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Jennifer Quinn

Tenzin Tanaka playing on a swing set at his mother’s home. Photo by Samantha Blandi
By Chris Mellides

When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, the road ahead can be hard and uncertain. And when this diagnosis befalls a child, the situation appears even more dire. While it can be difficult for families affected by this disease to seek assistance, it is all the more meaningful when a community answers the call and comes together to offer its support.  

At a Comsewogue School District Board of Education meeting Feb. 6, Colleen Tanaka, a care coordinator for kids with special needs and single mother of two, stood to address the room. She shared the story of her 8-year-old son, Tenzin, who in June 2022 was diagnosed with T-ALL leukemia. Tanaka’s eldest son, Paxton, has been attending school, though Tenzin has yet to do so since the family’s move into the district.

Tanaka said that when her youngest son began feeling unwell he was taken to see his pediatrician, an ear, nose and throat doctor and an allergist. Tenzin was originally diagnosed with parainfluenza virus type 3, which can cause a variety of respiratory illnesses and was in line with some of the symptoms he was experiencing. This would ultimately be determined as a misdiagnosis. 

“He really was just very fatigued, not keeping down food,” Tanaka said. “They put him on medication and within two days he was vomiting water. The poor kid could not stand without wanting to pass out and his lips were just bloody and chapped.”

When Tenzin was admitted to the emergency room at Stony Brook University Hospital, the mother said that the doctor examining him was visibly concerned, immediately calling for bloodwork, followed by an X-ray to rule out the presence of any tumors, according to Tanaka. 

Tenzin was officially diagnosed with leukemia on June 2 and was immediately admitted into the hospital for further treatment. 

“I think the biggest thing is that this child went from being a typical 8-year-old whose biggest worry was getting up and going to school to, like, we almost lost him the first night,” his mother said. “He was that sick.”

One of the attendees at the Feb. 6 meeting was Joan Nickeson, who sits on the facilities and legislative advocacy committees at CSD. Nickeson sat directly behind Tanaka and, upon hearing the mother speak, described feeling as though “the planets aligned.” At the close of the meeting, Nickeson asked Tanaka whether there was anything she could do to help. 

“I immediately asked if she had a Venmo account and donated some money because she revealed that she was a single parent,” Nickeson said. “When families are faced with these sort of diagnoses, often one parent in a two-parent family loses their income to care for their child, and she’s a one-parent income family.”

Tenzin’s story also drew the attention of the school board, including BOE trustee Rob DeStefano, organizer of the Terryville Volunteer Connection. Board members, along with the district’s superintendent of schools, Jennifer Quinn, spoke with Tanaka, offering supportive suggestions and well wishes.

“I felt like I moved into this district and nobody knew what was going on with our family,” the mother said. “It wasn’t until I went to the board meeting and then the outpouring started.”

DeStefano said that since learning about Tenzin and his family, he has noticed a massive response from the community.

“Hearing any of our neighbors enduring this challenge is initially a gut punch for sure,” he said. “But upon processing the situation, the response is to explore ways to assist and ensure they know they are not alone.”

As the organizer of the Terryville Volunteer Connection, DeStefano works with community members to help champion local causes. The goal of the group, he indicated, is to connect residents with causes that build pride and spread good throughout Long Island. 

“The connection among our local residents, our schools and the students within is strong,” the school board member and volunteer organizer said. “We are a family of Warriors and that is once again proven by the awesome outpouring of support we’re witnessing here.”

Paxton Tanaka, left, plays with his younger brother, Tenzin, at the Tanaka residence. Photo by Samantha Blandi


As a local resident with three children attending Comsewogue School District, Laura Feeley took a creative approach to helping Tenzin and his family during their time of need, starting a district-approved T-shirt fundraiser that went live on Feb. 8. 

The red shirts for sale are emblazoned with a yellow lightning bolt on the front, reminiscent of the logo worn by DC Comics’ The Flash, Tenzin’s favorite superhero. The back of the shirts bear the name Tenzin’s Fan Club.

Feeley said that there has been a fair number of T-shirts already sold, adding that she hopes the fundraiser will reach 200 shirts in the near future. 

“I thought it would be a great idea to not only show moral support by wearing the T-shirts, but also raising funds,” she said. “I think people need to know how much mental, monetary and social strain it puts on not only the child but the whole family.” 

Feeley added, “It’s a devastating disease and holds so many negative repercussions. This is why I think the shirts are a great idea — it’s showing the family we care enough about them to show it on our backs. Tenzin is a strong fighter who deserves all the support that we can give him, along with his family as well.”

A GoFundMe was created by a close friend of the Tanaka family at the time Tenzin was diagnosed. It has already raised over $16,500 as of March 7. The mother, while appreciative, said that the experience felt strange to her and that she wasn’t keen on the idea at first. 

“It was a lot to process, but it was a saving grace because I was able to pay some of my bills at that point,” Tanaka said. “I’m very fortunate that I have people that know my situation, care about me and went out of their way to make sure that in that time there was something in place because I don’t know what I would have done.”

In addition to the GoFundMe page, a program through Meal Train was created for Tanaka’s family, which the mother is grateful for and helps her take her mind off of cooking for her children after sometimes spending all day at Stony Brook Cancer Center where Tenzin receives his outpatient care.

Asked about her experience with Meal Train, Tanaka expressed her appreciation for the service. “It’s almost like a website that gives a little information on the family and people can go on there and pick dates that they either want to cook a meal and bring it to us, send a meal or donate money,” she said.

The Tanaka family enjoying a day together at their home. Left to right: Tenzin, Colleen and
Paxton. Photo by Samantha Blandi

A great kid

Tanaka said that while Tenzin is currently on a feeding tube and undergoing chemotherapy, his medical team has recommended that when the third grader feels hungry he should eat. 

The mother said that her son’s favorite place to eat is at Applebee’s and that she has lost count of the number of times she’s had to make Uber Eats and DoorDash orders to be delivered to the hospital. Later, Applebee’s became more involved with the family and has even pledged to donate Tanaka a meal each week while Tenzin is receiving care. 

“I guess one of the PTA moms or somebody had reached out to Applebee’s and told them that this kid loves it,” Tanaka said. “And they had given us a couple of gift cards and things. So, we actually went there and he got to sit and actually eat there. I know it sounds crazy, but to him that was the best part of his day.” 

When asked to describe her son, Tanaka was forthcoming. “He is quite the individual,” she said. “Tenzin is very headstrong, determined and he’s always been that way.” 

Tenzin’s mother added, “He’s very into Minecraft

and Lego building. He’s probably one of the kindest 8-year-olds I’ve ever met — just very empathetic, always thinking of others before himself. He’s just a great kid.”

Quinn conveyed just how welcoming the district has been to Tenzin, despite him being a newcomer. She also noted how endearing the community has been in assisting him and his family. 

“I can’t express how proud I am to live and work in a community that is always so willing and able to step up and help anybody when they’re in need, like true Warriors,” she said, adding, “Tenzin is the definition of a Warrior.”

The superintendent added, “I think the big takeaway is how brave he is and how as I said before, no child should ever have to face something so terrible. But we’re going to be here with him. … We’re really looking forward to him getting past this and putting it behind him — and living a full, happy life.”

Correction: In the print version of this article, we reported an incorrect timeline for Tenzin Tanaka’s recovery. Tenzin is expected to receive treatment until October 2024, not this spring, according to his mother. We do regret the error.

Photos courtesy Andrew Harris
By Kylie Schlosser

Three military daughters at three different Comsewogue schools were surprised by the early return of their father, Staff Sgt. William Flaherty, directly from Iraq. 

Flaherty first stopped at Comsewogue High School to visit his oldest daughter, Taliah. High school principal, Mike Mosca, called her to his office. Her face immediately changed from a worried look to elation upon seeing her father. 

“Staff Sergeant Flaherty is a longtime member of our Comsewogue family and a former CHS graduate,” Mosca said. “We were thrilled when he reached out to us with this request.” 

Next, Flaherty went to Norwood Avenue Elementary School to see his daughter, Vienna, where he walked inside the cafeteria and greeted the excited kindergarten students. Finally, he was off to Boyle Road Elementary School to see his third daughter, Mia, and then down the hall to the universal pre-kindergarten class where his wife works. 

“We have a deep respect for the military and family here in our community,” Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Quinn said. “It was a great day for all and not a dry eye in any of the three schools he visited.”

Kylie Schlosser is a sophomore at Comsewogue High School.

Graphic from CSD website

The New York State Education Department is cracking down on Native American mascots in schools, and Comsewogue School District is now in its sights.

In a Nov. 17 letter sent out to districts across the state, NYSED senior deputy commissioner James Baldwin alerted school administrators that using Native American mascots, team names or imagery is prohibited “without current approval from a recognized tribe.” 

Districts failing to meet these standards, Baldwin wrote, “may be in willful violation of the Dignity [for All Students] Act.” The penalty for violators could “include the removal of school officers and the withdrawal of state aid.”

Facing the threat of losing state aid, CSD officials will have to work against the clock. NYSED is placing a deadline on school districts, ordering them to retire these mascots before the end of the 2022-23 school year.

The Education Department is developing new regulations to clarify its policy, with a release date anticipated sometime in April. Until then, New York school districts remain in limbo.

Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools at Comsewogue School District, said the district would not make any policy determinations until NYSED releases its detailed guidelines. 

“There are so many question marks,” she said. “Until we see the actual regulations, we’re kind of playing a guessing game.”

While school districts statewide undergo significant changes in the coming months, certain characteristics may set Comsewogue apart from the pack.

Emblazoned at the center of the high school’s turf field is a district logo containing Native American imagery. Photo from Google Maps

Historical background

Before Europeans had ever stepped foot on Long Island, from present day St. James to Wading River and as far south as Gordon Heights, the Setalcott Nation once inhabited the lands. Within that territory lies Port Jefferson Station/Terryville, an area known to the Setalcotts as Comsewogue, meaning “place where paths come together.” 

The Terryville-Comsewogue School District was formed in 1874, and the senior high school opened nearly a century later in 1971. The school district has prominently showcased its precolonial heritage along with its name. 

One district emblem contains the initials “CSD” with a feather draped over its side. Another logo displays a visually striking profile depicting a Setalcott. This logo is etched ubiquitously throughout the district’s website, school walls and at the center of the high school’s turf athletic field. Sports teams are called “the Warriors.”

Setalcott reaction

Helen Sells is president of the Setalcott Native American Council. In an interview, she said she is personally not offended by the use of Setalcott images and references in Comsewogue schools. Sells referred to the term “warrior” as a distinction among her ancestors. 

“It was an honor for our men, and some of the women, to serve for our country and for the freedoms of all,” she said. “The men were considered warriors because they had to go out and hunt for food and hold the community together.”

Asked whether Comsewogue School District should continue using Setalcott mascots, team names and imagery, Sells responded affirmatively. “To me, it’s important as a family to try to keep that history going,” she said.

Whether this response constitutes “current approval from a recognized tribe” is still to be determined. NYSED declined to comment for this story.

Debating mascots, logos and team names

‘The state takes the approach that one size fits all. They’re not looking into every local district.’ ­

— Ed Flood

New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson), whose 4th Assembly District encompasses CSD, said the state has more pressing educational concerns than deciding mascots and team names.

“There’s so much wrong in education right now,” he said. “I think our kids — I see it in my own children being out of the classroom for so long — are kind of behind,” adding, “We have bigger problems to fix.”

A Comsewogue alum, Flood held that the logos and team name were not intended to deride Native Americans. “It’s not used in any way to be offensive,” he said. “Comsewogue is a pretty diverse district with people of all races and ethnicities. We were all proud to put on that jersey, and we understood what it represented.”

Flood’s predecessor in the state Assembly, Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), offered that ethical dilemmas often require moderation and restraint by decision-makers. He cited the example of the U.S. Army renaming bases that had honored former Confederates.

“I believe the model for what should be done is probably the way that the U.S. Army has approached the question of renaming military bases,” Englebright said. “The approach was to set up — two, I believe — study commissions and to give thoughtful consideration if there is a controversy.” He added, “I’m not sure there is a controversy here.”

State aid conundrum

Debates surrounding state contributions to public education have been ongoing for over a century and a half, said Campbell Scribner, assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland College of Education in College Park. 

In an interview, he traced the historical trends of public education in the United States, highlighting the complexities surrounding state aid.

“One of the ambiguities or tensions in American education is that, constitutionally, there has never been a federal right to education, but there is a state right,” he said. “Since at least the Civil War, all state constitutions make provisions for public education.” 

However, until the early to mid-20th century, state funding lagged behind local contributions. “Although states have a constitutional obligation to provide education, they didn’t fund it very well,” Scribner said.

Without organized state bureaucracies or state income tax, school districts generated revenue primarily through local property taxes. This model offered considerable local autonomy in setting curricula and other districtwide standards.

‘States have taken a much more robust posture. They’ve taken more interest in what’s happening locally.’ ­

— Campbell Scribner

Invoking social reforms

The dynamic between states and school boards changed as state aid began to comprise a heftier chunk of school districts’ overall budgets. With the injection of state funds, Scribner suggests power has shifted away from local school officials and into the hands of state bureaucrats. 

“States have taken a much more robust posture,” Scribner said, adding, “They’ve taken more interest in what’s happening locally.”

With more say over budgeting, states have found leverage in setting curricula and social standards within school districts. Moreover, the threat of revoking state aid can be an effective instrument.

Despite the state’s newfound power, this approach has limits: “The state certainly does not want to come across as coercive,” Scribner said. “I don’t think it’s going to help state legislators to look like they’re bullying local school boards or denying children education.”

“But on the other hand,” he added, “I don’t think, legally, the school boards have the sort of rights they might assume they do or the same prerogative against the states.”

Native American imagery

‘There’s a long history of European settlers appropriating Native American imagery.’ ­

— Andrew Newman

Within the scope of national and statewide politics, CSD is caught in a much broader web over the role of Native American imagery.

Andrew Newman is a professor and chair in the English Department at Stony Brook University whose research focuses on the intersection of early American, indigenous and media studies. 

Newman shared that Native American imagery within popular culture is a centuries-old practice dating back to the 18th century.

“There’s a long history of European settlers appropriating Native American imagery,” he said. “There was an idea of Native Americans as being sort of tied to the land, athletic, representing this kind of uncivilized masculinity that was very attractive to the mainstream white culture.”

He added, “This phenomenon was referred to by the scholar Philip Deloria, in a book [of the same title] from 1998, as ‘Playing Indian.’”

Newman maintained that these portrayals often negatively affect self-perceptions within Native American communities, adding that such caricatures can minimize historical injustices.

The movement away from Native American mascots and team names has gradually developed within public education and professional sports. After years of resistance, the former Washington Redskins football and Cleveland Indians baseball franchises have finally changed their team names to more neutral identifiers, respectively the Commanders and Guardians.

Newman said mascots, team names and imagery can be hard to do away with because of the strong emotional ties these symbols can produce. This effect is especially prevalent within schools. 

“The students and families and communities that are associated with these schools are kind of attached to the school’s traditions,” the SBU professor said. “They’re hard to give up.”

Veneration vs. denigration

The debate over the use of Native American mascots surrounds two main arguments, according to Newman. On the one hand, proponents say these images glorify indigenous heritage and tradition. On the other, detractors view them as derogatory and offensive to Native Americans. 

Reflecting upon the function of public education, Newman noted the apparent contradiction between the mission to educate about local history while potentially alienating a segment of the local population.

“Especially in educational institutions, where presumably part of the mission is to educate the students about the local history, I don’t think that educational mission is compatible with the use of a Native American-themed mascot,” the SBU professor said.

‘When we do make our plan, we are very mindful of including every stakeholder.’ ­

— Jennifer Quinn

An opportunity for dialogue

Assessing NYSED’s approach, Flood suggested Albany is applying a blanket policy to a multifaceted issue. He contended the state government is neither informed of Comsewogue’s historical circumstances nor sensitive to the variations between tribes across Long Island.

“The state takes the approach that one size fits all,” the assemblyman said. “They’re not looking into every local district.”

While pressure comes down from Albany, Scribner said schools are uniquely suited to answer these moral questions through their abundant channels for local input.

“School politics remain one of the strongest and most accessible democratic spaces we have in this country,” the UM professor said. “They are, of course, hemmed in certain ways by state regulations. But again, I still think that if local voters really want something, they do have levers to pull.”

Quinn affirmed CSD’s commitment to working as a community through this sensitive local matter. “Nobody wants to do anything to make a child feel uncomfortable,” she said. “Ultimately, we have to see what [NYSED is] going to tell us we have to do, and then we can make a plan.”

The district superintendent concluded, “When we do make our plan, we are very mindful of including every stakeholder. Our community is going to be very involved.”

Englebright noted that CSD likely did not intend to disparage Native Americans when it created its logo and team name. 

Nonetheless, the former assemblyman reiterated that study commissions and community forums could be fruitful in working out competing ethical considerations. 

“History is complicated,” Englebright said. “That’s why I think this deserves some introspection.”

Photo courtesy Andrew Harris

Comsewogue High School alum Jair Lopez, Class of 2022, became a United States Marine on Dec. 2, and returned to Comsewogue High School on Wednesday, Dec. 7. 

Lopez was welcomed by a crowd of students, teachers and staff. “There was so much love and respect displayed by all of our Comsewogue Warriors for him,” said Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools. 

Lopez recently graduated in June. When he spoke, he thanked his teachers for not giving up on him and keeping him pointed in the right direction.

By Deniz Yildirim

Last weekend, Comsewogue celebrated Homecoming, and students participated in Spirit Week all week to show their school spirit. 

Spirit week kicked off Tuesday after schools were closed Monday for Columbus Day. Tuesday was “Character Day,” Wednesday was “Decades Day,” followed by “America Day” on Thursday, and “Class Color Day” on Friday. In addition, students competed in a hallway decorating contest and a trivia contest. 

On Friday, students followed a shortened bell schedule so the entire school could participate in this year’s pep rally. At noon, students made their way from the classrooms to the bleachers, then players of all sports teams were announced and cheered. Between the name announcements, students and teachers participated in fun games such as a relay race, a mummy wrap, and a timeless favorite, musical chairs. 

Then Saturday was the highly anticipated Homecoming Game. Easily conveyed by unique grade-level floats, the theme for this year was movies. Freshmen crafted a special “Lego Movie” themed float. Sophomores were inspired by the movie “Up.” Juniors chose the film “Toy Story.” Seniors created an “Alice in Wonderland” float. 

The festivities started with a Costume Fun Run at 10 a.m. Participants dressed up as their favorite characters and ran around the high school track for as long as they chose. By noon, the Homecoming Parade was in full swing.

Launched from JFK Middle School, parade marchers included the PJSTA Teachers Union; the Comsewogue School District Board of Education;  Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools; and Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook). 

The Terryville Fire Department also joined the procession, making its way down Jayne Blvd, heading for the high school, and throwing candy to spectators along the way. 

Once the procession reached the high school, all enjoyed a homecoming carnival. Children had their faces painted by teachers, spent some time in a bouncy house, or tried to ‘sink’ an educator in the dunk tank. This was the second “normal” Homecoming since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted in-person social gatherings. And it was even bigger than last year’s event. 

Teachers, administrators, and parents volunteered much of their time to make this event possible. “We believe Homecoming is really enjoyed by everyone,” said principal Mike Mosca, “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.” 

Part of the Comsewogue district’s mission is to promote inclusivity. For this reason, the Special Education Parent Teacher Association had organized a designated “Quiet Area” for students with sensory sensitivities. 

At 4 p.m., just before kickoff, Hall of Fame inductees were recognized on the field. Earlier that day, these stars enjoyed a luncheon inside the school, where plaques were unveiled.

Quinn was pleased with the celebration: “It’s always fun whenever families and teachers get together like this,” she said.

— Photos courtesy CSD

Andrew Harris, above, teacher at Comsewogue High School. Photo courtesy Comsewogue School District

It was a long time coming, but Applebee’s has honored the Comsewogue School District and its former superintendent, the late Dr. Joe Rella.

Visitors of the Miller Place Applebee’s location can now find a multi-booth, impressive display, a testament to the beloved superintendent as well as students and faculty of the district.

“Seeing the display was lovely,” said Jennifer Quinn, the current superintendent of the district. “All of us at Comsewogue have such fond memories of Dr. Rella. It was wonderful to see those beautiful pictures of him with his family and all the students who loved him.” She added, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. It’s always the spot I choose to sit in when we go to Applebee’s.”

‘Suffolk Transportation and Applebee’s have always given great support to our community and students.’

— Jennifer Quinn 

In addition to this new display, the district will be teaming up with Suffolk County Transportation for a “Stuff-the-Bus” event at the end of the month.

Discussing the connections between the district and its various partners throughout the community, Quinn said, “Suffolk Transportation and Applebee’s have always given great support to our community and students and we are always happy to partner up with them to help our students and families.”

The Miller Place Applebee’s ‘Stuff-the-Bus’ fundraiser runs from Aug. 22-28. Applebee’s will donate all profits from the pancake breakfast on Sunday, Aug. 28 from 8-10 a.m. For those who can’t make the breakfast, then they can still enjoy lunch or dinner — just mention Comsewogue.

10% of all proceeds will support students in need throughout the district.

Photo by Andrew Harris


By Andrew Harris

As soon as Comsewoge High School Students and Staff found out that Michael Abatiello, class of 2021, graduated from his Marine boot camp last week, they excitedly reached out to him. 

When he came back to the high school students and staff cheered and presented him with gifts that students fundraised for our Comsewogue Active Warrior Network.

“It is a priority for us to stay connected to our military graduates serving all over the world,” said Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools. 

Teacher Katy Dornicik agreed, and was happy that Michael was able to visit and be recognized by his peers.

“Michael always had one vision and would do anything in his power to make his dream become a reality,” she said. “Since 7th grade, he had his mind set on becoming a Marine. His work ethic and desire to succeed made it all happen. I am so proud of him.”

Students and administration will continue to honor any Comsewogue graduate (or their family if they are not able to be there) who are active in the  military at the club and craft fair at the high school on Saturday, Dec. 11 at noon.

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district.

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Students working in Jackie’s Garden at Comsewogue High School over the summer. Photo by Andrew Harris

As students and staff came back into Comsewogue High School this year, they were greeted by hundreds of beautiful sunflowers flourishing in the courtyard garden. 

The difficult work of maintaining the garden over the summer rested on the shoulders of only two students who did the hard work so that their fellow students can come back to the beginning of a joyful year.

While watching these students working so hard over the summer, Marge Piercy’s poem comes to my mind. 

In a verse of “To Be of Use” she writes about how much she admires those that go out and do the work — and not just talk about it, said Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools.

“I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what has to be done, again and again. I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters.”      

This type of student is typical of the Comsewouge community. Quinn said that in addition to outstanding academics, many of them participate in extracurricular activities and hold down jobs over the summer and when school is in session.

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than these students who stepped up to the plate and got to work. 

Students working in Jackie’s Garden at Comsewogue High School over the summer. Photo by Andrew Harris

“They went above and beyond what was asked of them, and even tended to another garden in the courtyard as well,” said Andrew Harris, a teacher at Comsewogue. “Keep in mind that they do this on their vacation and go very early as they also have full-time job responsibilities. It’s hot, dirty, and sometimes there is nobody around to give them the accolades or words of encouragement, but that’s not what they do it for.”

Harris said he hopes to encourage more students to have this giving attitude. 

“In the long run, I know they will reap the benefits of their positive proactive work,” he added.

The garden, “Jackie’s Garden,” has become a “magical place around the district,” according to Harris. 

“Each year a new miracle happens here,” he said. 

Since I don’t have a green thumb, perhaps the miracle is that I am the one who oversees this fabulous food and flower garden — I’ve never tried growing anything. But in all seriousness, and I know people find it hard to believe, but every year since we started our garden, these miracles continue to happen. 

Harris added that, “amazingly, this year hundreds of sunflowers started popping up. The weird thing is, we did not plant even one single seed. Keep in mind, that sunflowers are not perennials, and need to be seeded each spring; so yeah, you can consider that very, very, unique.”

This year in April I started to see a little something pop up. I thought maybe a seed or two was left over from last season, somehow got buried, and they were starting to grow. I planned on doing our normal seeding with my classes in mid-May, however, by then several hundred magically started appearing! I really can’t explain how that happened and I was at a loss for words.

Harris also mentioned the sudden influx of butterflies attracted to the garden the previous year. Dr. Rella told us that sunflowers and butterflies were Jackie’s favorites. I was going to buy something called a butterfly bush which will attract them. I looked outside one day and realized I didn’t need to buy one. There was a sudden influx of new butterflies everywhere. That and other crazy things have happened around this garden. The garden has Jackie’s Comsewogue jersey overlooking it. 

The year before that, Chris Friedl, the landscaper, planted two seeds to honor Joe and Jackie under the trellis. The same day hundreds of other seeds were also planted to honor our graduating seniors. Those two seeds popped up in under three days — which never happens. The other ones started to come up in about 7-10 days, which is the normal length of time for sunflower seeds to appear. So, yeah, now I believe in miracles.

“On behalf of the staff at CHS, we are so grateful for the time that Alyssa and Ashley spent beautifying our courtyard,” said Principal Mike Mosca. “Outdoor spaces are even more important than ever as we continue to navigate the challenges, we face due to COVID. Alyssa and Ashley’s efforts will give our students and staff a beautiful place to go for some fresh air.”  

When asked why they did what they did, the students communicated that nothing would please them more than having their fellow students enter the building and not only be greeted with friendly faces but an array of hundreds of sunflowers smiling at them as they go about their day.

Piercy’s poem ends like this and is fitting for the students who put in the hard work, “The people I love the best jump into work headfirst without dallying in the shallows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to become natives of that element.”

Arianna Morturano is a graduate of Comsewogue High School. She is currently a student at St. John’s and work sin the district. Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue school district. Triple C stands for Comsewogue Culture Club.

Julianne Mosher Assistant Superintendent Joseph Coniglione, Superintendent Jennifer Quinn and Board Trustee Corey Prinz join physical education teacher Vincent Roman as he gets vaccinated on Monday. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Comsewogue School District wanted to give back to its community, and by doing so, they got over 300 residents vaccinated. 

Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of the district, said that the board was working to coordinate receiving vaccines to distribute from local drug stores — but it wasn’t happening for a while. After realizing a student worked at Walgreens, they were able to set something up.

“I have to say, they have been so great,” she said.

Quinn said the district initially opened it up to staff, and about 150 people took advantage of it. 

On Tuesday, March 16, socially distanced tables were set up throughout the gym, helping people receive their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Then Walgreens was kind enough to let us put it out to the general public, and we were able to get other people from the community to be vaccinated,” Quinn added. “We had such a strong response that Walgreens has offered to come in a second day for our community.”

Assistant superintendent Joseph Coniglione said that although it happened quick, everyone is “extremely grateful.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Comsewogue students will be returning to a five-day school week starting April 6 and bringing the vaccine to staff and teachers gives them peace of mind.

“We were really concerned about having staff to come back, who wanted to be vaccinated, but were not able to get the vaccination,” Quinn said. “So, this was such a relief.”

Corey Prinz, a board trustee who was instrumental in helping coordinate the event, said that about three weeks ago, the team realized it was important heading toward the full-week re-turn and began working toward this goal. 

“Part of the mindset people had coming back stemmed from the idea that vaccinations are really spread out,” he said.  “And it didn’t actually look so good, so we stuck on it and even under short notice, it’s unbelievable the response we got today.”

Quinn said they are working with the drugstore to allocate another day to host another event soon.

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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.”