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michael maletta

April Manis with the Long Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Michale Malett’as health class. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Students at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School have been welcoming special guests this month in Michael Maletta’s health classes to cover real-life issues, while taking notes on preventative measures for bad situations.

On Monday, Oct. 18, April Manis, an educator with L.I. Against Domestic Violence, presented a lesson that’s timely and serious for young people — what is and isn’t normal in a relationship.

While Maletta said he’s been hosting guests on a variety of topics over the last two decades, Manis said that there has been a county-wide increase in inquiries from LIADV since the disappearance and murder of Bayport native, Gabby Petito. Petito went missing last month while on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. Last week, her remains were found in Wyoming and Laundrie – who is a person of interest — has not been seen in weeks.

“With the pandemic, we haven’t been doing programs as much in-person — we still have been doing a lot of virtual — but it’s not the same. I love to see the students faces and the participation is so much better in-person,” she said. “I do feel like they get a lot out of it, and nobody teaches people how to be in a relationship, so it’s important to hear some healthy tips.”

The health class helps to cover and address differences between caring, supportive relationships and controlling or abusive relationships in an interactive program. Manis played a game called “Stay or Go?” which consisted of several real-life experiences that show unhealthy relationship traits, focusing on power dynamics, patterns, boundaries and compromises that often arise in relationships.

“I try to keep them awake and engaged,” Manis said. “And even if they just remember one or two things, then we did something.”

Maletta said that LIADV has been coming into his class for more than 20 years and he asks them to visit because the reality is that students will be in relationships and learning about healthy habits in those relationships is important.

“I tell my parents in back-to-school nights that I want to be an advocate for them. What are some of the concerns that they have for the child because I can there for their concerns,” he said. “Fortunately, health class is wide-reaching, and we talk about things like depression, stress, bullying, suicide, drug abuse, drug use, relationships, contraception — all these different real-life situations that they’re going to go through.”

Maletta added he tries to do different things to get through to his students.

“Although the district currently provides the required mental health education by New York State Education Department, the program was initiated by health teacher Mike Maletta, as part of a series of social-emotional instruction and resources to further expand on the mental and social-emotional health of Port Jefferson \students,” said Director of Health, Physical Education, Athletics and Nursing Adam Sherrard.

Earlier this month, Response of Suffolk County spoke to students about depression, anxiety, stress and suicide, while this week the Suffolk County Police Department will be speaking about cyber law and safety. 

In December, Outreach House will speak about drug addiction through the eyes of recovering teenage drug addicts that live at the facility.