Club is traditionally a group that inspires a sense of community involvement in student-athletes. Teachers and advisers to the club — Jesse Rosen and Deirdre Filippi — said that what their students usually do to get involved with the community was altered or canceled because of the pandemic. 

“As a result, some new events were created by our students and we found alternate ways of giving back to the community,” Filippi said. “We were especially impressed by the fact that our students saw this phase of their life as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.”

Along with reading programs paired with the elementary school, Edna Louise Spear,  and hanging of flags on 9/11 and Veterans Day, the club hosted a Halloween trick-or-treat drive-thru event at the elementary school. 

“Oftentimes, when we feel somewhat helpless about our own situations, the best thing we can do is help those around us,” Filippi said. “This event was a perfect representation of our club´s mentality.”

A good part of the community came to the school to experience a unique and safe trick-or-treating experience. 

Students from the Port Jefferson Varsity Club during their drive-thru trick or treat event. Photo from PJ School District

“The idea was simple, the communal impact was overwhelming,” she said. “This speaks to what we try to achieve as educators. Our students recognized an opportunity within our community and they developed and executed a plan perfectly.”

The impact the club and its students made was overwhelming for Rosen and Filippi. 

“As educators, the actions of our students often inspire us,” Filippi said. “It is rewarding to see our students take the initiative and do whatever they can to put a smile on the face of their fellow students and community members.”

How libraries look during COVID times. Photo from Comsewogue School District

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic and schools are still adjusting. The school library, a place of solace for elementary schoolers and high school seniors alike, has had to adhere to the new and ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.

Local districts, however, have embraced the changes and have implemented new services that they never would have started if it wasn’t for the crisis.

A silver lining, school librarians across the North Shore explained how the changes have impacted them, their schools and their students.

Alice Wolcott, librarian at Elwood-John Glenn High School, said that COVID changed the landscape of public education, meaning they had to reimagine their space.

“This year we transitioned the book loan program to a digital platform, which will continue to support students’ pleasure and academic reading while still observing COVID restrictions,” she said. “Students can browse the collection online via Follett Destiny [a library management system], and if they find a title they’d like to borrow, they can request that book through our book request form.”

To adhere to COVID rules, the books are delivered in a Ziploc bag to first period teachers.

Since some students are not physically in their first period classes, the district also increased their digital library as a main focus.

Shoreham-Wading River High School librarian Kristine Hanson and Albert G. Prodell Middle School librarian Ann-Marie Kalin created an initiative to meet the need for printed books while reimagining the online presence in concert with OPALS, the open-source library system.

They created a book delivery service at their schools called BookDash, which allows students to electronically submit requests with their student ID. Then, physical books are either delivered to students at Prodell or picked up at the high school library doors at the end of the school day. The initiative is promoted through English classes, and a multitude of book recommendations are available via the OPALS pages, blogs and links.

“Kids are reliant on what’s in the catalog, books that never went out before are going out like wild,” Kalin said. “For the time being we’re making the best of it all.”

With the BookDash initiative, Kalin said students are excited to get their hands on actual books.

“So many kids are so tired of being on the screen and are desperate for that interaction with each other,” she said. “I’m seeing readers I never saw before, and there are so many requests for books. It’s very successful.”

Along with Shoreham-Wading River, other districts across Long Island are using an e-book platform called Sora, including Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point.

Monica DiGiovanni teaches Sora to third graders in Rocky Point. Photo from RPSD.

Librarian Monica DiGiovanni has been visiting classrooms, having students log into their Chromebooks. She is teaching them how to check out library books with the new service, which enables students to borrow a book and read it right on their devices. Another program, Destiny Discover, enables students to find a physical book in the library and have it delivered directly to them since their libraries are currently not open.

DiGiovanni said that their school libraries have become break rooms for teachers and classroom spaces to accommodate kids in a socially distanced way.

“The library has become an interactive thing,” she said. “Students are definitely utilizing it.”

Although Rocky Point school libraries had to reshape themselves and close the doors to students, Elwood school district was able to open the doors at the high school last week. Wolcott said that right now 15 students are allowed in the library at a time, with designated seating and other stipulations in place.

“The students are really responsive and they’re following all the protocols,” she said. “It’s great to have them back.”

She even sees students, who were not her typical regulars, interacting with the library catalog more than they did before.

“Now it’s nice they’re browsing the shelves,” Wolcott said. “They’re picking books they would not have chosen otherwise.”

Donna Fife, library media specialist at Elwood Middle School, said that early on, the district was keeping library services running smoothly, while her younger students are opting to read more.

“I am seeing names I never saw before requesting books more frequently,” she said. “I know how I feel at the end of the day ­— I would have a hard time playing video games after screen learning.”
Fife said she thinks students are looking for something tangible now that some are looking at a computer all day long.
“They’re requesting to hold a physical copy instead of looking at another screen,” she said.

Nicole Taormina, librarian at Boyle Road Elementary School in the Comsewogue school district, said that new regulars have blossomed throughout the pandemic.

“They really love browsing online,” she said. “It’s a different experience — they are really excited now because they use their Chromebooks and have their own accounts.”

Taormina said that while the changes have been different, she’s looking forward to some normalcy in 2021, and is grateful for what 2020 helped her with.

“I’ve been able to tweak things,” she said. “And the students have been able to learn things that they may have not been able to learn before.”

Also in Comsewogue, Deniz Yildirim, a librarian at Terryville Road Elementary School, said that teaching her library classes has been different compared to years past.

“It’s been a huge change,” she said. “We can’t hand out worksheets anymore, and we do a lot online to cut down on contamination. No other class can come in other than what’s assigned in this room.”

When Yildirim visits classrooms at her school now, she will deliver books that children ask her for.

“It breaks my heart that they can’t browse,” she said. “But we’re making it work.”

And she said that all school libraries have made progress in 2020 than the past 10 years.

“Publishers, authors and librarians are working very hard to make sure kids are reading,” she said. “It’s the least we can do for them during these trying times.”

Taylor Kinsley, a librarian at Minnesauke Elementary School in the Three Village school district, said their schools have been allowing browsing within the libraries.

She said students have to use hand sanitizer before and after touching the books to be sure they have clean hands, and they reorganized the setup of the library, featuring no reading carpets on the floor.

“Elementary students are always excited to have the freedom to pick the books they want,” she said.

The district sanitizes the used books and quarantines them for about a week before putting them back on the shelves.

“I think normalcy is really important for them,” Kinsley added, referring to her students. “We’re being supercautious so why take that away from them?”

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Nicole Haff’s students hang on to the walls of Terryville elementary as part of a project to increase togetherness when everyone remains seperate. Photo by Deniz Yildirim

By Deniz Yildirim

It’s safe to say that many of us are looking forward to the end of 2020, no one more so than teachers. Last school year was disrupted by COVID-19 and this school year had a challenging start for the same reason. Teachers had to think outside of the box to reinvent every part of their day to accommodate safe practices like social distancing; could you imagine story time without gathering your class on a carpet or learning your students names without seeing their faces?  

Despite all of these challenges, Comsewogue schools are making it work, and are creating some much needed cheer for the holidays. For the past six years Terryville Road Elementary School has hosted a door decorating contest and produced some truly genius and show stopping doors. Since classes have been split into two groups, the obvious theme was “We are seperate together.” This year students worked “together” to decorate pieces which they applied to the door. With the help of teachers and aids, classes created delightful and creative doors like Jackie Dunn’s 4th grade class. They decorated both doors and included the space between them to make a mountain landscape with a zipline which students are riding into each others’ room. 

Even virtual students were able to participate. Annemarie Sciove, the Terryville elementary principal, compiled pictures of finished school doors and included pictures from virtual students which was then presented to the school during an in school virtual assembly. 

“It’s very important to remember we are together even if we can’t see each other.” Sciove said. 

In keeping with that mindset, the school donated over $1,000 to families in need during this difficult time. Superintendent Jennifer Quinn makes a point to visit every school during this hectic time and this year her nephew has joined the Terryville family. She said, “Terryville never ceases to amaze me! The doors are a visual representation of  what we are doing with our hearts.”

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Comsewogue High School. Photo by Deniz Yildirim

Unlike other neighboring districts, Comsewogue is holding off on plans to bring more kids into school until late February or early March, citing the steadily increasing COVID-19 numbers on Long Island. 

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the decision was made partially based on a survey released to both parents and students as well as by the reopening committee that comprises staff, parents and students. She said the Suffolk County Department of Health also suggested now was not the best time for bringing in more students. 

“We said since the beginning, our plan is fluid,” she said in a phone interview. The district has changed several things since schools opened in September, including accepting rapid testing where initially the district was wary of the tests’ veracity, bringing back music class, hot lunches and allowing more students to use playground equipment and have more students together during gym. 

In the November survey for district residents, the results of which were posted on its website, Comsewogue got responses from a little under 750 students. Of those, 88% said their mental well-being was average or better, on a scale of 1 to 5. 

As for remote work, survey results show about 40% of students spend more than three hours on remote work a day, while 30% say it’s two-to-three hours, and about a quarter of students said they spend less than that. The vast majority of students said an earlier deadline on remote assignments would not make life easier.

The district said it expects the average remote workload should be between 3.5 and 4.5 hours, excluding AP classes. District officials said the survey results show they are doing the best job they can under the circumstances.

“We don’t want our students staring at the computer screen all day,” said Jennifer Polychronakos, assistant superintendent for instruction. 

A total of 40% of students said they would be comfortable returning to in-person learning without social distancing and masks, while 60% percent said “no” or “not at this time.”

The district also got responses from 160 district parents, of which almost 90% said their children are coping with current learning standards, based on a scale of 1 to 5.

Around 70% of parents said they would not like to see students return to school without masks or social distancing.

Quinn said the question was composed to effectively say the district could not hold students in-person all at once and still maintain social distancing.

Other schools are pushing ahead with reopening plans. The Port Jefferson School District has tentatively set an early January date for bringing students in for four days a week. The Rocky Point school district this week started bringing back students for four days of in-person learning.

At Comsewogue, Quinn said she and other people on the reopening committee are concerned about rising COVID infection rates and hospitalizations. Back in July, New York State set the limit that the infection rate could be at to reopen was 5%. 

The superintendent cited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said Sunday, Nov. 29, the U.S. was expecting a difficult Christmas time in terms of both COVID-19 infections and related deaths. 

“The risk of making someone sick is a concern for us right now,” Quinn said. “You listen to Dr. Fauci who said our country might be closed — I want to keep our schools open.”

The district is hosting a board of education workshop Dec. 3 where the superintendent said in a call to parents, they will be discussing what the district will do if the area is designated a yellow zone by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), entailing 20% weekly testing of in-person students and faculty in schools. The next board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 7. 

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Comsewogue school administrators and the owners and coach at Port Crossfit gather for a donation of 20 turkeys and 51 gift cards to go to residents in the district. Photo by Kyle Barr

Members of Port Crossfit in Port Jefferson Station are giving back to the needy in the local community through the Comsewogue School District.

The crossfit gym delivered a host of turkeys and gift cards to Boyle Road Elementary School Tuesday, Nov. 24. 

Gym members raised money by asking family and friends to donate funds for every pound or inch on their waistline they lost over the past few weeks. As members lost over 100 pounds and a whole lot of inches, the gym acquired close to $2,000, which they used to purchase 20 turkeys and 51, $25 gift cards for Stop & Shop, the total of of which were worth approximately $1,200.

“It’s less about the turkeys and less about the gift cards — it’s always good to feed people in need — it’s more about the support system in the community,” Port Crossfit co-owner Kyle Tiringer said. “You’re inner circle, your family, those are the people that help you push through struggles to reach your goals. If we can pull together our powers to keep families together, maybe they can help accomplish a whole lot more for themselves and ultimately the community will benefit from that.”

Principal of Boyle Road Elementary School Nicole Sooknanan said the district’s nurses and social workers combined their efforts to identify families in need at this time of year. The turkeys will be going to families not just at Boyle Road but throughout the district.

The food and gift cards supplement a food drive hosted by the school where they gather nonperishables to put together  thanksgiving dinners for local families. 

“Comsewogue is really about family and coming together,” Sooknanan said. “Obviously this year has brought on new circumstances for families, and I’m proud to be able to help our community. We help one another — that’s what we do here.”

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New Artwork Four Years, 2 Million Pieces in the Making

Young people at the Comsewogue High School, both current students and graduates, looked down at their feet with a unique sort of pride. There on the floor, amongst a mosaic of approximately 2 million pieces, they could see all the time they spent on hands and knees, carefully laying each and every shard of stained glass and colored pebble by hand. 545 square feet of space, all of it spread out to create an image exemplifying what the students, teachers and admin say make Comsewogue unique.

The new mural, on the other side of the high school’s front doors and vestibule, displays a large Native American man, which the district says represents the area’s historic roots; a tree of knowledge to represent the growth of learning; and a rendition of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” to represent the artists that were at Comsewogue and all those who will eventually find their way there.

High school Principal Michael Mosca said the project started in 2016 when current Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione was still principal of the high school. As assistant principal, Mosca walked the halls with Coniglione, who would pause at the entrance to the high school, thinking of what it could be.

“Every time we would walk past this space, he would always stop and he would look at it, and I would see the wheels turning and I could tell something was going on in there,” Mosca said. “It’s something a lot of our students could be proud of and say, ‘This is ours, we did this, and it’s going to showcase our Comsewogue pride.”

Comsewogue senior and first president of the Arts Honor Society, Alexa Bonacci, said “it’s incredible” to see all the hours she and her classmates have put into it come to fruition. Whether it was after school or even during, she said she has gotten 90 hours of community service hours working on this project alone.

Many of those who worked on the project have already graduated, but many came back to their alma mater to see the hours upon hours of work they put into it realized.

Gianna Alcala, a Comsewogue graduate and past president of the Art Honor Society, worked on it for three years, spending time on it even during the summer to help get it all completed. When she started on it during her sophomore year, there was only a section of the Native American’s head and some of “The Starry Night” image. She remembers cutting tiles into fourths or eighths in order to get better detail.  

“I’m in awe,” she said now seeing it all complete. “I could always see it finished in my head, but the fact that it’s actually come to life, it’s amazing.”

Coniglione said creating something new was a learning process, from having to redo a part of it after the floor cracked, and some redesigns of the mosaic from its original design.

“Every tile was glued down one at a time, nothing was on a mesh,” he said. “It took place over multiple graduating years, so to have a vision, and to have multiple years complete it with that same vision, is pretty impressive to me.”

Art teacher Gina Melton, a now-20-year veteran of the district, has been at the head of the project since its inception, helping lead the students in the project. The last year saw a huge bulk of the effort go to the mosaic.

“For all the high school kids who put so many hours into this, I’m really so proud of them,” she said.

Coniglione said it’s teachers like Melton who have made such a difference in the beauty of their schools.

“This building was built back in the ’70s, and it’s beautiful because of [Melton] and other art teachers like her doing creative projects within the school,” he said.

Mosca thanked custodian staff for helping to preserve the mural as students were walking around it and for helping finish its border.

Also included in the mural is a small but noticeable mint green homage to former Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella, who passed earlier this year, as well as a butterfly in homage to Rella’s wife Jackie, who was well known for her love of bright, fluttering insects.

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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.” 

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If anything, high school athletes know how to lead a chant. Though instead of doing it on the field to rally their team, this time their barking voices were used to call them back to the field.

Around 60 Comsewogue athletes and their parents stood at the corner of routes 112 and 347 Sept. 18 rallying for support in demanding that Section XI, which runs Suffolk County’s scholastic sports, allows sports to start their seasons in September. 

Cole Blatter, a junior on Comsewogue’s football and wrestling teams, said despite Section XI’s promise that the new seasons for sports could start in January, there’s really no way to be sure, especially because they felt the rug was pulled out from under them already.

Sports “really adds structure to my day — I go to school and then I go to football,” he said.

For his teammates, many of them seniors, the Comsewogue athlete said he could not even well describe how upset they are.

“It’s their last season — some are never going to play football again, some of them are never going to wrestle again, some will never play lacrosse again,” Blatter said. “All of that stuff that made them happy, it’s just been taken away from them.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gave localities the option to play certain sports deemed low risk Aug. 24, specifically excluding sports like football and volleyball because of their use of shared equipment. Though Section XI originally said it would host fall seasons for all other sports, the entity and its athletic council reversed course Sept. 11 and said it would push all sports into truncated seasons starting Jan. 4. 

The Comsewogue group was part of a large protest earlier that same day outside the Section XI building in Smithtown, demanding their voices and concerns be heard.

Parents of athletes who came to the corner of Route 112 were just as upset about the situation as their children. 

“It’s their senior year, they already lost their junior season, so to have everything be combined next spring, and we still don’t know what the [infection rate] in January is going to be — we don’t know if this promise of January is even going to happen,” Danielle Deacy said. “You’re taking so much away from these kids … scholarships, recruitment. This is such a critical time for a lot of these kids that they’ve been playing since they were 5 years old.”

Deacy, the mother of Jake, a senior at Comsewogue High School, said with the numbers being what they are, and how COVID-19 does not impact young people as much as it does older groups, “the percentage of risk compared to what they’re losing is not worth it.”

When Section XI made its decision, it said in a statement to its website Sept. 11 that it was based on the potential for increased positive cases of COVID-19, reduced spectators, a lack of locker room and facility use, increased costs related to security and transportation, and the general well-being of athletes, parents, coaches and other staff.

Still, at least one member of the Comsewogue board of education wrote a letter in favor of those protesting, namely board president John Swenning. He said in a letter read out to the assembled parents and athletes that the district has had conversations with Section XI, adding that if schools remain mostly COVID-free, then athletes should be able to play before the expected Jan. 4 start date.

“Section XI acknowledged we should continue to have an open discussion with our superintendents and athletic directors to monitor the status of the health and well-being of our students,” Swenning wrote in his letter.

But for the students, who have already missed what was planned to be the original sport start date Sept. 21, every day that goes by is another loss.

“We want to play, we want the chance to have our seasons here,” Jake Deacy said. “Our spring seasons were cut short, we can’t let that happen again.” 

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State Dashboard Shows Comsewogue HS With Two Positive Tests, But District Says Not to Worry

PJSD said the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School has been temporarily closed and all students moved online after on student was tested positive. Photo from Google maps

*Update* The night of Sept. 16, Port Jeff Superintendent Jessica Schmettan released a follow up letter about the student who was confirmed positive. She said the elementary school was “thoroughly” cleaned after the district received the news. The New York State Department of Health interviewed the family and district, and has since advised the district that classrooms are cleared to reopen, saying the student was not infectious while on school grounds.

Students who had close contact with the student have been contacted, and contact tracing is underway. 

“The situation today is a reminder about the importance of social distancing, the use of masks, and proper hygiene,” Schmettan said in the letter. “The community needs to remain vigilant in order to avoid closures in the future.”

Original story:

Parents in the Port Jefferson School District received a message Wednesday morning saying a student was tested positive for COVID-19 and that the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School would be closed for the meantime.

“This morning the Port Jefferson School District was notified that a student at the elementary school tested positive for COVID-19,” Superintendent Jessica Schmettan wrote in a message to district parents shared with TBR News Media. “Following our procedures and protocols and guidance from the [New York State] Department of Health, the elementary school is closed today for distance learning.”

The district added they will be conducting contact tracing and disinfecting the elementary school. Parents will be updated as the situation develops.

As of Sept. 15, Comsewogue High School has been listed by the New York State dashboard as having two positive cases in the Comsewogue High School. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn described the situation as two siblings who had tested positive for COVID in another country, though she said the name of the country was not released for fear of the students being outed to their peers. They were cleared by the New York State Department of Health to come back to school, though while in school another test taken in the states came back positive.

Quinn said the Department of Health was aware of the situation, and health officials told the district the two students were likely positive because of the viral load still in the body, though they were not infectious. Both students have volunteered to stay home in the mean time.

 

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File photo

Suffolk detectives are continuing to investigate an incident where a teenager was stabbed in Port Jefferson Station Monday night.

Police said that following a dispute with three teenage males Sept. 14, a 16-year-old male was stabbed multiple times on the soccer field behind Boyle Road Elementary School, located at 424 Boyle Road, at around 8 p.m. Police added that the assailants then fled on foot down Bedford Avenue.

The victim was transported to a local hospital for treatment of serious injuries. His name was not released as he is a minor.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on the stabbing to contact the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652 or Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477).