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Port Jefferson High School

Photo by Bill Landon

The Lady Royals of Port Jeff remained perfect on their season with a three-game sweep Oct. 1 over visiting Greenport/Southold, 25-22, 25-12 & 25-7. 

The win lifts the Royals to 7-0 to sit atop the league VI leaderboard just beyond the midway point of the season. 

— All photos by Bill Landon

World Trade Center Twin Towers. Stock photo

It’s been 20 years since the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, which now means that high school students were nowhere near alive when the events actually took place.

The history teachers in local schools remember that day vividly — some were just children themselves in school that warm Tuesday morning.

Districts across the Long Island now include what happened that day in their curriculum — a day that impacted nearly 500 Long Islanders who were among the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93. 

At Port Jefferson high school, 11th grade U.S. history teacher Jesse Rosen said that the district uses the story of one of its own to teach students about what happened — the documentary “Man in Red Bandana.”

“As a department, we were exposed to this heroic story through a former graduate of PJHS, James Burke,” Rosen said. “James’ uncle, William F. Burke Jr., gave his life in the line of duty as an FDNY member on September 11, 2001. As a result, James and his family were introduced to other stories of heroism.”

Rosen, who is in his 15th year at the high school, said he was a freshman at SUNY Albany during the September 11 attacks. 

This image of James Burke hangs on the bulletin board of Jesse Rosen’s U.S. history classroom. It is a true reminder to ‘Never Forget.’ Photo from PJSD

“I remember an introductory to psychology class being canceled, walking back to my dorm seeing many other students with canceled classes,” he said. “After putting on the television in my dorm room, I recall watching the plane hit the second tower. Above all else, I recall a state of shock and confusion. At the time, I was completely unaware of the magnitude of the events that were unfolding.”

Bryan Vaccaro, a global studies teacher at the high school, was younger than his current students in 2001. He was in third grade.

“I can vividly recall that day moment by moment,” he said. “Most kids in my class were being picked up from school but me, and I wondered why everyone was leaving but me. When I got home seeing the images unfold on television was surreal, almost as if you couldn’t believe what was happening. An extra level of worry settled in as well since my uncle was a firefighter in the FDNY in Company Squad 270 at the time whose main focus was search and rescue.”

Vaccaro, who has been with the school district for five years, said that when he has to teach his students about September 11, it’s important to tackle the topic head on and make sure students are aware of how the events unfolded that day.

“Many don’t know that there were four total planes in three different locations, simply because at this point none of them were born,” he said. “We always welcome hard-hitting questions in the classroom and discuss thoroughly.”

He added when students learn about the events, they’re overwhelmed with emotion — shocked because although they’ve been exposed to images and videos of the attacks, they have minimal knowledge about what actually happened.

“By the end of the lesson I think their understanding is heavily increased,” he said. “My main premise for my 9/11 lesson is to prove that there are impactful moments in history where time stands still, and you can vividly depict where you were at that specific time.”

Vaccaro said each generation has those moments.

“Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the Space Shuttle Challenger, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, etc.,” he noted. “And I make sure the students understand that it could happen next week, next year, 20 years from now, but there will be those moments for them. It makes history real and personal.”

Over the last 20 years, Island residents have felt a deep connection to that day. Vaccaro said that while it’s a sensitive and hard topic to talk about, it needs to be done. 

File photo

“I don’t think it’s difficult to teach a subject that hits home for Long Islanders,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be embraced wholeheartedly. It’s part of our story as a region and a country. It showed our resolve as people and proof that we can unite in times of chaos and tragedy — a characteristic that makes us the greatest country in the world.”

High school social studies and special education teacher Melissa Zinger has been an educator for 15 years, the last 10 at Earl. L. Vandermeulen High School. 

“On September 11, 2001, I was attending college on Long Island and was at home,” she said. “I remember my mother calling and asking me if I had heard what happened and to turn on the news. As we were on the phone the second plane hit. As I continued watching the news, my dad stormed through the front door in a panic after he raced home from work. He immediately did two things. He tried calling the Red Cross as he told me, ‘They will need blood and supplies,’ and next he made sure our American flag was hanging outside.”

Zinger said that reflecting on what happened 20 years ago, she realized that her parents’ reactions were different than what she was feeling personally.

“I watched the day unfold in shock, and my dad watched the day unfold with fear,” she said. 

Now as a teacher, she said her approach to teaching about 9/11 has changed.

“In my first few years of teaching, the approach was more reflective as students had their own memories of that day,” she said.  “And over the years, the students only know about 9/11 from what they have heard, so the approach has to also be educational, informative and reflective.”

As an educator, she has her own connection, experiences and emotions from that time, but she is able to see what her students feel depending on the closeness to their homes and experiences of their families. 

“Over the years the responses from students have changed as the students have no longer ‘lived through it’ as opposed to have lived through the impacts from it,” Zinger added. “In the beginning years of my teaching, students would share their memories of that day, one student I recall even remembering the exact name of the color crayon he was using when his mother got the call. Presently, I believe that the students are aware of the events and some more personally than others, however, a true understanding of how tragic and life changing for a country I believe they don’t. All they know is life post-9/11.”

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File photo

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School was one of only 11 Suffolk County Section XI schools named a 2020-21 Scholar-Athlete School of Excellence by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. 

The accolade honors varsity coaches in their commitment to challenging student-athletes to achieve a statewide recognition. 

To earn the School of Excellence Award, 75% of the high school’s 21 varsity teams qualified and received the NYSPHSAA Scholar-Athlete team award, which was established in the 1991-1992 school year. The School of Excellence Award commenced in 2016.

The honor is a testament to the continued efforts of Port Jefferson’s student-athletes and varsity coaches, who, in addition to the teamwork that is instilled on the playing fields and courts, place an important value on academics.

Adam Sherrard, the district’s director of health, physical education and athletics, will be presented with a plaque at the local athletic director workshop in the fall.

Photo from PJSD

With proud parents, siblings, friends, teachers, administrators, and members of the board of education, the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Class of 2021 received their diplomas during the 127th annual commencement exercises on June 25.

Principal Eric Haruthunian welcomed everyone to the momentous ceremony. Grace Keegan led in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the National Anthem, which was performed by valedictorian Peggy Yin.

Photo from PJSD

Words of wisdom and congratulatory remarks on the accomplishments of the students were offered by Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan, Haruthunian, and parent speaker Stephen Rabeno, father of twin graduates Mattea and Michela Rabeno. 

He shared an inspiring story of his daughters’ growing up in Port Jefferson and referred to Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” as a reflection of the kindness and acceptance of students in the school community.

Yin and salutatorian Massimo Cipriano shared memories with their fellow classmates and thanked family members and teachers for the continued encouragement for all students to succeed in the small school community.

Haruthunian then presented the class of 2021 to Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm before inviting each student to the podium and highlighting their high school careers and future plans. 

He was assisted by Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier in handing out the diplomas. The students then stood and tossed their caps in the air in celebration of becoming the newest graduates of the high school.

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Photo from Kathianne Snaden

The high school prom — a tradition that has been alive for over 55 years — has finally made a comeback after a difficult year of dealing with the pandemic. 

Parents of the Port Jefferson Prom Planning Committee have spent months trying to configure an ideal prom for the students in spite of the continually changing COVID-19 guidelines New York was enforcing.

Although the prom took place at The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station rather than at the high school, the committee was still able to go above and beyond while staying consistent with their selected carnival theme. 

“I feel like this has been a bright light at the end of a long tunnel, and to be able to give the kids and the community a chance to get together to make this happen has just been a gift,” said Kim Muffly, a member of the prom planning committee. “It really has been an incredible experience.” 

Since 1958, Port Jefferson has held their prom at the high school and has been fully orchestrated by the parents who rely on funding from donors and sponsors, as well as countless volunteer hours. 

Each year the prom has a different theme, each one lavishly decorated by the parents to make the students feel fully immersed in their prom experience. The first prom in 1958 was themed “April in Paris” and this year the committee decided on a carnival theme.

Stilt walkers, tarot card readers, jugglers, contortionists, caricature artists, clowns, carnival games, and smokey Moroccan-themed areas with couches were set up inside, and outside the venue. All topped off with a striped carnival tent to make students feel as if they were really at the circus. 

“I tried to think of a theme that would be a little more flexible because we weren’t sure what the COVID restrictions would be like,” Muffly said. “No matter where we had the prom we could keep the carnival theme, even if it was outside in the football field.”

Since a fire damaged in The Meadow Club banquet hall in 2018, inevitably shutting the building down for a few years, the venue has since revamped its space with brand new reconstruction and an elegant design.

According to Kiran Wadhwa, owner of the Meadow Club, the senior prom is just one of a few recent events the venue has taken pleasure in working with. The members of the Port Jefferson prom planning committee and the students were extremely grateful for the venue’s support and welcoming atmosphere. 

“I don’t think I realized what a big deal this was until guests just kept coming up to me consistently saying thank you, thank you, thank you,” Wadhwa said. “I thought it was such a beautiful thing to see how the community really comes together.”


Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District announced that Peggy Yin and Massimo Cipriano as the class of 2021 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. 

Valedictorian Peggy Yin has had numerous academic accomplishments throughout her high school career. She was captain of the Science Olympiad team and has been a top medalist in both state and regional competitions. As a junior, she helped initiate a partnership to mentor elementary students in science fair projects. 

Photo from PJSD

Peggy served as the editor-in-chief of the Mast literary magazine, president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, president of the Latin Club, captain of the Academic Team, an officer of the National Honor Society and an officer and treasurer of the Drama Club. This year, she helped to spearhead a food drive that raised more than $3,000 and food donations for those in need. Peggy is a founder and editor-in-chief of the news media platform, The Current, and is collaborating with Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) on several initiatives. 

She has served as a summer intern at both Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, where she worked on cutting-edge projects.

Peggy is a National Merit Scholarship finalist, Battelle Scholarship recipient and a Coca-Cola Scholar semifinalist. Music plays an important role in her life and her musical achievements are plenty with All-County, All-State and All-Eastern honors as a vocalist and flutist among them. She has performed twice onstage as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, has been on the Manhattan School of Music Dean’s List for three years and has been a recipient of five international vocal competitions.

She is active in community and volunteer initiatives, including serving as a youth ambassador for Concerts in Motion and a live radio show host and broadcast engineer for China Blue on WUSB 90.1 FM. 

Salutatorian Massimo Cipriano has excelled in many of his classes in Port Jefferson. 

He was a member of the Student Organization as a freshman and sophomore and served as secretary for the class of 2021. He served as a student representative for the district’s PTSA and three years as president of the Varsity Club. This year, he was co-president.

Photo from PJSD

Massimo has also been a Royal, a three- sport athlete in his high school career, as a member of the soccer, basketball, and baseball teams. He was also part of the founding team members of The Current, the independent online newspaper, where he is the head of the sports column. 

He participates in numerous volunteer and community service actions and recently helped spearhead a pen pal program with veterans at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. 

Citing English as a favorite subject, Massimo would like to study journalism when he begins college in the fall.

Massimo used his four years in high school to tap into many of the school’s offerings, helping him to become a well-rounded scholar. He commends several high school teachers with encouraging him to continue to embrace the world with kindness, empathy and a positive mindset, and values the mentors and role models they are to him. He is also pleased to have been a student in the district since childhood, citing his gratefulness to a school community that has encouraged lifelong relationships and inspired him to keep his best foot forward.

Both students were honored at a virtual celebration hosted by New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), recognizing the accomplishments of Long Island’s most accomplished students. 

“It was a great pleasure speaking with these remarkable students and hearing about their future plans, accomplishments and favorite memories from high school,” Palumbo said. “We wish them all the best in their future endeavors and congratulate them and their parents on their significant accomplishments.”

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The Friends of the Port Jefferson Library recognizes the role and contribution of libraries in the lives of young people. 

For this reason, they offered an opportunity for graduating high school students, with a Port Jefferson Library card, who have contributed to the library as well as the Port Jefferson community a chance to win a scholarship. 

Winners were selected by members of the Friends of the Library after reading scholarship applications and essays. Awards were given to those that exemplified having been part of the library community. 

We are excited to announce the winners of the second annual Friends of the Port Jeff Library’s scholarship are Hailey Hearney and Peggy Yin. 

Both applicants showed that the library has been an essential part of their lives and how it has guided them in their future pursuits.

Organized in 1998, The Friends of the Port Jeff Library have actively supported the library with special events and programming over the last few years. The Friends of the library is a group of individuals, families and organizations working to improve the library’s facilities, technologies, collections and special programs to benefit the community.

Congratulations Hailey and Peggy!

Photos and caption from the Port Jefferson Free Library

Port Jeff junior Kyle Scandale uncorks a shot for the Royals in the Long Island class D Championship against Friends Academy Jun. 19. Photo by Bill Landon

It was a high scoring game for the Class D Long Island Lacrosse Championship between Royals of Port Jefferson and the Quakers of Friends Academy at the Boomer Esiason Field at East Islip High School. 29 goals found their mark but the first 28 didn’t count. Deadlocked at 14-14 it would take two four minute overtime periods to decide the winner where the Royals lost a heartbreaker in the 6th period June 19.

Port Jeff junior Kyle Scandale led the scoring with 4, Brady DeWitt scored 3 and Daniel Koban concluded his varsity career with his hat-trick. Peter Murphy the junior had 9 saves on the day.

The Royals finished their COVID-19 abbreviated season with their first ever County Championship title with an 8-8 record. 

Photos by Bill Landon 

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The Port Jefferson School District announce that Mr. Brian Walker has been named assistant principal. In his new role, Mr. Walker will work with Port Jefferson Middle School Principal Dr. Robert Neidig and Edna Louise Spear Elementary School Principal Mrs. Amy Laverty.

Walker joins Port Jefferson after his most recent role in the Middle Country Central School District as an assistant principal at Selden Middle School. He was also a special education teacher for various grade levels for more than a decade in Middle Country and served as principal of the district’s Extended School Year Program for three years.

“I am honored to be in this position, and I am looking forward to assisting Mrs. Laverty and Dr. Neidig in continuing to develop students who are independent, lifelong learners, in a challenging and nurturing environment,” Walker said. “I believe that as a school, we play a fundamental role in positioning students for future success. I am committed to working closely with teachers, parents and community members to ensure our children achieve their full potential and are prepared for the next phase of their educational career.”

Walker earned a Master of Arts in liberal studies from Stony Brook University and a Bachelor of Arts in child study and students with disabilities from St. Joseph’s College. He holds a certification in school building leadership and professional certifications in early childhood/childhood and students with disabilities. He also received an educational leadership advanced certificate from Stony Brook University.

“Mr. Walker’s educational philosophies fit perfectly with our Port Jefferson School District’s core beliefs and dedication to student success,” said Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. “On behalf of our entire school community, we look forward to his enthusiasm and professional commitment to our students.”

Photo and caption from PJSD

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The Port Jefferson School District Armed Forces tribute. Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson School District will unveil its new Armed Forces tribute at a dedication ceremony with students May 30, at 10 a.m., at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. 

The tribute, created to express gratitude to those former students and staff members who have served in the armed forces, will salute military personnel with welcoming remarks from student leaders and school and local government officials. The Port Jefferson Middle School band will perform and students from Edna Louise Spear Elementary School will share poetry written especially for the occasion. 

“More than two dozen school staff and community members came together to form this committee with enthusiasm and camaraderie to honor those who served,” said Superintendent Paul Casciano. “The culmination of months of planning, fundraising and fellowship has resulted in a tribute of which our school community will be very proud.”

For those who cannot attend the event, a public recognition will be held Saturday, June 22, at
9:30 a.m.