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Miller Place School District

PTO members at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new book vending machines. Photo courtesy MPSD
Seventh grade North Country Road Middle School student Johnny Adler shows off the book he chose from the school’s new book vending machine. Photo courtesy MPSD

The Miller Place School District recently unveiled three new vending machines at its schools, but instead of dispensing candy or snacks, these machines are full of brand-new books.    

The Miller Place Parent Teacher Organization donated the book vending machines to increase literacy and generate excitement around reading. PTO representatives and district officials recently held a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony welcoming the vending machines to North Country Road Middle School, Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School and Andrew Muller Primary School. 

“Students are already excited about our book vending machines and eager for a chance to use them and get their next favorite book,” said superintendent of schools Seth Lipshie. “Thank you to our PTO for bringing these to our district and putting in place an amazing plan to boost literacy, reward good behavior and get children enthusiastic about reading.” 

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, left, at a commemorative ribbon-cutting ceremony with third-grade student Hazel Kamath and Miller Place PTO representative Dawn McCarthy. Photo courtesy MPSD

Miller Place is one of the first school districts on Long Island to bring book vending machines to its schools. Each book costs one token, which students earn by displaying good behavior and performing acts of kindness. The PTO has committed to continue purchasing books for the vending machines in the future. 

The PTO executive board includes Kristin Hennig, Suzanne Cloke, Jackie Maloney, Monique Caccavale, Sharda Soohkdeo, Gayle Mancini and Dawn McCarthy. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) presented the district and PTO with proclamations praising their success in supporting literacy districtwide.

For more information about the Miller Place School District, visit the website at www.millerplace.k12.ny.us.

Andrew Muller Primary School held a food drive in which students donated goods and supermarket gift cards. Photo courtesy MPSD

The Miller Place School District lent a helping hand ahead of this Thanksgiving by hosting a series of food drives at various schools. 

Students at Miller Place High School collected 800 canned and packaged goods through a Thanksgiving food drive hosted by the National Honor Society. Students collected canned soup, vegetables, cranberry sauce, stuffing, muffin mix, potatoes and grocery gift cards. The food was distributed to families in need throughout the community. Additional items will be donated to local food pantries.

The School Improvement Team Committee at Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School donated Thanksgiving meals to seven families in need throughout the community. Photo courtesy MPSD

At North Country Road Middle School, the student government sponsors a yearlong food drive to stock the North Country Road Middle School food pantry. Each Thanksgiving, the donations are used to create Thanksgiving meal packages that they distribute to families throughout Miller Place and Sound Beach.

Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School’s School Improvement Team (S.I.T.) Committee, run by assistant principal Nicole Farley and fifth grade students, “adopted” seven families in need in the Miller Place and Sound Beach communities. The students brought in items to put together a complete Thanksgiving meal for each family.

Andrew Muller Primary School held a food drive where students donated goods and supermarket gift cards and distributed them to local families in need ahead of the holiday. The school’s hallways were lined with boxes labeled accordingly for students to place their donations. In addition, a local catering business donated fresh turkey for families in need. 

For more information about the Miller Place School District, visit the website at: www.millerplace.k12.ny.us.

North Country Road Middle School will serve as the polling site for this year budget and school board elections. File photo

Miller Place school district will be holding its budget vote and board of education elections this Tuesday.

The proposed budget for 2022-23 is $77,670,225, a 1.5% increase.  

Incumbents Johanna Testa, BOE president, and trustee Keith Frank are being challenged by Jennifer Andersen-Oldenskov, Kenneth Conway, John Galligan, Jennifer Keller, Andrea Spaniolas and Jenna Stingo.

In this at-large vote,  the three candidates receiving the highest number of votes will be elected to serve on the board of education, according to the school district. 

Voting

The budget vote and trustee elections will be held Tuesday, May 17, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at North Country Road Middle School, 191 N. Country Road, Miller Place.

Photo from MPSD

The Miller Place School District recently celebrated the official book launch of “Peachy Keen,” a book written and illustrated by Science Club students from North Country Road Middle School about their adventures rescuing a local sea turtle. The book launch was the culmination of a year-long science club project in partnership with the NY Marine Rescue Center in Riverhead. Canon USA sponsored the Marine Center program and graciously covered the costs of printing 250 copies, which are on sale at the NY Marine Rescue Center, the aquarium gift shop and at the MacArthur Airport gift shop. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to supporting the work of the NY Marine Rescue Center.

“This activity is exemplary of the Miller Place School District’s mission to empower students to creatively put their classroom lessons into action and make the world a better place,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marianne Cartisano. “The entire school community is proud of what these students accomplished, and we are grateful to the NY Marine Rescue Center and Canon USA for providing our students with this life changing opportunity.”

The turtle, which the students affectionately named Peachy Keen, was released back into the ocean in August of 2021 at Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays. Since that time, students and marine biologists have been tracking Peachy Keen’s progress from Long Island down the East Coast to Northern Florida. The book, written and illustrated by the 17 students of the NCRMS Science Club, tells the story about the students’ experiences and the lessons they learned about marine mammals that inhabit NY waters and the importance of keeping beaches clean. It also includes photos of Peachy Keen’s rehabilitation and journey back to the ocean.

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Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano. Photo from MPSD

A beloved superintendent will be retiring from Miller Place school district, effective June 2022.

Marianne Cartisano said that the retirement has been in the works for years so she can focus on the next chapter in her life. 

“I’m going to sleep,” she joked. “I’ve been in administration for the entire 31 years of my career. So, it’ll be the first time probably, since I’m about 16 — even when having my children — that I will have an extended period of time just to do an appropriate decompression.”

She plans on spending time with her family, and will continue to mentor.

“I had spoken to the board a couple of years ago when we were planning a succession plan for Miller Place,” she added. “Mr. Lipshie has been my right-hand person for 10 years so that has made the transition a little bit easier.”

Deputy Superintendent Seth Lipshie will be taking on the role of superintendent of schools 

“I’m super excited, I’m motivated,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for me to continue my service in Miller Place.”

Lipshie said he is in his 32nd year in the district and he’s done a bit of everything while working there. From 1990 to 2001, he was a social studies teacher and in 2001 he became assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School. From 2002 to 2010 he served as principal of Miller Place High School before being appointed as assistant superintendent in 2010 and deputy superintendent in 2014. 

Deputy Superintendent Seth Lipshie. Photo from MPSD

“I’ve either hired or interviewed almost probably a good majority of the staff that now works in the workplace,” he said. “One of the things I think that I’ll bring to the table is some stability, something familiar.”

By having all this experience, Lipshie said that he has developed “some very strong ties with staff and the unions in terms of making sure that we can serve the students as best we can without any issues.”

He has also been adviser for the AV Club as well as spearheaded the Mock Trial Club. He coached soccer at both the middle school and the high school, was the varsity basketball coach for nine years and has been an umpire for high school baseball for the last 17 years.

Cartisano said that promoting Lipshie to the role of superintendent was a no-brainer — it was important to keep things consistent. 

“Having been here now 10 years, that’s a long stretch of the superintendency, especially with the last two COVID years,” she said. “It’s been so rewarding, and the work is so purposeful and meaningful — it just has been a great run.”

But Cartisano said that Lipshie is not a carbon copy of her. 

“It’s a marriage made by workplace, and we probably agree on 85% of the time,” she said. “The other 15% we don’t, and that has allowed this district to move forward because we don’t have one mindset, we have different perspectives. That’s the way we lead. It’s not that Seth is a mirror image of me nor me of him. That would not be good leadership.”

She added that there is nobody that could have been a better fit.

“This is an organization that has 500 staff members that show up every day and educate our children, we have 2,500 customers who get off buses every single day for us, and it’s important that the school district stays consistent,” Cartisano said. “We’re very excited.”

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.”

Stock photo

Local school districts are still maintaining low COVID-19 numbers, while the rest of Suffolk County is nearing 6% in some areas. According to district leadership, that’s because schools have been constantly evolving their plans to keep students, staff and the community safe.

Centereach High School in the Middle Country School District. The district superintendent is just one of many continuing to keep students safe. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Middle Country school district covers a large jurisdiction, Dr. Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools, said. In non-COVID times, there are roughly 11,000 students within the district, though now approximately 7,500 are in buildings due to hybrid and remote learning options. The district has only had 102 positive COVID cases since the start of school, a 1.3% infection rate — with 52 of those cases coming from Thanksgiving break.

“We have such strong guidelines we’re containing it, not spreading it,” she said. “We know where [students and staff have] been and who they’ve been with.”

Like all the other districts, students are required to wear a mask at all times, except during mask breaks. Social distancing has been implemented with barriers on desks, and teachers are asked to keep their windows and doors open.

If a student is showing symptoms, they are immediately placed into an isolation room and brought home.

But that barely happens, according to Gerold. “The community is doing a good job because they’re not sending us positive kids,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of cases in the schools.”

Ronald Masera, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said that over the summer, local superintendents began putting together plans to better prepare their districts.

“When the pandemic started, there was a feeling of uncertainty,” he said. “But now what we’ve found is we could place a great deal on social distancing.”

Because they have been implementing and following CDC guidelines, he said they’re not seeing spread within the schools.

“Controlled environment helps keep the community safe,” he said. “Even if we see the community numbers rise, I think the government, politicians, leadership and superintendents know how important keeping schools open is.”

A representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office agreed, and said the new guidelines released last month are to keep the doors of local schools open.

“We encourage them to not be closed, but to test instead,” they said.

Guidelines now require mass testing in schools in red, orange and yellow micro-cluster zones before they reopen, followed by vigilant symptom and exposure screening conducted daily. Impacted schools can reopen as early as Monday, however students and faculty must be able to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to going back to the classroom. New York State will provide rapid test kits for schools wishing to participate.

After a school reopens in a red or orange micro-cluster zone, vigilant symptom and exposure screening must be conducted daily. A quarter of the in-person learning school community — both students and faculty/staff — must be tested per week, and the school should ensure that it provides opportunities to test on school grounds, or otherwise facilitates testing and accepts test results from health care providers.

If the school does not hold a testing event or provide testing on school grounds, test results provided to the school as part of the 25% testing of the population must be received within seven days.

The governor’s representative said that no regions have hit the 9% emergency number, which would close the county again. Schools, however, have flexibility regarding choosing a comfortable closing percentage.

“They can use their own metrics to close down districts or schools as long as those metrics don’t go against the state mandate of 9%,” the representative said. “A lot of things are state law governed. Schools are done by the locals, and we wanted to be within the local district rules.”

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Shoreham-Wading River has seen just a total of 43 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“I would like to thank our parents, staff and students for implementing the required COVID-19 health protocols this year. The daily temperature checks, health screening forms and conversations about washing hands, wearing masks properly and socially distancing have been really effective in keeping or schools open, healthy and safe,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email statement. “The district is fully prepared for a shift to distance learning if a closure is mandated. We have a great distance learning plan and have already shifted this year successfully for a day or two when necessary due to COVOD-19 related school closures.“

File photo of Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that they are hopeful to remain on their current course, but are prepared to pivot their instructional models as directed by the governor’s office.

“Moving forward, our schools will continue to follow the guidance provided at the local, regional and state levels, including any prescribed steps needed should our area become designed a yellow, orange or red zone,” she said. “We are grateful to our students, staff and community for their unwavering support of and adherence to our initiatives. Their collective efforts have helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and allowed us to keep our buildings open for in-person instruction.”

Marianne Cartisano, superintendent of Miller Place school district, said schools, to date, are the safest places for children to succeed academically, socially and emotionally.

“We are also fortunate to have the acknowledgement of social responsibility in our community, coupled with everyone’s common goal to keep schools open,” she said.

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Three Village has seen just a total of 72 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“Our district continues to follow the guidance of the Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, said. “We are fully prepared to implement any prescribed measures to keep our schools open, safe and operating in the best interest of all of our students and staff.”

Elwood school district Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Bossert said he agrees with statements made by Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a recent joint press conference.

“Governor Cuomo used the words ‘amazing and astonishing’ to describe how low the infection rates are in schools as compared to many of the communities surrounding them,” Bossert said. “We agree that our schools are safe places for students, faculty and staff. The guidelines that have been put in place in collaboration with the Suffolk County Department of Health are designed to keep students and staff safe and school open.”

Bossert said in addition to mask wearing, distancing and appropriate hygiene, it’s important for those who are symptomatic or think they have been exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 to stay home.

“We are so very thankful to our parents and community members for demonstrating an understanding of the role we each play and acting out of an abundance of caution when making decisions about their children,” he said. “We are confident that we can keep students safe in our school buildings — where we know they will enjoy the greatest benefit of our instruction program, socialization with one another, and have positive interactions with their teachers.”

Smithtown school district superintendent, Mark Secaur, said he is planning for several different scenarios, including the potential of COVID testing in schools, or going back to completely remote.

“Based on the relative safety of our students and staff, providing education for those two things has been at odd at times,” he said. “But it’s the balance we have to navigate because of the pandemic.”

“We have proven that schools are safer than the outside community,” Secaur added. “Kids have been amazing. They’re excited to be with their friends again, and the kids have been more resilient than some adults.”

 

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Other Nearby Districts Revise Protocols/Quarantine Students

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point schools have moved to keep students for in-person learning four days a week.

Starting Nov. 30, Rocky Point middle and high school students are to go to school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday remaining as a dedicated virtual day.

The decision to push this part of the reopening plan to after Thanksgiving was made earlier this month, Nov. 4, according to a letter to parents signed by Superintendent Scott O’Brien.

“What is most important is that any change we make is done carefully, and with health and safety at the forefront,” O’Brien wrote in his letter.

The live-streaming component of what the district called “Phase II” began Nov. 9 to log into a period-by-period class schedule.

Those students who are switching to virtual from in-person learning, or vice versa, also have a start date of Nov. 30.

“With a recent increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in our district and the surrounding area, it was necessary to reallocate our transitional resources to address cleaning and disinfecting due to recent positive cases,” O’Brien wrote in his letter.

Since September, Rocky Point has seen 25 students test positive for the coronavirus while nine staff/teachers also tested positive as of Nov. 30, according to the state’s COVID Report Card.

Other neighboring districts have similar rates of infection, with school districts overall having much lower infection rates than the general populace. Shoreham-Wading River, with its plan of having students in school five days a week resulting in an infection rate of 1%, that currently being 22 students and six staff members.

The SWR district did have to close the high school and quarantine over 100 students and several staff members a month ago after two students who allegedly attended some kind of social gathering tested positive.

Still, Superintendent Gerard Poole said in a letter posted to the district website that they have revised protocols so that schools will not be closed the day a positive case is reported if contact tracing can be performed in time, along with the needed cleaning and disinfecting.

“The intent of this revision is to reduce the number of school closures,” Poole wrote. “Please know that the decision to keep a school open, as opposed to closing for a day, will always be made carefully with the health and safety of our students and staff as the priority.”

Meanwhile in Miller Place, the district said Monday the district contact traced three Miller Place High School students, one North Country Road Middle School student and one staff member from there who have all tested positive for COVID-19. None were symptomatic when last in school, and all have since been quarantined.

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said in a letter posted to the district website that the positive cases were relayed to the district through the Safe School Helpline.

“We have also been working with multiple staff members and community families who have been identified as close contacts of persons testing positive for COVID-19,” she wrote. “If required, staff have been quarantined as close contacts.”

Chris Pendergast celebrates his 70th birthday at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue with family and friends. Photo by Elliot Perry

At St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach, Monday, Oct. 19, those who came to mourn the passing of Chris Pendergast filled the pews, or at least as much as they could while trying to distance due to COVID-19.

Founder of ALS Ride for Life and renowned North Shore figure, Pendergast passed Oct. 14 surrounded by friends and family. He was 71. The nonprofit he founded reported Monday, Oct. 12, that Pendergast was starting to receive home hospice care. The organization announced his death Wednesday afternoon.

Authors Dr. Christopher Pendergast and Christine Pendergast

ALS Ride for Life started when Pendergast embarked on a ride with his electric scooter from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to Washington, D.C., 22 years ago to raise awareness about the disease and raise funds for research. After a few years, the ride was contained to New York state — from Riverhead to the Bronx — where participants stop by schools along the way that take part in the organization’s presentations throughout the school year. 

Pendergast, a Miller Place resident and former Northport elementary teacher had lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for 28 years. When doctors diagnosed him, they thought he only had a few years to live. 

Many who gathered together to pay respects to the Ride for Life founder have been touched in some way by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating condition that, over time, paralyzes a person and eventually leads to their death. Father Francis Pizzarelli, director of nonprofit Hope House Ministries, led the funeral Mass at the church, and said to those gathered that his own brother had been diagnosed with the disease at 36 years of age several years ago. Without even knowing it at the time, the Pendergast family reached out to his brother to offer him advice and comfort, something that made “a profound difference in his life.”

Not only did he defy those odds, but he would spend more than two decades after his diagnosis raising millions for ALS research and spreading awareness for it.

Chris’ wife of close to 50 years, Christine Pendergast, said beyond all the work he’s done over the past two decades in advocacy and fundraising, he will be remembered by her and her family as a loving father.

“While everybody is remembering Chris as an ALS advocate and fighter, at the end of the day he was my husband, our children’s father and our grandson’s poppy,” she said.

Monday’s funeral Mass was one of somber remembrances, and tissue boxes were always close at hand. But at the same time, both Pizzarelli and the Pendergast family looked for ways to say though he may be gone, his life should serve as an example. 

Pendergast’s daughter, Melissa Scriven, said during the funeral Mass her father was a supremely intelligent man, one who was exacting when it came to her homework as a child. Before he was diagnosed with the paralyzing disease, Pendergast was a handyman, able to “fix anything, even if it was with duct tape.” Her dad’s favorite meal to make when his wife was working late was “tuna noodle casserole, warm, with crushed Doritos … so my brother and I didn’t really like it when my mom worked late.” 

During a funeral that was filled with music, some of which were songs Pendergast loved in life, Scriven played one she said was her dad’s favorite, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” in which everyone’s tears dried ever so briefly as they joined in the chorus: “Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.”

Pendergast Leaves Lasting Mark

The founder of ALS Ride for Life became an icon and symbol for the North Shore for never giving up. Even as he lost the ability to speak and had to communicate with an eye-to-speech device, his determination never seemed to relent. Just this year, Pendergast, alongside his wife Christine, released the book “Blink Spoken Here: Tales from a Journey to Within” about his life since his diagnosis in 1993.

Ray Manzoni, chairman of the board for ALS Ride for Life based in Stony Brook University, knew Chris for many years, as both their kids went to school together in Miller Place. It was one day after both he and Pendergast were together after Mass that the educator told Manzoni he was likely to die in a few years, and that he wanted to raise awareness. 

Pallbearers lift Pendergasts casket into the car that will take him to his final resting place at Washington Memorial Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

Since then, the organization has raised over $10 million for advocacy and research. Their yearly Ride for Life trips were later accompanied by visits to close to 90 school districts on Long Island.

“Anyone who knew him, I believe he helped us all to live a better life,” Manzoni said. “He was a teacher of gifted and talented kids, and he took this terrible disease and turned it into amazing positive life.”

Paul Weisman, a member of ALS Ride for Life, was diagnosed with the disease in January 2013. Getting introduced to Ride for Life, he started going out with the nonprofit’s founder during their school trips. He would also visit some districts without Pendergast. The organization and its founder gave him a real purpose, “something to strive for, something bigger than myself, to raise as much awareness to fight this disease.”

“Meeting Chris, he gave me hope that three to five years might not be true, that there may still be life here,” Weisman said. 

Pendergast had four mantras: Never give up, never lose hope, always remain optimistic and be willing to defy the odds. Weisman loved that last one so much he had it tattooed on his left arm. Upon showing his new ink to the Ride for Life founder, Weisman said his mentor and friend smiled.

“Chris could smile and light up a room,” he said. “We all want to do something with our lives, but he certainly did.”

Pendergast’s roots on the North Shore ran deep, so much so that he became renowned in local school districts. He traveled from classroom to classroom, auditorium to auditorium, helping young people from elementary on up understand ALS but, more importantly, serve as a role model for what bravery truly looked like. Manzoni said students would often embrace Pendergast after these talks. As the years fell by, young students who were inspired by the Ride for Life founder would internalize his message. The board chairman said one time an EMT stopped by the side of the road during the annual ride and told Pendergast how his example inspired them to want to help others.

“If you had the honor of meeting him, riding or walking next to Chris in his ALS Ride for Life from Montauk to Manhattan, or hearing his story of determination, you walked away a better person,” Miller Place Superintendent of Schools Marianne Cartisano wrote in a statement. “He left you with the lasting impressions that made you want to be more tolerant, kinder, more understanding and compassionate toward others. His fight against the devastation of ALS left you inspired, knowing him filled your heart and being in his presence left you humbled.” 

ALS Ride For Life Talks Future Efforts

Despite the passing of its founder and leader Chris Pendergast, ALS Ride for Life isn’t thinking of slowing down anytime soon.

Manzoni said the organization wants to continue its fundraising efforts, starting with himself getting on a bike later this month and hitting the road, going to school districts they have visited before the pandemic. He plans to spend enough time at each to wave to children and “hopefully greet someone who has supported our program and to say ‘thank you’ to them, give them banner in recognition.” The organization has also developed a revised packet on how, even during a pandemic, people can support ALS over the school year.

“ALS is not going away, and we have to continue the fight,” he said.

There are even talks of doing a documentary film on Pendergast’s life, something Manzoni said the organization is wholeheartedly all for.

Weisman, still an active member of Ride for Life, said one of his last conversations he had with Pendergast was “to keep going until we found that cure for ALS,” he said. “He firmly believed, as I do, that there’s a major breakthrough coming somewhere around the corner … it’s up to us to finish it.”

Weisman added that while the pandemic has made their normal school trips much more difficult, they have some preliminary ideas to host online talks instead.

“Chris laid down 28 years of work,” he said. “Now it’s up to us.”

The family requests donations be made to ALSrideforlife.org and Hope House Ministries at HHM.org.