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Port Jefferson School District

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Port Jefferson Superintendent spoke at two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

Among three potential plans for reopening, the Port Jefferson School District has decided on a model that would have elementary students in full time and middle school and high school students splitting their week between in-class and online learning.

All school districts were required to release their reopening plans July 31 to New York State for review. Like all reopening plans, these are tentative based on a decision by the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make the final decision for districts, but has promised to do so by Aug. 7.

At its July 29 meeting, school officials and board members heard of the three options the 68-member reopening committee has been working on the past several weeks. The presentation, shown by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Christine Austen, included a fully online standardized learning experience, a hybrid model and a full-time in-person experience. 

What the district has tentatively settled on could mean increased costs to the small district on the Sound. Having grades K through five in class all the time will mean extra costs in redesigning the classrooms, hiring extra teaching assistants and other such costs associated with keeping students distanced. Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said it could be an approximate $230,000 addition out of this year’s $44,739,855 2020-21 budget. That money,  according to Schmettan, would come from the district’s reserve fund balance.

Otherwise, students in the middle and high schools will have days of the week split between two days in school, one day at home being taught over the internet live with their regular teachers and two days of what amounts to classwork, or so-called “asynchronous learning,” also over the internet.  

Students will be broken up into two groups to be put on alternating schedules, purple and gray for students with last names A through L and M through Z. District officials said they would work to make sure each group was balanced.

Though some on the board asked about students wishing to be in class together with friends, Schmettan said the biggest issue was making sure siblings were in the same group, so as to not add extra difficulty with parents taking children to school. 

A student’s grade level will determine how many hours of asynchronous learning for each student. The district has come out with a one-to-one Chromebook program, and officials also said it will work to make sure those lacking access to stable internet connections can access the online portions of their schooling.

At the same time, students in special education and in English as a New Language in the elementary school would also be there full time. However, special education and ENL, among other extra help groups in the middle and high schools, will spend four days in school and one day at home for asynchronous learning, as better to comprehend what’s expected with online learning in case schools shut down again.

In a survey sent home to parents, school officials said 12 percent of parents have said they do not plan to send their kid into school in the fall, while another 13 said they need more info before making a decision. Also in the survey, 45 percent of parents said they were comfortable with their kids taking the bus to school. The rest said they were uncomfortable or unsure about having their children take the bus. 

The district plans to send out further surveys after Cuomo releases final guidelines to confirm which parents will be sending kids to schools and which aren’t. Port Jeff also plans to survey staff to confirm who is in line for when school starts up again Sept. 8.

In the case that a student or staff member does get sick, Austen said the district will work with New York State or Suffolk County contact tracers, though it will also be incumbent on the district itself to identify who was close to the person confirmed with COVID-19.

A previous version of this post shared the wrong name of Port Jeff’s assistant superintendent. This version corrects this error.

Port Jefferson School District hosts two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The members of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Class of 2020 received their diplomas in two separate, well-orchestrated ceremonies that signified the school’s 126th commencement exercises on Aug. 1.

The Pledge of Allegiance, led by Student Organization vice president Hana Ali, was followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by Rachel Park. Both high school principal Eric Haruthunian and Student Organization president Dylan Dugourd welcomed everyone to the two morning events.

Congratulatory remarks and words of praise and inspiration were presented by Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan and parent Richard Righi, father of graduating senior Katelynne Righi. Senior Class President James Marci presented the class gift fit for the current time and to honor the community: a donation to both Mather Hospital and St. Charles Hospital, noting that many of the students who grew up in the community were born at St. Charles.

The top two students, valedictorian Christine Iasso and salutatorian Kyle Onghai also addressed their fellow classmates, sharing memories, reflections on their primary education, grateful words to teachers and family members, and words of advice for their fellow graduates.

“We all have the power to make the changes needed to create the brightest future our generation can enjoy,” said Iasso, who encouraged her peers to appreciate the planet and one another as they will have the opportunity to affect the lives of all the people they will interact with in the future. The valedictorian will major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at the University of California, Davis and Onghai will attend UCLA to major in mathematics.

Haruthunian then presented the Class of 2020 to Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm before he called each student to the podium and, as is tradition, highlighted their high school careers and future plans. As they walked to the podium, they were handed their diplomas by Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier. The Class of 2020 then stood and tossed their caps in the air in celebration of becoming the newest graduates of the high school.

Text by the Port Jefferson School District and verified by reporter.

The Pew Research Center released a report last year saying more than half of U.S. adults, 55 percent, at least some of the time get their news through social media. Photo art

While there were times when people would meet at the post office or corner store to discuss local happenings or gossip, much of that has been transferred online, specifically, for many communities, onto Facebook.

Facebook, which was originally designed for college students to judge the attractiveness of coeds, has since morphed into a social media giant. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is worth over $54 billion. In that time the site has gained that popularity; the population of the over 2.3 million Facebook users has also skewed older as now the average user is between the age of 25 and 34.

In a 2017 report by Pew Research Center and Elon University, experts in the technology world generally said they believe online discourse will be shaped even more by trolls and other bad actors. Anonymity, experts said, is a leading cause of the general negativity seen with online communication.

“The most you can do with a forum is provide guidelines of what’s appropriate and what’s not and try and induce some level of civility.”

— Rob DeStefano

But what should happen if that negative communication is with the person living down the street, or with a mother or father in the same grade as your own child?

It’s hard to estimate just how much work goes into maintaining these community pages, and even more so, keeping individuals’ posts from spilling over into name calling, anger or worse. Community group admins, some of whom asked not to be named in this article due to the sensitivity of their jobs or their work with the community, spoke with TBR News Media about the difficulty of keeping topics online from spiraling out of control, especially those that deal with politics. It is something many admins of pages who wish to keep talk civil deal with on a daily basis.

Karen Sobel Lojeski, a professor in the College of Engineering at Stony Brook University, has talked about the impact social media has made on the professional world, but she also coined the name, The Threshold Generation, or effectively the last generation of people, aged in their 20s and upward, who knew what it was like to live both with and without these connective technologies.

Many of those who run these community groups are a part of that so-called threshold generation, and have noticed what has happened to the general discourse over time. Rob DeStefano, a member of the Comsewogue school board and lifetime member of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community, created and has run the Comsewogue Community Facebook page since 2010. What started as a group of just a few hundred members looking to talk about what was working or not working in the school district and local community has become 5,400 members posting about everything from local happenings to medical advice to politics, though one’s mileage may vary on the last one. 

“It’s certainly gotten harder because of the different ways social media is used compared to how it was then, but you just try and hold true to what the intent of the page is,” DeStefano said. “The goal is to make sure everyone in the community knows of things that are happening locally or beyond.”

The “beyond” is where things get complicated. Every year the community is notified of the Terryville Fire Department’s carnival or route for Santa during Christmastime, but when neighbors start discussions on topics, for example, about recent police protests and rallies, the dialogue becomes rough, to say the least.

“Your heart hurts hearing the way some people talk to each other on social media because you know it’s very different than how they behave in person,” he said. “The most you can do with a forum is provide guidelines of what’s appropriate and what’s not and try and induce some level of civility.”

Worse, is when these groups where admins try to stay nonpartisan deal with rumors, or worse, conspiracy theories. In early May, a video called “Plandemic” made its rounds on social media. In a video that called itself a trailer for a larger documentary, former chronic disease syndrome researcher Judy Mikovits talked about a large organized effort of global elites to profit off infectious diseases, despite there being no tangible evidence of this widespread conspiracy.  

“Then, even walking down the street or watching my kids games with other parents you could feel the hatred and tension.”

— Brenda Eimers Batter

The Pew Research Center released a report June 29 with a survey of 9,654 U.S. adults about how many people see conspiracy theories in COVID-19 news. The report said one in five of those who often rely on social media for coronavirus news say they watched at least part of the “Plandemic” video, while a comparative 10 percent of respondents who said they don’t get COVID news through social media saw it. Among those who have heard of this conspiracy, a reported 36 percent said they think it is either definitely or probably true.

“Plandemic” spread to multiple Facebook groups in the local area, and though many admins delete posts sharing the video, it wasn’t before likely hundreds of members saw it. 

Usually, the most volatile discussions revolve around politics, but sometimes, even cases of a local school district issue can devolve into vitriol. What’s worse is when that animosity leaps the screen and starts impacting normal life. Brenda Eimers Batter, who admins the nearly 2,500-member Facebook group UNOFFICIAL INFORMATIONAL Port Jeff Villagers, said she has seen how online dialogue can have a real impact on normal life. In 2017, with the Port Jefferson School District asking residents to vote on a $30 million bond, Eimers Batter said things got “really ugly.” 

“Then, even walking down the street or watching my kids games with other parents you could feel the hatred and tension,” she said. “That’s when I stepped in and tried to clean it up.”

That specific Facebook group, the most popular of a village with a real-world population of just over 8,100 residents, has seen changes over time, including a recent name change to add the word “Informational.” Smaller splinter groups in the village have broken off from the most popular page specifically for politics or for more hot button issues. It still does not stop some from regularly posting about such issues anyway.

For DeStefano, the objective is never to silence community residents, though he has felt he has had to delete posts when they seem incendiary. He says he tries to remind people that despite the digital divide, they remain neighbors.

“You wouldn’t talk to each other like this if you were standing on line next to a person in your local supermarket — so why do it here?” the Comsewogue school board trustee said. “People tend to isolate their behavior on social media as being separate from their identity, but it’s not.”

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The Port Jefferson Prom Committee. Photo by Drew Biondo

With current state mandates and guidelines, Port Jefferson’s prom committee announced it will no longer be putting on the annual, parent-run extravaganza this year. Instead the Prom Committee announced Thursday it would instead be holding an event at a local restaurant.

While tentative plans had the prom going on in August, after the Port Jefferson School District hosts its tentatively scheduled graduation the first weekend of that month. On its Facebook page, the Port Jefferson Prom Committee announced it will be unable to host the traditional prom at the high school or even at the Village Center, where the district is planning its own graduation celebrations.

“This decision is not ours alone — it is based upon guidance from New York State regarding social distancing requirements due to COVID-19,” the original post reads.

On July 16, the committee announced on its Facebook page it would be holding an event at Insignia, a steakhouse and sushi restaurant in Smithtown. The committee wrote it will be able to host all 85 seniors in a socially distanced way over a four-course dinner. The date is set for Aug. 3 from 7 to 10 p.m. Parents should receive an email with additional details and a chance to RSVP.

“We also have some surprises planned for the evening,” the post added.

This is the first year since the tradition started in 1958 that district parents will not be hosting a prom. Normally, members on the committee vote on a theme, then parents and volunteers spend the next 10 months building the sets and fundraising to host the event. Last year’s theme of Royalodeon transformed the high school gym, hallways and bathrooms into a kind of late ’90s and early 2000s wonderland, featuring characters from many children’s cartoons and shows.

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Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. Photo by Kyle Barr

With this school year coming to an end, the Port Jefferson School District is looking back on the last few months of school to figure out what did and what didn’t work regarding distance learning.

Though Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said she would rather call the rush to create a learning apparatus for students at home an “emergency remote instruction,” she added, “We did the best we could considering the circumstances.”

It was a case, she said, of creating something from nothing. Now with some experience under its belt, the district has commissioned a committee to help establish its reopening agenda. The nearly 50 members of the task force are broken up into four subcommittees, Schmettan said, including facilities, curriculum and instructional, social and emotional wellbeing, and personnel. Included on the committees are representatives from the teachers union, clerical union, facilities union and members of parent-teacher groups like the Port Jefferson Parent Teacher Association, Parent Teacher Student Assocation and Special Education Parent Teacher Association. 

Last week, these local PTA groups released an open letter, which was published in the July 2 issue of the Port Times Record, saying that instruction was uneven across different teachers, where some held live sessions, others would use prerecorded sessions while others only posted content to Google Classroom.

The letter suggested a number of items the district could improve on, including live or prerecorded teaching time that matches what students would receive on a normal school day, and clear schedules for students to follow, including time for outdoor activities.

Schmettan said much of that is likely to be discussed within the committees. There were differences between staff members in how they were able to adapt, she said. Most teachers were using Google Classroom for schoolwork along with Google Meet and Screencastify for hosting teaching broadcasts, though some did use other online subscriptions to have students complete coursework. 

Schmettan said the biggest lesson the district has learned is that not all students are going to respond the same way to the same instruction. Likely, she said, the district will set minimum expectations for both teachers and students as far as what each will be required to do in that distance learning plan. What that will look like will be part of the committees’ discussions.

“We have to differentiate for all the learners involved, and we have to account for their individual needs on a much greater scale than we were able to do the first round,” she said.

Though practically all districts prefer in-person classrooms to distance learning, the Port Jeff superintendent said the thing students most lack from online education is the social aspect of school. The committee will have to consider how that might be amended, as well as how better to facilitate the physical component of education if students are not around for phys-ed teachers guidance.

“When you’re in a distance learning model, you’re isolated, you may not have that same interaction you have within a classroom, or you may not have that ability to discuss concepts with your age-appropriate peers,” Schmettan said. “So much is lost from not having that social impact and play, it’s a detriment to a lot of our students.”

All this still depends on what state guidance will be, whether schools will have to take a hybrid model of in-person/remote education at different parts of the year, if schools will remain virtual or go back to a full in-person learning experience. The problem is, there are different levels of government potentially giving contradictory advice. 

At the state level, there is already the NYS Education Department’s reopening task force, as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) reimagine education council. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released school guidance for how best to distance children. This week Betsy DeVos, secretary of education, has effectively demanded that all schools reopen and become “fully operational” on a conference call with governors, despite southern and western states seeing a massive surge in COVID-19 cases in the past month.

“We have to plan for three different scenarios and hope that we can have [the students] back in the classroom full time,” Schmettan said.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

This is an open letter to the members of the Port Jefferson board of education, Port Jefferson Teachers Association and Port Jefferson Administrators Association.

We hope this letter finds you well and healthy. On behalf of Port Jefferson PTA, PTSA and SEPTA we are reaching out to share our thoughts as the district prepares to re-open in the fall. First and foremost, we would like to thank each of you for your time and dedication to maintaining the excellence we enjoy at Port Jefferson School District. We also want to take this opportunity to express our support for the teachers and administrators as they have navigated distance learning during this unprecedented global pandemic. We feel it is important as the representative parent/teacher organizations in the district that we share with the board of education our, as well as many of our members, thoughts and concerns that have arisen regarding the education of our children under the constraints of this pandemic. We hope that by doing this we can come together to create solutions that will allow our district and children to shine as we face the monumental challenges of reopening and keeping everyone safe and healthy.

As you know, without a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 there is a high likelihood that the next school year will be impacted by the pandemic as well. We are aware district administrators are currently planning for this new “normal” and are discussing the possibility of returning in the fall to a “hybrid” model that includes some component of distance learning. In the event this is the case and the district is forced to continue to employ some component of distance learning, we are urging the board of education to ensure that any model employed during the 2020-21 school year provides our students with consistent daily virtual interaction and live instruction. Our children need their teachers to teach them. We understand that some school districts on Long Island delivered “live” teaching district-wide and believe that going forward this would be the best way to maintain the excellence in education that Port Jefferson School District has always provided.

We understand that our teachers and administrators were faced with an enormous challenge to develop and provide a distance learning program on very little notice. We understand that it wouldn’t be as comparable to a regular school day. We have all done the best we could, given the circumstances. However, despite everyone’s efforts, the model employed by the district during the spring translated to an inconsistent educational standard/experience across the

district. Teachers were given the discretion to “host synchronous and/or asynchronous

instructional activities.” This primarily led to little live instruction and an uneven learning experience across the district. While some teachers offered live and/or pre-recorded instruction, many did not and instead only posted assignments to Google Classroom (or various other platforms) which then placed the burden of teaching those assignments on the parents. As parents, we of course want to educate our children, but we are not trained educators and many of us still have our own jobs to perform. Being forced to become a teacher and work at the same time becomes an impossible task. 

This scenario creates an inadequate educational experience for our children putting our kids further behind on the competitive world stage. In addition to the decreased educational standard that has occurred as a result of this crisis it is also concerning that some teachers had weekly “check in’s” and worse still some had no virtual live interaction with their students during the entire length of the school closure. For the few teachers who provided live instruction we applaud their dedication, creativity and adaptability in continuing to deliver excellence in education during these unprecedented times. We are now calling for all of our teachers to provide education at this level of excellence during the next school year in the event the district is forced to employ some sort of hybrid model that includes distance learning.

For many parents, the current mindset is that 2019-20 was a lost school year. Were it a limited event affecting the end of a single school year we understand the crisis of the situation and can accept a lower standard that emergencies demand. However, the reality of the situation is that this pandemic will sadly go on for longer than any of us hoped and we cannot completely let go of the standards our children deserve. This pandemic has forced many changes upon us. All industries have had to adapt. As we weathered the initial crisis, we must now begin to prepare so that the 2020-21 school year is not a lost educational year as well. Given the great educators the district employs coupled with the advances in technology we believe that Port Jefferson School District can excel at this challenge. Let us be the district that leads and that other districts strive to emulate.

We urge the board of education, the Teachers’ Association and the Administrator’s Association to approach the 2020-21 school year as an opportunity for Port Jefferson to become recognized as the gold standard in distance learning to the extent the school is not able to return to a traditional school day. As parents, we believe that any distance learning plan should include, at a minimum:

• Live virtual and/or pre-recorded teaching that matches the amount of active, teaching time provided during a regular school day.

• Daily/weekly “office hours” for any teacher not utilizing “live teaching” so that students can ask questions regarding content.

• Daily check ins for all classes — “attendance” including lists of what is due, when it is due and a way for students to check off that they read and understand.

• Support services such as speech, OT, PT and counseling offered in the amounts specified in IEPs through online platforms and teletherapy.

• A clear schedule for students to follow with time built in for outdoor time for exercise and play.

• Weekly emotional/educational phone call check ins with each student (use teachers, TAs, support staff).

Rethinking the way education is delivered is obviously a monumental task. We are confident, however, that our administrators and educators, working together and in consultation with our parents can come up with a plan that continues to deliver an excellent level of education to our students. We here at PTA, PTSA and SEPTA are eager to support the district in any way we can and would love to be involved in the process going forward, sitting on any committees that are convened of stakeholders. To quote high school Principal Dr. Robert Neidig, “[w]e will get through this and we will persevere, after all we are Royals.”

Sincerely,

Port Jefferson PTA, Port Jefferson PTSA, Port Jefferson SEPTA

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Elementary school Principal Tom Meehan is set to retire at the end of the year. Photo from PJSD

Tom Meehan, current Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal whose education career spans over 40 years, has announced he will retire in December. 

Meehan, who originally retired in 2006 from the Middle Country School District, came back to work at the Port Jeff elementary school during the 2011-2012 school year initially on an interim basis. Later that year it was changed to a permanent position. 

“I thought I was going to be filling in for a couple of weeks, almost 10 years later I’m still here,” he said, jokingly. “I couldn’t have been happier with how these past few years have gone; it’s been great.”

The educator said deciding to retire again was a tough decision for him. He hopes students will be able to come back to the building during his last few months on the job.

“It broke my heart not being able to see the students these past months,” he said. “I like being in the hallways talking to them and just seeing their excitement.”

Meehan has a long history in Port Jefferson. He has raised his family in the village, he graduated from Port Jefferson High School and is an elected commissioner of the Port Jefferson Fire District.

“It’s a great community, I’m proud to be from Port Jeff,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of families in the district. I’ve coached some of their kids in baseball. It is nice seeing them grow up here,” he said. 

The elementary school principal was often seen walking to school every morning, and said he enjoyed being spotted by students who saw him making the trek to work in his suit and hiking boots. 

For his dedication to Port Jefferson’s students and the greater community, Meehan was chosen as a TBR News Media Person of the Year in 2015. 

The district hasn’t officially announced a successor, though Meehan said he believes Assistant Principal Amy Laverty would be a great choice for the job. 

“She would make an excellent principal,” he said. 

Meehan said he will miss the students and his staff he has gotten to know over the years. In retirement, he is looking forward to going on more hikes and spending more time with his grandchildren and family. 

“I want to thank the district and community for the opportunity to do this job. It is hard to walk away,” he said. 

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2020 Valedictorian Christine Iasso and Salutatorian Kyle Onghai. Photos from PJSD

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School is proud to announce that seniors Christine Iasso and Kyle Onghai have been named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Class of 2020.                                                                                                                 

Iasso’s well-rounded education and extracurricular activities include being a member of the Academic team, Environmental Club, Interact Club, Mathletes team, captain of the junior varsity basketball team and a junior counselor at vacation Bible school. She also took advantage of the impressive MIT LaunchX, a program that teaches entrepreneurial skills and mindset through starting real companies, with interactive lectures, business simulations, entrepreneur panels and the actual design and launch of a company.

The valedictorian will major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at the University of California, Davis. 

Onghai’s interests in math, investing, entrepreneurship, research and scientific journals have paved the way to being a National Advanced Placement Scholar, a National Honor Society member, a recipient of a Regents scholarship, captain of the Mathletes team and president of the Latin Club, where he has received five gold medals in the National Latin Exam. He has been honored in advanced calculus on the county level and has been an award winner in the school’s Physics Bowl, Quiz Bowl, Robotics and Science Olympiad. Onghai received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for his church altar service and for working in the patient education department at Stony Brook University Hospital. He took part in the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University as a researcher in biomedical engineering using MATLAB and quantitative ultrasound. He has been on the varsity tennis team for all four years of high school along with other local athletic pursuits. His musical accomplishments as a cellist and pianist have led him to the Young Artist Program at Stony Brook University and as a participant in Levels 1-6 of the New York State School Music Association Festival. Onghai will attend UCLA and major in mathematics.

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Members of the Port Jefferson school independent news site The Current Peggy Yin, Christopher Parsick and Mattea Rabeno interview Superintendent Jessica Schmettan in late April. Image from PJ Current video

There were no journalism classes in the Port Jefferson School District, no journalism club or school paper. 

It’s something that some Port Jefferson high schoolers saw and thought could be corrected.

A small group of students now run an online newspaper The Current — at www.pjcurrent.com — editing and producing all content while maintaining the website themselves. The site is independent of school staff or admin, and is one of the few places for students in the small school district to practice professional communications and let students know of happenings within the school and the surrounding area.

“I’m incredibly proud of those students who have started that online content.”

— Jessica Schmettan

“At the end of sophomore year it was pretty clear there were a lot of people interested in writing and journalism, but there was really no place for it,” said Peggy Yin, a junior and The Current’s editor in chief. “It was a bunch of people getting together who said we don’t just want a place for us to write, but also to give students the opportunity to explore what they might not have had the opportunity to explore — and show other people what they’re interested in.”

Over the past year, The Current has made huge strides in its editorial content, but since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the small team has excelled in giving students and residents a unique perspective on what has been happening in their school, and especially the scientific aspect to the virus. This was handled in partnership with the school’s Science Olympiad team, and articles were edited by science columnist Grant Samara, who himself has interests in math and science. It gave a way for students and community members to understand terms when scientists said “flatten the curve” or vaccine research. The school administration even asked the student journalists if they could participate in the social distancing peer-to-peer initiative of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to help students learn about the importance of decreasing contact to slow the virus’ spread.

Much of the information, which dates back to April 1, covers topics such as the virus and its impact on the economy, the environment and mental health. There is also a landing page for coronavirus information and has shared links to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, links to updates from New York State and the Village of Port Jefferson.

“I thought there could be a lot more engaging and understanding if [classroom topics] were looked at from a different perspective,” Samara said. “A lot of what I’m writing is about trying to provide that perspective — make it easier to understand and more interesting.”

Massimo Cipriano, a rising senior, has long wanted to be involved in sports journalism, and finally had the opportunity to write about school games when the Royals girls basketball team was making waves earlier this year. Unfortunately, the pandemic cancelled practically all sports for the rest of the school year. His Medium blog, titled “The Step Back With Massimo Cipriano” now includes write-ups of recent soccer matches in Europe which are played to currently empty stadiums. 

The students also set up an interview with Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan that lasted over an hour, talking about issues related to the shutdown and coronavirus in the school district.

“I’m incredibly proud of those students who have started that online content,” Schmettan said. 

It’s work the editors like to say is made “by students, for students.” 

Chris Parsick, a senior who leads the communications team, said faculty and teachers have acknowledged their work, but still all work rests on their shoulders.

“A lot of what I’m writing is about trying to provide that perspective — make it easier to understand and more interesting.”

— Grant Samara

“This year we’ve been really looking to build that mutualistic relationship with the school,” Yin said. That includes the paper’s work with clubs like the Science Olympiad.

Parsick said seeing that acknowledgment from the school has bolstered their work. The goal this year was to get 100 followers on Instagram. Today they are sitting at 114, and the school district was their 100th follower.

All the work is voluntary, including the back end of the website itself. Senior Dylan Scott has run HTML and CSS coding, and is trying to transport the website from WordPress to Ghost, another website hosting platform, which may be more manageable for the students who remain once he graduates. 

Being students, while handling the work of an entire web platform already has its own challenges without also having to take care of schoolwork and normal life. And as students move up and graduate, the issue will be keeping the project going. Several of the editorial staff, including Yin and Samara, will become seniors for the 2020-21 school year; Scott, Cipriano and Parsick will graduate this year. 

The superintendent threw her support behind the student journalists, hoping to see their work continue.

“I hope it continues, and we’ll see,” she said, also mentioning the possibility of journalism classes should there be enough interest in it. “Many started it as 11th-graders, so they will have another year. If we can support them in any way, we’ll try.” 

But through it all, the students maintain the strength of the paper partially comes from the fact it remains independent of the school district, even though it entirely depends on volunteer efforts.

“One of our big selling points is we’re by students, for students,” Yin said. “When you have the school involved it kind of takes that away. We wouldn’t get to control the direction and vision of it.”

This article was updated June 20 to correct the title of Massimo’s blog. 

Comsewogue Assistant Superintendent Joseph Coniglione and Superintendent Jessica Quinn delivered cap and gowns to high school seniors June 8. Photo from Quinn’s Facebook

With graduation plans interrupted due to the pandemic, local school districts are trying to find unique options to give seniors their send-off.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order June 7 that allowed districts to have in-person socially distanced graduations for up to 150 people after June 26. Comsewogue High School, with around 320 students graduating this year, has opted instead to hold several ceremonies online in the latter half of June. 

“Our plan is socially distant and safe,” said Superintendent Jennifer Quinn.

While graduation is still scheduled for July 23, the district is planning a car parade send-off. Seniors will be asked to drive through the front bus loop at the high school on Thursday, June 25, between 12 and 1 p.m. The district expects to play music and have lawn signs with the name and picture for each graduate. Staff is expected to come to the building and cheer passing seniors.

The district is also planning several virtual and distanced events after classes officially end June 16. The district will host a Varsity Awards Night Friday, June 19, at 6 p.m., a Senior Scholarship Night, June 22 at 6:30 p.m. and a Virtual Senior Prom June 23 at 8 p.m., all via Zoom. The district will then host a senior slideshow drive-in movie June 24 at 7:30 and 9 p.m. at the high school south parking lot.

Port Jefferson School District, with a graduating class of just 85, is instead pushing its graduation tentatively to Aug 1 (rain date Aug.2), hopeful that New York continues its trend of declining infections and deaths. 

Port Jeff Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that date was decided before the June 7 executive order, but in a poll senior students overwhelmingly asked for a later event that can be held in person. Village of Port Jefferson officials have notified the district theywill allow the district to use the Village Center for both this activity and its senior prom, which is also tentatively scheduled for a day or two after graduation.

“We’re waiting to see if gathering limits are lifted a little bit more and have more guests and families there like we usually have,” Schmettan said.

The village is also giving a unique opportunity for seniors, using its drive-in movies and showing the John Hughes classic “The Breakfast Club” June 20 exclusively for graduating seniors at its location uptown in the parking lot north of the train station. The village is paying for the drive-in expenses.