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Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

Parents of seniors at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson have been prepping for the big reveal of their 2017 prom theme for months. Monday night, prom-goers pulled up to the high school dressed to the nines; riding in outrageous cars, trucks, trollies, military vehicles and more; and strolled the red carpet through droves of family and friends into the gymnasium which was decked out in a Disney motif.

Every year parents of graduating seniors volunteer their time and money and spend months brainstorming, painting and constructing decorations for the annual June celebration. Theme is kept a secret until the prom actually begins.

Dressed in purple and white caps and gowns, the 97 students who make up the 2017 Earl L. Vandermeulen High School graduating class were presented with diplomas at the annual commencement ceremonies June 23.

In a unique presentation, valedictorian Chiara Rabeno and salutatorian Xinyi Hong shared the stage together and spoke in unison about the gifts and choices each of their peers possess. Their address touched on the honesty of Xinyi and the sentimentality of Chiara, winding up with the ultimate message of needing balance in order to achieve their full potential.

During the commencement, speakers offered congratulations and words of wisdom. Among those addressing the students were Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Principal Christine Austen and Superintendent of Schools Paul Casciano, in his first commencement address as the district’s leader.

The ceremony featured several musical performances by the school’s orchestra led by Michael Caravello; the presentation of the American flag by the Port Jefferson Fire Department; the presentation of the traditional class gift — a new water fountain installed for all students to enjoy; as well as motivational speeches peppered with anecdotes and advice by Student Organization President Rebecca Stafford and Elisa Scott, mother of graduate Charlie Scott, who gave the parent address.

Port Jeff’s green roof at the high school provides environmental and educational benefits. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

A facilities administrator in the Port Jefferson School District is doing his part to reduce the district’s impact on the quality of the Long Island Sound’s water.

Finding innovative ways to improve and protect Long Island’s water is a priority for state and county governments, environmental groups, businesses dependent on marine life and concerned residents. Last year, Fred Koelbel, Port Jeff’s facilities administrator, was able to secure a grant funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund as a part of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Projects program.

The grant paid for the district to install a bed of vegetation on a 3,400 square foot portion of the high school’s roof to serve as a basin to catch and treat stormwater prior to discharging it into the village’s stormwater system, according to Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for the DEC.

“It rains on this, the water filters through and is held in the growing medium,” Koelbel explained while looking over the dual-purposed roof, which will be used for middle school science lessons beginning in the spring in addition to its environmental benefits. “It’s a drop in a bucket, but it’s meant to be a demonstration project. It demonstrates to the kids what the potential is; it demonstrates to the community what the potential is if you did this on a larger scale.”

Koelbel said he frequently monitors grants made available by New York State, and after being denied for this particular project once, the district was approved to receive the funding in 2016. The total cost of the project was about $275,000, though the grant covered all but about $68,000. Koelbel added that the area of the building was in need of a new roof anyway, and it would have cost the district more than $68,000 to install a conventional roof.

“It’s a really great thing. This is the kind of stuff I like to do.”

— Fred Koelbel

“It was a win-win because it gave us all of the benefits of the green roof, plus saved us money on the installation,” he said. The previous roof was made of a material that reflected sunlight and caused a glare and higher temperatures in a wing of classrooms in the building’s middle school, which is adjoined to the high school. Koelbel said the district first installed air conditioners to alleviate the problem, and then put a reflective film over the windows, but the green roof provides much greater benefits in addition to fixing an existing problem.

“The Earl L. Vandermeulen High School green roof is an excellent example of New York State’s statewide investments in green infrastructure,” Montalvo said in an email. “The green roof will reduce the overall pollutant loading entering Port Jefferson Harbor, as well as educate students and the public on the benefits of green infrastructure.”

Port Jefferson is the only district on Long Island to install a green roof. Koelbel said some districts have reached out to him with questions about the project, though none have visited yet. He added he has plans to host a workshop in the near future for Port Jefferson Village roofing contractors and commercial property owners who might be in need of a new roof to advocate for the installation of more green roofs.

“For the next generation, this is something we do now,” Koelbel said. The district also has solar panels installed on some buildings, which are used to teach lessons about energy use. They also replaced many lighting fixtures with LED lighting in the past. Koelbel said he was proud of the example the district is setting for students about reducing environmental impact.

“When you’re doing public works type stuff, getting innovative sometimes is difficult, so the fact that we could set it up this way where it was a savings to the district over what we would have done if we just did what we had always done, and now we get to demonstrate the benefits to the students — it’s a real plus,” he said. “It’s a really great thing. This is the kind of stuff I like to do.”

John Lutterbie and Naomi Solo with the sign designating Port Jefferson as a ‘green’ village.

By Naomi Solo

The Port Jefferson High School Environmental Club sells reusable water bottles at a previous Go Green event.
The Port Jefferson High School Environmental Club sells reusable water bottles at a previous Go Green event.

A decade ago Ann Kaplan and John Lutterbie from the Stony Brook University Humanities Institute formed a university community group in order to inspire positive thinking about the environment. When the group wanted to choose a target area to begin its work, the Village of Port Jefferson was selected. The Humanities Institute joined forces with the local government and Port Jefferson schools to make the village a model for environmental awareness.

On Saturday, Nov. 5, the community is invited to to learn more about these joint efforts at the 9th Annual Go Green Information Fair. This year the free event will be held in the cafeteria of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School at 350 Old Post Road in Port Jefferson from noon to 3 p.m. Creative projects initiated by local students will be the highlight of the day along with musical presentations by the elementary school chorus and a special musical performance by high school student Cole Fortier.

Come learn about Port Jefferson High School’s new Green Roof project, located on the roof of the boy’s locker room. A green roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. Sierra Club members will be on hand with information on where to hike and explore on Long Island, and members from the Long Island Native Plant Initiative will demonstrate the many ways to cultivate a garden using indigenous plants. A fine example of this is the native plant garden Go Green, LINPI and Port Jefferson Village have developed on the green triangle at the intersection of Spring and High Streets.

An environmental-themed student art show, organized by Lynn Edsall, chairperson of the high school art department, will also be on view to add to the richness of the day and don’t forget to stop by the “Green Elephant” table where, for no money, you can be part of yet another recycle team by taking home whatever items you wish. You may also contribute items while cleaning your closets and cabinets. Call Barbara at 631-642-3048. Please no clothes, linen, electronics, or books.

For further information, call 631-473-3549.