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Harbor Country Day School

Harbor Country Day School Student Council Photo from HCDS

Once again, the students of St. James’ Harbor Country Day School’s Student Council conducted their annual spring food drive to benefit the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry. On March 24, more than 500 pieces of nonperishable food items, as well as a check for $98 raised via a St. Patrick’s ‘Dress-Down’ Day, were delivered to the Food Pantry.

As shared by Pat Westlake, the Director of the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a significant need for donated food and personal care items. Historically, those in need would simply visit the pantry to request items needed in their household. However, due to social-distancing requirements, families now ‘drive-through’ to receive pre-sorted packages of commonly-requested items. 

While it’s unfortunate that such a great need exists in the area, it’s fortunate that the surrounding communities have kept the pantry fairly well-stocked. In fact, although this was the second collection of this kind at Harbor this year, the Student Council matched the number of items donated during their first collection back in November.

“We are grateful for the support Harbor Country Day School has given us for the past 19-plus years. We always look forward to seeing the children’s smiling faces as they take time out of their busy school day to visit us,” said Westlake. 

“An integral member of our community for more than 60 years, Harbor is a perfect representation of the many wonderful ways we all rally together and lift each other up in times of need.”

Stock photo

​On Dec. 11, officers from Harbor Country Day School’s Student Council visited Long Island Elite Limousines in St. James to drop off toys donated to the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program. The toys were donated by Harbor Country Day School students as part of their annual toy drive.

Given the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, more than ever, there was a tremendous need for donations.

Because visitors are not permitted to Harbor Country at this time, and due to social distancing requirements, both the result of COVID-19, this year’s toy drive looked different than in years past. Historically, Harbor Country Day School was a local drop off point in the community and donated toys were picked up by the Marine Corps. This year, Harbor students and faculty loaded toys onto the Harbor Country Day School bus to bring to Long Island Elite Limousines where they were subsequently delivered to Suffolk County Toys for Tots.

Harbor has contributed to the Toys for Tots drive since 1998, when former Harbor employee and former Marine Mike Guido instituted the program. Now retired from the school, the St. James school continues this tradition begun by Mr. Guido.

“We’re honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the Toys for Tots drive and to work … on such a wonderful program,” said John Cissel, Head of School for Harbor Country Day School.

Photo from HCDS

After more than two weeks spent at home as a result of the COVID-19 school closure, students at Harbor Country Day School in St. James continued to remain fully engaged — academically and socially — through the school’s ‘distance learning’ platform. 

Leveraging the online conferencing website Zoom, alongside Google’s ‘Classroom’ app, students have managed not only to continue learning, but also to come together in a unique and special way to recognize those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of their ‘distance learning’ co-curricular art instruction, teacher Amarilis Singh tasked students with the challenge of displaying gratitude and inspiring positivity through art. Leaning on Maya Angelou’s famous quote, Try to be the rainbow in someone’s cloud, which the kindergarten class had been studying prior to the school closure, and paired with a musical selection from a recent school concert, “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman, the students’ work was created into a slideshow.

Harbor Country Day School’s music teacher, Donna Siani, initially shared the slideshow with SUNY Stony Brook University’s Director of Community Relations, Joan Dickinson, to thank front line medical workers for their extraordinary efforts during the most unusual and frightening of times.

Still, the students recognize that there exist many others on the front lines and hope their message can be heard by all. To view and share this beautiful gesture from the students at Harbor Country, please visit https://vimeo.com/402577169.

R.C. Murphy Junior High School and Harbor Country Day School take home honors

Great Neck South Middle School’s Team 1 edged out R.C. Murphy Junior High School of Stony Brook to take first place in the Long Island Regional Middle School Science Bowl held at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton on March 2.

Longwood Junior High School in Middle Island placed third and Harbor Country Day School in St. James placed fourth.

Twelve teams took part in the competition and were made up of four students, one alternate and a teacher who served as an adviser and coach. Presented in a fast-paced question-and-answer format, each team was tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy and math.

As the winning team, Great Neck South will be awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Finals in Washington, D.C., scheduled to take place from April 25 to 29. The top 16 middle school teams in the National Finals will win $1,000 for their schools’ science departments.

“The National Science Bowl has grown into one of the most prestigious and competitive science academic competitions in the country, challenging students to excel in the STEM fields so vital to America’s future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “I am proud to oversee a department that provides such a unique and empowering opportunity for our nation’s students.”

Danielle Davey, a science teacher from Harbor Country Day School, said she was happy that her team placed in the competition. “This was our first year participating in the competition and we’re happy that we took fourth place,” said Davey. “I told my students this is about teamwork and just do your best. We are grateful to Brookhaven Lab for hosting the event and we plan to be back next year!”

Participating students received a Science Bowl T-shirt, and winning teams also received trophies, medals and banners, courtesy of event sponsor Brookhaven Science Associates, the company that manages and operates the lab for DOE.

For more information, visit www.bnl.gov.

Photos courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory

Harbor Country Day School alumni. Photo by Diana Rice, Park Ave Studios

On March 23, Harbor Country Day School celebrated its 60th anniversary with a Diamond Jubilee event at Flowerfield in St. James. 

Nearly 250 guests gathered at the catering venue to celebrate the independent school’s 60 years of “embracing the extraordinary in every child.” Guests included current and former faculty and staff, members of the board of trustees, parents of current and former students and alumni from nearly every decade the St. James school has been in operation. 

Head of School John Cissel honors Helen and Jennifer Smith. Photo by Diana Rice, Park Ave Studios

In addition to honoring the school’s milestone year, guests feted the Malcolm Smith Jr. family, one of Harbor Country Day School’s inaugural families and descendants of Richard Smith, who settled the town of Smithtown in 1665. Attendees also celebrated Natalie Scheyer, who served as Harbor Country Day’s first grade teacher for 29 years — the longest tenure of any teacher since the school was founded in 1958.

“Eighteen families joined forces in 1958 to create an educational opportunity for their children that was different from anything available in their community at the time,” said Head of School John Cissel. “When Harbor Country Day School opened its doors for the first time on Sept. 12 of that year, I wonder if those families knew they were building something so special, so extraordinary, that we would be here celebrating its existence 60 years later.”

Cissel continued, “I suspect they must have known, because although much has changed since 1958, the mission — to cherish childhood, cultivate wonder and inspire confident learners and leaders — has remained the same so many years later, with children at the center of everything Harbor does.” 

For more information, visit www.hcdsny.org. 

On Tuesday, April 10, Harbor Country Day School will host a community forum, titled “Addictive Behaviors in Adolescents and Adults: Warning Signs, Risky Behaviors and Helpful Resources.” The forum will feature mental health, medical, and social services experts, who will lead attendees in a candid discussion about various forms of addiction, including technology and video game addiction, social media dependence, alcohol and other substance abuse, vaping and “gateway drugs,” and opioid addiction.

WHAT:   “Addictive Behaviors in Adolescents and Adults: Warning Signs, Risky Behaviors and Helpful Resources”

Panelists will include:

  • Kym Laube, Executive Director of Human Understanding and Growth Services, Inc. (HUGS)
  • Linda Ventura, Founder of Thomas’ Hope Foundation
  • Noam Fast, M.D., Medical Director of the Mather Hospital Chemical Dependency Clinic
  • Jason Bleecher, Licensed Master Social Worker & Substance Abuse Therapist
  • Carissa Millet, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

WHEN:      Tuesday, April 10, 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.

WHERE:     Harbor Country Day School

17 Three Sisters Road

St. James, NY 11780

HOW:   Free tickets are available at https://hcds.eventbrite.com or by calling (631) 584-5555

WHY:   As today’s adolescents and their parents and caregivers face growing societal and personal challenges, addictive behaviors are appearing in many new forms and to extreme degrees. The forum will provide an opportunity for a candid discussion about the prevalence of these addictions, warning signs to be aware of, and solutions and community resources for those in need.


About Harbor Country Day School

Founded in 1958 by conscientious parents, Harbor Country Day School is an independent, co-educational day school for children from preschool through eighth grade in St. James. Emphasizing a whole-child approach to education, Harbor offers a rigorous curriculum enhanced by signature programs in STEAM, global languages, math, and language arts, with a strong emphasis on character development. The school’s mission to “cherish childhood, cultivate wonder, and inspire confident learners and leaders” underscores every student’s experience and ensures that all of its graduates are prepared to lead fulfilling lives filled with wonder, confidence, and many successes. Harbor Country Day School’s summer camp program, Camp Harbor, is among the leading summer camp programs on Long Island.

Harbor Country Day School is chartered by the New York State Board of Regents and is accredited by and a member of the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS).  It is a non-sectarian, nonprofit organization under section 501(c) (3) of the IRS Code governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees.  For more information, visit www.hcdsny.org.

Students take samples from Nissequogue River to analyze. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Hundreds of students from Smithtown to Northport got wet and dirty as they looked at what lurks beneath the surface of the Nissequogue River.

More than 400 students from 11 schools participated in “A Day in the Life” of the Nissequogue River Oct. 6, performing hands-on citizens scientific research and exploring the waterway’s health and ecosystem. The event was coordinated by Brookhaven National Laboratory, Central Pine Barrens Commission, Suffolk County Water Authority and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Northport High School students analyze soil taken from the bottom of Nissequogue River. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“’A Day in the Life’ helps students develop an appreciation for and knowledge of Long Island’s ecosystems and collect useful scientific data,” program coordinator Melissa Parrott said. “It connects students to their natural world to become stewards of water quality and Long Island’s diverse ecosystems.”

More than 50 students from Northport High School chemically analyzed the water conditions, marked tidal flow, and tracked aquatic species found near the headwaters of the Nissequogue in Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Teens were excited to find and record various species of tadpoles and fish found using seine net, a fishing net that hangs vertically and is weighted to drag along the riverbed.

“It’s an outdoor educational setting that puts forth a tangible opportunity for students to experience science firsthand,” David Storch, chairman of science and technology education at Northport High School, said. “Here they learn how to sample, how to classify, how to organize, and how to develop experimental procedures in an open, inquiry-based environment. It’s the best education we can hope for.”

Kimberly Collins, co-director of the science research program at Northport High School, taught students how to use Oreo cookies and honey to bait ants for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Barcode Long Island. The project invites students to capture invertebrates, learn how to extract the insects’ DNA then have it sequenced to document and map diversity of different species.

Children from Harbor Country Day School examine a water sample. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Further down river, Harbor Country Day School students explored the riverbed at Landing Avenue Park in Smithtown. Science teacher Kevin Hughes said the day was one of discovery for his fourth- to eighth-grade students.

“It’s all about letting them see and experience the Nissequogue River,” Hughes said. “At first, they’ll be a little hesitant to get their hands dirty, but by the end you’ll see they are completely engrossed and rolling around in it.”

The middle schoolers worked with Eric Young, program director at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, to analyze water samples. All the data collected will be used in the classroom to teach students about topics such as salinity and water pollution. Then, it will be sent to BNL as part of a citizens’ research project, measuring the river’s health and water ecosystems.

Smithtown East seniors Aaron Min and Shrey Thaker have participated in this annual scientific study of the Nissequogue River at Short Beach in Smithtown for last three years. Carrying cameras around their necks, they photographed and documented their classmates findings.

“We see a lot of changes from year to year, from different types of animals and critters we get to see, or wildlife and plants,” Thaker said. “It’s really interesting to see how it changes over time and see what stays consistent over time as well. It’s also exciting to see our peers really get into it.”

Maria Zeitlin, a science research and college chemistry teacher at Smithtown High School East, divided students into four groups to test water oxygenation levels, document aquatic life forms, measure air temperature and wind speed, and compile an extensive physical description of wildlife and plants in the area.

Smithtown High School East students take a water and soil sample at Short Beach. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The collected data will be brought back to the classroom and compared against previous years.

In this way, Zeitlin said the hands-on study of Nissequogue River serves as a lesson in live data collection. Students must learn to repeat procedures multiple times and use various scientific instruments to support their findings.

“Troubleshooting data collection is vital as a scientist that they can take into any area,” she said. “Data has to be reliable. So when someone says there’s climate change, someone can’t turn around and say it’s not true.”

The Smithtown East teacher highlighted that while scientific research can be conducted anywhere, there’s a second life lesson she hopes that her students and all others will take away  from their studies of the Nissequogue River.

“This site is their backyard; they live here,” Zeitlin said. “Instead of just coming to the beach, from this point forward they will never see the beach the same again. It’s not just a recreational site, but its teeming with life and science.”

Photo courtesy of Harbor Country Day School

On Feb. 4, 20 students from Harbor Country Day School’s Mandarin program in St. James performed for a full house at the Charles Wang Center during Stony Brook University’s renowned Confucius Institute’s 2017 Chinese New Year Celebration. First- and second-graders sang songs during the ceremony, and fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders performed Chinese tongue twisters. Dozens of other performers from New York City, Flushing and other parts of Long Island participated in the institute’s annual show.

The school has developed a close relationship with the Confucius Institute, which enables Harbor Country Day’s students to participate in cultural events at the university. This year marks the third year Harbor Country Day has participated in the show, and Mandarin teacher Hong Snyder is grateful for such unique opportunities. “I believe it’s important for the children to have an intimate understanding of the culture of the language they are studying,” said Snyder. “Otherwise, they are learning the language in a vacuum, which makes it very difficult for them to fully understand and absorb what they’ve learned. Here at Harbor, we try very hard to give them many different opportunities to experience the Chinese culture, from dance and music, to cuisine, to performances like those at the Confucius Institute.”

Harbor Country Day also hosted a Chinese Lantern Festival on its campus on Feb. 11, to mark the end of the Chinese New Year with traditional Chinese music, performances and food and drink.

Above, John Cissell, Eric Westervelt and George Lombardi talk education. Photo courtesy of Harbor Country Day School
Eric Westervelt is interviewed by Terry Sheridan of WSHU during the event. Photo courtesy of Harbor Country Day School

Award-winning journalist Eric Westervelt visited Harbor Country Day School on Feb. 15 to share his thoughts about the state of education today, gleaned from his experience as NPR’s national education correspondent.

The gymnasium of the nonprofit independent school in St. James was filled with parents, current and former educators and school administrators, students and others eager to hear Westervelt’s perspective on topics ranging from technology in schools to environmental education. The event was made possible by WSHU Public Radio.

Terry Sheridan, bureau chief of the Long Island News Bureau of WSHU, moderated the discussion, which included a lively audience Q-and-A session. The event was part of WSHU’s acclaimed “Join the Conversation” lecture series, which brings together thought leaders and public radio listeners for engaging discussions.

“We are so pleased to have been able to bring NPR’s Eric Westervelt to Harbor County Day School,” said George Lombardi, WSHU Public Radio general manager. “An important part of WSHU’s mission is to engage with our community on important topics, and the discussion we had last night is a wonderful example of that.” John Cissel, head of school at Harbor Country Day, added, “We were honored to have had this opportunity to host such distinguished guests as Eric and his colleagues from NPR.”

The event was the second public outreach event to take place at Harbor Country Day this school year. In November the school hosted a public screening of the documentary film “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age.”

Above, Harbor Country Day students and staff, along with two U.S. Marines, stand in front of a truck filled with Toys for Tots donations. Photo courtesy of Harbor Country Day School

On Dec. 14, United States Marines from the Sixth Communications Battalion, Alpha Company, in Farmingdale, visited Harbor Country Day School in St. James to collect thousands of toys donated to the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program. In addition to collecting donated toys from its own students, Harbor Country Day also served as a drop-off location for the surrounding community.

Harbor Country Day has contributed to the Toys for Tots drive since 1998, when former Harbor employee Mike Guido instituted the program. Now retired from the school, Guido directs the delivery of toys from various sites throughout Smithtown to Harbor Country Day and other drop-off locations. The John W. Cooke V.F.W. Post 395 of St. James, of which Guido is a member, also contributed funds, which were used to purchase toys for the drive.

“We are honored to play a part in the Suffolk County Toys for Tots program,” said John Cissel, head of school for Harbor Country Day School. “During this time of year, when our lives are exceptionally busy and hectic, we cherish the opportunity to slow down a bit and remind our students about the importance of ‘stepping outside of ourselves’ and helping others in need. The Toys for Tots program is a perfect opportunity to do that and, at the same time, to make a valuable contribution to our surrounding community.”