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The Port Jefferson School District boasts an exceptional and historic achievement with one of its own educators. Dr. Tara Sladek-Maharg is the first teacher from the district to be named a Distinguished Teacher of 2022 by the Harvard Club of Long Island. 

According to Dr. Judith Esterquest, chair of the Distinguished Teacher Selection Committee, the award honors middle and high school teachers who have profoundly influenced their students’ lives. “Dedicated teachers like Dr. Sladek-Maharg inspire Long Island students to excel, to become passionate about learning, and to recognize the value of hard work. These teachers devote countless hours to creating better futures for our children,” she said. 

Dr. Sladek-Maharg will be honored at a virtual awards ceremony on April 2, along with seven other teachers from across Long Island. Delivering the keynote will be Harvard Professor of Psychology Fiery Cushman, who studies how people make moral decisions.

Dr. Tara Sladek-Maharg. Photo from PJSD

Affectionately called “Doc” by her students, Dr. Sladek-Maharg has taught social studies and psychology at the middle and high school in Port Jefferson since 2000. Before teaching, she lived in Vienna, Austria, and worked as a Fulbright English teaching assistant. She speaks fluent German and has studied Russian and Mandarin. While Dr. Sladek-Maharg downplays her own accomplishments, directing her pride toward her students, she does describe pride about bringing therapy dogs into the school district, not only to calm stressed students and faculty, but also to offer her AP Psychology students a living model of classical conditioning. 

“Dr. Tara Sladek-Maharg exemplifies an extraordinary educator. She has created a learning environment for students that stimulates individual potential,” said Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan. “Her dedication, enthusiasm and guidance in inspiring and challenging our students extends beyond the classroom and helps transform Port Jefferson students into lifelong learners.”

At the virtual ceremony, the Harvard Club of Long Island will announce the Distinguished Teacher of 2022 who will also receive a scholarship for a “Harvard experience” at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA. The scholarships are funded by contributions from Harvard alumni living on Long Island. 

This year’s Distinguished Teacher Award winners were nominated by current Harvard undergraduates and then selected by Harvard Club of Long Island board members. They teach algebra, biology, chemistry, English, history, language arts, and psychology. 

Dr. Sladek-Maharg is the first teacher from the Port Jefferson School District to be honored by the Harvard Club of Long Island.

Photo caption: Ward Melville High School All-State musicians and alternates are pictured with members of the Three Village Central School District’s music department, Principal William Bernhard and District Director of Music Anthony Pollera. Photo courtesy of the Three Village Central School District

Ward Melville High School student musicians have once again earned high praise from the New York State School Music Association, with seven students being selected to perform at the 85th annual Winter Conference in Rochester. In addition to the students named All-State musicians, 20 students were selected as alternates for the festival.

The event will take place from Dec. 2 to 5, 2021. This year’s conference will include the traditional variety of conference sessions with renowned professional musicians, concert hour performances, statewide recognitions and guest speakers. The district congratulates the following students:

Owen Dong – Symphonic Band

Sofia Mulligan – Symphony Orchestra

Kate Sun – Symphony Orchestra

Jacqueline Wu – Symphony Orchestra

Claire Yang – Symphonic Band

William Yao – Symphony Orchestra

Lillian Zhi – Symphony Orchestra


Dakota Binder – Alternate

Jennifer Cabrera – Alternate

Gabriel Choi – Alternate

Daphne Churgel – Alternate

Justin Durko – Alternate

Emma Fleming – Alternate

Ivan Ge – Alternate

Samuel Gitelson – Alternate

Eren Goral – Alternate

Sahana Gupta – Alternate

David Huang – Alternate

Stella Kahnis – Alternate

Alexander Lin – Alternate

Catherine Ma – Alternate

Shey McCoy – Alternate

Cole Napolitano – Alternate

Joseph Nizza – Alternate

Victor Prchlik – Alternate

Jacqueline Winslow – Alternate

Dora Zou – Alternate


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Photo and caption from SWRCSD

The Shoreham-Wading River High School senior boys soccer players were applauded during their final home game on April 5.

The school district congratulates senior players Ryan Burnham-Clasen, Danny Canellys, Zach Dapolito, Kevin Doolan, Connor Guercia, Michael Guzzone, Tyler Hawks, Aul Loscalzo, Austin Manghan, John Martirano, Josef Ochsenfeld, John Pion and Matteo Sweet for a successful season of sportsmanship.

Aidan Eck

The Middle Country Central School District recently announced its December students of the month: DeShawn Jamison, Centereach High School; Julia Lizewski, Selden Middle School; Vincent Robitaile, Newfield High School; and Aidan Eck, Dawnwood Middle School. These four remarkable students are being recognized for their accomplishments in academics, dedication to extracurricular activities, and for showcasing great potential for their respective futures.

DeShawn Jamison

DeShawn Jamison is widely acknowledged by his peers and teachers as a high spirited and hardworking individual, always greeting those around him with a smile. As a diligent and dedicated student, DeShawn excels in his academics and beyond the classroom. Through his participation in the district’s in-house work study opportunities, DeShawn has developed partnerships with local businesses to gain real-life work experience. As a key player in CHS’s Cougar Café, a program that prepares menus and meals for staff, he spearheads all in-person sales, as well as phone orders. DeShawn attributes his radiating positive attitude to his parents and his former teacher, Mr. Hutter.

Julia Lizewski

Julia Lizewski is widely considered to be a standout student by her teachers and peers alike. Julia’s boundless enthusiasm for learning has enabled her to maintain a yearly average at, or exceeding, 98 percent while in SMS. Julia is a valued member of the kickline team and co-president of National Junior Honor Society. Outside of school, Julia earns several hours of community service while spending time at Polish School on the weekends. 

Vincent Robitaile

Vincent Robitaile is recognized as a student who always takes initiative, currently maintains a weighted Grade Point Average (GPA) of 96.0833 with the potential to graduate in June with more than 40 college credits. Several of Vincent’s accomplishments include his involvement as a member of the National Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, and DECA, Inc. Outside of the classroom, Vincent works at the Middle Country Public Library, volunteers as a camp counselor at vacation bible school, and has participated in a food drive at St. Margaret’s Church to prepare food for those in need. Upon graduation in June, Vincent is aiming to attend SUNY Stony Brook.

Aidan Eck

Aidan Eck is well-known as a conscientious student who always carries a smile on his face. As an inquisitive individual, Aidan puts 100 percent effort into every assignment and strategically takes his time to ensure he’s doing his best work — characteristics that speak directly to his exceptionally high GPA of 96.75. Outside of school, Aidan participates in lacrosse and soccer and enjoys spending time with his family. In his future, Aidan aims to pursue a career in computer programming because of his natural ability with computers.

“I am thrilled to congratulate DeShawn, Julia, Vincent and Aidan for setting the bar remarkably high for others striving to follow in their footsteps,” said Dr. Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools. “On behalf of the Board of Education, we look forward to witnessing the continued successes of these four students as they continue to grow into leaders of our community.”

From left, Pasquale Buffolino, Lorelei Tripp, Rebecca Pashman and Peyton McQuade, pictured on the smartboard. Photo from HCS

Two teams representing Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School in Harborfields Central School District achieved Highest Honors in the 2020-2021 “WordMasters Challenge,” a national vocabulary competition involving nearly 125,000 students annually. The school’s fifth grade team scored an impressive 171 points out of a possible 200 in the first of three meets this year, placing third in the nation. In addition, the fourth grade team scored 186 points to finish fourth nationwide.

Competing in the difficult Blue Division of the challenge were TJL fourth grade students Dylan Basile, Claire Bernstein, Sophie Clayton, Aaron Hardy, Abigail Kelly, Elise Larson, Nora McCloskey, Charlotte Storm, Ariel Tripp and Emma Waldren. Each achieved outstanding results in the meet. 

Fifth graders Pasquale Buffolino, Peyton McQuade, Rebecca Pashman and Lorelei Tripp were in the top 2% nationwide. Additionally, fifth graders Ben Cammarota, Olivia Drew, Lucy Meindel, A.J. Mercuri, Michael Palermo, Belen Ramos, Annabelle Saylor and Charlie Smith achieved outstanding results, contributing to the team’s success. The students were coached in preparation for the challenge by TJL Enrichment teacher Christine Mayr. 

Each year, the WordMasters Challenge exercises students’ critical thinking skills and encourages contestants to become familiar with a set of interesting new words, considerably harder than their grade level. Participants are then challenged to use those words to complete analogies, expressing various kinds of logical relationships.  Working to solve the analogies helps students learn to think both analytically and metaphorically.

“Having worked with these students before, and knowing full well their commitment to excellence, along with our work in the classroom, they were well prepared,” Ms. Mayr said. “As you can see from the results, they excelled and should be proud of their efforts.”

Both teams have already begun preparing for the second challenge scheduled for Feb. 22 and 26

Photo courtesy of Northport-East Northport Union Free School District

Each year, the Northport-East Northport School District hosts Recovery, Awareness, Prevention (R.A.P) week to spread the word about substance abuse and important preventative measures. The weeklong event kicked off this year on Oct. 19 with all grade levels finding ways to acknowledge the topic and learn more about how to prevent and address substance abuse.

R.A.P Week began in April of 2012 when a district teacher suggested a substance use prevention day at Northport High School. Since then, the passion and dedication of students, staff and community has expanded the idea, leading to a full week of guest speakers and activities that focus on drug and alcohol prevention.

The district’s substance abuse counselor Anthony Ferrendino shared that R.A.P week is important because the issue affects many families. Whether it’s a loved one who is struggling or a student who is experimenting, substance abuse is widespread and addressing it is crucial to reducing the stigma.

R.A.P week is executed differently at the elementary, middle and high school levels. For telementary schools, the message is heavy on prevention, and discussion topics include positive goal setting and ways to lead a healthy lifestyle. At the middle school and high school levels, there’s more explicit discussion about substances and how to combat substance abuse.

Recognizing that this issue is especially pertinent for high school students, the district typically brings in a variety of guest speakers, from professional athletes to former students who are in recovery, to address the larger group.

This year, the district had guest speakers provide a recording and shared them to a dedicated R.A.P Week site, along with past speaker recordings, and has asked teachers to make the videos a class assignment. This ensures students still have access to the critical information and can either discuss or write down their thoughts about the topic.

“I am beyond thrilled that despite COVID-19, the teams that we have in the buildings were able to figure it out and offer the students what they absolutely need,” said Mr. Ferrendino.