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Rocky Point school district

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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.”

Rocky Point goal keeper Zachary Accetta with a save for the Eagles in a non-league matchup against Sachem North Sept 6. Photo by Bill Landon

Rocky Point senior defender Justin Pititto scored the equalizing goal in the second half off an assist from Zachary Loeser. 

Pititto’s goal at the 27:29 mark would be the last forcing overtime play resulting in a 1-1 tie in a non-league road game against Sachem North Sept 6.

The Eagles are back in action with another road game against Islip Sept 10. Game time is 5 p.m. 

— Photos by Bill Landon

From left, Rocky Point High School’s Samantha Leversen, Tessa Cunningham and Brenna Kiernan. Photo from the Rocky Point School District

Rocky Point High School was well represented at the annual Teeny Awards and brought home two first-place honors from the July 11 event. 

The ceremony was held at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center and sponsored by the East End Arts Council.

Brenna Kiernan won in the category of Outstanding Performer in a Play, Musical/Mini-Musical or Musical Revue in the high school’s Musical Revue: A Broadway Revue. Tessa Cunningham, Brenna Kiernan and Samantha Leversen received first-place honors for Best Duet/Trio Performance in a Musical Revue for “Webber Love Trio” in the same stage performance. 

In addition to Tessa, Brenna and Samantha, the Rocky Point School District congratulated nominees Grace Benedetto, Chris Carley, Jillian Carley, Adam Olszewski, Renee Ortiz and Jacey Ruisi. 

The students who worked along with Mary Donovan and Jaimie Mancini, were lauded at the ceremony for the obstacles they overcame to still creatively perform during the pandemic.

“The Teeny Awards were such an exciting event,” Mancini said. “It was a wonderful way to honor our students for all of their tremendous talent and efforts throughout this year.”

File photo

Rocky Point High School announced that Ashlynne Xavier and Fiona McEvoy have been named the class of 2021 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

Valedictorian Ashlynne Xavier has made the most out of her high school career. She has taken part in Stony Brook University’s Women in Science and Engineering program and the high school’s science research program. She plays viola in the pit orchestra, is a member of the Human Rights Club and has played soccer and lacrosse at both the junior varsity and varsity levels.

Photo from RPSD

Ashlynne is a National Merit Scholarship recipient. She is also a member of the National Honor Society, the National English Honor Society and the New York State Mathematics Honor Society and is on the Principals Honor Roll. She has received a Long Island Science Congress Merit Award and an East End Arts Teeny Award. She has been honored with a Research and Innovation Grant and a Rush Rhees Scholarship through the University of Rochester.

Ashlynne’s interests in the community include playing lacrosse with the Long Island Yellow Jackets, being a mission team member and volunteer for Habitat for Humanity through her church and holding a job as a veterinary assistant and a store associate.

Salutatorian Fiona McEvoy also has an impressive high school résumé as a National Honor Society, National English Honor Society and New York State Mathematics Honor Society member. She is the Class of 2021 Student Government treasurer. She was also a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering program at Stony Brook University in addition to the university’s iSTEM program. 

Photo from RPSD

Fiona participated in the high school’s Debate Club, Human Rights Club, Mock Trial and Student Government. She was a member of the varsity track team and junior varsity soccer team. She has held positions in the local community and has received various honors and certificates for her volunteer service, including a Long Island Science Congress Achievement Award. Fiona attended the SPARK Research Program at Brookhaven National Laboratory, was a student facilitator at the Human Rights Institute at Iona College and was a presenter at the high school’s annual Science Research Symposium. She also attended the Adelphi University Pre-College Program for Science Medicine and Health and the Lebanon Valley College Health and Biomedical Sciences Summer Camp.

Following graduation, Ashlynne is bound for the University of Rochester where she plans to major in biomedical engineering with possible minors in American Sign Language, music or political science. Fiona is headed to Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she plans to major in chemistry on the pre-med track.

Photo from Petey LaSalla

Every spring, North Shore residents do not have to look far to watch the best lacrosse players in America oppose each other on the local high school and college levels of competition.  

2018 Rocky Point High School graduate Petey LaSalla is one of the finest face-off men in America. He is currently a student-athlete at the University of Virginia, where he has recently won his second lacrosse National Championship in the last three years.

LaSalla is a hard-nosed young man that is referred as a throwback to many decades ago. Many of his former teachers and coaches marvel at LaSalla’s simplicity of being a grounded young man that resembles the tenacity of boxing champ Rocky Marciano. 

Photo from Petey LaSalla

A devoted athlete, LaSalla began playing football when he was five years old where he dominated through his ability to run the ball and to play linebacker. Years later, LaSalla was a two-time all county football player, and placed second in the voting for Joseph Cipp Award for the top running back in Suffolk County. 

At Rocky Point, he holds this school’s offensive records in scoring 43 career touchdowns and 20 alone in 2017. This most valuable player was described by Coach Anthony DiLorenzo as having the “leadership and skills to push everyone to play at another level. If our team needed a big play, we called upon Petey.  The opponent always understood that Petey was the cornerstone of this football team, and he was rarely stopped. Petey had one of the largest hearts ever to play at Rocky Point.”

In fifth grade, he played lacrosse through the Rocky Point Youth Program under John Kistner, where he first learned about this game. After his 7th grade lacrosse year, LaSalla played on the junior varsity team during his 8th and 9th grade seasons. During his sophomore season, LaSalla grew taller, lifted weights and sharpened his own skills. 

During his earlier high school years, LaSalla’s face-off techniques were aided by 2010 Rocky Point High School graduate Tommy Kelly.  Through the expertise of this Division I and professional lacrosse player, these lessons helped make this face-off man into one of the most feared in New York State, and LaSalla appreciated the knowledge of Kelly that taught him this difficult trade.  

LaSalla became one of the best players in New York State, as he won 78% of his face-offs. It was later increased to 81% during his junior year, and as a senior, LaSalla gained 84% of the face-offs.  

While many of these lacrosse specialists usually leave the field after winning a face-off, LaSalla rarely took a break against his opponents. Later, he was recruited by college coaches that watched his ability to be an all-around player, that won the bulk of his face-offs, scored goals, and control the tempo of a game. 

Photo from Petey LaSalla

By the time that he graduated, LaSalla excelled as a two-time All-American player, the first in school history, and was an all-state, county and league athlete. This Newsday First Team All Long Island player was heavily touted as the 94th top recruit and the 8th finest high school senior in America by Inside Lacrosse. 

Rocky Point School District Athletic Director Charles Delargy recalled that LaSalla was “the most dominant face-off man that I had ever seen in my career. And most importantly, an even better person, from a wonderful family.”

Being from a long line of dominant lacrosse players that were on the Rocky Point teams since the early 1970s, LaSalla appreciated the guidance of his late coach Michael P. Bowler. It was the guidance of this long-time figure that pushed him into the right direction to reach his ability in high school and later in college. 

Bowler had a unique connection to this family, as he also mentored LaSalla’s father, Peter, and his older brother, Nicholas, in lacrosse. LaSalla recalled that Bowler was “an outstanding coach, that helped me take this sport seriously and gain the work ethic that was necessary to become a dominant player. He supported me through the recruiting process and spoke with my coach at the University of Virginia. But most importantly, he taught me life lessons, that made me into a better person.”  

The wife of this iconic lacrosse coach, Helene Bowler has seen a multitude of games and players from Rocky Point over the last 40 years. She recalled that her late-husband saw LaSalla as a “gifted and a driven player, that was extremely coachable, and motivated to improve his game. He always gives 100% in all of his endeavors and Petey was a capable student-athlete that is a special young man.”  

When Bowler passed away in late November 2019, it was interesting to see LaSalla speak with his grandson John who was a mid-fielder that played for Duke University. These two young men were tied to Bowler through family and lacrosse, has a bond that was seen when John recently texted his grandmother that he was recently pleased to watch LaSalla achieve his second national title.  

After his time at Rocky Point, LaSalla moved onto the University of Virginia. Right away, this was a strong fit for a Division I powerhouse that gained a driven athlete that expects to play against the finest rival teams in this country. It did not take long for this quiet kid from Miller Place to make his mark felt in Charlottesville. 

Photo from Petey LaSalla

For a brief time, LaSalla became the starting face-off man, as he took over this responsibility from a senior player that was injured. LaSalla eventually split time with this player and later started at this position during his first college season. And while LaSalla ascended to this notable role, he became good friends with this player that he replaced.  

Even as one of the youngest players on the field, the grit of LaSalla was felt by Virginia and the opposition, as he took 60% of all face-off’s during his first year. At once, LaSalla showed his teammates the work ethic that made him famous at Rocky Point by dominating High Point, taking 73% of the face-offs during the quarterfinals against Maryland, and against John Bowler, he took 64% of the face-offs and scored a goal against Duke University. 

During the National Championship game, LaSalla, faced-off against the formidable TD Irelan, and held his own by taking the ball 46% of the time during this game. In front of his family and friends of Will Smith, Damian Rivera, Jared DeRosa and Christopher Gordon, LaSalla scored two goals, and helped Virginia capture this national title.

The 2020 season quickly cut after three games due to COVID-19. Although Virginia was looking forward to defending its crown, the pandemic shut down sports in this country, and this team would have to wait until 2021. 

During the interlude, LaSalla hit the weights and ran to stay in good shape. Through the second run to gain another National Championship, due to COVID, Virginia players were relaxed in their pursuit of remaining the best team in America.  

LaSalla had his most productive game against the University of North Carolina, as he won 76% of the face-off’s, scored a goal, had an assist, and took every face-off later in the game. He was later recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week and was the face-off representative for a NCAA team of all-stars. 

As a junior, LaSalla emerged as a team leader, where it was his goal to win over 60% of the face-off’s, against teams like North Carolina, Bryant and Georgetown. As LaSalla expects to be an active teammate on the field, he was often injured during this season. At West Point, he pulled his hamstring against Army, and while he dominated North Carolina, LaSalla sprained his ankle, and was unable to walk after this contest.

Photo from Petey LaSalla

And during the second National Championship that LaSalla won, he scored a goal, and took a late face-off to preserve this close Virginia victory over Maryland.  Armed with an immense drive to succeed, the reserved LaSalla was again pictured with the championship trophy. 

Peter LaSalla Sr., marvels at the motivation of his son to succeed at the highest levels and believes that his boy “is always a humble player and the hardest worker on the field. He is prepared for his games and never think’s that he did enough to help his team. Petey has the heart of a lion.”  

This student-athlete is one of the most grounded young men that you will ever meet, even before this interview took place, LaSalla spent the morning moving yards of mulch for his mother. 

LaSalla who is one of the finest face-off men in this country, rarely ever mentions his own accomplishments. In high school, he was a member of the National and History Honors Society, the President of the Varsity Club, and a close son to his family. 

Wearing a big smile and an iron will, LaSalla continues to make the North Shore proud of his amazing athletic accomplishments. You can bet that LaSalla will be at the center of Virginia’s efforts to retain their standing as the most talented team in the country, but his words will always be carried out by his positive character and positive athletic actions on the field during the most serious games.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Port Jefferson Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

With New York state opening back up since the March 2020 shutdown, businesses can now start resuming normal operations again.

However, four local Suffolk County public school superintendents believe schools have been overlooked when it comes to no longer wearing masks, leaving teachers, parents and students confused and frustrated.

A June 10 letter signed by the Comsewogue, Port Jefferson, Miller Place and Rocky Point school superintendents, directed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York State Department of Health officials, criticized the one-size-fits-all approach to school mask mandates.

“Our communities need our schools to be able to adapt to updated health guidelines that are applicable to our specific areas, yet we as administrators are constrained by inflexible regulations that are not reflective of individual community positivity or vaccination rates,” the letter said.

In order to avoid any further confusion amongst parents and school districts, the schools solution would be to work directly with local health officials rather than the government.

According to Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has been extremely helpful in aiding the county’s school districts throughout the pandemic.

Working closely with regional data is something Schmettan feels will be a more effective strategy for mitigation of the virus rather than blanket guidelines for the entire state of New York.

“I have great hope that the governor and the NYDOH will consider our request,” Schmettan said. “We are proud of the work our schools have done through this pandemic. We hope to end the year without restrictions just as they have been removed for other businesses across the state.”
Many parents of the students have made it clear they are also dissatisfied with the state’s mask mandates on school districts, and believe it should be a parent’s choice on whether or not their child should wear a mask.

Rocky Point school district superintendent, Scott O’Brien, said although the state’s mask mandates have been overwhelming for all, students have done an excellent job following the guidelines.

“It has been that level of cooperation from students, parents, teachers and staff that have enabled our schools to successfully stay open and deliver in-person instruction throughout this school year,” O’Brien said. “We are grateful to the entire Rocky Point school community for coming together and making this most challenging school year a success.”

The other superintendent signatories to the letter were Jennifer Quinn, Comsewogue, and Marianne Cartisano, Miller Place.

By creating a unified voice to highlight the importance of local control regarding mask mandates, the four county school districts hope the letter to Cuomo will make a difference for their students, even though the final day of school is June 24.

File photo

By Chris Cumella

Michael Lisa is looking forward to serving on the Rocky Point Board of Education after running unopposed.

Along with incumbent Edward Casswell, Lisa plans to claim two open seats on the trustee’s board on May 18 after what will be a landslide victory for both candidates.

Caswell did not respond to a request for a conversation from TBR.

Working in the Massapequa school district for over 23 years, Lisa is a high school social studies teacher, but yearns to partake in a larger conversation about the future of education. 

His unique experiences garnered over two decades of being an educator is what Lisa believes will make him a benefit to the district upon election.

“I have aspired to become a member of the board,” Lisa said. “I’m ready to represent the Rocky Point community members in any way which I can.”

While managing projects on the technology committee for the Rocky Point School District, Lisa said that he had seen firsthand what has worked and what has not when it comes to tech in education. 

Remote learning is a hurdle that Lisa said must be overcome by providing a safer, cleaner in-person learning environment for students and staff to return to in the fall.

Within his classes, Lisa noticed a decline in classroom productivity resulting from remote learning, a compromise that has proven safe yet challenging for many in the school district.

“If we do get back to a sense of normalcy, of course, there will be some difficulty transitioning back,” Lisa said. “This social isolation has brought a great deal of anxiety among students. Not being in person, no real interaction with your classmates, it’s a struggle to reach many of these learners remaining at home.”

Further collaboration with teachers, members of the board, teachers, and students — Lisa is advocating for continuously collecting input from the Rocky Point community to reflect on what is working in their system and what must change. 

Lisa has analyzed the school district from various perspectives as a teacher, a community member and a father. 

Now he is taking the initiative to give back to his community by providing an optimal in-person educational experience for the youth of Rocky Point.

“I’m looking forward to engaging with our students and others to bring back this sense of normalcy that we all need for our wellbeing,” he said.

Helene Bowler, Charles Gerace, Reilly Orlando and Tom Walsh honor Michael Bowler. Photo from Bowler family

“Circumstances the way they were, the ball just didn’t bounce our way today.  I hate to say it but that is the way life is, it isn’t always fair. And it takes a good man to lose and then to come back from it. You guys have your whole lives ahead of you, you have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of — even though we didn’t win everything, in my book we did. Because guys are everything. Not the trophy, not the wins, it’s you guys.” 

On Dec. 6, 2019, Michael Bowler eulogized the special memory of his father Michael P. Bowler who was a noted teacher, coach, club adviser, and administrator at Rocky Point High School since 1973. 

This powerful speech was given at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, in front of a packed crowd of family members, neighbors, teachers, friends, former lacrosse players, coaches and parents.   

 For decades, he spent countless hours in his classroom, administrative office, and on the practice and game fields.  

This week, Rocky Point High School honored Bowler with a large picture frame with his trademark coaching jacket, hat, whistle and pictures that showed his more-than forty 40 years of service to this North Shore community. 

Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Bowler was the epitome of commitment toward every type of student and athlete who crossed his path during his life in education. 

Even up to his death, as he fought cancer, Bowler expected to coach his players, where they were never far from his mind.  His life focused on the love of his family, service to his church, , and the devotion to the students and residents of Rocky Point.  

Helene Bowler, Kevan Bowler and Michael Bowler. Photo from Bowler family

Helene Bowler rarely missed a lacrosse game at Rocky Point and was the anchor of support toward the entire Bowler family. Like her husband, she can quickly describe the players, teams, and games that her husband coached, since he established this program.  

 “Mike loved everything about the game of lacrosse — the skill, the speed, the plays and strategies, the physicality,” she said. “He loved the challenge and excitement of being a coach and considered it an honor and a privilege to mentor these young men at Rocky Point.” 

All the Bowler kids played lacrosse on the college level, they all coached their own teams and children, and three of the boys are teachers and administrators. Bowler’s third oldest son, Kevan, connected lacrosse to the makeup of his parents and said, “I know many schools or programs like to think of themselves as a family, but I know that my dad, with the help and patience of my mom, looked after his team as if they were part of the family. Whether that meant trying to keep them on the right path academically, asking my mom to help wash the uniforms so the team looked sharp or trying to find the best possible college fit for them, lacrosse was not just a spring sport to him.” 

Since their earliest days of growing up in Hicksville, Bowler was a beloved brother to his siblings. His younger sister Meg Malangone, of Lake Grove, described her brother as being, “protective, caring and gentle. I could always talk to him and he always had time for me, even if I was being an annoying younger sister. When my husband died suddenly, Mike was there to share the load — helping with my kids, whether talking sports, watching movies and just laughing with them.”  

Stephanie Bowler described her brother as being “an unsung hero who was always in the background, waiting to be of assistance to anyone in need, great or small. No one was beyond his notice or care. Others always came first, be it a family member, student, athlete, community member or even a stranger.” 

A lasting impression was made on his fellow teachers who have long retired from Rocky Point. Vincent Basileo was an American history teacher who vividly remembered Bowler speaking to the students on a class trip to Quebec.  

“We were in a historic church and Mike had the students mesmerized through his description of the religious artifacts that these young men and women were learning about,” Basileo said.  

For 25 years, Bruce Mirabito taught and coached next to Bowler.  He saw his friend as being a “goal-orientated man who always led by example within all of his endeavors.”  

High school guidance facilitator, Matthew Poole, was a young counselor who worked closely with Bowler handling the administrative tasks for the junior high students within the mid-1990s.  Poole watched as “Bowler disciplined and advised students to help them find better decision-making.  

He was also a man who understood the college recruiting process to help his players enroll into the best possible schools.”   

Athletic director, Charles Delargy, often spoke with Bowler, where these two “Irishmen” enjoyed each other’s company.

Delargy believed that “Bowler was a true professional and gentlemen.  I was very lucky to have him as a good friend.”  

Longtime athletic secretary, Rose Monz, had the routine of seeing Bowler and said, “Never has there been a kinder gentleman. A man with old-fashioned values with a faith strong enough for everyone. I think of Mike every day for many different reasons — for the kids who seem lost, for his kindness and generosity to all the secretaries. And most of all,  I miss Mike for just being Mike.” 

It is impossible to put a number on the players who participated on the lacrosse teams since Bowler’s first competitive year in 1978.   

 “As a player of his and then watching as a fan as he coached two of my sons, he never lost the passion or dedication that he had for not only his teams, but all of the kids coming up,” said Peter LaSalla, a 1982 Rocky Point graduate. “He is missed greatly.”   

John Fernandez praised Bowler, too. 

“He treated his players with respect and wanted to get the best out of them,” Fernandez said. “He loved the game and studied it to be the best possible coach.”   

Michael Muller, a 2010 graduate, was a pallbearer for his beloved coach who helped him get him accepted to Dartmouth College.  According to Muller, “The world needs more people like Mike Bowler. He changed the course of my life and countless others for the better.  His legacy will live on forever.” 

For years, entire neighborhoods have been tied to the Rocky Point lacrosse program. Nicky and Vin Loscalzo graduated in 2011 and 2012 and they grew up with several boys living next to their home. Nicky always laughed when Bowler jokingly yelled at the six boys who made up the “Dana Court Crew.”

Kevin Fitzpatrick was a “crew” member who wanted to thank Bowler “for always teaching me to hold myself accountable for my mistakes and to have pride in the things I work hard at.”  

Nicky LoManto, a 2005 graduate, said, “Bowler provided an outstanding environment for student athletes that emphasized teamwork, respect for opponents and personal life skills for life.” 

During the unveiling, Chris Nentwich spoke about the difficulties of leaving Rocky Point to coach his own son and being away from the presence of Bowler. 

Dave Murphy touched on the loyalty of Bowler and thanked his family for allowing all of us to have special moments with him.  

James Jordan addressed the sincere messages that people wrote when they learned Bowler was named a lacrosse national coach of the year.   

Family friend and a lacrosse coach Brian Buckley spoke of Bowler’s knowledge and how he always loved to talk about his sport. Rocky Point lacrosse coach Tom Walsh cherished his moments with Bowler and would like to carry on many of his traditions within this school.   

And Rocky Point lacrosse senior captain, Reilly Orlando, mentioned he is one of three brothers who all played for Coach Bowler.  

 It is not easy to speak about a loved one who has passed away but, when it is about Michael P. Bowler, his legacy is easy to address and will be difficult to duplicate.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. 

Stock photo

This week, Long Islanders acknowledged the one-year mark since the coronavirus hit officially hit and impacted the area. In March 2020, schools began to close, as stay-at-home orders were put into effect. 

Throughout the remainder of the school year, districts had to figure out new learning models in a virtual world and create a socially distanced environment when schools opened back up nearly six months later. 

Now, many districts in the area have opted to bring students back in-person all five days a week, hoping to give children, teachers and families a sense of normalcy. 

Rocky Point Union Free School District 

Rocky Point school district has been back full time for K-5 since September, according to superintendent of schools, Scott O’Brien. 

By November, secondary schools began attending in-person classes four days a week, and now have implemented five days as of last week. “Reopening our schools this year and embracing a phased-in approach to safely bring our K-12 students back to school full time was a truly collaborative effort, and I can’t thank all of our stakeholders enough for their unwavering support,” he said. “Our elementary students have been thriving, learning in person full time since the start of the school year and our district was able to successfully and safely increase our in-person learning days from two to four by November for our secondary students.”

He said that “it was clear pretty early into the increased learning plan how much this move tremendously benefited our students, not only academically but socially and emotionally as well.”

O’Brien said that the district is continually working to ensure their learning environments remain safe. 

Middle Country Central School District  

Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country school district, said that pre-K through grade 8 will be returning to five days April 5. 

For grades 9 through 12, it was be a slower process to ensure everyone’s safety. 

“By the end of the school year, the goal is to be back to five days,” she said. “We want kids to have muscle memory of what it was like to be in school.”

Gerold said that bringing kids back to schools was the goal all along. 

“Kids are missing the classroom experience,” she said. “The interaction, the energy and it’s good for teachers, too.”

She said that they are following all the necessary precautions, including barriers and mask requirements. Due to space limitations, she said that the 6-feet social distancing rule is unobtainable, but desks and distances are closer to 5-feet apart. 

She said it’s exciting to see how happy her students are at slowly coming back to school. 

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s neat to see how excited the kids are and it’s good to start feeling a sense of normalcy again.”

Middle Country is still offering a full virtual option for families who declared so early on. Gerold said right now about 20% of the student population is virtually learning. 

SWR Central School District

Superintendent Gerard Poole said that since September, Shoreham-Wading River has been back full time, five days a week, and there have been no problems for all levels. 

“We have a fully remote option, but about 97% have been attending in person,” he said.

By following all the correct protocols and by reopening a vacant elementary school to help with distancing, students and parents have been thrilled. 

“It’s been fantastic, a huge success,” he said. “It’s good for the students’ mental health, and helps the parents get back to work.”

He said that it takes a collective effort to make things like this happen.

“It can work,” he said. “It does work, and all the other health and safety protocols work. So, I think the fears of COVID are real, but so are the effects of students not being in school every day.”

Comsewogue School District

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said that beginning April 6, after spring break, high schoolers will be returning to a normal week. Grades K-6 have been back since September. 

“Nothing replaces live instruction,” Quinn said. “The [COVID] numbers are low at this point and we’ve watched from some of the surrounding districts that their numbers are not significantly different than ours. … We want the students to be in school. Live instruction is the best way to learn.”

She added that the district’s teachers and the community as a whole have done “an amazing job during this difficult situation.”

“It’s a hard decision, people are afraid,” Quinn said. “It’s not right for everybody, but the key is this was the plan, and we were working toward this for a long time.”

Comsewogue will still have an option for families to remain virtual. 

“One size doesn’t fit all,” said Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent. 

And while it’s still a difficult time, Quinn said that everyone is excited to be going back to five days. 

“We’re going to be as safe as we can possibly make it, and we need students to feel that this is their safe place,” she said. “Overall, the kids are suffering. It’s not normal to be home every other day and not being able to see their friends.”

Port Jefferson School District

Since Jan. 18, the Port Jefferson School District transitioned students in grades six through 12 back to in-person learning four days a week. 

“Thus far, we have not seen a rapid rise in our positive COVID cases in our middle school and high school,” Superintendent Jessica Schmettan recently wrote in a letter to parents. “Unfortunately, it has become evident that during this pandemic, our students have not been as successful academically and are struggling with their mental health. We have seen an increase in social and emotional needs similar to those reported in the news across the country.”

She said that from a health perspective, mandating masks, cleaning procedures, hand hygiene and distancing when possible have resulted in minimal transmission within the school. With that in mind, the board of education voted on returning secondary students to in-person learning five days per week beginning on March 8. 

“We as parents are thrilled about that and we as a community are thrilled about that,” Port Jefferson Village trustee Kathianne Snaden said in a virtual board of trustees meeting on March 1. “There’s nothing going to be better for our kids, and then to get them back into school with their friends and teachers and all the things they need in school, we’re so happy about that.”

Schmettan added, “Currently, students very easily shift in and out of the remote environment. Although convenient for parents and families, this irregular pattern of instruction is disruptive

and unfair to teachers and students.”

There will only be a few reasons for virtual learning, including students who opted in for the remainder of the year, students mandated to quarantine due to COVID-19, or students who have a significant documented medical event that will not allow them to attend school for a long duration of time.

Comsewogue School District

Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said that beginning April 6, after spring break, high schoolers will be returning to a normal week. Grades K-6 have been back since September.

“Nothing replaces live instruction,” Quinn said. “The [COVID] numbers are low at this point and we’ve watched from some of the surrounding districts that their numbers are not significantly different than ours. … We want the students to be in school. Live instruction is the best way to learn.”

She added that the district’s teachers and the community as a whole have done “an amazing job during this difficult situation.”

“It’s a hard decision, people are afraid,” Quinn said. “It’s not right for everybody, but the key is this was the plan, and we were working toward this for a long time.”

Comsewogue will still have an option for families to remain virtual.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” said Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent.

And while it’s still a difficult time, Quinn said that everyone is excited to be going back to five days.

“We’re going to be as safe as we can possibly make it, and we need students to feel that this is their safe place,” she said. “Overall, the kids are suffering. It’s not normal to be home every other day and not being able to see their friends.”

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President Joe Biden. Stock photo

By Rich Acritelli

President Joe Biden (D), Jan. 20: “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day. A day of history and hope. Of renewal and resolve.  Through a crucible for the ages America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge.  Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy. The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded.” 

These were the words of the newly inaugurated 46th president of the United States that addressed citizens on his first day as the leader of this nation. Unlike previous years, the historic landscape of Washington, D.C., did not have the large crowds to pay tribute to the incoming and outgoing presidents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a different ceremony in every imaginable way, that saw Biden surrounded by former presidents Barak Obama (D), George W. Bush (R) and Bill Clinton (D), along with military, government and Supreme Court figures.  

For the first time since 1869 when Andrew Johnson (National Union) refused to be present for the transfer of power to Ulysses S. Grant (R), there was no presence of the immediate past president, Donald Trump (R), who was on his way home to Florida. 

Biden mostly spoke to the people across America that saw him on the television, the Internet and on the radio. By looking at the numerous problems of this nation, the new president has continually stated that he expects to work across party lines to better unify our people. Although he has an enormous task in front of him, this is not an unusual situation, as other previous presidents dealt with similar situations during their terms.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson (D-R) was inaugurated after one of the most controversial elections in our history.  Through the support of Alexander Hamilton, who pushed Congress to accept Jefferson over Aaron Burr, outgoing President John Adams (Federalist) was forced out of office. Even as Jefferson was the president and Burr the vice president, Adams refused to stay for the inauguration, and he went home to Massachusetts. 

Jefferson spoke about the divisions in the country and claimed that we were “all Democratic-Republicans and all Federalists,” within the United States. This Founding Father entered the White House without a glaring endorsement from the voters and he presented the willingness to become a consensus builder amongst the different political parties. Jefferson expressed his concerns that our government had grown too strong under President George Washington (no affiliated party) and Adams, at the expense of the people. He wanted limitations on the size of the government and believed that the people should hold more power.  

James Madison and James Monroe

Directly after the War of 1812, and the term of President James Madison (D-R), the last of the Virginia dynasty to run the United States was James Monroe (D-R). This figure who was later known for an “era of good feelings,” spoke of the necessity of admitting new states to the union, the need to have a “wise partition of power” between the states and federal government and regulation of trade with foreign countries. Monroe was at the helm of leadership at a vastly different point that saw our people at a crossroads.  

He was the last resemblance of the Revolutionary War generation of leadership that pushed Monroe to balance the direction of his government through old and new ideas. While Monroe was a popular figure, he had to handle the negative tensions that were felt by the northern and southern states over the War of 1812. 

During this conflict, politicians from New England openly spoke out against the support of sending their soldiers to aid the southern and western states that were fighting the British. There was also talk by politicians from this region that if the government continued this war that secession was a possibility.  Monroe also had to contend with the growth of slavery within the new states and territories, and the tensions that expansion created for this government.

James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln

In 1857, James Buchanan (D) ascended to the presidency as an experienced leader who served in the Pennsylvania State Assembly, in Congress, as a secretary of state and a minister to Russia. On paper, it looked as if Buchanan had enough credentials to steer the United States through the treacherous waters of the late 1850s. A strong politician before he entered the White House, Buchanan nevertheless is considered one of the worst presidents in American history.  

When he replaced the outgoing Franklin Pierce (D), Buchanan complained that the nation was consumed through constant debates over the slavery issue. This pro-states-rights president accepted the merits of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that promoted the use of popular sovereignty to decide the fate of slavery in the Upper Midwest. Buchanan’s timid demur did not quell the violence between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces which threatened the peace and stability of the union. 

Buchanan believed that the judicial branch was responsible in determining the future of slavery in America. He did not want to utilize authority of the executive branch to rule on this explosive problem.  The Dred Scott case played into the central ideas of Buchanan that the government was bound to follow the Supreme Court’s decisions. He supported the ruling against Scott that promoted the notion that a slave had no rights, was property and could be moved north of the Missouri Compromise without being set free. 

Abraham Lincoln (R) closely monitored the lack of actions by Buchanan and he publicly spoke out against the political use of compromises. When he debated Stephen Douglas for the Illinois Congressional Senate seat, he was recognized on the national level over his refusal to endorse the expansion of slavery, while the South saw him as a direct threat toward the future of slavery and would never accept his future rule.

 During the transitional period when Buchanan met with Lincoln, he expressed to the new leader, “If you are as happy to become president of the United States as I am to stop being president and go home, you are very happy.” With Buchanan in attendance, Lincoln recognized the start of secession and he told the South that he would not end slavery. Although Lincoln spoke out against the prospects of war, he stated that he would protect the citizens, their property and the laws of this nation. The inauguration of 1861 marked conflicting viewpoints of strength within the presidency. In one sense there was the weakest figure ever to lead in Buchanan, while his predecessor Lincoln, next to Washington, was one of the strongest presidents to ever guide the United States — especially through the horrors of the Civil War.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy

Nearly 100 years after Lincoln took his oath of office, the United States watched as a new generation of citizens became the leaders of this nation. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) was an incredibly trusted general during World War II and through his two presidential terms from 1952-1960. When our people looked at Eisenhower, they observed a grandfatherly figure. On the other hand, our citizens saw the popular John F. Kennedy (D) as a fellow war veteran who was still young, and had a family which resided in the White House.  

While this was not a negative period, Kennedy marked a far different approach toward the goals of this country.  With the Cold War expanding in Cuba and Vietnam, Kennedy expressed the strength of the United States to continually “pay any price” and to “oppose any foe.” He was also in the middle of the civil rights movement that had leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. who demanded the government creates the same freedoms for all American people. King expected Kennedy to finally establish an America that was prepared to fully end the terrible strains of segregation in the early 1960s.

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan (R) defeated Jimmy Carter (D) in November of 1980, this country was in an apparent downward spiral. This was the third and final chance that Reagan had to win the presidency, and up until the victory of Biden, Reagan was the oldest leader in our history.  Americans had a “question of confidence” over the Vietnam War, the resignation of Richard M. Nixon (R), the frustrations of the oil crisis and our citizens watched in disbelief as radical Iranian students overran our embassy in Tehran and held Americans for 444 days. Reagan spoke about the necessity of whipping inflation and getting more people back to work to compete with the economic powers of Germany and Japan. 

The former California governor addressed the untrue notion that there were no more “heroes” left in the United States. He reassured this country that our “heroes” worked in the factories, farms and were the entrepreneurs that sought new opportunities and wealth.

As Carter listened, Reagan said the growth of the government and its immense spending and debt was a problem for our people. Both older and younger Americans responded to the words of this immensely popular politician who was known as the Great Communicator. 

While the Carter administration should have earned additional credit over the release of the hostages, the moment that Reagan was sworn in, our detained people were immediately freed and placed on a plane that flew to West Germany. Right away, Reagan made it known that America would not tolerate widespread disrespect toward our interests and people. The emergence of Reagan presented the willingness of our citizens to regain the same prosperity and respect that had transformed the United States into a superpower.

It is not difficult to understand that Biden, as he enters the Oval Office, has a challenging presidency ahead of him. Since the start of our republic, our presidents have had to deal with major problems that have tested the will and resolve of this proud nation.

Rocky Point students Chloe Fish, Sean Hamilton, Carolyn Settepani and Madelyn Zarzycki contributed to this article.