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Rocky Point school district

From left, wrestling coach Ted DiPasquale, Rocky Point High School’s Alexandra Viera and head wrestling coach Darren Goldstein. Photo courtesy RPSD

Rocky Point High School’s Ava Capogna and Alexandra Viera each claimed All-State honors while competing in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s inaugural New York State Girls Wrestling Invitational held on Jan. 27. 

The two student-athletes were selected to participate out of more than 500 female wrestlers from across New York State in the event that took place at the SRC Arena in Syracuse. 

Ava reached All-State status with a fourth-place finish at 120 lbs. Alexandra pinned her way to a New York State Championship, becoming Rocky Point’s seventh state wrestling champion.

Julianne Warren (left, back) and Erin DeMarco’s second grade class at Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School during “Crazy for Kindness Day.” Photo courtesy RPSD

Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School students work throughout the school year to promote kindness, and they pumped up their efforts by celebrating the Great Kindness Challenge during the week of Jan. 23-27.

Students and staff enjoyed spirit dress-up days and daily activities, and individual classes created their own independent kindness initiatives. The school’s Google Classroom also housed videos, books, quotes, activities and resources for classroom teachers. The colorful bulletin boards in the hallways share messages to make anyone smile. 

Daily themes included “Favorite Team Gear,” “Peace, Love and Kindness” and “Crazy for Kindness Day.” Crazy clothes, hairstyles and funky socks were worn. 

Others included “Dreaming of Kindness Day,” in which many wore pajamas or cozy clothes, and “Kindness Spirit Wear,” when students wore shirts with messages of kindness.

The annual event, coordinated by school counselor Jamie Adamski, encourages students to gain the social-emotional skills to help improve the school climate, increase student engagement and create a culture of kindness.

Graphic from the school district website

The Rocky Point Union Free School District Board of Education convened Monday, Oct. 17, for a public meeting.

Proceedings commenced with a brief presentation by the district superintendent, Scott O’Brien, recognizing school board appreciation month in the district. In his presentation, O’Brien discussed the vital work performed by school board members in educating students and advancing the community’s educational aims.

“School board members give Rocky Point citizens a voice in education decision-making,” he said. “Even though we make a special effort to show our appreciation this month, their contribution is certainly a year-round commitment.”

During the meeting, the board unanimously approved a resolution to accept the donation of posters by Sound Beach resident Ernestine Franco. These posters, valued at approximately $130, are related to diversity, equity and inclusion, colloquially known as DEI. 

“I am happy that the posters were accepted,” she said. “I hope that this means that the board supports inclusiveness.”

This poster donation comes on the heels of months of tension between the school board and some in the public after the board reversed its long-standing practice of accepting book donations. [See story, “Rocky Point BOE reverses practice on book donations, causes controversy,” The Village Beacon Record, Aug. 11, also TBR News Media website.]

Despite this recent history, Franco viewed the outcome of Monday’s decision as a positive step, signaling a possible cooling of tensions.

“We were also happy that they accepted the donation as a way for the community to participate in school activities,” she said, adding, “For us, this was a way for them to say, ‘Yes, you can be a part of this.’”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, shared news of an upcoming memorial event to be held at the hamlet’s Veterans Memorial Park. Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 22, at 1 p.m., community members will celebrate the life of Ann Moran, a former teacher in the district and treasurer of the civic.

“This Saturday, we are holding a celebration of her life,” Ruberto said. “She was a force to be reckoned with, and she will be missed very much.” Ruberto invited those in attendance to join for Saturday’s service.

The BOE will reconvene on Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

File photo by Giselle Barkley

During a public meeting of the Rocky Point school district board of education on Monday, Aug. 29, Sound Beach resident Bea Ruberto confronted the board over its decision to reverse a longstanding practice regarding book donations.

In June, district parent Allison Villafane donated several books related to Pride Month. In mid-July, the board sparked controversy from the public for its decision to no longer accept book donations from parents. 

During a special meeting on July 28, members of the board justified their decision on the grounds that they lack expertise in children’s literature. For more on this story, “Rocky Point BOE reverses practice on book donations, causes controversy,” see TBR News Media Aug. 11 print and online editions. 

During her remarks, Ruberto contended that the board used shoddy reasoning to arrive at its decision. By reversing its book donation practice, Ruberto suggested that the BOE inadvertently took decision-making authority out of the hands of librarians.

“I remain disappointed with your decision to no longer accept book donations,” Ruberto said. “None of you are experts in deciding which book donations to accept, you said, but there are experts who can do this — the librarians.”

Another point of contention for Ruberto was an argument made on July 28 during the public comments that there are more pressing matters for the board to consider than book donations. 

Pushing back against these charges, Ruberto suggested that access to reading materials lies at the core of any institution of learning.

“Yes, there are many important issues related to our children’s education, but the idea that the books made available to them isn’t one of them is ludicrous,” she said, adding, “As long as a book is age appropriate, I can’t imagine any book that young people should not have access to it.”

While Ruberto acknowledged that parents remain the ultimate arbiters for their children’s reading materials, she added that librarians also perform a vital function. According to her, school libraries are ideally inclusive spaces that should reflect the entire community’s values.

“Some parents may be troubled by what they see in the library, and then they may — and certainly should — monitor what their children are reading,” she said. “But school libraries aren’t just for them. They’re for everyone in the community.”

Jessica Ward, president of the board of education, responded to Ruberto’s public comments. The BOE president argued that the decision empowers the district’s librarians, offering these experts the freedom to stock the libraries with books of their choosing and without sway from the board.

“Our decision, as we explained last time, was made in consensus,” Ward said. “As you said, we’re not the experts on books. We want our librarians to pick the books in their libraries.”

Before the meeting adjourned, Ward and Ruberto debated whether the change of practice on book donations constituted a policy change. In attempting to settle this matter, Ward advised that she and the board would consult with their attorney and get back to Ruberto with a more detailed explanation.

The next meeting of the Rocky Point board of education is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 19.

Photo courtesy of the Rocky Point School District

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Rocky Point Middle School robotics team had only one opportunity to compete this year, and they took full advantage. At the Long Island championships, pitted against more than 100 teams from across Long Island, the team and coach Mark Moorman again brought home a well-earned award. 

Students Grace Bertino, Matt Blaising, Charlie Hinst, Nathan Watkis and Faith Wozny, who represent the Radical Robotix team, earned third place in the Engineering Excellence category. The award is noted as a celebration of a team with an efficiently designed robot, an innovative project solution that effectively addresses the season challenge and great core values evident in all they do.

 

Christine Blume's RPHS class. Photo from RPSD

Rocky Point High School students in Christine Blume’s English 10 class created websites revolving around a blog niche of their choice. In these lessons, the students learned how to blog, providing them the opportunity to engage in literacy activities and teaching them how to publish their writing and share their writing with authentic audiences. 

“When students write blogs they become an integral part of a lively literacy community for real readers, not just their teachers,” said Blume.

To complement the lessons, Ms. Blume — with the technical help of high school librarian Jessica Sciarrone — brought in via Zoom self-made blogger Nicole Lewandowski, who spoke to the students about blogging in a refined niche, getting inspiration to promote a blog and gain followers. She also shared how she monetizes her blog, which has now become her career and main income source. 

According to Blume, students were engaged, asked questions and gained valuable information from the presentation. 

“Furthermore, this unit comprehensively recognizes that reading and writing texts online offers students the basic skills that they need to be literate citizens in the 21st century,” she added.

Photo by Rita J. Egan

After a confusing week, parents across the North Shore have been upset by the state’s constant changing rules on mask wearing in schools.

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, some parents in local school districts opted out of sending their children to class with a mask after a New York State Supreme Court judge struck down Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) mandate.

The mask mandate was first enacted in December by the governor, requiring face coverings in schools and other public places after the omicron wave hit the state with rapid numbers.

On Monday, Jan. 24, Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademaker of Nassau County wrote that Hochul does not have the authority to impose the mandate since emergency powers are no longer in place. He then decided that the statewide mask mandate was deemed unconstitutional. 

Parents across the state heard this and decided to either unmask or mask up their kids, despite letters being sent out from superintendents in local areas stating that masks were still mandatory as they awaited an appeal.

Rocky Point school district

Rocky Point parent Michelle Salz said that her district sent out a notice late Monday night saying that mask mandates were still in effect. However, when her children came to school Tuesday, administrators and staff were not enforcing the face coverings.

“My kids and myself try to do what’s best for society,” she said. “I rely on science to make my decisions and I taught my kids to care about others.”

Salz added that she was disappointed to hear from her children that students in the school were not wearing masks properly, or at all. 

“It seems our district who we entrust our children with, they’re supposed to be educated and use critical-thinking skills to make their decisions,” she said. “They’re supposed to be keeping our kids safe.”

The next day, she sent a letter to Superintendent Scott O’Brien and the board of education.

“To the utter disbelief of most parents in our school district, Rocky Point Union Free Schools has decided to ignore the directive of the NYSED to continue mask wearing in schools until an appellate court has issued a final decision regarding the Nassau County Supreme Court matter January 24,” the letter read. “We believe this to be reckless endangerment to our children and to the families in the community. Please advise what remedies are available to us through your office, as we are considering legal action on this matter and would like to avoid it if possible.”

Salz added that she is so disappointed in the way the school has handled the COVID-19 pandemic that she is planning on leaving the district.

“I don’t want to live here anymore,” she said. “I want my kids to have a good education.”

Scott O’Brien, superintendent of Rocky Point school district, said in a statement that the district is adhering to all state mandates in place with regard to the mask requirement for school districts.

“At this time, the Appellate Division has granted New York State’s motion for a stay of enforcement of Judge Rademaker’s January 24 decision pending hearing and determination of the appeal, on the condition that the appeal is perfected on or before March 2, 2022. As such, while the stay is in effect, the New York State mask regulation remains unchanged for our district.”

O’Brien added, “We understand how this changing information can be frustrating to families and confusing to students. We appreciate our community’s patience as we await further Appellate Division decisions that impact the mask mandate.”

Three Village school district

Monica Balsan, who has three children in the Three Village school district, was one of many parents who told their children to say “no thank you” when asked to cover their noses that Tuesday.

Balsan said she was unhappy with Three Village still implementing the mask mandate after the court ruling.

“After the court ruling that said the mask mandate was unconstitutional, they still requested the kids wear masks,” she said in a phone interview Friday morning. “I told my kids to be respectful and not argue with their teachers, but if they were uncomfortable to call me.”

Balsan said that her second-grade son, Jameson, has been “emotionally drained” by the pandemic, and has been begging his mom to be homeschooled as he is tired of wearing a mask at his desk.

“He can’t take it anymore,” she said. “It hurts his ears, he can’t breathe.”

But for the days following the update on the mask mandate, Balsan said her third-grade son, Jackson, was holding his ground in and out of school by joining his family and friends at a rally outside the Three Village North Country Administration Building Friday, Jan. 28. There, he said wearing a mask has been “terrible,” and he was hoping he wouldn’t have to wear a mask this week.

The rally, which had dozens of community members voice their concerns against the mandate, occurred just hours before the appeals hearing went live. 

During the rally, children held signs that read, “I Wish I Could See My Friends’ Smiles,” “I’ll Never Get These Years Back” and “No More Masks,” while parents held signs that read “3V Parents for Choice.” 

Many in attendance also wore sweatshirts bearing slogans such as “Make America Free Again,” “Fighting for My Freedom” and “Freedom Fighters.”

Jessica Rudin, whose son is in kindergarten and has two younger children, said while she doesn’t believe in the mask mandate, her son has worn the mask every day to school. However, she added, it’s time for the masks to come off.

“We have been standing up for parents’ choice against the mandates for quite some time,” she said. “We’re looking to make a statement in our community.”

Later that evening, the governor was allowed to extend the indoor mask mandate until Feb. 10. On Monday, the court officially extended the stay, allowing Hochul to keep the mask mandate in place until March 2. 

“My primary responsibility as governor is to keep New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said in a statement. “Mask regulations keep our schools and businesses safe and open, protect vulnerable New Yorkers and are critical tools as we work to get through this winter surge. Thanks to our efforts, including mask regulations, cases are declining and we are seeing major progress in the fight against COVID-19.”

But anti-maskers are still going to fight for their right to choose.

“We don’t want them masked anymore,” Balsan said. “We’ve had enough. We can’t deal with [our kids] frustration. Everyone is trying to do their part.”

Balsan said that if other families want to wear a mask, that should be their choice.

In a statement Tuesday, Three Village Central School District said it is “working to follow all current directives related to COVID-19 practices in our schools, including the mask wearing mandate. At this time, the district does not have any intention of creating or joining a lawsuit challenging these state directives. We appreciate our students, staff and families understanding and cooperation as we work together to keep our schools safe, supportive places for learning.”

But across the state, educators were happy with the court’s decision.

“We are pleased the Appellate Division granted the application by the Department of Health and the governor’s office, confirming the lower court’s decision is stayed pending further proceedings,” said Betty Rosa, commissioner of education with the New York State Board of Regents in a statement. “As such, the mask mandate remains in effect for schools across the state. We support Governor Hochul and the state Department of Health as they continue with the appeal. We thank the members of our school communities for their patience during this process.”

Other school districts

Superintendents in other districts released statements that they will continue to monitor the ever-changing protocols.

“The Port Jefferson School District has always made it our priority to follow the law and respect the process of our state,” said Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan. “As we are committed to fostering a school environment that is not only lawful but considerate, the district is continuing to comply with the NYS school mask mandate, as we await any further updated directives.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district also commented: “The district continues to follow all NYS requirements regarding mask wearing in schools and will monitor the situation for any updates to the matter.”

Rob Sproston in his Marine uniform. Photo from Rob Sproston

“If you’re willing to put yourself and your dreams on the line, at the very least you’ll discover an inner strength you may have not known existed.” — Kurt Warner, Super Bowl quarterback and Hall of Famer

These words from this noted athlete who lived through a life of adversity, also identify the strength, character, humanity and resiliency of Baiting Hollow resident Robert “Rob” Sproston. 

On March 31, 2020, Riverhead police officer Sproston was responding to a domestic incident of a young woman who was assaulted by her boyfriend with a knife. Her car was then stolen by the man.  

On his way to the Baiting Hollow Country Club, Sproston was picking up lunch for the officers working on Main Street within the heart of Riverhead. As he was heading north on Osborn Avenue, not too far from Youngs Avenue, he heard the call of this developing incident, where the stolen car was heading westward toward his direction.

As the officer was trying to figure out the situation from the information that was being reported on his radio and preparing to be in pursuit of the subject, his life would forever be changed. Driving at a high speed with his sirens blasting and lights flashing, Sproston was trying to do his job in handling this delicate situation.  

Rocky Point High School graduates, Matt Staker, Rob Sproston and Anthony Montalbano. Photo from Rob Sproston

As he headed up Osborn Avenue, another driver made a left onto Youngs Avenue, and he tried to move his police vehicle around the car.  

Making the left, the driver drove directly into Sproston’s car, and the officer crashed into a chain-link fence. A pole shot through his windshield, hitting him through his face. Horribly injured in his car, the officer was near death before the first responders made it to the scene. 

The life that Sproston led before the crash helped him prepare for this life-altering moment. As a young man, this “all-American kid” was always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude. He was an active member of the Rocky Point Fire Department, played several years of varsity lacrosse on the Rocky Point High School team, and is a proud alumnus of the Class of 2010.  

During his youthful years, Sproston enjoyed riding his quad with his friends within the powerlines behind the McDonald’s in Rocky Point. And he understood the practice of hard work through the intricacies of installing residential roofs with his father Billy.

In 2014, Rob Sproston began his career path by entering the Suffolk County Police Academy at the Grant Campus of Suffolk Community College in Brentwood. After graduation, he was hired as a part-time police officer for the Town of Riverhead.  

Right away, he learned about the makeup of the community and believed that it was a good experience toward his professional growth within the field of law enforcement. While Sproston was not yet a full-time officer, he was thankful to gain this experience to work with the police, and to learn about the various challenges of this difficult job.

In 2016, with the prospect of being a full-time officer, he always wanted to serve this country and entered the United States Marine Corps.  

As a 22-year-old, he was an older recruit who understood the importance of getting through the difficulties of military training for each day. Always a positive figure, he worked well with the other recruits to make it through their daily routines at Parris Island, South Carolina. 

Sproston always believed that if you did not “embrace the suck,” that it would be difficult to make it through the hardships of training and the discipline of the Marines.  

After he completed this training, Sproston was sent to Camp Geiger, North Carolina, where he learned how to become proficient within infantry training, weapons and tactics. Currently, he is with the Marine Corps Forces Reserve in Garden City, where he serves in an infantry sniper platoon, spends time in the field and enjoys the camaraderie of being in the military.  

While he is proud of his time in the Marines, Sproston is glad to be serving closer to home, to be near his job, friends and family.

Before joining the service, he took the police exam to gain a permanent full-time position within a Suffolk County law enforcement department. He was eventually placed on a lottery and picked by the Riverhead Police Department in 2017.  

Always willing to serve his nation and community, he was extremely pleased to be in uniform through the police and military. As a regular officer, Sproston patrolled the busy traffic and commercial areas of Route 58. This assignment offered him the chance to gain important knowledge of the local citizens, and the types of crimes that are common within this part of Riverhead.  

And so on the day of the crash in March 2020, this police officer was near death, and right away the local fire department was dispatched to respond and provide aid. Service runs deep through the Sproston family, as his father Billy was one of the local fire and emergency support that arrived on this call.  

At this point, his father did not know that his son was the officer in the wrecked vehicle as he approached this scene. Senior fire officials tried to keep his father away as they prepared to move him to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.  

Rob Sproston’s face was practically ripped apart from the crash and he lost two pints of blood. He was stabilized at Peconic Bay and was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he received major surgery and treatment toward the reconstruction of his face. For two weeks, he was in an induced coma. His father was at his side during this entire ordeal.

Rob Sproston in his Marine uniform. Photo from Rob Sproston

Speaking about these harrowing events, the son was completely reserved as he identified this near-death incident and his amazing recovery.  

This young man still has minor nose-and-mouth surgery ahead, but his iron spirit completely demonstrates his unyielding resolve to continue a normal life. 

Always an active citizen to help his community through the police and to defend our nation within the Marine Corps, Sproston has overcome several obstacles to return to duty. His professional and personal goal was achieved on July 1, 2021, when he was cleared by the police department to return to limited duty. He is looking forward to getting back into a sector car to be in the field.  

Outside of the police, Sproston has resumed his life by working out in the gym and being cleared by a Navy doctor to return back to his infantry platoon. He is looking forward to the challenge of attending sniper school and being around his fellow Marines — always flashing a big smile.

Longtime Rocky Point High School social studies teacher and coach, Christopher Nentwich, said it best about Sproston’s positive qualities: “He was an ‘old-school’ student who was loyal, dedicated, hardworking and with a great sense of humor. I recommended Rob to several members of the police department and believed that he would be an outstanding addition to serve and protect the community of Riverhead.”

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

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Rocky Point Middle School Principal James Moeller addresses an outside class at RPMS. Photo from RPSD

Rocky Point Middle School students returned to school with an enhanced educational locale — an outdoor classroom. 

An idea that came about several years ago, it was finally completed and gifted by the Rocky Point PTA to the Middle School.

“Outdoor classrooms just became a thing quite a few years ago,” said Kristine Susmin, former president of the PTA. “Realizing how much the kids actually learn outside, how much they enjoy being outside is really what started the whole thing.”

The space is a new addition that highlights the advantages of outdoor learning and access to nature, both known to increase student enthusiasm and as being beneficial to social, emotional and physical health. It just so happened the COVID-19 pandemic began in the midst of planning it. 

Assistant principal Dawn Meyers said the new classroom is located in the perfect spot. Located outside the school, the district added a cement slab for the 15 new desks to be placed upon. An outdoor whiteboard hangs on the side of the building.

The tabletops are versatile and turns into benches that can seat up to 30 students in a socially distanced manner. 

Meyers said that the final touches were finished the Thursday before school started, and that was all new landscaping, while a container will eventually be moved for a secure barrier, so people won’t be able to travel from the parking lot to the space.

To reserve the room, teachers must fill out a Google Calendar request. While it’s located outside the middle school, Meyers said it’s open to classes at the high school, too.

“The feedback has been great,” she said. “Right now, they’re fighting over it. Teachers are constantly calling me up saying, ‘Can I use the classroom?’ So, it’s been really great.”

Photo from RPSD

Meyer and Susmin both agreed that it took a community to get the classroom together and ready for the first day of school. 

“If it wasn’t for the parents and the teachers and everybody that donated to the PTA, this project would never have been able to be funded by us,” she said. “We’re all so grateful.”

A ribbon-cutting took place the first week of classes to celebrate the new, unique learning environment.

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Photo by Kimberly Brown

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and give remembrance to those whose lives were taken by the tragic events, Rocky Point High School welcomed veterans and survivors of the attack to speak to the senior class early Tuesday morning.

Students and teachers filled the auditorium as members from the Rocky Point VFW and Suffolk County Police Department were brought in to share their stories. 

The students they spoke to were not alive when 9/11 happened, which is why Social Studies teacher Rich Acritelli, who led the event, believed having an assembly on the matter was dire. 

“The big thing with this assembly is so we don’t forget,” Acritelli said. “It’s that there’s always that sense of respect towards the people that were lost and for the family members.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Guest speaker ESU officer Owen McCaffrey reflected on what it meant to be an American, and how helpful people were to each other during that tragic time. 

“Everyone was an American citizen,” McCaffrey said. “It didn’t matter what you looked like, the color of your skin or how you were dressed — everyone was working together because we were all American citizens.”

Suffolk County Acting Police Commissioner, Stuart Cameron recalled what it was like for the SCPD after the attacks had taken place, noting that the New York City Police Department even reached out to them for help. 

The SCPD sent out hundreds of officers to Ground Zero. 

“The most difficult aspect was that my phone was ringing off the hook with members of our department volunteering to go help their brother officers in New York City,” Cameron said.

Unfortunately, many of the officers who volunteered to help later passed due to medical complications, mostly being cancer related. 

“9/11 is not one day,” Cameron said. “It’s the days, weeks and months after it. You know the saying, ‘it’s the gift that keeps on giving,’ well 9/11 is the event that keeps on taking. It truly has taken away some of our greatest heroes.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Another guest speaker, Phil Alverez, whose brother, former NYPD detective, Luis Alverez passed from complications of cancer from working on Ground Zero. 

Phil said Luis wasn’t interested in people knowing his name, rather, he wanted people to know the message, which was to get victims and first responders assistance for the damaging health effects Ground Zero caused. 

“I was fortunate to have Luis around 15 years after the attacks, even though he was dealing with stage four cancer,” he said. “I got to hold him and hug him and tell him that I love him, and at the end of his life, I got to say goodbye to him — 3,000 families that day didn’t.”