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Mount Sinai

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program’s future at Mount Sinai may be nonexistent if the school can’t get the necessary funding. File photo by Barbara Donlon

By Kevin Redding

In 2013, the Mount Sinai School District and Port Jefferson School District partnered up for a new college-level program that would give their high school students an opportunity to study a wide range of science-oriented subjects and utilize the available resources at Stony Brook University.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program was set up largely due to the efforts of the districts’ superintendents, Gordon Brosdal of Mount Sinai and Kenneth Bossert of Port Jefferson, and New York State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) — who helped fund the program through grants since its inception. Now entering its third year, the STEM program — which consists of about 20 bright students in total from both high schools and lasts a few weeks each semester — includes four workshops, covering a wide range of topics that include botany, physics, computer modeling, electrical engineering and penguin research. Students get early on-campus experience at Stony Brook University, working under professors and advisers, and learning to apply their skill sets through research and hard work to make an impact on the world.

“Beyond just the cool things and getting us passionate about science, it’s taught us [amazing] life skills,” says Ben May, a junior at Mount Sinai who’s been in the program for two and a half years. “When I came to high school, I wanted to [pursue] politics. What these courses have taught me is that not only could I help the world by passing legislation, but that I could pass laws based on my knowledge of science, and the environmental issues I’ve learned, to help the general population.”

Even though the program itself is extremely beneficial, its future is not quite secured.

After New York State passed the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014, which allocated $2 billion for school districts in the state to help provide students with the most up-to-date educational technology like Apple computers and tablets in the classroom, mostly in anticipation for online testing, LaValle’s grant for STEM per school district took a drop: $25,000 became $12,500. Since the program is not funded by the district’s budget, the two school districts pay for it themselves from the money LaValle supplies them. Without LaValle’s additional funding, the school districts must put it up to a budget vote, leaving the decision of whether to keep the program going or not to people who may not fully appreciate what the program does.

According to Brosdal, the trimmed funding might get them through the year, but it’s still worrisome. There’s also added uncertainty when it comes to the continued partnership between Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson — their transportation splits are making the program very costly. Bossert is leaving Port Jefferson to become superintendent at Elwood school district, and there’s no guarantee that his replacement will share his views on the importance of the STEM program.

“We rely on [Port Jefferson] and we’ve enjoyed this relationship with them, but the new superintendent might have different priorities,” Brosdal said. “You never know, and we don’t know if LaValle is going to continue the funding. That was a warning sign last year when our funds were cut in half.”

Brodsal said he hopes the funding does not end, because if it was unsuccessful from the start, he believes Stony Brook would have cancelled it instead.

“They wouldn’t let us back on the campus if they didn’t see that the money went to good use, but they do, and it’s a good experience, so I’m hoping it continues,” he said. “I would love to continue the STEM program, but if that’s not possible, I’d like to give money to form a science research club first, before we make a science research class. … to see if we have student interest. That’s my plan at present.”

Brosdale will meet with LaValle at the end of the week for an update on the funding situation, as well as find out who will be the new superintendent at Port Jefferson.

Event attendees learn how to use Narcan to counteract opioid overdoses. Photo by Giselle Barkley

By Giselle Barkley

Parents and students alike walked out of Mount Sinai High School knowing the ugly truth about heroin and opioid use and addiction. But they also walked away with a lesson about Narcan.

Event attendees learn how to use Narcan to counteract opioid overdoses. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Event attendees learn how to use Narcan to counteract opioid overdoses. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The school district held it’s first “The Ugly Truth” presentation on Tuesday in the Mount Sinai High School auditorium. Suffolk County Police Department officer George Lynagh, EMS officer Jason Byron and county Medical Examiner Michael Caplan tackled the origins of heroin and trends among addicts over the years. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) also spoke at the event.

But residents didn’t simply learn about heroin on the Island, they also left with their own Narcan kits after Byron led a Narcan training class. According to Sgt. Kathleen Kenneally of the police department’s Community Response Bureau, Narcan, also known as Naloxone, was successfully administered around 530 times since the opiate antidote was introduced to the police department in July 2012.

Narcan, which reverses the effect of heroin or other opiate-based overdoses, can be administered via an injection or nasal spray. Mount Sinai resident Susan Matias said the spray is a friendly option for community members.

“Here, it’s introduced through the nasal passages — there’s no harm done, you’re not afraid of administering a needle and/or sticking yourself in the moment of chaos,” Matias said. “I think that’s why people are more open to partake and participate in the training.”

The nasal spray also makes it easier for people who still have a stigma about drug addicts and users. Byron reminded residents that the face of addicts has evolved and they’re not the only ones in need of drugs like Narcan.

“Sadly, the connotation is, we think people that could have overdosed are dirty when really it doesn’t have to be,” Byron said. “For opiate overdose, it doesn’t mean that it’s someone addicted to heroin. It could be somebody who’s possibly on pain management for cancer, end of life care, hospice care. It’s not the stereotypical — I hate to say it — junkie. That’s not what we’re seeing out there.”

According to Caplan, in the last few years, drug addicts who’ve overdosed on the substance have gotten younger and younger. The rate of opiate overdose deaths has increased by 140 percent since 2000. Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, are responsible for 80 percent of these death rate increases.

Fentanyl, which some dealers or users will mix with another drug like heroin, is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Combining this drug with others can make it difficult when administering Narcan.

“One of the problems with Fentanyl is, because it’s so potent, because it acts so fast, you may need to give multiple doses of Naloxone,” Caplan said.

According to Lynagh, the police department is starting to see higher levels of Fentanyl. He added that in his more than three decades as a police officer, the drug is one of the more addictive drugs he has seen. Lynagh added that heroin was initially introduced to combat morphine addiction.

“We don’t have too many people addicted to morphine now,” Lynagh said. “We have this heroin addiction, so sometimes we mean to do something well or combat a drug or something bad, with something else that’s bad.”

Bob Koch, above, of Koch Tree Services in Mount Sinai, hangs up the flags each year for Heritage Park’s “Parade of Flags.” Photo from Fred Drewes

Bob Koch is no stranger to giving back.

The single father of three and owner of Koch Tree Services in Mount Sinai is known for his generosity and willingness to always lend his services, or just a helping hand.

“I get emotional talking about him, because he’s just such a wonderful person,” daughter Kara Koch said. “Anybody he meets, he always gives them a chance and makes sure to think the best of them. He really goes above and beyond for everybody and anybody.”

According to Bob Koch’s son Jeremy, his grandfather started the business and his dad took over, working on some major jobs while heading the company. Bob Koch helped clean up Battery Park in Manhattan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, planted trees and plants at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, helped local businesses plant trees for Christmas tree lightings and he does basic maintenance and upkeep around the area. He donates much of the time he spends on these community projects.

Bob Koch and two workers plant a dogwood and other trees along the Avenue of America. Photo from Fred Drewes
Bob Koch and two workers plant a dogwood and other trees along the Avenue of America. Photo from Fred Drewes

Nick Aliano Sr., who owns Aliano Real Estate in Miller Place, said Koch helped plant a nearly 30-foot tree at the Aliano Shopping Center to honor his son Robert, who was run over by a car and battled through a long recovery. Despite the first tree dying and the replacement tree almost succumbing to the same fate, Koch made it his goal to keep the tree alive.

“He wanted the tree to make it — it was his mission,” he said. “It would cost thousands and thousands of dollars to do what he did, and we didn’t ask him for a favor; he offered it. He’s a special guy. Behind the lines, Bob is putting back into the community. A lot of people don’t even see it. That’s the kind of guy he is. He doesn’t make an announcement about it.”

The Miller Place Fire Department holds an annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the tree, which Robert Aliano lights, and where Koch is mentioned for his generosity for the wonderful things he does for his community.

At Heritage Park, Koch sometimes sends his crew in to help with landscaping and cleaning up, according to Heritage Trust Office Manager Susan Peters.

“Everything he does here has been totally volunteer,” she said. “He has made the park more beautiful and more inviting, and he’s done so many things that we couldn’t afford to do.”

Fred Drewes, who has also donated a lot of his own time to landscaping the property, said the environment Koch has created at the park will be admired for generations to come.

“I feel grateful and blessed by his willingness and graciousness to help make our small local park seem so large and enjoyable for so many people,” he said.

At “The Wedge,” Koch has donated and planted trees along the parking lot, as well as a tree for an annual lighting around Christmas, and helped with the planting of trees along the park’s “Avenue of America.”

There is also a Parade of Flags that is arranged on national holidays. Koch’s daughter Katie once asked her father if waking up early to hang flags for each state “drove him crazy.”

“He responded, ‘You know Katie, one thing that’s important is you always give back,’” she recalled. “He always made that a big thing. It’s never a job to him.”

Bob Koch, of Koch Tree Services in Mount Sinai, hangs up the flags each year for Heritage Park’s “Parade of Flags,” above. Photo from Fred Drewes
Bob Koch, of Koch Tree Services in Mount Sinai, hangs up the flags each year for Heritage Park’s “Parade of Flags,” above. Photo from Fred Drewes

She finds that positivity and care is contagious: “He’s such a hard worker,” she said. “The man sometimes works six or seven days a week and still has time to give to his family and the community, and he does it with a smile.”

Carmella “Miss Mella” Livingston of Miss Mella’s Footsteps to Learning, a child care center in Coram, said Koch donated time to take care of her property and planted a tree in honor of her late husband.

“He’s taken care of it all as a good community gesture,” she said. “Besides being very community-oriented, very generous and very kind, he’s also very upbeat, very happy. He’s definitely an asset to the community, but also as a dad. It’s a beautiful thing to see someone who is so giving.”

Although he works quietly, neighbors have taken notice.

Katie Koch recalled driving down the street with her father last year, slowing down for a sign someone hung up on their front porch: “It said, ‘Thank you Bob Koch for everything you’ve done,’” she said. “I remember thinking how proud I was that that was my dad. He’s the most selfless person I know.”

According to Kara Koch, who is an office assistant at Koch Tree Services, her father has inspired his family and everyone in the community to always be positive and the best you can be.

“He’s taught me how to love, how to care, how to be responsible, how to be successful,” she said. “Seeing what he does, it makes me want to be the kind of person he is, and if I can be half the person he is, I’d be a very happy girl.”

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Shoreham-Wading River's Jason Curran can't be caught as he races to the cage. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Photos by Desirée Keegan Clockwise from left, Shoreham-Wading River’s Jon Constant winds up for a shot with Mount Sinai’s Shane Walker on his back. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Shoreham-Wading River’s Jon Constant winds up for a shot with Mount Sinai’s Shane Walker on his back. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Wildcats scored early and often, with senior Jason Curran’s four goals leading the way, as the Shoreham-Wading River boys’ lacrosse team downed crosstown rival Mount Sinai, 9-4.

“It’s great to get back at them for last year,” Curran said of Mount Sinai handing Shoreham one of its two losses of the season. “They’re the top dog. Since they won counties least year, it’s great to be able to finish against them with a nice win.”

It seemed like they may come out on top again, as senior Matt Boscarino started the scoring nearly halfway into the first quarter, with a rocket to the left side to break the ice. Mount Sinai senior goalkeeper Peter Mastrorocco also made a couple of early stops.

Despite opening strong, Mount Sinai’s defense turned the ball over several times in a row, and from there, Shoreham opened the floodgates to five straight goals through the opening of the second stanza. Despite the scores, Mastrorocco kept his team in the game, making five saves in that span on his way to 15 on the afternoon.

“I felt good, but I can’t do well unless I have a good defense, so I give that to them,” he said. “We locked down the wing shots and the crease shots.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray reaches back to pass the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray reaches back to pass the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

But Mount Sinai struggled to secure a faceoff win or a ground ball race. The team scored one goal in the second, and again to open the fourth, but that goal with 10:54 remaining was the last one they’d rattle the cage with.

“I think we need to work on our ground balls and our shooting, and we’ll be a big team to beat,” Mastrorocco said. “I think the team is making progress every single day. We work as hard as we can on and off the field and we’re putting in a lot of work.”

On the other side of the field, Shoreham’s scores were showing how far the work has already taken them.

The game heated up as Mount Sinai closed the gap to 7-4, but the Wildcats remained composed.

Junior attack Chris Gray fed Curran a pass, but Mastrorocco stopped the shot. Curran still scored amid frenzy in front of the net, on his next attempt seconds later, to an open left side.

“When my shots go in, I’m happy,” Curran said. “But I wouldn’t be scoring goals if it wasn’t for people like Jon Constant and Chris Gray feeding me.”

Mount Sinai’s Griffin McGrath battles Shoreham’s Jack Quinn. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mount Sinai’s Griffin McGrath battles Shoreham’s Jack Quinn. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Gray said Joe Miller, a junior going to Navy, remaining poised at faceoff, helped the team to victory.

“He did a great job today, winning and giving us all the possessions that allowed us to score,” he said. “We had a lot of intensity coming into the game and it carried throughout all four quarters. Our defense looked great. They went man-up a couple of times, the other team, and we shut them down. The chemistry on offense today was really flowing for us.”

Eighth-grader Xavier Arline and Gray scored twice and added an assist each. Gray said his team not only has the bond, but the leadership and talent to get to the playoffs.

Curran liked that his team played smart while dominating the time of possession to secure the win. But he’s never satisfied.

“We’re always trying to get better moving forward,” he said. “If we can continue to play together, play unselfish and play smart lacrosse, we can go far, but if this is the best game we play all year, that’s not good. We want to get better after every week.”

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Mount Sinai superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the best part about going to work is the potential of great things happening in education for the school district. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Mount Sinai Superintendent of School’s Gordon Brosdal has worn many hats in his 46 years in education. But there’s one hat he wants to wear for a little bit longer.

On March 16, the school district’s Board of Education unanimously voted to extend the superintendent’s contract for an additional five years. Brosdal, whose initial contract ended next year, will maintain his position as until 2022, and add to his already expansive career.

“It creates stability in the district when everyone knows that you’re going to be here,” Brosdal said.

The average lifespan of a superintendent is five years, according to Brosdal. While superintendents typically start with a three-year contract, the board of education can vote to hire someone new to fill the position. Board members can also change, which can affect whether a superintendent remains with the district or start looking for another job.

Although Mount Sinai’s Board extended Brosdal’s contract, the superintendent’s salary agreement, which is linked to the tax cap, and benefits, will remain the same. His benefits include personal days, vacation time and health care, among some other benefits.

The district hired Brosdal in July 2014, with a starting salary of $195,000, staying under the $200,000 limit.

In his two years with the district, he lobbied for full day kindergarten and the district’s new writing program. Since the implementation of full-day K and the writing program, kindergarten students have learned how to read and write faster than those in previous classes.

“He has been a leader among leaders,” said Board of Education President Robert Sweeney. “I think he’s added so much to our district.”

Although Sweeney was unavailable for further comment, he has worked frequent with the superintendent and encouraged his fellow board members to vote in favor of the contract extension. Trustee and Vice President of the Board, Peter Van Middelem, added that Brosdal is widely respected across many districts on the Island.

Brosdal said he hopes to add more electives for students to take at Mount Sinai High School, including a virtual enterprise course. The course will allow students to study entrepreneurship and learn about accounting, human resources and other skills that will help them in college and their future career endeavors. The superintendent said he has many ideas for updating the district’s curriculum, which are currently on the back burner until the district can afford to implement the ideas.

Prior to working in the Mount Sinai school district, Brosdal worked at the Middle Country and William Floyd school districts. He’s served as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent in the past four-and-a-half decades. He will be one of few individuals on the Island who serve more than five decades in education.

“I feel this is the best opportunity I’ve had in my career,” Brosdal said. “I love coming to work. I work with great people. It’s a great district … and it’s like being renewed. I would like to work the rest of my career here, and we’ll see what happens at the end of five years.”

Heritage Park’s new geese patrol, from left, Willie, Nova and Lily, along with their owners, will help keep geese from eating grass and leaving behind droppings on the grounds of the Mount Sinai park. Photo by Fred Drewes

By Fred Drewes

Willy, Lily and Nova are new volunteers at Heritage Park. Willie and Nova, both corgis, and Lily, a border collie, have been recruited to form a “geese patrol.” According to a joint document by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “the use of trained dogs to chase geese is among the most effective techniques available today” to prevent the annoyance of Canada geese.

Janet Smith, Regan and Chris Erhorn and Kerry and Lynn Hogan-Capobianco are the proud owners of these dogs that have volunteered to herd the geese away from the Mount Sinai park.

Willy, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, is 10 years old and was abandoned before being rescued by Smith. Nova, a tri-color Pembroke, is 1 year old and was adopted from a breeder in Pennsylvania. Lily is 12 years old and was adopted at the North Shore Animal League. The dogs are friendly, loyal and have strong herding instincts. As part of the geese patrol, the three will be on call. Staff and volunteers of the Heritage Trust will call on the dogs when geese appear so that they can chase the birds from the park to prevent them from dirtying up the area.

Commissioner Ed Morris of the Brookhaven Department of Parks and Recreation gave the animals permission to “work” at Heritage Park and said he is thankful for the owners’ volunteer efforts. The parks department has also purchased silhouettes of dogs to display in the park. The combination will discourage the grazing of geese and reduce what the geese leave behind.

The population of resident Canada geese has increased and become an annoyance in parks, on golf courses and landscaped areas of condos and co-ops. Lush grass provides gourmet grazing. Unfortunately, these geese eat up to three pounds of grass per day and leave a trail of feces behind. It is estimated that each goose can produce from 1 to 1.5 pounds of droppings per day, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. The ball fields, paths and play knoll of Heritage Park have been littered with geese droppings, and research has shown that droppings contain a variety of pathogens capable of infecting humans. Although there is no clear evidence the droppings are transmitting diseases or are a threat to public health, the main concern is the mess left behind.

No one relishes walking on a path or playing on a field full of feces. This aesthetic problem is what the geese patrol will try to solve. If the geese are chased enough, they will learn to avoid swooping into the park, leaving visitors able to enjoy the open space and paths without tip-toeing through goose poop.

If you see Willy, Nova or Lily working in the park, the dogs are not there to play or exercise, but thank them for their efforts. Heritage Trust, the park and the town parks department are working together to make “The Wedge” one of the most popular parks in Brookhaven.

Fred Drewes is a founding member of Mount Sinai’s Heritage Trust and spends much of his time volunteering to help beautify Heritage Park.

The Mount Sinai MIddle School Community Service and Outreach Club lends a helping hand by becoming actively engaged in the community for local and national charities and organizations. Photo from Lindsey Ferraro

Raising thousands of dollars for North Shore-based and national organizations and bringing smiles to those in need of cheer is no small feat. But fifth- through eighth-graders at Mount Sinai Middle School are making a habit of it.

Lindsey Ferraro, a co-advisor for the school’s Community Outreach and Service clubs for the last three years, said students learn compassion and empathy.

“It amazes me more so every year how dedicated our club members and the school community are to bettering the world,” she said. “Our students have gone above and beyond to help out the community.”

The Mount Sinai Community Service and Outreach Club sings holiday carols at a local nursing home. Photo from Lindsey Ferraro
The Mount Sinai Community Service and Outreach Club sings holiday carols at a local nursing home. Photo from Lindsey Ferraro

The club adopted a family this past holiday season, created cards for soldiers, visited the Woodhaven nursing home in Port Jefferson Station to sing holiday carols, held a clothing drive for the homeless and raised over $1,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

“You know you’re helping out someone much less fortunate than you, and it feels really good,” eighth-grader Jake Ritchie said. “It feels really good to know that I make a statement and take a stand in my community to help out.”

Ritchie, who has been a member of the club since he was in fifth grade, said the club is also collecting books for a Stony Brook book drive and helping Girl Scouts receive a bronze award. He said even his classmates lend a hand.

“They have been helping out,” he said, “We make speeches in front of our classes to encourage kids to help out. It’s a lot of fun.”

Mount Sinai Middle School Principal Peter Pramataris said he also sees students outside the club donating to the club’s causes.

“It’s always great to see the school building come together as a whole,” he said. “I reside in the district, too, and whenever there’s a family with some hardship, a loss or a health issue, the community always steps up to help each other. It’s a testament to the families we have in our community and the value system that they have from home and that we reinforce at the school. These students take their own time, and they do it unselfishly. I’m proud to be their principal.”

The club has also raised more than $2,000 in two weeks for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients fund, with a week of fundraising left to go. Next, the school will be working on its Light It up Blue campaign, where members of the club will sell puzzle pieces in light of Autism Awareness Month for Autism Speaks.

The Mount Sinai Community Service and Outreach Club wraps presents raised for and donated to local families. Photo from Lindsey Ferraro
The Mount Sinai Community Service and Outreach Club wraps presents raised for and donated to local families. Photo from Lindsey Ferraro

Nicole Kotarski, who has been a co-adviser for five years, said the club fosters independence and creativity.

“We’ve had several students bring us ideas if they like a particular organization, and we tell them to figure out how to make it happen,” she said, adding that she asks students to organize contact information, ideas for fundraisers and how to make the school aware of them. “The goal of our club is to make a difference in others’ lives. These students are definitely the most driven students. They’re the ones that make the effort to become actively engaged in the community.”

Ferraro and Kotarski agreed that the students are doing an amazing job, and they’re proud of the student’s hard work and effort.

“They really do care and they’re learning — they’re not in it for anything else,” Ferraro said. “They do such a good job raising awareness throughout the school … and really making, especially the people around the holidays, feel loved and cared for.”

That’s what makes being a part of the club so special for fifth-grader Matthew Stancampiano.

“I like doing this because it helps me help the less fortunate people in our community,” he said. “We can accomplish bigger things in a group. It makes me feel happy that I am able to help other people.”

Maggie Hamm, of Leisure Village, speaks about how she almost fell victim to a scam, at a press conference held at the Rosa Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai on March 11. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Don’t trust anyone.”

That’s what Bernard Macias of AARP advised seniors to do at a press conference held at the Rosa Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai regarding phone scams across Suffolk County.

“It’s happening more and more than you think,” he said. “Clearly, for AARP, we’re here to protect people 50 and over, but we’re finding that our member’s children and grandchildren and being faced with this. Don’t trust anyone, really, because they’re constantly changing those scams.”

Bernard Macias, Associate State Director of Outreach on Long Island for the American Association of Retired Persons, tells residents not to trust anyone when answering a call, as it may be related to scam, especially around tax season. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Bernard Macias, Associate State Director of Outreach on Long Island for the American Association of Retired Persons, tells residents not to trust anyone when answering a call, as it may be related to scam, especially around tax season. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said that in 2015, the total cost of financial fraud against seniors across the country was $36.5 billion. Although anyone can be a victim of scam, con artists particularly prey on seniors, he said.

“That is an extraordinary sum that is being stolen from our citizens,” he said. “Tax day is April 15, it is fast approaching and it is a time that scam artists are working hard to get a hold of people’s hard-earned money.”

Bellone said that in one instance, a scamming entity posed as the Internal Revenue Service and said that if the person did not provide a certified check or transfer funds to the agency, they would be imprisoned. The caller went so far as the tell the victim that they would remain on the line until the woman reached her bank and successfully wired the funds to an account that was provided, he said.

Luckily, the bank manager recognized the customer and noticed that she looked and sounded worried, Bellone said. The victim told the manager about the person she was on the phone with, and the manager was able to stop the scam from happening.

This week is National Consumer Protection Week and as a result, Bellone said the county is urging citizens to remain informed. He said so far, Suffolk County Consumer Affairs has recovered over $534,000 through its investigations on behalf of county residents.

“These scammers use all kinds of threats and demands to gain access to your accounts, and threaten your identity,” he said.

The county executive urged those who felt vulnerable to a scam to file a complaint with the consumer affairs department by calling (631) 853-4600.

To avoid an IRS scam, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said that AARP offers free tax filings for senior citizens. Some locations in the town include the senior center and town hall, among local libraries, he said.

Maggie Hamm shares how she almost fell victim to a scam. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Maggie Hamm shares how she almost fell victim to a scam. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Maggie Hamm, of Leisure Village, received two suspicious phone calls within three weeks. She said that during the one call she did answer, TD Bank was mentioned. Hamm used to have an account with the organization, which she said piqued her interest in listening to what the caller had to say. The person on the other end of the phone mentioned having or owing money, which she said sounded off.

“I asked, ‘is this a scam? And boom, he hung up the phone,” she said. “You just know — you get a vibe and a red flag goes off. I think as we get older you don’t want to make any waves, and I understand seniors become afraid and concerned, because they don’t want any trouble, but you can’t be afraid to step forward and say no.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she too received two messages on her phone that were related to scams.

“Help us help you,” is what the caller said at the end of one of the messages.

Anker said she tried to call back the number, but the call didn’t go through.

“People will actually fall for it,” Anker said. “They’re trying to catch the person on the phone right away, because once they get you in person, the level of scamming has increased.”

She asked residents to call the Suffolk County Police Department to report the scam as a crime, at (631) 852-COPS. Two years ago, the legislator also created a scam alert website, SCPDscamalert.org, which has more information on how to protect yourself against incidents involving scam.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said that calling 4(631) 51-TOWN would also provide residents with more information.

“If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t right,” she said. “You should always follow your instincts and your gut, and the government will never call you when you’ve done something wrong. They’re required to mail you as proof of documentation. Don’t fall prey to the phone call.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone urged residents to remain cautious when answering the phone, as a result of the increase in phone scams across the county. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone urges residents to remain cautious when answering the phone, as a result of the increase in phone scams across the county. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Macias, who said AARP serves over 500,000 members on Long Island, said, in light of tax day, to mail in tax returns as early in the season as possible, not to give out personal information and to shred all personal documents.
Three important facts Macias said to understand is that the IRS will never call and demand payment over the phone, the IRS does not ask for credit or debit card information over the phone and the IRS does not threaten to bring local law enforcement to your home.

“Scam artists continue to devise new things and new schemes that are becoming more and more difficult to detect, which is why AARP developed the AARP Fraud Watch Network as a way to protect people,” he said.

By logging onto aarp.org/money and clicking on the Consumer Protection tab, residents can access a link to the company’s Fraud Watch Network. There, anyone can sign up to get AARP’s Watchdog Alerts on scammers’ latest tricks and find out what to do if you’ve been victimized.

“You’re not only helping yourself, but helping other who may fall victim to the same scam,” Bellone said. “Don’t feel embarrassed to come forward. Feel empowered to help educate and protect others.”

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By Bill Landon

Mount Sinai faculty took to the court in front of a capacity crowd for a basketball fundraising game with the proceeds benefiting the Mount Sinai Booster Club. With the silent auctions, tee shirt sales, raffles and the half-time shooting contest, the Friday night event, which was the 15th for the school, raised $3,000, according to event co-chair Kim Vengilio.

Tipoff came shortly after 7 p.m., and pitted the Red team against the Blue team with district-wide bragging rights up for grabs.

In a game that featured two 25-minute halves, the Red team, consisting of high school staff, got to work early, breaking out to a 12-7 lead nine minutes in.

Assistant principal and starting center Matt Dyroff made his presence known down low as he showcased his rebounding prowess — dominating the boards most of the night.

Trailing by nine with 10 minutes left, the Blue team, made up of middle school and elementary school staff, shook off the cobwebs and started to find the rim, led in part by Michael Pappalardo, the Mount Sinai girls’ varsity head coach, as the point guard found the open player time and time again with his no-look passes.

Blue team shooter Tom Walker, referred to as “the doctor” throughout the game, performed much like famed Utah Jazz player Pete “Pistol Pete” Maravich, as he put on a 3-point shooting clinic with a brilliant long distance performance to trim the deficit to four points with seven minutes left in the half.

The Red team rallied, and began to stretch its legs in the closing minutes of the half, featuring its superior ball handling skills and several fast breaks, to surge ahead 39-28 at the break.

All of the students rushed the court for the shooting competition that took place at both ends of the floor. At a dollar a shot, those who found the net received five dollars in return. With the odds clearly stacked in favor of the house, Chris Caputo was first to cash in as the sophomore found nothing but net to lead the way. Seventh-grader Anabella Cole struck next as her shot found its mark, as did Ryan Wilson’s ball as the freshman swished his for the five-dollar payout.

The student-athletes began to find their range, turning the odds against the house when Nicolas Arciello, a sophomore, nailed his shot. From there, the tables turned.

Dyroff, who played college basketball at SUNY Potsdam, got the idea for the halftime shooting contest from when the cheerleaders of his alma mater took to the court to raise money.

“I said I’ll organize it — I put it out to the staff and opened it up to everyone, so we do it in two groups. Because there are so many little kids, we [decided to] move it up much closer,” Dyroff said. “The booster club donates so much back to our district so this is just a great event. Best Buddies is a program that we run here in the high school where our students work with disabled kids, so it’s nice to be able to give back to those who’ve given us so much.”

Both teams began to loosen up in the opening minutes of the second half, trading points along the way until the Red team caught fire — finding its 3-point game to break out to a 66-43 advantage with 14 minutes left.

“It’s been 15 years that we’ve been doing this and Matt Dyroff gets all of the faculty together,” Vengilio said. Dyroff has been putting the event together for all 15 years it has been going on in the district.

“Joann Satori, a board member of our booster club, organizes all the tee shirts the tickets and she handles the publicity,” Vengilio added. “The community just loves to come out and watch the faculty play.”

Mount Sinai student Amanda Didonato said she’s attended the event many times and said it’s great watching the faculty play.

To arrest the scoring, the Blue team had to lean on the Pistol, and the doctor delivered. Draining treys, Walker carried the load in the final minutes, to help his team draw within four points as time ticked off the clock. But it was too little too late, as the Red team, with an 84-81 win, accepted the championship trophy and, with it, bragging rights for another year.

“Every year the Mount Sinai crowd comes out and does an amazing job — the booster club, the coaches, the parents, the teachers, it’s just an amazing event for the community,” Pappalardo said. “Look at the crowd participation, the turn out, all the hand-made signs; this is a great community to live in, work in and be in.”

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Louise Pizzuto has taught in Mount Sinai for 28 years. Photo from the Pizzuto family

Saying Louise Pizzuto was born to teach is an understatement.

Pizzuto, 62, started working as a special education teacher at Mount Sinai Middle School in September 1988. After 28 years, the mother of two is retiring to spend more time with her family. The Mount Sinai Board of Education announced Pizzuto’s retirement from her current position in the high school’s Special Education Department. Her last day is June 25.

The Smithtown resident became an integral part of the school district early on in her career.

After seeing some special needs students continuously fail and repeat classes, only to drop out of school after the government passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, Pizzuto pushed for courses to accommodate her students. No Child Left Behind set higher standards that her students couldn’t reach on their own.

“They [kept] raising the bar, but my students didn’t have their academic abilities raised,” Pizzuto said. “In order to meet [the requirements] and close the gap somewhat, we had to really start putting in place some programs.”

The addition of more leveled classes or self-contained classes allowed these students to be taught and learn at their own level. More residents started moving to the school district when these programs were established. They were also incorporated into the high school after it was established in September 1991. Pizzuto was no stranger to going above and beyond for those who needed her help.

“When given students with special needs, she would give up her lunch period to audit a class so that she could learn different methodology to teach her students,” said longtime friend Gloria Musto.

Pizzuto also dedicated whatever free time she had, before, during and after school, to help her students.

Before working in Mount Sinai school district, Pizzuto worked at Concord High School in Staten Island, and stumbled into special education because there was a shortage of special needs teachers at the time. She was able to get a second masters in special education while she worked at the high school.

Pizzuto’s daughter Amanda Pizzuto-Montemarano said her mother goes above and beyond for her students, recalling a time her mother took a student to the doctor for an examination. The student was abusing drugs at the time, and was getting sick. Pizzuto paid for the visit, and helped other students similarly, while giving them the tools they needed to succeed.

Although the high school wasn’t the only educational facility she worked for prior to Mount Sinai, Pizzuto said she fell in love with the program because of the kids she helped.

While her career at Concord differed from her experience in Mount Sinai, making a difference in people’s lives is always the priority for Pizzuto. As a special needs teacher, Pizzuto put her students before the lesson, and by learning their strengths and weaknesses, provided background information on a subject to help them learn the curriculum at their grade level.

Her daughter said going into retirement is a big step.

“She is going to miss teaching terribly,” Pizzuto-Montemarano said. “But now she has grandchildren and they’re going to have the greatest teacher, like me and my brother had.”

Pizzuto’s son Paul-Eric has dyslexia, and used to sneak books home from school. She started spending hours helping her son grasp material from school. He said growing up with a mother who was not only a teacher but a special education teacher, was a gift.

Longtime friend and co-worker Michele Gaffney, of Baiting Hollow, said Pizzuto motivated her to get her masters in teaching when Pizzuto and her family moved to the Island. The two started working in the school district on the same day.

“She really optimizes what a teacher is,” Gaffney said. “She goes the extra mile. She’s just fabulous. Mount Sinai will never have another one like her.”

But Pizzuto hopes for the best.

“I told the principal when I handed them my retirement papers that I just hope that they replace me with another teacher that remembers the students before the curriculum,” Pizzuto said.