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Comsewogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friedl offered some advice to seniors.

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

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Lily Brosseau, on guitar, and Sydney Antos, both Comsewogue alumni, play and sing to residents and nursing staff of the Woodhaven Center of Care. Photo by Kyle Barr

What a year it has been so far. 

Since the passing of former Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella back in February, the entire nation has been shook by what seems like a crisis after crisis. 

High school students Gianna Pelella and Faith Schlichting perform for the residents of Woodhaven Center of Care in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

But June 2, with school buildings closed and the community only now crawling out from under the rock of months of quarantine, district teachers and officials still found ways to honor Rella’s ideals of service above self. This year, students, faculty and alumni showed their support to a local assisted living facility.

Joe’s Day of Service, which was started in 2018 by special education teacher Andrew Harris, usually includes students, faculty and alumni supporting the community by participating in projects around the district. Past years included cleaning graves at Calverton National Cemetery, cleaning animal cages at local rescue shelters and singing to residents of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year district leaders had no choice but to think of something different.

Around midday, just under 30 cars crowded with district residents drove through the Woodhaven Center of Care facility in Port Jefferson Station. There, cars honked horns and shouted their support to the residents and staff of the home, who like many assisted living and elder care facilities have seen months of lockdown, and residents are only now able to spend time outside. However, they must be wearing masks at all times out of their rooms, and visitors are still not normally allowed to enter the facility.

“In this time, with everything going on, I think this is wonderful,” said Patricia Cagney, a resident of the assisted living facility and longtime PJS resident. “We need celebration and good remembrances, and that’s what this is all about.”

While the passing cars showcased Comsewogue pride, two sets of musical artists performed for the assisted living residents and to the nursing staff of the long-term care facility. 

Cars lined along Woodhaven Center of Care in Port Jefferson Station to offer their affection to those inside. Photo by Kyle Barr

High school students Gianna Pelella and Faith Schlichting performed renditions of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

Lily Brosseau and Sydney Antos, who both graduated from Comsewogue in 2018, presented Drops of Jupiter’s “Train,” with Brosseau on guitar and Antos on vocals. Both said their lives were impacted when college campuses shut down, but they said they plan to attend again when campuses hopefully reopen in the fall. 

“We felt really close to Dr. Rella, and we really wanted to participate in this day of service,” Brosseau said. 

Laura Marinus-Menno, the director of recreation for Woodhaven, said the last months have been especially hard for the residents, but this show of love and compassion from the school community has “lifted the spirits of our residents who are still under quarantine,” and called it “inspirational” as residents came out of their cocoons from being in isolation since March.

She said she is a Comsewogue alumni, as well as her children, and said Rella was “an amazing man.”

District staff and students also performed other acts of community kindness June 2. Residents made signs thanking local businesses, painted kindness rocks to display uplifting messages for essential workers and wrote messages for the community in chalk on their driveways. The school district finished planting sunflowers at Jackie’s Garden at the high school. There is a flower for each senior graduate they will be able to take home when they’re fully grown. 

Harris said such days as this stand in direct opposition to the pandemic and the horrors witnessed for the past several months.

“It’s the antithesis of everything going on,” he said.

Comsewogue and Port Jefferson high schools. File photos

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns. 

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope. A household may contact the district clerks for more information about ballots.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead
of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures. 

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though it is currently subject to change. If it does, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue. 

File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

The Port Jeff School District is for the most part staying to the course established by previous budget presentations. 

Next year’s budget is looking at a 1.83 percent increase from last year for a total of $44,739,855. This year’s tax levy, or the amount raised through property taxes, is $37,356,454, a $457,630 or 1.24 percent increase from last year.

The district is expecting to receive $3,863,212 in state aid, a marked increase of 2.54 percent from last year. However, district officials said while the amounts have been set, there is no word on whether the state will reduce those amounts midstream into next school year. 

“We’ll be working under a lot of uncertainty, from month to month to quarter to quarter,” Leister said. 

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district has been watching the “political push and pull” of state aid reductions closely. 

“The swing in what that state aid is, is concerning to us, and the difficult part is it’s an unknown,” she said. “I think that needs to be drawn upon. There is a lot of advocacy happening to make sure there is some federal money to help with this large deficit.”

Leister added that legislation allowing the district to put aside unspent money from this year into next year’s in excess of legal reserve limits would also help.

Leister said this year’s budget increases are mainly due to the standard labor agreement increases, an increase in the retirement contribution rate and a decrease in debt services. Continuing building improvements included in the budget are the second part of the security vestibule capital project, a new replacement retaining wall to the technical education building, a replacement to the middle school heating system. 

This year’s capital reserve will also be used for some of these projects, including $2 million for continuing work on the high school roof replacement project. 

In terms of reserves, the district expects to use $3.4 million, leaving $14.5 million in reserve at the end of next year. This could be used “to help offset a reduction in state aid,” Leister said. “This is our rainy day funds, and I would definitely classify that as a rainy day.”

Because of the ongoing glide path due to the LIPA settlement, the district will experience a 3.5 percent loss. This is compared to last school year, where the loss was 6 percent. As a result of this smaller loss, there will be an extra $48,185 in power plant tax revenue at $1,477,185.  

Enrollment is continuing on a downward path. In 2014, total enrollment sat at 1,197, which became 1,115 in 2018 and turns to 1,052 in 2020. Along those same lines, Port Jefferson is reducing staff by three teachers, and a total equivalent of five full-time employees overall. That is subject to change as scheduling goes on.

The district also provided estimates for tax rates based on a property’s assessed value. A home with a $12,500 assessed value could expect a $20,466 bill at the 3.5 percent tax rate. On the lower end, a home assessed at $1,600 would see a $2,620 bill. The budget hearing will be hosted May 12 at 7 p.m.

Ballots must be returned to the district clerk’s office no later than 5 p.m. June 9.  Should additional ballots be required at a residence, the district clerk can be contacted by either email at [email protected] or by phone at 631-791-4221.

Comsewogue High School

Comsewogue School District

Comsewogue district officials said they are taking their savings from not operating to the same extent the last few months and, instead of putting it into the fund balance, are carrying it over to next year, boasting that doing so results in a 0 percent tax increase.

District residents will be asked to vote on two propositions, one is the budget of $96,635,581 and the other is take $1,500,000 from the capital fund and use it for high school improvements including two synthetic turf fields for baseball and softball, high school boiler room HVAC repairs and otehr classroom renovations. 

Associate Superintendent Susan Casali said the district is allocating an additional fund balance from operational savings from the closure of the buildings to this year’s budget, resulting in the no tax increase. Last year’s $57,279,755 tax levy, or the amount the district raises from area taxes, will then be this year’s as well.

Despite this, the budget largely remains the same from the district’s March presentations. The $96.6 million budget is an increase of 2.8 percent or $2,660,826.

“We still have to plan,” Casali said. “We’re assuming currently we’ll be opening on time in September.” 

Overall, programming is set to remain the same, the associate super said. The biggest budget increases come from instructional costs, with $819,111 extra going to regular school instruction and an additional $803,412 for special education. The district is adding one full-time psychologist/social worker and one other full-time employee to the technology department.

The district is also adding an additional section to the fourth grade at Boyle Road Elementary.

In terms of state aid, the district is seeing a planned reduction of approximately $150,000, or -0.5 percent to $32,550,000. Last year the district received $32,700,000.

The question of whether or not the district will even receive the full amount of this reduced sum still depends on whether or not the state will hold onto its current budget. 

Due to the rampant change in schedules for the actual budget and board of education vote, this year Comsewogue will be hosting its budget hearing June 1, with the actual vote scheduled for a week later, June 9.

Ballots must be given or posted for receipt by the clerk’s office in the state-issued return envelope by 5 p.m. June 9. Casali said it’s best for residents to catch the mail by June 2 to make sure it arrives on time.

This post was amended May 26 to better clarify the mail in ballots.

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

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

An Intro

By Andrew Harris

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

Helping Others

By Gianna Pellela

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

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

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

Unity in Distance
By Daniela Galvez-Cepeda

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

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

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

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

Noticing the Improvements in Our Environment

By Ashley Doxey and Alyssa Morturano

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

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

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

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

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

Family, My Silver Lining

Derek Order

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

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

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

Outro: An Adendum

By Andrew Harris

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

Junior attack Xavier Arline drives to the cage for the Wildcats in the Suffolk Class C county final against Mount Sinai last year. With spring season cancelled, there will be no chance for a rematch. File photo by Bill Landon

High School seniors are normally under a lot of pressure come their last year of classes. It’s a time where students have to be thinking about where they want to go after graduation, what they want to do, all mixed in with a sense of finality to their grade school careers. For students involved in sports, it means the last season and the last chance they will have to take their team to county championships or maybe even states. 

Ward Melville second baseman Matt Maurer makes the scoop in a League I matchup against Central Islip last year. The team was hoping for even better this year, before the spring season was cancelled. File photo by Bill Landon

Then on April 22, Section XI made the announcement cancelling the spring sports season.

“After much discussion and consideration, the Athletic Council of Suffolk County has voted unanimously to cancel the spring sports season for 2020 at all levels,” Tom Combs, the Section XI executive director wrote in a statement. “The decision was not an easy one to make, however in what the world is experiencing at this time, it is the most prudent decision to make.”

With the cancellation of the spring sports season due to the ongoing pandemic, those same students now see any hopes of making it to playoffs dashed. Some teams, like the Ward Melville baseball team, might have been looking at their best season yet after making it to Suffolk County championships last year.

“Though we lost in the Suffolk County championship, the juniors were a big reason why they got there in the first place,” said Ward Melville baseball coach Lou Petrucci. “When we heard the news I talked to all the captains, and we talked to the seniors and juniors. They’re upset, but the spin we have to put on it is every time you play a baseball team you have to play it like it’s your last.”

Scott Reh, the Mount Sinai director of athletics, echoed the sentiment that the decision is going to most impact seniors, who he said the decision was “totally out of their control.” Though he and other athletic directors understood why it was done.

“At the end of the day, it’s very important because people are losing their lives, their jobs and the list goes on and on, “ Reh said. 

Mount Sinai girls lacrosse head coach Al Bertolone said his team has been “training every day since school closed,” and that he hosts video meetings with the team and individual groups daily. 

Though the news was hard, Bertolone said they had already participated in a car parade that ran past Mather and St Charles hospitals, which included the entire varsity team, parents, a fire truck, local police and some alumni as well.

“As far as we are concerned the games might have been canceled but our team is still going strong,” he said.

They are planning another car parade for Senior Day, May 14. 

Charles Delargey, the director of PE, health and athletics at the Rocky Point school district, said the girls lacrosse team hosted a senior parade for their 10 seniors last Saturday, and the boys lacrosse has plans to do something similar this weekend. 

Mount Sinai sophomore, then freshman Mackenzie Celauro slides home in game last year. File photo by Bill Landon

At 8:20 (20:20 military time) on Friday, May 1, districts will be turning on the lights and score board of their school football fields. The event is supposed to celebrate the sports teams in their 2020 season, with several schools planning live streams including comments from coaches.

In addition to several videos that coaches and students have put together, homes throughout the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District are displaying ‘Home of a Wildcat Senior 2020’ lawn signs to share in the school spirit. The district is also promoting the NYSPHSAA Mental Health Awareness Week from May 4-8 with social media messages. Plans are also in progress to honor all athletes at the annual athletic awards event which will be held virtually in the coming weeks. 

“Our coaches are in contact with our athletes to help to maintain optimistic attitudes and keep physically active during this time,” said SWR Director of Physical Education, Health, Athletics and Nurses Mark Passamonte.

School sports directors have been doing their best to keep spirits high. Adam Sherrard, the Port Jefferson School District athletic director, shared a video to his Twitter showcasing baseball players practicing, intercutting the video so it seemed the players were tossing the ball to each other.

Port Jeff is planning to host its regular sports ceremonies, including pictures of seniors in their uniforms in May and the signing ceremonies in June, but this time having to bring up each player individually for photos.

Indeed, practicing at home has become the new norm. Players have taken videos and pictures of themselves in their workouts and practices and posted such things to their coaches and teammates in phone messages and online.

Still, many students mourn the loss of their lost season — for some their last. As the bearer of bad news, coaches have done their best to offer consolation and hope for the future.

Matt DeVincenzo, the athletic director at Comsewogue School District, helped craft a video that was released Friday, April 24, on the district’s Facebook going through all the spring sports teams and specifically mentioning the graduating players, thanking them for all their hard work.

“Everyone’s pretty devastated,” DeVincenzo said. “Everyone saw the writing on the wall, and all the kids are affected, but our hearts really go out to the senior class. Unfortunately, they were robbed of last season in high school.” 

Port Jefferson senior Aidan Kaminski, then a junior, looks for an open lane last year during the Class D county final. He will not be able to finish his final senior season. File photo by Bill Landon

The unanimous decision from the Section XI board was a tough one, DeVincenzo said, but all acknowledged the impossibility of hosting sports during the ongoing pandemic.

But beyond the spring season, many still question what will happen in the summer, fall and winter.  All agree it’s still too early to tell.

For students participating in college sports, the National College Athletic Association said students graduating in spring will be eligible for collegiate scholarships as long as they still meet the course number requirements and show a 2.3 or higher GPA in those courses. The NCAA’s evaluations will not look at separate reviews of spring or summer distance learning during COVID-19 closures.

The question whether the coronavirus will impact sports in summer and fall is still up in the air, but with coaches not even aware if students will be back in school by the end of May, that question is leaning heavy on the minds of school athletics. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said April 24 he would later be announcing whether schools would remain closed, but as of press time has not yet made the decision. 

Delargey said when the news arrived last week, students were of course disappointed. On the other end, it was also a showcase of how students can show compassion.

“On a call with the softball team where the coach broke the news, after everyone spoke, one of our youngest kids on the team said to the seniors, ‘just want to let you know what an inspiration you’ve been to me.’” he said. “For a young kid to do that that’s amazing says what sports is all about.”

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Jennifer McGuigan's five children work on their schoolwork at home. Photo by McGuigan

By Deniz Yildirm

With the arrival of the Coronavirus, New Yorkers have been forced to practice social distancing and with that, so called distance learning. Distance learning is a relatively new phrase which means a method of studying in which lectures are broadcast and classes are conducted over the internet. And while many teachers at Comsewogue are familiar with online tools, there is still a steep learning curve. 

Don Heberer, the District Administrator for Instructional Technology and Frank Franzese, the district’s Educational Technology Specialist teacher have been working tirelessly to help teachers and students shift to distance learning. 

“Everyone is putting in long hours” Franzese said. “There’s no such thing as a one way email. Every teacher is trying to give their classes a first rate education using technology, even when it’s stressing them out. So I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

Despite the speed of setting up this distance learning, the quality of work is really outstanding. “I’m so impressed with the level of collaboration and dedication my teachers have to making this work and connecting with students.” said Terryville elementary Principal Annemarie Sciove, who has has two young children and said she understands how important it is for children to feel connections with their teachers and the challenges of working from home. Despite this challenge, third-grade teachers Mrs. Sciarrino and Ms. Benson are working together to create some of the most comprehensive google classrooms for their students. So far they’ve uploaded countless resources and worksheets even though it’s their first time using google classroom. Sites like xtramath.org, storyonline.net and classroom.magazine.com are just a few of the websites they’ve shared with students to help them continue to grow at home. And even though spring break has been cancelled, these teachers have found a way to make this week extra special by planning a “virtual vacation.” Students will “visit” special places via youtube and google earth then report back to their teachers. 

“It’s a great learning experience and a warm up to our country report project in May,” Sciarrino said. 

Teachers have also been uploading videos of themselves, including teachers Mrs. Dunn and Mrs. Zoccoli who have created videos for their classes where they are offering support and encouragement. 

Physical education teacher Mr. Chesterton posted a video challenging his students to a jumping jack countoff (he got up to 50 while one student reported 100). This kind of teaching is really meaningful to the kids who are stressed out and missing school. 

Just ask Jennifer McGuigan, like so many parents she is facing the challenge of supporting her five children (the oldest John in college, 11th-grader Joe, ninth-grader Lydia, seventh-grader William and fifth-grader Lila.

 “I want them to know it’s okay and it’s easier to do that with the support of the teachers,” McGuigan said. “It can be a lot sometimes, every one of them has at least five classes they have to check in to but it’s a welcome distraction.” 

She also says it’s helpful to establish a schedule and reiterate that no one is looking for perfection, teachers are just looking for students to do their best. 

Superintendent Dr. Quinn couldn’t agree more, as she’s recently said in her call home, “We’re in this together.”

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School. For students, she has posted a video showing how they can make a temporary library card so they can borrow ebooks.

Printers at Stony Brook University were donated by the Comsewogue School District. Photo from Deniz Yildirim

By Deniz Yildirim

The Comsewogue School District is helping Stony Brook University in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Comsewogue found out about the project from David Ecker, a professor and director of iCREATE at Stony Brook University. Ecker was inspired by an article he read about a good samaritan producing face shields for a hospital upstate and thought if he could we do it with a 3D printer? He went out the next day with his wife to gather supplies from Joan Fabrics, Home Depot and Staples. He produced a sample face mask that was so impressive, Stony Brook University asked him to make five thousand more. That Sunday morning, Ecker met with his team at Stony Brook University. 

“I designed stations; a station for inspecting the 3D-printed models, another for putting on the weather stripping, inserting the foam, cutting the elastic to size and finally adding the face shield.” Ecker said. “This process allows multiple people to work at the same time while still practicing social distancing.” 

Comsewogue was excited to lend a helping hand by providing over 1,000 yards of filament, the material used to make the frame of the face shield. Comsewogue also delivered five of its MakerBot Replicators and 3D printers for Stony Brook to borrow for this project. Vincent Verdisco, an art educator for over 20 years who teaches Auto-CAD in several of his courses said, “it’s so rewarding to be able to help out during this crisis.” 

Verdisco has been working with Ecker to help improve the mask designs for this project. 

“Now more than ever we have to support one another and it’s nice to show my students the real-life application of what we study in my courses,” Verdisco said. A list of materials and links to the designs are available for free at https://nyinnovate.com/faceshields. 

“It’s a great community effort and I am so thankful we can do this,” Ecker said. “We are doing what we love, innovating to help the front line medical professionals in any way possible.”

Other school districts or organizations want to lend their 3D Printers should contact [email protected]

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

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From left, Daniela Galvez-Cepeda, Jovanna Fusco, and Derek Order present to the Comsewogue school board about moving forward after the passing of former superintendent Dr. Joe Rella. Photo by Andrew Harris

By Daniela Galvez-Cepeda 

Imagine one person tapping another, and then this person tapping another, and this one in turn tapping another, and so on. The number of people tapped increases by 1 after every person. Now imagine one initial person tapping two other people, and then those two people tapping two others each, and so on. In this case, the number of people tapped multiplied by 2 after each pass.

Melissa Levine appeals to administrators, board members, students and the whole community about taking Dr. Joe Rella’s message of love to a whole new level and exponentially paying it forward. Photo by Andrew Harris

This is exactly the difference between linear and exponential growth, the former involving only one more person every time, while the latter doubling the number of people every time. Exponential growth is, thus, more powerful, and it is especially relevant when finding ways to connect with your community. At Comsewogue High School, students light torches of optimism in an exponential way during these times of uncertainty.

Right before schools were shut down, Comsewogue students, including myself, showed up at the board meeting March 2. We usually do that. This time, however, we took a little departure from our regular presentation about the latest news from our high school. We wanted to show our appreciation for Dr. Joseph Rella, the former superintendent of the Comsewogue School District who passed away Feb. 21.

I started our presentation. I did a hands-on activity involving all the people in attendance, asking one person to start a “tap one person” chain (that is, in a linear growth manner) and then a “tap two people” chain (that is, in an exponential growth manner). The exercise was very illustrative. People understood that information and values can be spread out much faster exponentially, rather than linearly. And this is exactly what Dr. Rella always showed — he spread so much caring and selflessness in exponential ways. We are now bound to broaden his legacy.

We wanted this meeting to be optimistic. It was our purpose to communicate to our administrators, our community and perhaps most importantly the younger students that we need to not only keep what Dr. Rella started for ourselves, but also pass it on and make it multiply and continue to radiate throughout our district. The tapping exercise was just an illustration, the framework to understand what we students have been doing following Dr. Rella’s teachings.

Excelling in Academics and Sports

Comsewogue senior Derek Order recognized the academic achievements of the senior class and introduced me as the valedictorian of the class of 2020 — an honor I carry humbly. Many students in the district not only perform at high levels academically but also devote so much of their time, energy and focus on volunteer activities in our community. For example, Derek and I go on activities with the Athletics for All group of students with disabilities. 

Students rally together with a “let’s bring it together team” to help inspire the community. Photo by Andrew Harris

“Through Athletes Helping Athletes, I travel with these outstanding high school students helping out special athletes every month,” said Nicole Kidd, the Comsewogue teacher in charge of the athletes. “We have students from all types of sports encouraging our differently capable students to excel.”

“It seems like this kindness is something woven into our programs around here,” commented Matt DeVincenzo, the Comsewogue athletic director.

Furthermore, senior Jovanna Fusco celebrated the achievements that Comsewogue athletes had this 2020. A rousing round of applause went to senior Jake Vecchio, a Comsewogue swimmer who dedicates a large amount of his time off practice to help others. Vecchio not only placed at the state finals in swimming but won the coveted Section XI Good Sportsmanship Award. 

“In addition to grinding out hours of practice daily, many of our athletes participate in different types of community service activities,” DeVincenzo said. 

Arts

Then, junior Sarah Thomas invited everyone to the upcoming music and drama events while highlighting the importance of the arts in our community. Through the school’s productions of different plays and musicals, Comsewogue students express the idea of unity.

Both the music and drama departments in the high school have flourished because of the dedication presented here in our district. It is our steadfast belief that these students will continue to inspire empathy in the world with their voices and unmatchable talent. Along with the creativity culminating in their brilliant minds, the music in their hearts sits restlessly, just waiting to be passed forward exponentially.

Take Away

Finally, junior Melissa Levine wrapped the meeting up with a reflection about Comsewogue’s outstanding resilience — a colossal example of exponential growth. From the classroom to our neighborhoods, Comsewogue has always shown adaptability and strength, even in the most difficult times.

There is no denying that Dr. Rella ignited the torch that lit the path for success for all of our students. Because of him, Comsewogue has athletes being awarded scholarships and earning spots to compete in All County events, brilliant academic minds leaving the community ready to take on the greatest challenges, and talented performers who were taught to fall in love with the music of life again and again.

As an echo to the tapping activity, Melissa then encouraged everyone there, administrators, board members, parents, staff members and the whole community, to share the love Dr. Rella had for us, to pass it forward. 

“One torch can show us the way, but an army of them can be a beacon in the night,” said Levine.

Dr. Rella taught us to take action, to grow the love, to pass optimism forward. Whether we are students, teachers, workers or stay-at-home parents, we are all connected in the same community and we are all responsible for making everybody in our district better. And we have to do it exponentially, so we can see it grow efficiently for all the members of the Comsewogue family. Let’s do it together.

Daniela Galvez-Cepeda is a senior at Comsewogue High School.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information and quotes provided by Andrew Harris

Comsewogue Won’t Be Stopped by COVID-19

By Deniz Yildirim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deniz Yildirim is a librarian at the Terryville Road Elementary School

Last Saturday, Feb. 29, at the Comsewogue Public Library, people from all over Long Island clutched broken antiques, busted electronics, ripped clothing and many, many battered lamps in their laps. Surrounding them were tables where fixers, experts and simple tinkerers plugging away at all things broken, trying their best to make them whole again.

Richard Feldman, a retired teacher, was one of the volunteers, called “coaches,” helping people fix their items. He’s a tinkerer, the kind of guy who could make you a homemade hammer from stained and lacquered paint stirrers and a head made from junk he found on the side of the road.

“You can fix anything, as long as you know what’s wrong.”

— Paul Orfin

Feldman was helping Centereach woman Blanche Casey open up a small antique safe. It had been closed after too many young hands of her grandchildren had fiddled with it. Casey had taken such an item to other repair shops, but none knew what to do with it. Instead at the Repair Cafe, Feldman fiddled with the safe until it finally revealed its hoard of pennies that spilled out onto the table. Casey thanked Feldman several times, but the tinkerer said sometimes such repairs require a little divine intervention.

“Sometimes, with things like this, it’s just luck,” he said. “It’s just pure fun, and I enjoy it. It’s why I’m here.” 

This is not the first time Repair Cafe Long Island has come to Comsewogue. For the past several years a small group of volunteer enthusiasts have helped save broken items from dumpsters and the landfill. 

Laurie Farber, of Wyandanch, has run the LI chapter of Repair Cafe since 2007, originally hosting her first at the Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Church in Wyandanch. Under Starflower Experiences Inc., a nonprofit, she has since hosted more all across Long Island, east and west, the North Shore and South Shore, and everything in between. This year she has more cafes planned than the past several years. She has events coming up in both March and April, including one at the Elwood Public Library April 20.

The first repair cafe was started by a Dutch environmentalist in the Netherlands in 2009. The nonprofit Repair Cafe International Foundation now has 16,000 chapters across 35 countries. Farber started her branch even before there was one in New York City.

“The items that come in are usually of sentimental value,” she said. “People go home with something that may have been sitting in the closet for 20 years and it may have been a simple thing to fix.”

Though many of the volunteers see such repair as a hobby, several had quite the resume. Neal Fergenson is a chief electrical engineer for a military contractor. His wife saw an ad asking for people to volunteer their time, and now he’s been at it for two years. 

Just one of his projects that day was helping a woman fix her stereo system. The device had worked fine for over 30 years until this year, when the tuning knob simply stopped working. That Saturday Fergenson was busy jury-rigging a way to get the knob to connect to a post on the motherboard.

“We’re a throw-away society,” he said. “It gives people a chance to recycle things.”

Paul Orfin is an engineer at Brookhaven National Laboratory who works in the collider accelerator department, but that Saturday he was more known as the “lamp whiz.” The engineer had originally heard of the event through his local library in Patchogue.

At last year’s event, he had even put his engineering skills through their practice when he helped the library fix its 3-D printer it had on display.

“You can fix anything, as long as you know what’s wrong,” Orfin said.

Not everything can be fixed. Sometimes the items are damaged beyond repair, or, as is common these days, the necessary parts are simply unavailable.

“We already have a garbage problem, and just buying things is not always the answer.”

— Laurie Farber

A movement has been growing all across the county, called the right to repair. Car manufacturers have largely worked under a memorandum, based on a 2012 Massachusetts law providing all owners with documents and information to allow people to do their own repairs, but such ideas have not made their way into the tech sector. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed by Congress in 1998, electronics manufacturers have largely hindered or otherwise completely forbid people from tinkering with their devices. Some states have passed right to repair laws, but the New York Legislature failed to pass one in 2015.

Such anti-consumer practices have even found their way to farm equipment, with farm utilities manufacturer John Deere using a heavy hand to stop farmers from modifying or even fixing their equipment without taking it to a dealer.

Farber said such practices are just another example why these repair cafes have blossomed all across the world. Another, and it is especially important for Long Island, is to stop much of the products from ending up in the trash. 

“I think it’s a shame, we already have a garbage problem, and just buying things is not always the answer,” she said.

Gabriele Guerra, a real estate agent from Dix Hills, traveled all the way to the Comsewogue library for the chance to fix a lamp she found at the side of the road, a marble statue of a Spanish conquistador. 

In 2024, the Town of Brookhaven plans to close and cap its landfill. Once that happens, nobody is sure what will happen.

Though Guerra said there is one sure thing, that people will need to think about throwing less things away.

“Everybody’s throwing things out — instead fix them, recycle, reuse, don’t dump it on the street.”