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Port Jefferson Middle School

The existing outdoor bleachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Lynn Hallarman
By Nasrin Zahed

Port Jefferson School District Board of Education held its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10, covering student achievements, recognizing the board’s local impact, discussing upcoming volunteer efforts, and continuing conversations over proposed bleacher costs.

To kick off the night on a high note, the board recognized students receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award. This award aims to highlight the importance of how an individual’s service positively impacts the community. The awards are broken down by age group, with the ability to earn at the bronze, silver or gold levels, depending on the number of hours students have spent in service to others.

Oct. 16 through 20 is School Board Recognition Week. Several members of the school district came forward to express their gratitude for BOE members’ public service, emphasizing the volunteer time and effort required for the role.

Kirsten, the student representative for the district, covered the upcoming spirit week festivities that will be observed districtwide, culminating in the homecoming game this Saturday, Oct. 14, at 2 p.m.

The meeting went on to discuss how the Royal Education Fund will hold also Oct. 14 its 7th annual Jill Nees-Russell Power of One Family Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. The run/walk event will begin at the Port Jefferson Village Center, continuing through the village and ending at the high school.

Brian Walker, principal of Port Jefferson Middle School, came forward to discuss how they are furthering community service efforts in students.

He noted how the students are encouraged to participate in school-led efforts, such as the beach cleanup initiatives, fundraisers for ASL, letter and card writing for the elderly and veterans, senior citizen luncheons, as well as food and coat drives.

Discussion later moved to the district’s bleacher project, with the board presenting the public with new facts on the matter.

Randi DeWitt, member of the BOE, informed that the project has been put out for bid once again, with six different bid proposals all including variations of the project. This is in the hope of receiving a lower cost estimate than was initially received last spring.

Stressing the importance of following the bid process in order to most effectively find the appropriate licensed vendor for the job, she encouraged community members to attend the upcoming public workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 24, where they will review all of the plans for each bid. An architect will be in attendance for questions.

The BOE will reconvene on Monday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m.

Port Jefferson school district teacher Robert Farenga, with seventh graders Milo Gugliucci, left, and Dean Zaltsman. Photo courtesy PJSD

Port Jefferson school district hosted an inaugural summer coding camp for Port Jefferson Middle School and Earl L. Vandermeulen High School students. The five-day camp, which took place at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, was supervised by Robert Farenga. 

Students were encouraged to hone their skills in educational tools such as Scratch, a block-based visual programming language, to more advanced 2D and 3D cross-platforms, such as GDevelop. The attendees also learned to create animation, PC and mobile games on the open-source game engine. 

Farenga was excited to engage the students in the stimulating environment while advancing their critical-thinking skills. As he oversaw two students working together on a basic drop-coding project in Scratch, he was brainstorming lessons in writing code to advance the fundamentals in their coding skills, readying them for high school computer science courses.

Port Jefferson Middle School principal Brian Walker and student council adviser Megan Roth-Ueno with student council members. Photo courtesy PJSD

Port Jefferson Middle School hosted a festive Thanksgiving luncheon for local senior citizens on Wednesday, Nov. 16. 

With turkey sandwiches stuffed with cranberries and all the trimmings, bottled waters and some tasty apple pies for dessert, the residents – including one woman who graduated from Port Jefferson High School in 1950 – enjoyed this long-time tradition. 

Middle school student-musicians performed seasonal selections under Vanessa Salzman’s leadership. Several students read poetry and greeted the guests, along with student council adviser Megan Roth-Ueno and principal Brian Walker.

Pending approval of the Dec. 12 referendum, outdated athletic spaces would be modernized and repurposed. For example, the district intends to replace antiquated shower spaces, pictured above, with instructional areas for art and tech ed programs. Photo courtesy PJSD

Port Jefferson School District administrators led a guided tour for more than a dozen community members Tuesday, Oct. 18, showcasing some of the facilities that will be on the ballot this December.

Voters will decide Monday, Dec. 12, upon two landmark ballot initiatives, Propositions 1 and 2, totaling approximately $25 million. If approved, the district will see a significant overhaul of facilities across its three schools: Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, Port Jefferson Middle School and Edna Louise Spear Elementary.

Proposition 1 projects will target the bathrooms, heating and cooling systems, art, technology and music rooms, among other infrastructure needs throughout the district. 

Proposition 2 will feature a crumb rubber artificial turf athletic field at the high school to replace the existing grass field for outdoor athletic teams. [See story, “Capital bonds: PJSD nears historic referendum over school infrastructure,” The Port Times Record, Sept. 29, also TBR News Media website.]

‘When you see it, you can’t dispute the smells or the age or the corrosion or the dated materials that are there.’

— Jessica Schmettan

Administrators began with a detailed presentation on the heating/cooling units proposed for the elementary school, as this site was not part of the tour. Visitors then strolled through the halls and into the rooms under consideration as part of the upcoming referendum.

Several of the touring group asked questions and engaged in detailed exchanges with the district administration. Jessica Schmettan, superintendent of schools, led these discussions.

In an interview, she said the district’s goal for these tours is to give voters a window into these facilities, offering them firsthand knowledge of the items on their ballots.

“I think people are seeing some of the areas that desperately need renovation,” she said.

Students currently attend music classes in an exterior music portable, pictured above. With approval of the bond vote, the portable would be demolished and existing interior spaces would be repurposed as performance spaces. Photo courtesy PJSD

One of the core issues featured throughout the discussions pertained to the price for each improvement. Addressing these concerns, Schmettan said that how a public school district must finance renovation projects differs substantially from that of a homeowner renovating his or her home.

“Of course, as always, there’s a question of price, but school districts have to pay at prevailing wages and use the architects’ fees and projections,” which she suggests can drive up costs. The district superintendent added, “I think it’s hard for people to conceptualize that. They think about their home and what it costs to renovate. I think some of the prices are surprising, but [the architects] definitely saw the need for many of the areas.”

Throughout the tour, which lasted approximately an hour, district residents were given front-row access to these areas. Schmettan discussed the unique experience that this format can offer.

“When you see it, you can’t dispute the smells or the age or the corrosion or the dated materials that are there,” she said. “We’ve done a great job with our academics and our programs despite some of the spaces that these students are being instructed in.”

Pending approval of the referendum, 14 elementary school bathrooms would be updated. Photo courtesy PJSD

Referring to the exchanges she and other administrators shared with the residents, Schmettan added, “That in-person experience and the dialogue that we’re able to have with the community members as we’re walking and talking — that personal connection — is important for them.”

To accommodate a broad range of schedules, the administration varied its touring schedule across different times and days of the week. 

The next tour will take place Saturday, Oct. 29, at 9 a.m. The third and final one will be held Thursday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. The district advises if anyone plans to attend, please check in at the security vestibule in the main lobby of the high school/middle school.

To learn more about the proposed capital bond projects, visit the website: www.portjeffschools.org/bond/home.

Photo from PJSD

The Port Jefferson Middle School Science Olympiad team came in third place at the Suffolk County Regional Division B Science Olympiad Competition, held at Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills.

Students from grades 6 to 9 competed against 30 teams in events which tested their study skills in earth science, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering and scientific problem-solving. The students did extremely well, receiving a total of 29 medals between the A, B and C teams. The Science Olympiad team will be competing on April 8 and 9, in the state competition at East Syracuse Minoa Central High School in Syracuse. The team is coached by Adam Bouchard, the middle school earth science and science 8 teacher. 

“Every student was highly motivated and showed a lot of hard work in preparing for their events,” Bouchard said. “It truly showed this year with the team’s all-around terrific performance.” Photo from PJSD

From left, Port Jefferson Middle School students Kieran Casey, Emmanuel Batuyios, Lia Donohue and Gianna Viviano with Assistant Principal Brian Walker and Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan. Photo from PJSD

Port Jefferson Middle School students Emmanuel Batuyios, Kieran Casey, Lia Donohue and Gianna Viviano have many diverse interests as students. 

The one commonality is their daily participation as members of the morning announcements crew. 

The four were cited by Assistant Principal Brian Walker for turning something that could be ordinary into something extraordinary, with hallways buzzing with excited energy and contagious compassion and encouragement.

“These four students display character way beyond their years — their positive and inspiring voices fill the airways of the middle school every morning,” Walker said at a recent board of education meeting. “Each day they provide the building with words of wisdom, leadership quotes and inspirational stories.” 

Interim Principal James Nolan and Walker are encouraging the group to join in the discussions for future leadership moments and the student-driven leadership club.

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With messages of tolerance and acceptance, the Port Jefferson Middle School’s upcoming stage production will certainly be one to remember. 

The Drama Club will present “Honk! JR.” based on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved classic, “The Ugly Duckling.”

The musical adaptation of the 1843 story features lyrics by Anthony Drewe and music by George Stiles. Music teacher Christine Creighton serves as the club’s adviser.

Showtimes are Friday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m. at the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School auditorium. 

Admission to the performance is available for a suggested donation of $5 per ticket or $20 per family. Tickets are available at the door on performance dates.

Masks are required for all performances. Tickets are limited for these two performances due to social distancing guidelines in the high school auditorium.

Community members hold up lanterns and sunflowers during a vigil to honor Aida Ramonez who passed away at age 11 on Jan. 5. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Port Jefferson community has come together to mourn the loss of one of their own, 11-year-old Aida Ramonez who died unexpectedly Jan. 5.

On Saturday, Jan. 15, several dozen people gathered on the lawn of the First Presbyterian Church in the village to pray and remember the vibrant, young girl who was taken far too soon.

“Aida was something else,” said her mother, Lolita. “She was extremely outgoing. She would stick up for her friends, was anti-bullying and absolutely loved animals and her life.”

The Port Jefferson middle schooler had moved with her family from Mastic Beach just three years prior to her death, but in the short amount of time she graced the village, she touched the lives of dozens of people — young and old.

Aida Ramonez enjoying live music at Port Jeff Brewery. Photo from Lolita Ramonez

During Saturday’s vigil, classmates of the sixth-grader held onto sunflowers, Aida’s favorite flower. Small white lanterns were lit, decorated with purple ribbons while prayers were said and “Amazing Grace” was sung. 

Nicole Jacobs said that Aida befriended her daughter in school after the Ramonez family moved to the district. The two girls would go trick-or-treating on Halloween together and visit the water park in the summer. 

“She was very wise for her age,” Jacobs said. “She was so compassionate. Very loving and free-spirited. She was such a good kid, finding the positive in any situation and who sought out the kids who didn’t always fit in.”

But along with being the girl who chose to be a friend to anyone and everyone, her true passion was animals, Lolita said. 

“We nicknamed her the chicken whisperer,” she laughed, fondly.

Lolita went on to remember how one of the family’s chickens fell ill. The chicken, who barely approached anyone else, trusted Aida and allowed her to feed its medicine. 

“She’d massage the chicken and say, ‘Don’t you give up on me!’” Lolita said. “She wanted to be a vet.”

The chicken survived and is thriving to this day. 

Aida also loved art — it was one of her favorite subjects in school along with science. 

“She was an incredible artist and was an excellent student,” Lolita said. “She even made it to the honor roll at the end of their marking period. She was so proud of that.”

Aida’s former fifth-grade teachers at Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, Laura Kelly and Paige Lohmann, said in a statement that Aida had “so many wonderful qualities and gifts that made her stand out.”

“Her love for her family, care for animals and loyalty to her friends were most important to her. At such a young age, Aida believed in using her voice to speak up for causes that she believed in. She had a keen sense of who she was and how she can make a difference in the world through her thoughtful words and caring actions. We will always remember Aida and her high hopes and dreams for life and the world around her,” the teachers said.

During Saturday’s event, Robert Neidig, assistant superintendent of Port Jefferson School District, remembered his student.

Sunflowers are given to Aida’s mother, Lolita, during the vigil. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Aida, although she was a quiet young girl, had such an intense focus of maturity about her,” he said. “She once wrote that one of the things that made her happiest was being kind to others. It is this endearing quality that helped brighten up the spaces that she inhabited and allowed her to have such an enormous impact on our entire community.”

Neidig went on to mention, that the outpouring support of the community standing together on that cold Saturday was a true testament of what Aida always preached — kindness.

Mayor Margot Garant said that although tragedy strikes, the vigil proves how Port Jefferson comes together in times of need.

“The ceremony was moving and shows that here in Port Jefferson when we lose a resident, young or old, our community is impacted as if it were our very own,” she said. “This is what we mean by ‘Port Jeff Proud,’ and ‘Port Jeff Strong.’”

Trustee Kathianne Snaden’s daughter is in Aida’s class and she said it breaks her heart to see the community lose someone so young and so vibrant.

“My heart and prayers are with the Ramonez family,” she said. “If there is any silver lining, it’s seeing the community as a whole come together to support and uplift Aida’s family, and showed we can help each other in a time of need. We are stronger together, and I hope that the outpouring of love that day brought some peace to her family. We are here for them.”

Along with the vigil, a Meal Train was created for the family the day her death was announced, Jan. 6. 

Jacobs, who helped create the link, said that within two hours of it being posted, the first four weeks were booked with different types of meals to be dropped off at the Ramonez home. The Meal Train was then extended an extra two weeks, and booked in only one hour.

“People have been reaching out every day asking how they can help,” Jacobs said. “More than 40 gift cards were left on my front porch to be given to the family.”

Lolita said she and her family are overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness and knows that Aida would be “flattered beyond belief.”

A selfie in front of Aida’s favorite place — the beach. Photo from Lolita Ramonez

“Aida was a free spirit who loved the ocean,” she said. “She was not afraid of death or any of life’s phases.”

One of Aida’s favorite songs was “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.” She loved fishing, anime and gymnastics. 

“She was an adrenaline junkie,” Lolita said. 

Her mother added that Aida’s remains have been cremated and her ashes will be thrown into the ocean in Puerto Rico — one of the places she loved to visit, along with Ecuador. 

“She would like her friends and loved ones to remember her with joy, especially when they go to her happy place, the beach,” she said. “She will be with them always in spirit and would love for everyone to stay positive and accomplish their goals.” 

Aida is survived by her mother Lolita, father Juan and older brother Grayson, as well as everyone near and far who’s lives she touched.

To continue helping the Ramonez family following this loss, Nicole Jacobs is collecting gift cards to be regularly delivered to them. Community members who would like to send their condolences can email [email protected] for more information. 

Teacher Monica Consalvo with Elayna Jacobs


Four Port Jefferson Middle School students shared a unique spotlight when they read their poetry to the many spectators during the 25th annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson on Dec. 3. Accompanied by teacher Monica Consalvo, sixth grader Elayna Jacobs, seventh graders Deia Colosi and Julie Friedman and eighth grader Gianna Viviano shared their winter-inspired poems during the special evening lantern dedication that served as a backdrop to the Village’s transformation to the Dickensian era, with streets filled with roaming characters including Dickens Mayor, Father Christmas, Scrooge, the Town Crier and the beloved chimney sweeps


By Elayna Jacobs, Grade 6

Winter is every child’s dream.

As snowflakes glisten in the distance, 

children play in the snow.

Snowmen are built.

Childhood wonder sparkles.

Year after year the remembrance of this winter day. 


By Julie Friedman, Grade 7

Families coming together joyfully

Everyone walking peacefully 

Smiles and laughs are contagious 

Being sad seeming outrageous 

The act of giving and love being expressed 

Everyone feeling fortunate and blessed 

Although a piece of the puzzle may be missing for some 

Don’t let that stop you from living and having fun 

Your loved one’s memory is still in your heart 

And always know they will never be to far apart 

So let’s be happy of the memories you guys have shared 

Feeling joy and peace and never feeling scared 

During the holiday season, think of our loved ones that are no longer here.

Winter Sights

Deia Colosi, Grade 7

Spring’s blooming buds-

Summer’s fiery sun-

Fall’s vivid, pictorial colors-

But none can compare 

To winter’s shining frost,

Sparkling in the morning sun. 

‘Tis an amazing sight to see

Icicles glinting in every tree

And frosted fields of white

Whose shine does not compare 

The rolling plains of endless white

With the occasional spark of light,

As far as the eye can see. 

Ah! ‘Tis beauty in its purest form. 

A season of wondering and wandering, 

Moonlit and cold, 

Remote, yet beautiful still. 

A season of starlight.

Draped in a mantle of cold and frosted stars 

This season 

Of winter.

Nona’s Kitchen

By Gianna Viviano, Grade 8 

Walking into Nona’s kitchen on Christmas Eve is like entering a new world

New sights by the second are being unfurled

The pots and pans are everywhere, some boiling to the top,

Uncle Joe is picking at the olives and Nona scolds him to stop.

The smell of sauce, lemon, and garlic fill the air.

Our tummies grumble and from the tray more rice balls disappear

Flavor explodes on our tongues and we crave more

We get caught red-handed and shooed out the door.

Little cousins run around, as the parents jump out of their way

Aunts and uncles reliving their childhood Christmas days

Nona pulls the octopus out of the pot and scares me half to death.

We start laughing and I can’t catch my breath

The final timer goes off, and the symphony of chaos comes to a rest

Now it’s time for dinner, the very very best

From babies to 80s we sit together at the long table

We think about how Christmas all started in a stable

Pop says the blessing, and we thank God for this day,

We finally begin eating when we hear Nona Say,

“Tutti A Tavola Di Mangiare” 


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Photo by Julianne Mosher

When Port Jefferson Village trustee Kathianne Snaden heard that the Port Jefferson School District had to cancel its annual Halloween dance for the middle school, she knew she had to take action. 

Just two weeks before the festive holiday, the district chose to cancel the event due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Snaden, along with the Port Jefferson PTSA and the Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, decided within just a few days to hold the Halloween dance, which was also canceled last year because of the pandemic, at the Port Jefferson Village Center. 

“When the school says, ‘We can’t do it,’ I say, ‘How can we?’” Snaden said at the event, held on Friday, Oct. 29. “We came together and just made it happen.”

Inside the first level of the Village Center, nearly 150 students dressed as everything from a group of inflatable dinosaurs to the cast of “Winnie the Pooh.” Outside, where the ice skating rink is installed, a tent was set up for an indoor/outdoor experience. 

Candy was put out for students to snack on and a DJ played music for dancing. 

“We have these beautiful assets, like the Village Center, and they should be used for things like this,” Snaden said. “That’s why they were built, and this is perfect — the kids are having a blast.”

While the district had to cancel the dance, Snaden said they were instrumental in getting the word out.

“It was a great collaborative,” she added. “It was perfectly orchestrated and it worked out.”