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Miller Place High School

Port Jeff senior forward Abigail Rolfe gets mugged down low in a non-league home game against Miller Place Dec 10. Photo by Bill Landon

Port Jefferson’s girls’ basketball squad, although short on roster depth with only seven players suited, are long on talent when the Royals made short work of Miller Place in a non-league home game with a 67-34 victory Dec. 10.

Junior point guard Lola Idir led the way for the Royals seeming to score three pointers at will, nailing seven treys a field goal and three from the free throw line for a team high of 28 points. 

Senior teammates Annie Maier hit two triples and six field goals for 18 points, and Abigail Rolfe banked 9. Miller Place seniors Emma LaMountain scored 14 and Lauren Molinaro netted 13.

The win lifts the Royals to 3-1 while Miller Place searches for that elusive first win in this early season.

— All photos by Bill Landon 

Miller Place senior Emma LaMountain fights for the rebound in a non-league matchup against Rocky Point Dec 2. Bill Landon photo

The Rocky Point Eagles never trailed in their non-league road game against Miller Place Dec. 2, but the Panthers did tie the score at 27 all with 4:21 remaining in the contest. 

Some late game fouls saw the Eagles cash in at the free throw line to hold the Panthers at bay, to hang on for the 36-29 victory. 

Leading the way for the Eagles was senior forward Victoria Curreri with 15 points, McKenzie Moeller banked 8 with Sarah May and Leela Smith netted 6 apiece.

Kathryn Doherty the junior scored 9 points for the Panthers and senior Andrea Mott sank 8.

Rocky Point retakes the court on Dec. 6 against Mt. Sinai before opening their league season against Islip on the road Dec. 9. Game time is 5 p.m.

Miller Place has three more non-league matchups before league play begins Dec. 13. Tip-off is also at 5 o’clock.

— All photos by Bill Landon 

Miller Place senior running-back Jayden Jackson finds an opening in a home game against East Hampton/Pierson Oct 29. Photo by Bill Landon

It was all Miller Place Friday night in a Div IV matchup at home against East Hampton/Pierson Oct. 29 when the Panthers scored five unanswered touchdowns in the first half. 

Scotty Seymour, the junior running back, set the tone early with a 35-yard run for the opening score on the Panthers first offensive play. 

On the Bonacker’s ensuing possession, senior defensive back Jack Davis intercepted a pass and went the distance to lead by two scores a minute later and with Anthony Bartolotto’s foot lead 14-0. 

Three minutes later it was Bartolotto’s turn when he went the distance then kicked his own extra point for a three touch-down lead. 

In the final minutes of the quarter full-back Robert Cunningham punched in for the score to lead 28-0. East Hampton was unable to stem the flow, and on the Panthers next possession Seymour picked up a loose ball and punched in to put the Panthers out front 35-0 at the halftime break. 

Miller Place spelled its starters part way through the second half for which East Hampton/Pierson had no answer for your final 35-0. 

 The win lifts the Panthers to 6-2 and now waits for the post season playoff brackets to be posted to see who they’ll face in the opening round Nov. 5.

— Photos by Bill Landon

Kathy McLeod retired back in 2013, but she still kept a tradition of mailing her former students a keepsake when it was their turn to graduate. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kathy MacLeod taught in the Miller Place School District for 36 years. 

Mostly a fourth-grade teacher, she created years ago a project that would eventually become a tradition for her students and their families. 

“The students had to write a letter to themselves that I would save and mail to them when they were ready to graduate from high school,” she said. “And they were just adorable.”

MacLeod would have the students write to their future selves about their families, hobbies, what they learned in school and what they thought they’d be doing as a senior.

Ariel’s self portrait.

“Sometimes, they were very funny, like, I’ll be driving a Lamborghini or, you know, I’ll be playing Major League Baseball,” she said. “And some would be more realistic, saying that I’ll be driving a car or working at McDonald’s.”

The first batch of letters had to wait eight years to eventually be mailed out, with a reminder of the graduating year when they were to be dispatched. 

And the majority of the time, MacLeod said, the students forgot the assignment from their elementary school days. 

The Miller Place High School graduating class of 2021 was different, though, as this was MacLeod’s last batch of letters. 

In 2013, she decided to retire, but retirement didn’t mean stopping from sending out the last eight batches of letters her students wrote. Over the last eight years, she sent the envelopes back to them with copies of what the children wrote to themselves. 

Sadly, this was her last group to graduate.

“The parents love it,” she said. “They’re very emotional when their kids are getting ready to graduate, and it’s like a voice from the past.”

MacLeod is so devoted, she always finds a way to get the letter into the right hands — one former student she had to track down in Arizona, and the girl was thrilled. 

“Teaching there was the best job I could have had in the best school,” MacLeod said. “It really was a wonderful place to work.”

Along with the letter and the self-portraits she encouraged them to draw, MacLeod attaches a photo from the students’ fourth-grade class picture. The kids look different now. 

“I remember them like it was yesterday,” she said. “It’s so funny seeing them grown up.”

Of the class that has just graduated, the students recently received their letters that their previous teacher mailed out. 

Andrew’s self portrait.

Andrew Bova, 17, said the blast from the past was very different than what he previously remembered. 

“I wrote to myself that I’d be a professional Islander player,” he said. “Now I’m going to Emerson College for musical theater.”

Bova said it was a blast from the past and reading what he thought of his life when he was 8 years old was nostalgic. 

He said can’t thank her enough for this fun memory. 

“She’s by far my favorite teacher,” he said. “I really appreciate her.”

Ariel Martin, another student, said that her 8-year-old self thought she would have pink streaks in her hair and would be going to Harvard after high school.

She decided instead to Chapman University in California for film production. 

“I just want to give her a big ‘thank-you’ for holding onto these and sending them out to all of us,” she said. “To this day, she’s my favorite teacher.”

MacLeod said it’s bittersweet that she won’t have to head to the post office with a large envelope in 2022. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“I just wanted to remind them how proud I am of them, how creative and fun the class was,” she said. “But this class in particular, they were such a creative, loving bunch. It wasn’t an easy last year and a half, and I just think they came through with flying colors.”

Photo from MPSD

Graduating with the class of 2021 of Miller Place High School, Kyla Bruno will be leaving as valedictorian, finishing at the top of her class with a weighted GPA of 102.34. Kyla plans to attend college at Northwestern University and will be majoring in mathematics, with a minor or double major in music. 

Photo from MPSD

Throughout her high school career, Kyla has accomplished a tremendous amount academically. She was awarded AP Scholar with Honors, Performing Arts Teeny Award for Outstanding Instrumentalist, and was recognized by the College Board National Hispanic Recognition Program.

Consistently achieving honor roll while enrolled in all AP and honors courses, Kyla has also received Special Recognition of Excellence in language arts, geometry, Spanish, and orchestra. She was additionally named an All-State Musician. 

Not only is Kyla academically gifted, but is a very active athlete as well, earning the Scholar-Athlete Award for tennis and track. She is a member of both the spring and winter track teams and was recognized as All-League and All-County on her tennis team.

Leaving with a 101.30, the second-highest GPA in the Class of 2021, Jason Cirrito was named salutatorian at Miller Place high school.

Jason was notably awarded for his academic excellence, but also had a big involvement in his community. He achieved High Honor Roll for every marking period since 9th grade and received awards for Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors and the Geometry Honors Award.

He was also given the Outstanding Acts of Kindness Award for helping his classmates and community members without expecting anything in return. 

Spending his time at the Port Jefferson Library, Jason helped coordinate events and also served as the assistant coach for the Miller Place Parent Teacher Organization basketball team. 

To add to his stellar academic and community service achievements, Jason was known as an involved student-athlete. He was a member of the cross-country team, soccer team, and the winter and spring track teams. 

This fall, Jason will be attending Vassar College and plans to major in math education and become a secondary math teacher.

Juniors and seniors in Thomas Fank’s fourth-period virtual enterprise business class. This year, the three classes at Miller Place High School have won more than a dozen awards for their creativity and business planning. Photo from MPSD

For students at Miller Place High School, fourth-period is actually a working office. 

The virtual enterprise business class is open to juniors and seniors there, and its idea is to allow students to “run” a virtual business, which they completely create.

It is a business ownership simulation class where students network with other students around the United States and world under the auspices of the Virtual Enterprises International organization. Throughout the school year, students create, manage and work collectively with their peers to help ensure their business concepts and ideas are successfully put into action. Students then take their business model and begin to network with other VE students from all over the country.  

In Thomas Fank’s fourth-period class, 22 students have worked diligently on their business model for an online boutique they created called As Scene on the Screen — a store with movie, TV and pop-culture memorabilia. 

But it’s not a real store, Fank said. It’s all virtual and a simulation that allows students to see what it’s like to run a business and deal with customer service. Just like a real business, As Scene on the Screen buys products from wholesalers, and then sells items for a profit, all with virtual funds. 

“They’ve sold items and created their business throughout the whole year,” Fank said. “And now, we just got results back from a bunch of the national competitions — 13 awards.”

Since the class started in the district three years ago, it’s won 30 awards. And over the last couple of years, it has piqued the interest of many students. Along with fourth-period, he has 28 students in his second-period class and 26 in eighth. 

And just like an office, the class shows how important teamwork is when running a business.

Anthony Gagliardi, head of marketing and design with As Scene on the Screen, said that working on their digital portfolio — which includes both professional and personal portfolios — students move through the different steps to do just as a typical corporate setting would do in the real world.  

“Now we’ve gotten up to working on a website,” he noted. “Just explaining about ourselves, what we do for this company, and that really just shows how we function as a class.”

Throughout the 40-minute period they have available, each and every minute is spent in meetings, making sales, working on company documents and networking with other students across the country and around the world. 

“The students will do trades and complete purchases from other schools,” Fank said. “This helps stimulate the virtual economy.”

As a capstone class, students are able to earn six college credits through SUNY Farmingdale. Underclassmen are encouraged to take lower-level business electives, like accounting, digital design, business law, sports marketing or computer literacy, prior to the course so they’re completely prepared.

“I think that’s what’s helped lead to kind of the success that we’ve been seeing so far,” Fank said. “So not only are they getting kind of real-life readiness — career readiness skills — they’re also getting six college credits.”

Jack Soldano, head of design at the virtual company, said this class is different than his other classes throughout the day.

“Every other period of the school day there’s a lot of memorization, formulas, historical figures, and this class is such a breath of fresh air, because it allows you to be creative and have some fun with a task,” he said. “It’s a great teamwork experience.”

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Miller Place beat Southampton 8-0 at Miller Place High School on March 30.
Photos by Diana Fehling

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William Sussman attends pre-election training at the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Photo by Sussman

When one conjures the image of the average poll worker, it’s probably not the picture of Will Sussman.

Sussman, 21, an electrical engineering and computer science student at Yale University, stood shoulder to shoulder (so to speak, considering the pandemic) with people twice or three times his age at the Miller Place High School Nov. 3. Being at the forefront of the democratic process is a unique first-time experience for any young person, but in the age of COVID-19, it was also a way of protecting many of the usual workers who are particularly susceptible to the virus.

Will Sussman takes a selfie as he helps work the polls at the Miller Place High School Nov. 3. Photo by Sussman

On average, poll workers are more likely to be older and retired, according to an April report from the Pew Research Center. According to a study of the 2018 midterms, most poll workers were aged 61 to 70. Just 4% of that study were people aged 18 to 25. Data is the same for presidential election years as well as midterms. According to an Election Administration and Voting Survey from 2016, 24% of poll workers are aged 71 and older, while another 32% are 61 to 70. EAVS surveys also show a majority of board of elections have a difficult time finding volunteers to man polling locations. 

Sussman was one of a handful of young people who decided to volunteer at a Suffolk polling place this election. Knowing just how dangerous the virus was to older people, and being home from college earlier this year because of the pandemic, he said it became apparent there was need for volunteers, especially considering he and his immediate family had tested positive for the virus earlier this year, and after he and his folks recovered, he tested positive for COVID antibodies.

His decision was an important one considering issues election officials faced earlier this year in the primaries. Officials from the Suffolk County Board of Elections told the county Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee meeting in September that 25% of poll workers did not show up for the June primary. When college started up again in the fall, and as Yale was inviting students back, Sussman had to get special permission from his college to return for the day specifically to work the polls.

“I was in the best position to relieve people who are at greater risk for COVID,” Sussman said. “I read a lot about national and international affairs, and I was sort of more aware than the average person that poll workers would be needed.”

Sussman took mandatory poll worker training during the summer, and though he said where he would end up wasn’t determined by where one lives, he still ended up working at the same place he had graduated from only three years earlier.

“It was sort of poetic in a sense,” he said. “The last time I was in that room, the last time I was there I told my graduating class to exercise the right to vote.”

The polling place was busy most of the entire day, having received around 3,500 people coming to vote. There were quieter moments, but the young man said he had a little bit of an easier time handling the new tablets that workers were using to check in voters.

Two other young Miller Place High School students also became involved in helping the public vote. This is despite both being too young to cast ballots themselves.

Miller Place seniors Zoe Bussewitz and Meghan Luby also worked the polls Nov. 3. Bussewitz said they had been participating in a charity run by college students when she learned about students in another state being allowed to volunteer despite not being old enough to vote. Contacting the Suffolk BOE, the pair learned they could do the same.

What followed was a lot of “on the job” training, working 17 hours total, a blur of excitement of explaining how to fill out ballots, collecting signatures and sanitizing polling booths.

“It was really good to get involved,” Bussewitz said. “It was like I was doing my part.”

Though the Miller Place senior doesn’t know if she will have time to volunteer again in two years time, as she’ll likely be in college, she said it will inform her about voting in the many elections still to come. 

With the sense of unease nationally surrounding the election, being with so many volunteers, many of whom with different political backgrounds, Bussewitz said it was something that showed how people can come together for the sake of democracy.

“Right now there’s a lot of division, but everybody there were very kind and open minded,” she said. “It was great to see that break from division and really have just a day to do your civic duty.”

Though even with the number of people they had there, Sussman said the place still felt slightly understaffed. Though while they didn’t have any real problems with most voters, there was one instance of a voter who refused to wear a mask inside the polling place. The policy was there could be no restrictions on anybody who was legally allowed to cast a ballot, but in order to protect people’s health, they had to wait for all current voters to leave the polling place, then after the person cast their vote everything needed to be sanitized.

With all the national attention being paid to the legitimacy of this year’s election, the young man said seeing the process firsthand just exemplified how wrong all the claims of voter fraud were. 

“Everything is packed and labeled, and it would take a lot of effort to mess with these ballots,” he said.

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Miller Place High School. File photo

The Miller Place School District closed its middle and high schools mid-morning on Monday due to two positive COVID-19 tests from students, officials said.

Miller Place dismissed classes for the high school at 10:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. for the middle school Monday, Nov. 1. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in a letter posted to the district website that a student at the North County Road Middle School and a student at Miller Place High School both tested positive for COVID-19 Sunday. The students were described as family members and were both a part of Cohort 2. The two students were in school Friday, Oct. 30. 

In addition, officials said the COVID-positive students were with friends from Cohorts 1 and 2 this past weekend. 

Officials said they were in contact with the Suffolk County Department of Health for contact tracing, and the district warned that some students may have to quarantine in the future. The students who tested positive will not be permitted to return to school until they are released by SCDOH. 

“The health and safety of our students and staff remains a priority of our district,” Cartisano said in the letter.

The district maintained that the high and middle school are open for polling Tuesday, Nov. 3. No staff is having to quarantine, according to the SCDOH. Secondary level buildings were closed Nov. 3 as it was scheduled as a Superintendents Conference Day and only required staff to report.

Miller Place High School and North Country Road Middle School will have their typical virtual instruction day on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and will be open for Cohort 2 in-person instruction Thursday, Nov. 5. 

 

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie visit local schools to offer therapy dog services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie are magnetic, or at least it seems that way to watch people come forward, asking gingerly if they can pet the dog, her tail waving frantically.

Coming into the TBR News Media offices, Kallie was the star of the show, and Lynch just let her work her magic. She doesn’t make a sound, instead just walking toward people asking to be petted. 

Lynch, a 73-year-old Mount Sinai resident, has been volunteering his time working with therapy dog services for the past several years. He’s owned Kallie, a keeshond, since she was a puppy, and they have been a team for five years. Though he works part time as a risk management consultant, he finds his biggest joy nowadays is taking Kallie where she’s needed most, on a voluntary basis, through the local chapter of Love on a Leash, which provides these services free of charge.

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that.”

– Bob Lynch

Kallie has been to nursing homes, veterans homes and hospitals, but where she’s been that her breed might be best at is at schools. 

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that,” he said. “The work in itself is fulfilling, you walk into a room and see the smiles, and see the demeanor of the people change very quickly.”

Lynch will soon be at the Port Jefferson high and middle schools often as part of a new pilot program in the district that they say will relieve stress among students.

Christine Austen, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said she was contacted by Lynch last year and submitted it to the curriculum committee as a pilot, which they approved. The pilot program will run twice a month for four months starting in February and ending in May. A mailer and email will be sent to parents asking them whether they would like to opt out of such visits with the dog, whether it’s from allergies or a fear of animals. Austen said the decision of whether the dog is allowed in certain classes would be treated like allergies.

When presented at the Jan. 14 board meeting, some trustees expressed concerns about safety. Austen said the dog trainer would not be allowed alone with a student at any time and would always have a faculty member present.

Tara Sladek-Maharg, who teaches social studies and psychology in both the middle and high schools, originally brought in a therapy dog for her AP psychology class last year. She had become enthused about the idea of a therapy dog in the classroom after witnessing firsthand what a demonstrably positive effect it had on her own father, when trainer Linda Christian and her dog Murphy, also of Love on a Leash, came to Stony Brook University Hospital and showed him love and compassion after he had a seizure and was going through rehabilitation.

“He goes into rehab and he just sits and goes to each individual person and just lays his head down on them — petting the dog is just so calming,” she said. 

Bringing Murphy into the classroom so that the students could review classical conditioning was a transformative experience, Sladek-Maharg said. She has done more research into just why these dogs have such a positive impact on so many. The research shows that being around such dogs has a significant effect on a person’s neurotransmitters and hormones and significantly reduces fear and stress.

Studies have also shown such animals have a positive effect on elementary school students, especially in helping them speak up in public or in class.

“Today our students are very stressed — our staff is very stressed, so having the presence of a dog is just a wonderful outlet,” she said. “They don’t discriminate, especially if they are trained therapy animals. They don’t have any reason to make somebody feel self-conscious, and they have a calming effect on us.”

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love.”

– Catherine Lynch 

Other school districts that have experimented with therapy dogs in classrooms have come away talking of success. Lynch has been a regular at events hosted in the Longwood school district, Miller Place School District and Ward Melville in the Three Village district. 

Miller Place High School Library Media Specialist Catherine Lynch brings in therapy dogs once a year during testing to help students relax during such a stressful time. One thing she has noticed is students regularly put away their phones when interacting with the dogs, instead talking and petting the dogs or speaking with each other.

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love,” she said, adding she would like to see the program expanded to multiple times throughout the school year.

In the Comsewogue school district, special education teacher Tom King has been taking his therapy-trained labradoodle to his classes for years. Last June, during exam season, the district brought in multiple dogs into the school cafeteria to interact with students. 

Love on a Leash is a national organization that started in San Diego in the 1980s as a volunteer organization for therapy dogs. The organization has expanded to include chapters across the U.S. and several thousand members. The Long Island chapter was founded about a decade ago and includes over 150 members and just around 25 “active” participants covering Suffolk, Nassau and parts of Queens.

Theresa Schwartz, the chapter president, said schools have been expanding such programs with therapy dogs. When she started about three years ago, schools would ask her to come in during testing times, but that has expanded into doing reading programs in elementary schools, after-school wildlife clubs, SEPTA events and even offering support services during emotionally fraught times, such as when a teacher or a student passes away.

The fact that Love on a Leash is a nonprofit volunteer organization makes the program unique, Lynch said. From the start, people who train the dogs and take them around are also their owners, living with them 24/7, and they have personally seen the ways a dog has helped bring people who are truly suffering a little bit of joy.

“I think I can speak for most of our volunteers doing this kind of thing, [it] makes the team, the dog and the handler, feel better, and makes other people feel better,” she said. “You see what joy your dog can bring to other people.”

Young people in an environment like school, Austen said, respond especially to animals. It has even had a positive impact on faculty.

“It just seems to take down the level of anxiety,” she said. “There are so many instigators of that, whether it’s cellphone use or social media — all of that constant stimulation. Then there are the academics at the high school, and the push to perform.”

If successful, which she expects the program will be, she wants to expand it to the elementary school, where studies have shown therapy dogs have a positive impact on helping people speak up in class.