Tags Posts tagged with "Port Jefferson School District"

Port Jefferson School District

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Robert Niedig, Robin Hoolahan and Sean Leister deliver bags of food to students who need it. The program is expected to continue as long as the schools remained closed. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though schools in the Port Jefferson area may be closed, districts have been working constantly to get food to the children who may need it now more than ever.

Volunteers and staff help deliver meals at both JFK Middle School and the Comsewogue High School March 19. Photo by Leigh Powell

Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister and a few volunteers stood inside the high school’s cafeteria Friday, March 20. For the weekend, the district was handing out three meals, one for Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. 

The program is based on the district’s previous reduced cost lunch program, but now its being donated to anybody 18 or under free. Nobody has to sign up, and nobody at the door checks if the person lives within the district.

“The program is not restricted, it’s for any child 18 and under that feels they have a need,” Leister said.

When school was normally in session, Leister said the district had 110 students signed up for the program, where around 65 normally picked it up. In the last week or so, the district has been producing around 50 to 60 meals each day. Middle School Principal Robert Neidig has also volunteered to deliver to those resident’s houses who said they were unable to come out to pick their meals up. He said families have been really appreciative, even one young girl who comes to the door so excited to see the meals he’s brought.

“It’s like if I were delivering them candy,” Neidig said.

Each bag comes with a sandwich, bagel or wrap, along with fruit and milk. Any untaken meals are being given to Infant Jesus RC Church for them to distribute any remaining food.

Leister said the district has also applied to New York State to allow them to make breakfast and dinner meals as well. Local residents can get these meals at the Port Jefferson High school from 11 to 1 p.m. on weekdays.

Meanwhile in the Comsewogue school district, staff and a score of volunteers worked Thursday, March 19 at two separate schools to donate around 1,800 meals to children in need within the district.

Volunteers and staff help deliver meals at both JFK Middle School and the Comsewogue High School March 19. Photo by Jennifer Quinn

Comsewogue School District Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the staff took everything from the schools cafeterias and even raided the faculty food pantry. Originally the district thought they would be able to only give out 1,100, but they went far above what they expected. 

This is one of the toughest things we’ve ever experienced — we will do what we need to do, together,” Quinn said. “We need to make sure our families are fed and our children are educated, and we are as whole as possible by the end of all this.”

Food included in bags were cold cuts, bread, apple sauce, juice, milk, cereal, cereal bars, and frozen hamburgers and meatballs. Staff and volunteers placed the bags inside the cars of those who drove up to the high school and JFK Middle School. Volunteers also drove meals to families who said they were unable to come by the two pickup locations.

There were around 30 volunteers who came by to offer aid. Quinn said they were offered aid by over 100 residents, but she felt she had to turn most away to try and reduce the chance of any kind of contagion.

The Comsewogue district is expecting nonprofit food bank Island Harvest to donate them another 300 meals come this Monday. Quinn added the district is likely to raid the cafeterias in the other schools, and should have another 1,100 meals after they receive aid from a New York State program giving food aid to schools during the mandated shutdown.

The Comsewogue School District is expecting to host its next bagged food drive Thursday, April 2.

 

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From left, Rotarian Kathy Taveira, teacher Christina Carlson, Narin Karakurum, Principal Bob Neidig and Rotary Club President Paul Vigliante. Photo from Larry Hohler

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Rotary Club of Port Jefferson welcomed Port Jeff Middle School sixth-grader Narin Karakurum at its luncheon at Cafe Spiga in Mount Sinai and presented her with its Most Motivated Student of the Month Award.  

Narin was accompanied to the luncheon by Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Christine Austine, Assistant Superintendent for Business Sean Leister, Principal Bob Neidig, sixth-grade special ed teacher Christina Carlson and Narin’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Karakurum.  

Neidig introduced Narin to his fellow Rotarians, describing her as an excellent student with a GPA in the high 90s for the first two quarters of the school year, who is also well-appreciated by faculty, staff and fellow students because of her generous, sweet and kindhearted nature. 

Narin’s science and coding teacher praised that Narin goes above and beyond class requirements, seeks help when she has questions, and “brings her own background knowledge to the table when discussing different topics.” The teacher recalls during the Thanksgiving Food Drive, Narin “went out of her way on multiple days to bring in large boxes of food for those in need.”  

Narin’s teachers of writing, reading and math, as well as Carlson, who nominated Narin for this award, all lauded her cheerful disposition, her active participation in class, her excellent work ethic and her obvious desire to learn. Furthermore, school representatives said Narin reaches out to help friends and peers and is seen as being mature and bright, yet humble. The principal ended his presentation of this superlative youngster by thanking her for setting a great example for all of those around her and helping to promote a positive and caring school. 

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Second-grader Sophie Franck was one of the first children to use the Port Jeff elementary school's new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

We all know that expectant feeling of a vending machine when the twin arms uncoil around the prize, whether it’s a soda or snack, waiting for it to clang in the bottom of the bin and placate our hunger.

Librarian Selinda Stout shows the tokens used for the book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though in the Port Jefferson elementary school, it’s not sugar and salt suffused snacks plopping into the bin, but a copy of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” or “The Baby-sitters Club.”

The Edna Louise Spear Elementary School unveiled the new “Bookworm” vending machine Feb. 11 that stocks more than 300 books, with 20 different books for the separate grade levels, both fiction and nonfiction. Instead of using money, the vending machine receives tokens which students get for going above and beyond in the library or in any of their normal classrooms. Though these book vending devices have popped up in several other states like Florida and in upstate schools like in Buffalo, the new machine is one of the first of its kind in Suffolk County.

Selinda Stout, the school’s librarian, said students could get a token for good behavior, especially if they’re trying to read beyond their grade level or deciding to read a new genre. 

“If there’s a teacher who sees a student working hard all week who deserves a token, they can get it from me, then they can come down and choose a book,” Stout said. “I think this will bridge the gap of reading — I think kids will be very excited to take it home themselves, and I think it will bring really good behavior into the library and into the classroom.”

The first seven children to get a book from the vending machine ranged from pre-K to fifth grade. Their choices ran the gamut, with young second-grader Sophie Franck picking “Molly’s Story,” and third-grader Rahym Khan deciding on “Who Is Derek Jeter?” Fourth-grader Elizabeth Yin, whom Stout said was reading “well above her grade level,” chose “More Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids.” Pre-K student Maggie Masone chose “Pete the Cat,” and was aided by Stout who lifted her up to press the buttons. Each book is for the student to keep. 

Principal Tom Meehan joined librarian Selinda Stout and seven other students from pre-K through fifth-grade to release the new book vending machine. Photo by Kyle Barr

The idea came by elementary principal, Tom Meehan, when he was reading news one morning and came across a school in Florida which had installed one of the vending machines. He contacted the school librarian to discuss it, and shortly thereafter she wrote a grant application to the Port Jefferson Royal Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that uses funds to help out the district with special projects or to supplement its curricula when it doesn’t necessarily have the budget available.

Foundation treasurer, Laura Zimmerman, said the foundation thought the vending machine was a great idea and gathered around $4,100 for purchasing and installing it. Overall it was a 10-month process from inception to delivery, but the school kept the machine covered for several weeks until its official unveiling. 

Meehan said the machine is especially important getting books into kids’ hands for them to keep, adding as students get older, “we find they stop reading as much as they used to.” 

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said if the vending machine proves successful, they could look into putting such a device in both the middle and high schools.

“The more we can get books into a kid’s hands the better,” she said. “This is a great investment for them.”

The Port Jeff Royal Education Foundation will be hosting its major fundraiser April 25 with the Jill Nees-Russell Family Fun Run and is still accepting participants.

Ruth Gracey and Dr. H. Jean Berger are to be honored later this year by the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. Photos from Michelle Dougherty

Two women from the Port Jefferson and Three Village school districts have been posthumously named to the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 for their work organizing girls sports athletics.

Dr. H. Jean Berger and Ruth Gracey were named along with two other women for developing and organizing the Suffolk County Girls Athletic Association in 1949, 23 years prior to federal Title IX legislation, which established no discrimination of participation based on sex.

The hall of fame is naming them due to their “persistence and dedication,” which effectively jump-started women’s ability to participate in and coach school athletics throughout the county.

Berger and Gracey, along with Annamae McKeever-Kress and Jeanette Rogers, developed the constitution, policies and rules, guidelines for scheduling and officiating games for the SCGAA. They envisioned and created a senior athletic awards program and developed the coveted Gold Key Award to recognize senior high school athletes.

“The Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame is honored to induct these four trailblazing women for all they accomplished in building a path and platform for girls to success in sports in Suffolk County,” said Chris Vaccaro, the executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. “What they achieved, long before the passing of Title IX, is remarkable and hundreds, if not thousands, of women have dedicated their lives to athletics thanks to what they built more than 70 years ago. This is a posthumous honor for these inductees, but we know they will be with us in spirit that night.”

All four women are being honored at a ceremony May 26 during the hall of fame’s 30th anniversary celebration at Watermill Caterers, 711 Smithtown Bypass in Smithtown. Tickets are $125 for an adult and $75 for a child. More information can be found at suffolksportshof.com.

Ruth Gracey 

Gracey was born in Syracuse in 1906 and attended Syracuse University from 1926 to 1929, majoring in physical education. After, she received a master’s degree in physical education from Adelphi University. 

In 1944 she began her career as the single female physical education instructor at Port Jefferson High School. During this first year at the school, she started the Girls Leaders Club and a year later she was instrumental in creating intramural sports for girls. By the 1948 school year, she was named director of girls physical education and coached soccer, hockey, volleyball, basketball and badminton. In 1949, she helped create the Suffolk County Girls Athletic Association, specifically the constitution and by-laws, and helped to establish a girls sports awards program. She retired from Port Jefferson in 1971 and in 1996 was inducted into the Port Jefferson district’s Wall of Fame. She passed away in 1990.

Elizabeth Schwartz, Gracey’s granddaughter and former student, said her grandmother, along with her contemporaries, pioneered the sense that girls and women were just as capable in sports as anybody else. Gracey was one of the first to make field hockey an institution of Long Island sports, Schwartz said, and she also introduced programs for women in basketball and track and even an archery club. 

“She was one of the first to have the overriding idea that sports was a way to take positions of leadership,” Schwartz said, adding it was “a long time coming” to see the names of her grandmother and the other woman added to the wall.

Port Jefferson board President Ellen Boehm said that while she came into the district right after Gracey had retired, she was the one who took girls sports to the next level within the district. She said that before women like Gracey pushed for equality in sports, girls would often play just a few innings of a sport like softball with another school. 

“She was one of the trailblazers in bringing recognition to girls sports,” she said.

Schwartz remembered her grandmother’s memorial, how in a packed house with “people in the rafters” all saying the same thing, that “Ruth was a special person to them, and they were a special person to her.” They all realized, “she had that quality — to make you feel you were the most important person in the world.”

Dr. H. Jean Berger 

Berger was originally from Nebraska but moved to Erie County with her family in 1930. She graduated from Springville-Griffith Institute High School in 1941 and then from SUNY Buffalo State College in 1945 where she majored in physical education. She later attained her doctorate of education degree from New York University.

Her career started in Springville in 1946 before moving on to Bay Shore in 1949, where she developed sports activities for girls at a time when girls athletics was frowned upon.

She would spend most of her career at the Three Village Central School District, and from 1966 to 1980 she worked as teacher, athletic coordinator of girls sports, leadership teacher and clinical supervisor for the K-8 physical education, volleyball coach and adviser to the Girls Leaders Club and Girls Athletic Association. 

In 1949 she was the first president of the Suffolk County Girls Athletic Association, and in 1975-1976, she was the president of NYS Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. At various times between 1966 and 1980 she was very involved with Section XI, Suffolk County athletics: vice president, multiple committees, board of directors, volleyball chair, athletic council and Gold Key committee. 

Berger passed away in 2003.

Michele Dougherty was a coach and administrator in the Three Village school district from 1973 to 2007 and worked with Berger for several years until her retirement in 1980. Dougherty said she “had a profound influence on me professionally and on a personal level.” She added, Berger, or Dr. B as she and the students called her, not only fought for the Gold Star Award that she and other women helped introduce in 1953 but helped expand it to cover boys athletics as well.

“She has had a profound influence on girls sports through her historic efforts in developing athletic programs for girls throughout the county,” Dougherty said.

District to Grant Police Access to Security Cameras

Port Jeff constables will now be taking patrols at both the Port Jefferson high/middle school building as well as the elementary school. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a move toward increased school security and a continuing push to bridge the gap between school district and village, the Port Jefferson School District has moved to allow Port Jeff code enforcement vehicles to do patrols on school properties. In addition, the district has moved to join other municipalities and schools in giving Suffolk police access to school cameras at its Real Time Crime Center.

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district has been working with the village for the past several months, emphasizing the desire for increased security. Since the two entities are separate municipalities, the change required an intermunicipal agreement signed by both parties.

The code officers will conduct patrol routes in their vehicles periodically throughout the school day and during after school activities at all district building parking lots, Schmettan said. They are not necessarily meant to get out of their vehicles or to go inside the buildings and are mostly there as a deterrent. 

“It’s an additional presence to have marked cars on property,” Schmettan said. “That presence really helps during and after school.”

Trustee Kathianne Snaden has been working with the district to form this partnership. She said she has seen this need since when she was campaigning and taking a ride along with code enforcement, seeing that officers were not allowed on school property even if they saw there might be something illicit happening at the football fields or the bleachers in front of the high school.

Such an agreement had been proposed before, the trustee said, but had been swallowed up long before she entered office.

With the IMA signed, Snaden said there are more eyes where they need to be.

“There is a stronger visual presence on the campuses,” she said.

The superintendent said such work begets more cooperative action between the two Port Jeff municipalities.

“It’s very exciting to have support from the village, for us all to be on the same page,” Schmettan said.

The district has also moved to allow Suffolk police to have access to the district’s cameras at its Real Time Crime Center during emergencies. Such access has to be initiated by either the superintendent or her designee, most likely a deputy superintendent. That agreement was passed by the school board in December, the superintendent said, though police said they have not received the memorandum of understanding from the village.

Though board members and members of the schools security committee had original doubts of the program, citing privacy issues, Schmettan said the district has written the contract to be tailored and only be used during a major emergency, such as a school shooter. 

Police said they currently have 28 MOUs from other districts. Once police receive the agreement, the only time between when cameras are hooked up to the police is the technical details between both school and police IT departments, and the time it takes to make a secure connection.

The Village of Port Jefferson hooked its own cameras to the crime center in May of last year. While some feared a “big brother” watching people constantly, police and village officials say it’s impossible for one person to look at every single feed at once, and the cameras are only accessed in cases of an emergency.

“It helps save lives,” Snaden said.

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High school senior Mattea Rabeno presents a donation of $365 to Larry Hohler of Hope Children’s Fund. Photo from PJSD

On Thursday, Jan. 23, Larry Hohler and Ed Hyshiver, Hope Children’s Fund board members, shared their efforts with members of the Port Jeff high school’s Interact Club to support AIDS-affected street children at the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya. 

Port Jefferson high schools Interact Club joined with members of the Hope Children’s Fund for a presentation. Photo from PJSD

Opened in 2005 at the height of the AIDS pandemic in East Africa, the orphanage now cares for 89 young people. Half of that number attend primary school, which is free in Kenya, while others attend secondary schools or trade schools, and several attend Kenyan universities. 

Well over half of the income generated to support the home goes to pay tuition fees. A focus of the presentation was the story of Doreen Gatwiri, who was rescued from the streets in 2005 when the children’s home opened its doors. Abandoned by her mother, she was 9 years old and suffering from malnutrition. Rehabilitated at the home, Doreen excelled in her studies and years later was able to qualify for entrance into the premed program at Jomo Kenyatta University near Nairobi. Last September, Gatwiri received her medical degree and plans to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, a specialty very much needed in her country. Hyshiver told of his relationship with Kelvin Koome, a young man who was also taken off the streets when the home opened. He met Koome on a visit to Kenya in 2007, became his mentor, and helped to pay for his education. Koome now works in Meru as a physician’s assistant. 

The students hosted a movie screening at the elementary school and raised money for the fund. After the presentation, Interact Club Co-President Mattea Rabeno presented a check for $365 to Hohler. The donation will be used to pay the school fees of a child at Hope Children’s Home in Meru. 

“This is something that our club hopes to continue supporting in the future through various fundraising activities,” said club adviser Deirdre Filippi.

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie visit local schools to offer therapy dog services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie are magnetic, or at least it seems that way to watch people come forward, asking gingerly if they can pet the dog, her tail waving frantically.

Coming into the TBR News Media offices, Kallie was the star of the show, and Lynch just let her work her magic. She doesn’t make a sound, instead just walking toward people asking to be petted. 

Lynch, a 73-year-old Mount Sinai resident, has been volunteering his time working with therapy dog services for the past several years. He’s owned Kallie, a keeshond, since she was a puppy, and they have been a team for five years. Though he works part time as a risk management consultant, he finds his biggest joy nowadays is taking Kallie where she’s needed most, on a voluntary basis, through the local chapter of Love on a Leash, which provides these services free of charge.

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that.”

– Bob Lynch

Kallie has been to nursing homes, veterans homes and hospitals, but where she’s been that her breed might be best at is at schools. 

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that,” he said. “The work in itself is fulfilling, you walk into a room and see the smiles, and see the demeanor of the people change very quickly.”

Lynch will soon be at the Port Jefferson high and middle schools often as part of a new pilot program in the district that they say will relieve stress among students.

Christine Austen, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said she was contacted by Lynch last year and submitted it to the curriculum committee as a pilot, which they approved. The pilot program will run twice a month for four months starting in February and ending in May. A mailer and email will be sent to parents asking them whether they would like to opt out of such visits with the dog, whether it’s from allergies or a fear of animals. Austen said the decision of whether the dog is allowed in certain classes would be treated like allergies.

When presented at the Jan. 14 board meeting, some trustees expressed concerns about safety. Austen said the dog trainer would not be allowed alone with a student at any time and would always have a faculty member present.

Tara Sladek-Maharg, who teaches social studies and psychology in both the middle and high schools, originally brought in a therapy dog for her AP psychology class last year. She had become enthused about the idea of a therapy dog in the classroom after witnessing firsthand what a demonstrably positive effect it had on her own father, when trainer Linda Christian and her dog Murphy, also of Love on a Leash, came to Stony Brook University Hospital and showed him love and compassion after he had a seizure and was going through rehabilitation.

“He goes into rehab and he just sits and goes to each individual person and just lays his head down on them — petting the dog is just so calming,” she said. 

Bringing Murphy into the classroom so that the students could review classical conditioning was a transformative experience, Sladek-Maharg said. She has done more research into just why these dogs have such a positive impact on so many. The research shows that being around such dogs has a significant effect on a person’s neurotransmitters and hormones and significantly reduces fear and stress.

Studies have also shown such animals have a positive effect on elementary school students, especially in helping them speak up in public or in class.

“Today our students are very stressed — our staff is very stressed, so having the presence of a dog is just a wonderful outlet,” she said. “They don’t discriminate, especially if they are trained therapy animals. They don’t have any reason to make somebody feel self-conscious, and they have a calming effect on us.”

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love.”

– Catherine Lynch 

Other school districts that have experimented with therapy dogs in classrooms have come away talking of success. Lynch has been a regular at events hosted in the Longwood school district, Miller Place School District and Ward Melville in the Three Village district. 

Miller Place High School Library Media Specialist Catherine Lynch brings in therapy dogs once a year during testing to help students relax during such a stressful time. One thing she has noticed is students regularly put away their phones when interacting with the dogs, instead talking and petting the dogs or speaking with each other.

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love,” she said, adding she would like to see the program expanded to multiple times throughout the school year.

In the Comsewogue school district, special education teacher Tom King has been taking his therapy-trained labradoodle to his classes for years. Last June, during exam season, the district brought in multiple dogs into the school cafeteria to interact with students. 

Love on a Leash is a national organization that started in San Diego in the 1980s as a volunteer organization for therapy dogs. The organization has expanded to include chapters across the U.S. and several thousand members. The Long Island chapter was founded about a decade ago and includes over 150 members and just around 25 “active” participants covering Suffolk, Nassau and parts of Queens.

Theresa Schwartz, the chapter president, said schools have been expanding such programs with therapy dogs. When she started about three years ago, schools would ask her to come in during testing times, but that has expanded into doing reading programs in elementary schools, after-school wildlife clubs, SEPTA events and even offering support services during emotionally fraught times, such as when a teacher or a student passes away.

The fact that Love on a Leash is a nonprofit volunteer organization makes the program unique, Lynch said. From the start, people who train the dogs and take them around are also their owners, living with them 24/7, and they have personally seen the ways a dog has helped bring people who are truly suffering a little bit of joy.

“I think I can speak for most of our volunteers doing this kind of thing, [it] makes the team, the dog and the handler, feel better, and makes other people feel better,” she said. “You see what joy your dog can bring to other people.”

Young people in an environment like school, Austen said, respond especially to animals. It has even had a positive impact on faculty.

“It just seems to take down the level of anxiety,” she said. “There are so many instigators of that, whether it’s cellphone use or social media — all of that constant stimulation. Then there are the academics at the high school, and the push to perform.”

If successful, which she expects the program will be, she wants to expand it to the elementary school, where studies have shown therapy dogs have a positive impact on helping people speak up in class.

 

Nikki and John Poulianos during the 2014 prom production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Photo by Clinton Rubin

By Julianne Mosher

Although their children graduated from Port Jefferson high school years ago, John and Nikki Poulianos still help out the students whenever they get a chance. 

The Port Jefferson Prom Committee. Photo by Drew Biondo

“The Poulianos clan has had an extraordinary impact on many families across Port Jeff,” Clinton Rubin, a parent with a child in the school district said. “Remarkably, it comes from so many different directions — they are what makes Port Jeff a family.”

John is a business owner and Nikki works for a few hours at the high school as its equipment manager, Joan Lyons, head custodian of Port Jefferson high school said. She added that the Poulianoses are constantly giving their time and energy back to the students — especially with the annual prom.

“Together the two of them work endless hours volunteering with the prom,” she said. “Without them, rest assured, there would not be a Port Jeff prom.”

The Port Jefferson prom is a big event for the school and community alike, and parents start to plan it months in advance. 

“What the Poulianoses do for the prom and kids is amazing,” Lyons added. “They’re there from the start of it until the very end setting it up and breaking it down.”

Lyons, who has worked in the school district for 33 years, said that without this couple, there would be no prom. 

“They’re good, nice people — not many people would do this stuff,” she added. “Thank God the school district and community has them.”

But the pair doesn’t just work on prom. They come to every soccer game (John is the high school boys soccer coach) and Nikki helps all the athletes in the school with their uniforms. 

“They just like to do things for the kids of Port Jeff,” Theresa Tsunis, a Port Jefferson resident said. “Nikki was in attendance at every single middle school basketball game my children were involved in. She is undeniably dedicated to the students of Port Jefferson.”

While the couple is active within the school district, John and Nikki also help out in other parts of the community. John works closely with Hope House and the Port Jeff Cub Scout Pack 41, while the couple is also active with the Greek festival every year. 

“We are all incredibly fortunate to have such a caring, committed family as part of our village infrastructure,” Rubin said. “They are what makes our town so special, and what makes it so easy to smile when thinking of our past and our future.”

So many people respect the constant volunteerism and selflessness of John and Nikki Poulianos.  

“They’re not the couple of the year, Janet Stafford, a Port Jeff resident, said. “They’re the couple of the decade.”

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Last year 55 students from Port Jeff took the polar plunge. This year 70 students have dedicated to jump into North Shore waters Nov. 23. Photo from Deirdre Filippi

The Port Jefferson high school varsity club raised around $9,500 for the Special Olympics last year. This year, as the club’s number of students swell, club advisers hope to do even better.

The annual Polar Plunge, which takes place at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, is back again Nov. 23. Last year, the club sent 55 students into freezing cold waters, plus two advisers. 

“As a club in its fourth year, doing it we had a really good experience,” said Jesse Rosen, club co-adviser and social studies teacher. “The level of ownership in helping another human being is an awesome thing.”

For this year’s event, the club has taken on some new recruits. This year 70 students will take the plunge, which represents close to 25 percent of the overall ninth through 12th grade population.

The Polar Plunge is run by the Special Olympics, where the money raised from the event goes toward supporting a Special Olympics athlete in sports training, and health and inclusion programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities looking to compete. The organization advertises that $400 will give enough funds for one athlete to train for a year.

“We were so proud to help sponsor over 20 people to compete in the Special Olympics,” Rosen said.

The growing participation has both club advisers excited about this weekend’s event.

“I think Jesse would agree that we are thrilled to have so many student athletes taking part in this year’s Polar Plunge,” co-adviser Deirdre Filippi said. “We couldn’t think of a better organization to support and we are ecstatic to see so many of our students rallying behind such a great cause.” 

In addition to the Polar Plunge, the senior varsity club has been involved in the recent Powder Puff flag football game between the classes of 2020 and 2021, volleyball tournaments and assisting young people with special needs from the League of Yes, which creates baseball programs for kids with disabilities.

While the club does not have the final word on how much money it has raised this year, club advisers said they hope it continues to build even more after this year’s event.

For Keith Buehler, guidance counselor at Port Jefferson Middle School, fishing and being out on the water was second nature to him growing up on Long Island. So when students came to him saying they wanted to start a fishing club at the school, he thought it would be a good opportunity to share his passion with others. 

“I loved the idea,” Buehler said. “I told them to get names and start a petition to start a new club.”

The middle school guidance counselor said the school principal, Robert Neidig, was very supportive of their efforts and helped in the process of getting the necessary paperwork to the district office. 

“You want to be a good role model for the kids, just getting out there and sharing one of your passions with them is fun.”

— Keith Buehler

The club has close to 70 students currently enlisted with both middle and high schoolers encouraged to join. 

Buehler said they had already started to have meetings and have begun to teach students the basics of fishing. 

“We were practicing casting and how to properly hold a pole,” he said. “Everyone has different levels of experience so right now it’s just about getting the equipment they need.”

Buehler, who fishes on his kayak at Smith Point Marina, as well as Rocky Point and Port Jeff, said through his connections from the local fishing community the club has received equipment and other items to get them started on future fishing trips. 

The Long Island Salt Savages, a Facebook group with over 3,500 members dedicated to fishing, donated poles, bait and other equipment to the club. 

“We’ve been very grateful for the support, they are a bunch of great guys,” Buehler said. “It really has given us a good foundation to start from.”

In addition, Buehler has gotten Soundview Heating & Air Conditioning, a business in Middle Island, to sponsor the club and will get T-shirts made for the students.  

Buehler said the reaction from students has been great and are excited to get out on the water. 

“I’m a morning fisherman, so I go out before school sometimes — some of the kids will see me with my fishing gear when I come in and they’ll ask me questions,” he said. 

Greg Gorniok, science teacher at Port Jeff High School and co-advisor for the club, said he believes the club is a great opportunity for students to get on the water. 

“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “Keith and I fish all the time; a lot of students have the same experiences [as us]…It’s nice to share that passion with them.”

Gorniok said another positive is that they are exposing students to the waters of Long Island. 

“It will be fun, the kids get to see you in a different light and you better connect with them,” he said. 

While the club will be predominately about fishing, Buehler said they also want to plan beach trips, local boat excursions, beach cleanups, focus on environmental and conservation activism, as well as bringing in speakers to talk to students. 

The adviser hopes to continue to expand the club in the future. They have begun to raffle off equipment to members who attend club meetings as well.  

The club plans to do its first beach/fishing trip of the fall on Oct. 24 at East Beach in Port Jefferson. Buehler said in the spring he wants to plan out more fishing trips and educate students on local and state fishing laws. 

“The students have been a big part of this,” Buehler said. “You want to be a good role model for the kids, just getting out there and sharing one of your passions with them is fun.”