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Smithtown school district

An inside look at Smithtown school libraries. Photo from district

School libraries are looking a little different nowadays.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithtown Central School District had to revamp its library protocols, said Vincenza Graham, director of world languages, ESL & library media services. Like many districts across Long Island, new initiatives have changed how students take out books, read and learn.

“Pandemic or not, libraries are used to constant change,” Catherine Masrour, a librarian at High School West, said. “For years, libraries have been evolving as a result of the rise in access to digital information and the constant and ever-changing world of technological innovations.”

Masrour said that as librarians, they are constantly looking at their students’ needs, trying to provide them with the best resources to be successful — including in a virtual world. 

Students distanced by barriers at Smithtown High School West. Photo from Smithtown School District

“I felt so proud last week when one of my students contacted me to share the news of her college acceptance,” she said. “She thanked me for helping her with her college essay last spring via several Google Meets, and then again, this fall just before she submitted her final application. Hearing the excitement in this student’s voice gave me one more reason to say that I love what I am doing.”

Smithtown elementary schools began virtual programs and fully remote options to students and had to revamp book circulation to keep the library safe for students and staff.

“This system has required the students to truly look beyond the cover of a story, and many have shared that they wouldn’t have taken out some of the books they truly enjoyed if they hadn’t utilized this system,” said Ellie Eichenlaub, a librarian at Dogwood Elementary School and Smithtown West High School. “While this school year has brought some unique challenges, it is nice to reflect on some of the good that it has brought to our students.”

And when staff was back at school in September, Michelle Robinson, a librarian at Tackan Elementary School, said her students wanted to pick up right where they left off in March.

“My fourth-graders were asking if we were going to continue working with author Robin Newman as we did in third grade, and my fifth-graders were asking if we were going to work on our Summer Olympics sport research project that we began at the end of February of fourth grade,” she said. “It made me realize how much they had missed our library as well.”

Keely Schuppert, a librarian at St. James Elementary School, said librarians at her level are in a unique situation of being able to watch their students grow as readers each year from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It’s the greatest feeling to be able to provide a student with a book they’ve really been wanting to read,” she said. “With masks being a necessity, we have all become very skilled at reading our students’ eyes. It’s the beautiful glimmer in a child’s eyes that reminds me why I love what I do each and every day.” 

Middle schoolers have been able to take out e-books through a new digital platform and are gaining access to print resources by placing holds on books via the library catalog, according to director Graham.

“After our revamped library orientation for sixth-graders, one student asked if we had any manga [Japanese publications],” said Sheila Tobin Cavooris, a librarian at Great Hollow Middle School. “She was so excited when I showed her our graphic format collection, and her enthusiasm was echoed by a number of other students who shared her interest.”

Accompsett Middle School librarian Donna DeLuca said that while sixth-grade orientation was a bit challenging this year, she wanted to keep things as close to normal as possible. 

“At AMS, we had our usual scavenger hunt throughout the library to learn about the different sections and resources available,” she said. “In each section, students recorded themselves talking about what they learned. Even though we followed mask, social distancing and ‘no touch’ guidelines, students were so happy to be up and about and not sitting in front of a screen.”

The human touch is still all important. “When I run after-hours office hours through Google Meet, sometimes from 8 to 9 at night, the kids are appreciative to see a friendly face, happy to be able to ask questions and relieved to know the library safety net is still there,” Smithtown High School East librarian Jean Marie Kliphuis said. “I’ve always told them that our job is to support their work, and whether we are digital or in person, that hasn’t changed.”

Stock photo

Local school districts are still maintaining low COVID-19 numbers, while the rest of Suffolk County is nearing 6% in some areas. According to district leadership, that’s because schools have been constantly evolving their plans to keep students, staff and the community safe.

Centereach High School in the Middle Country School District. The district superintendent is just one of many continuing to keep students safe. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Middle Country school district covers a large jurisdiction, Dr. Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools, said. In non-COVID times, there are roughly 11,000 students within the district, though now approximately 7,500 are in buildings due to hybrid and remote learning options. The district has only had 102 positive COVID cases since the start of school, a 1.3% infection rate — with 52 of those cases coming from Thanksgiving break.

“We have such strong guidelines we’re containing it, not spreading it,” she said. “We know where [students and staff have] been and who they’ve been with.”

Like all the other districts, students are required to wear a mask at all times, except during mask breaks. Social distancing has been implemented with barriers on desks, and teachers are asked to keep their windows and doors open.

If a student is showing symptoms, they are immediately placed into an isolation room and brought home.

But that barely happens, according to Gerold. “The community is doing a good job because they’re not sending us positive kids,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of cases in the schools.”

Ronald Masera, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said that over the summer, local superintendents began putting together plans to better prepare their districts.

“When the pandemic started, there was a feeling of uncertainty,” he said. “But now what we’ve found is we could place a great deal on social distancing.”

Because they have been implementing and following CDC guidelines, he said they’re not seeing spread within the schools.

“Controlled environment helps keep the community safe,” he said. “Even if we see the community numbers rise, I think the government, politicians, leadership and superintendents know how important keeping schools open is.”

A representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office agreed, and said the new guidelines released last month are to keep the doors of local schools open.

“We encourage them to not be closed, but to test instead,” they said.

Guidelines now require mass testing in schools in red, orange and yellow micro-cluster zones before they reopen, followed by vigilant symptom and exposure screening conducted daily. Impacted schools can reopen as early as Monday, however students and faculty must be able to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to going back to the classroom. New York State will provide rapid test kits for schools wishing to participate.

After a school reopens in a red or orange micro-cluster zone, vigilant symptom and exposure screening must be conducted daily. A quarter of the in-person learning school community — both students and faculty/staff — must be tested per week, and the school should ensure that it provides opportunities to test on school grounds, or otherwise facilitates testing and accepts test results from health care providers.

If the school does not hold a testing event or provide testing on school grounds, test results provided to the school as part of the 25% testing of the population must be received within seven days.

The governor’s representative said that no regions have hit the 9% emergency number, which would close the county again. Schools, however, have flexibility regarding choosing a comfortable closing percentage.

“They can use their own metrics to close down districts or schools as long as those metrics don’t go against the state mandate of 9%,” the representative said. “A lot of things are state law governed. Schools are done by the locals, and we wanted to be within the local district rules.”

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Shoreham-Wading River has seen just a total of 43 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“I would like to thank our parents, staff and students for implementing the required COVID-19 health protocols this year. The daily temperature checks, health screening forms and conversations about washing hands, wearing masks properly and socially distancing have been really effective in keeping or schools open, healthy and safe,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole in an email statement. “The district is fully prepared for a shift to distance learning if a closure is mandated. We have a great distance learning plan and have already shifted this year successfully for a day or two when necessary due to COVOD-19 related school closures.“

File photo of Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan. Photo by Kyle Barr

Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that they are hopeful to remain on their current course, but are prepared to pivot their instructional models as directed by the governor’s office.

“Moving forward, our schools will continue to follow the guidance provided at the local, regional and state levels, including any prescribed steps needed should our area become designed a yellow, orange or red zone,” she said. “We are grateful to our students, staff and community for their unwavering support of and adherence to our initiatives. Their collective efforts have helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within our schools and allowed us to keep our buildings open for in-person instruction.”

Marianne Cartisano, superintendent of Miller Place school district, said schools, to date, are the safest places for children to succeed academically, socially and emotionally.

“We are also fortunate to have the acknowledgement of social responsibility in our community, coupled with everyone’s common goal to keep schools open,” she said.

The latest number of confirmed and new COVID-19 cases in the Town of Brookhaven, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services on Dec. 7 is 17,307, while a school district like Three Village has seen just a total of 72 positive tests for students and teachers/staff as at Dec. 8.

“Our district continues to follow the guidance of the Department of Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, said. “We are fully prepared to implement any prescribed measures to keep our schools open, safe and operating in the best interest of all of our students and staff.”

Elwood school district Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Bossert said he agrees with statements made by Cuomo and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a recent joint press conference.

“Governor Cuomo used the words ‘amazing and astonishing’ to describe how low the infection rates are in schools as compared to many of the communities surrounding them,” Bossert said. “We agree that our schools are safe places for students, faculty and staff. The guidelines that have been put in place in collaboration with the Suffolk County Department of Health are designed to keep students and staff safe and school open.”

Bossert said in addition to mask wearing, distancing and appropriate hygiene, it’s important for those who are symptomatic or think they have been exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 to stay home.

“We are so very thankful to our parents and community members for demonstrating an understanding of the role we each play and acting out of an abundance of caution when making decisions about their children,” he said. “We are confident that we can keep students safe in our school buildings — where we know they will enjoy the greatest benefit of our instruction program, socialization with one another, and have positive interactions with their teachers.”

Smithtown school district superintendent, Mark Secaur, said he is planning for several different scenarios, including the potential of COVID testing in schools, or going back to completely remote.

“Based on the relative safety of our students and staff, providing education for those two things has been at odd at times,” he said. “But it’s the balance we have to navigate because of the pandemic.”

“We have proven that schools are safer than the outside community,” Secaur added. “Kids have been amazing. They’re excited to be with their friends again, and the kids have been more resilient than some adults.”

 

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

With the approaching emotions of the holidays, Suffolk County residents may face persistent and unwanted changes in their lives, from not seeing a cherished family member to remaining confined to the same house where they work, live, eat and study. Between now and the end of the year, TBR News Media will feature stories about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on mental health. The articles will explore how to recognize signs of mental health strain and will provide advice to help get through these difficult times. This week, the article focuses on youth.

School districts are letting their students know that it’s okay to be in touch with their feelings.

During this unprecedented and scary time, district officials across the North Shore said they immediately knew that they needed to buckle down and implement different mental programs to accommodate the changing landscape of education and the COVID-19 pandemic worry.

Jennifer Bradshaw, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration with Smithtown Central School District, said they started the school year with training for all staff members in social and emotional learning. 

“We’ve always privileged student and staff mental health and wellness, so we’re doing what we did in years past, just a lot more of it,” she said. 

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown has been including ongoing contact among school counselors, social workers, psychologists, administrators, teachers and other staff members to evaluate student and family needs for food, technology, mental health, counseling, and academic support.

Farther east in Rocky Point, Toni Mangogna, a social worker at Rocky Point High School, said they have been seeing an increase in student anxiety surrounding the pandemic. “Coming back to school is so different,” she said. “We’re trying to get our services out to as many students and families as we can.”

As part of their SEL programs, the district offers a virtual classroom that students can access at home or while in school to request an appointment with a school counselor or psychologist. 

“It’s a great option for kids who are working from home,” she said. “I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

The virtual office also offers breathing exercises and tips for practicing mindfulness. Mangogna said she sees students sharing the services with their family and friends. 

“These students are really in touch with their feelings,” she said. “If we can make that connection with parents and students, I think we’re really making a difference.”

The Rocky Point social worker added that while the kids are stressed, parents are seeking help, too. 

“Parents have anxiety,” she said. “It’s difficult for parents to be that support for students when they’re having their own struggles and anxiety.” 

Her colleagues have been working to help and refer parents to local psychologists. 

“Because we don’t have that face-to-face opportunity anymore, it increases wanting to talk to social workers,” she said. “Just to have somebody in front of them that can validate that feeling. I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

Dr. Robert Neidig, principal at Port Jefferson Middle School, said they are implementing different programs specific to his and the high school’s students. 

“At the middle school, we have a wellness and mental health curriculum with different types of activities students can do,” he said. 

Dr. Robert Neidig, the PJ Middle School Principal, talked about the different programs the district implemented for student’s mental health. Photo from PJSD

Neidig said they’ve had the program for a while, but during the COVID crisis, they “suped it up and since implemented character education lessons.” Since September, they hired a full-time psychologist for the middle school and the high school.

“During this time, it’s taken on new meaning,” he said. “Stress levels, anxiousness — we’re all feeling the effects of it. We’re trying to do the very best we can.”

He added that every teach is going above and beyond to make sure their students are doing alright.

“It doesn’t matter if you walk into a health class, an English class or math class,” he said. “Teachers are taking the time to check in students they understand if kids aren’t there mentally, the learning will be lost.”

Three Village Central School District’s executive director of Student and Community Services Erin Connolly said they also implemented a virtual program to continue and promote SEL. 

“Our district really values mental health,” she said. “We have been working on return to school protocol and mental health plan for students and family for pre-k through grade 12.” 

Their three-tier plan has a strong emphasis on supporting the district’s staff. 

“By supporting them, we’re supporting the students,” she added. “It’s a dynamic plan.”

Dr. Alison Herrschaft, a social worker at Three Village, said that early on in the school year, counselors and social work staff met with each and every student in the school. 

“By doing that, it gave those kids the opportunity to put a face to the staff who can help,” she said. “They’re more likely to seek out help if they’re really struggling and acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay.”

By integrating themselves more into the hallways and classrooms, Herrschaft said the kids who might not have been aware of the staff before, now see these staff as “rock stars.”

“We wanted to normalize asking for help,” she said. “It’s accessible to anyone who needs it.”

Although Three Village buckled down during the pandemic to make mental health more available, they won’t stop their program even if a second wave hits. 

“A big goal with the plans we developed is if we had to go remote again, based on numbers, our SEL plans will continue while we’re out,” Connolly said. “It was really important to have a seamless transition so that doesn’t change, and it still gives kids points of contact if they’re home again, they’ll be well-versed.”

File photo by Julianne Mosher

Schools are staring down the barrel of funding cuts because of the COVID-19 crisis.

While students have been returning to their new normal of hybrid classes, remote learning and plastic barriers between desks, school districts across New York state are concerned about the news surrounding a potential 20% state funding cut.

Elwood Super Ken Bossert, pictured above before the pandemic, said every single school will need to make painful cuts if things don’t go their way. Photo from Heather Mammolito

According to New York State Education Department, the State Division of the Budget has begun withholding 20% of most local aid payments, forcing reductions in some payments to school districts across the state. The reductions in aid, combined with increased costs during pandemic times, could affect not only students, but community members too.  

“All public schools throughout New York state will have to make deep and painful cuts if federal assistance in the form of school aid is not secured,” said Ken Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district. “The governor’s proposal of reducing aid by 20% will impact districts that rely heavily on aid in a devastating way. Not only will programs and staffing be redacted, the gap between the ‘haves and the have-nots’ will widen.”

Mark Secaur, superintendent of Smithtown school district, noted that during the height of the pandemic in New York last spring, the state adopted a budget that contained three review periods, in which local aid distributions might be reduced on a rolling basis, based on the revenues the state received. 

“On August 18, districts throughout New York state received a state aid payment for the 2019-2020 school year that withheld 20% of the expected payment,” he said. “Also included was a note that all future payments would be reduced by 20% in the absence of federal relief.”

Secaur added that for Smithtown, this equates to a potential loss of upward of $9 million in state aid. 

“When developing our 2020-2021 school budget, the district took into consideration the potential loss of state aid and made adjustments,” he said. “However, these losses, coupled with the unfunded expenditures required for the safe return of students, will likely force the district to significantly utilize the fund balance and reserves to balance the budget.”

In addition, the budget doesn’t cover the costs that are protecting children returning to their classrooms. 

“Cleaning supplies, dividers for rooms … the cost is close to $4 million,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country school district.

That sum didn’t include the cost to keeping the schools operational — even when students weren’t in them when the pandemic hit. 

“There was still a cost to keep the schools running,” Gerold added. “It was a rough couple of months.”

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, agreed.

“In a time when students need more, we won’t be able to provide that,” he said. 

While Poole and his peers are trying to stay optimistic, and are pleased to have students back, he wonders if it will be sustainable. “It’s an uncertain time — it won’t be the easiest thing for districts to put a budget together this year,” he said. “We just have to take it day by day.”

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen.”

— Roberta Gerold

While each district is different on the Island, they can all agree that continuing to plan during an uncertain time is very difficult. 

“We’re trying to plan for a budget without knowing what’s going to happen,” Gerold said. “If we have the info, we can figure that out. … It’s a scary time for sure.”

Miller Place school district declined to comment but did release a letter Sept. 3 penned to elected officials, asking for their support.

“As our elected officials we implore you act quickly to stop any and all federal and state reductions regarding payments to New York state school districts,” the letter said. “As district leaders we remain focused on the mission of returning students to our classrooms, and providing them with the social, emotional and academic supports they need in order to achieve their 2020-21 instructional goals.”

The letter continued, “Please recognize any reductions in federal or state aid payments would dramatically reduce our ability to sustain our district’s fiscal health, as well as maintain the support needed to ensure our students and staff physical health.”

The Shoreham-Wading River Gay-Straight Alliance Club, including co-advisors Ed Stock, center, and Brittany Davis, far right. Photo by Kyle Barr

One may think the LGBT community in Suffolk County is a small minority, until there are more than 100 of them and their allies together in a room celebrating what makes them, them.

On Jan. 28, after close to half a year of planning, the Shoreham-Wading River High School Gay-Straight Alliance club hosted a Gender-Sexuality Alliance Leadership Conference, the first in all of Suffolk County. They were joined by over 100 students from 14 different schools as well as a score of adults, including teachers, parents and school administrators.

Well over 100 people from different Gay-Straight Alliance clubs throughout Suffolk County at the Shoreham-Wading River High School Jan. 28 conference. Photo from SWRCSD

“Not only did it bring together a group of kids that were not only like-minded, but were also there to support each other,” said club co-advisor Brittany Davis. “It really felt like there was a sense of community that was just beautiful, that we did something that changed everyone’s outlook on this and really changed the whole dynamic of the comfortability in the school.”

Senior and club member Ray Colon said it was an event unlike any he has experienced at the school setting. Students who felt they were marginalized or pushed to the boundaries in their own schools could talk freely.

“It was awesome to hear them share their own stories and their own struggles back at home,” he said. “At school, they don’t have that space to be free always — it allows them to open up.”

Between the discussions and presentations, Davis said students flooded into the upstairs balcony in the library for an impromptu dance party.

“They might be that quiet kid in class, but when they’re with others they can finally feel comfortable,” Davis said. “It was really cool to see them be themselves — their energy went throughout the room and made everyone smile.” 

High school senior Emily Mulcahy, the club president, said while they were initially unsure how successful an event it would be, upon reaching out and getting a score of immediate responses, their doubts were eased. In fact, they had so many responses they could simply not fit all into the small space of the library.

Nearly five months of planning led to an event that included discussions about themselves and their place in the LGBT community, but also the recognition of administrators, including high school Principal Frank Pugliese and Superintendent Gerard Poole.

“In our building and district, we celebrate diversity, we don’t look down on it,” Pugliese said. “The fact so many districts felt the same way, I think even strengthened that message even more.”

The principal added he hopes this event will become “a normal part of the calendar.”

Fellow club co-advisor Ed Storck has been at the head of getting the whole event started. The fact that two school administrators could show such open support, he said, means a lot considering where the LGBT community has come from, especially in schools.

“So many kids were saying, ‘I didn’t know how many people were in support,’” he said.

SWR High School senior Ray Colon, of the Gay-Straight Alliance club, is flanked by GSA co-advisers Ed Storck and Brittany Davis. Photo from SWRCSD

Storck said the idea for the conference originally came to light when the club invited Jeremy Thode, an assistant principal at Center Moriches High School and the president of the Smithtown board of education, down to the school to speak to the club. Thode has been advocating for and educating about LGBTQ for little less than a year now. His son, Noah, came out as transgendered last January, and Thode has taken his experiences with his family’s path toward transition and acceptance and used it to advocate and educate both districts and parents.

“This event clearly told us that these kids, when with people who understand them, they are authentically themselves,” Thode said.

The club is planning future events for this year, including a visit this month to the LGBT Network of Long Island, a nonprofit support network that connects services on Long Island and Queens, where club students speak about the importance of allies in the community and how they wish to be treated by them. Later this year the club is planning a positivity week, which the club started three years ago. That week ends with a day of remembrance, where any participating student remains silent throughout the day to honor the people who have lost their lives due to discrimination in the past. On June 5, the district is also hosting the third annual Unity Dance for the other GSA clubs in Suffolk.

But club members also understand they have started something that may become a “legacy,” as Mulcahy put it. With Thode at the helm, the Smithtown school district is planning a similar event May 5. With more space in Smithtown High School West, they are able to fit the districts that were unable to come to the original event due to space.

“Ultimately, what needs to happen is more awareness, education and acceptance, not only in GSA’s, but in the wider community.” Thode said.

Smithtown East celebrated the 2019 graduation June 26.

Thomas Fanning addressed the 2019 Smithtown West graduation as honorary speaker. While attending high school, Fanning participated in Italian Honor Society, Social Studies Honor Society, robotics, pit orchestra and winter track. He will attend Stony Brook University studying computer science.

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Smithtown school district Superintendent James Grossane addresses the class of 2016 and those in attendance during East’s commencement ceremony June 22. Photo by Alex Petroski

On June 11, the Smithtown Central School District board of education appointed veteran educator Russell J. Stewart as interim superintendent, effective July 3. Stewart joins Smithtown from the Center Moriches  School District, where he currently serves as superintendent of schools. He will be filling in for the position left by James Grossane.

“Mr. Stewart is a highly respected administrator who brings with him the professional experience, educational knowledge and interpersonal communication skills the board requires to effectively lead our school district during this transition period,” said Smithtown BOE president Jeremy Thode. 

During his nine years as superintendent of Center Moriches, Stewart successfully oversaw the introduction and expansion of a number of programs, including the implementation of a districtwide International Baccalaureate endeavor, creation of a community service involvement program for high school students and expansion of a comprehensive K-12 8:1:1 program. He was also responsible for the enhancement of school safety through various efforts, such as increased security protocols and the promotion of a positive school culture and social-emotional wellness programs. Additionally, he oversaw the successful completion of a comprehensive capital improvement project.

“I thank the board for this opportunity and am excited to work with them and confirm my commitment to the students of Smithtown,” Stewart said. “I also look forward to collaborating with the community, students, staff and my central office colleagues to create a unified vision and further enhance the educational opportunities for all students.” 

As part of his more than 30 years of educational experience, Stewart has served as principal, assistant principal, dean of discipline and chairperson for health, physical education and interscholastic athletics at Commack High School. He was also an assistant principal and principal at Western Suffolk BOCES Consortium. Stewart spent his first 10 years in education as a health and physical education teacher.

A resident of Manorville, Stewart holds a bachelor’s in health and physical education from the University of Sioux Falls and a master’s in school administration and supervision from New York University. 

The board is actively continuing its search for a permanent superintendent of schools and will keep the community updated as the progress continues.

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Smithtown resident Aiden Eddelson, 9, in the booth with SportsNet New York’s broadcasters during the bottom of the third inning. Photo from SportsNet New York

If you asked Smithtown fourth-grader Aidan Eddelson about the New York Mets, he could tell you the batting average of most players on the team. He could tell you where most pitchers like to pitch to outfielder Brandon Nimmo and can tell you which player thinks he’s the best dancer.

“[Shortstop Amed] Rosario’s from the Dominican Republic, he bats right, and he also thinks he’s the best dancer on the Mets,” Aidan said, speaking live from SportsNet New York broadcast booth Sept. 26.

The 9-year-old fan was given the opportunity to be the SportsNet New York’s kidcaster during the bottom of the 3rd inning of the Atlanta Braves versus New York Mets game Sept. 26. The SNY Kidcaster Contest asks young Mets fans to submit a video of them broadcasting a home run made by Nimmo in a previous Mets game. Only a few days after Aidan mailed his submission, he was asked to join the station’s veteran broadcasters Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling in their booth. The professionals said they were surprised how knowledgeable young Aidan was about the team.

“I did not know that,” Hernandez said, when he heard Aidan comment on Rosario’s dancing capability.

Aidan was paying attention to the players warming up for their turn at bat.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not.”

— Roie Eddelson

“I actually saw him dancing over there before, and he was dancing when he was getting ready,” the young Mets fan said.

Aidan and his father, Brian, spent several hours in the days before the broadcast researching the team so they could be prepared. While Aidan knew those at bat would be at the bottom of the lineup, he didn’t know who exactly would be standing at the plate.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not,” Aidan’s mother, Roie, said. “To be 9 years old and accomplish that is just something we’ll never forget.”

Everyone in the Eddelson family is a Mets fan, especially with his parents being born in Queens and Brooklyn. That enthusiasm has bled down into Aidan and his 6-year-old brother, Jack.

Aidan, who attends Mount Pleasant Elementary school, watched his first Mets game during the 2015 World Series when the Mets faced the Cincinnati Reds. He has been a dedicated fan ever since, saying he and the rest of his family have done their best to never miss a game.

Despite the family’s lifelong commitment to the team, it will never stop them from complaining about how they perform each season.

“They always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason,” Aidan said. “They were first this year and last year, and then they just went down.”

“[The Mets] always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason.”

— Aidan Eddelson

Nonetheless, Aidan’s mother said she and her family will always believe in their home team. Her husband confirmed it.

“This year, they ended on a high note,” Aidan’s father said.

Aidan said he plays little league hockey, soccer and baseball, where his favorite position is catcher. If he had a choice of career, it would either be a major league sports player or sports broadcaster. Therefore, it was really heartening for Aidan to hear, at the end of the broadcast, the veteran game pundits had only encouraging words for the young superfan.

“You did a fantastic job, you were so well prepared, and you had great notes,” Cohen said. “Ronny might become the general manager, Keith might retire, so there might be a spot in the booth before we know it.”

This post has been amended to reflect the correct spelling of young Eddelson.

A Northport-East Northport Community Theater member has been arrested for allegedly masturbating in front of a 15-year-old girl.

Northport police arrested Robert Miller, 35, on charges of first-degree public lewdness and endangering the welfare of a child Oct. 5 at approximately 8:15 p.m., according to police. Miller’s arrest took place during a rehearsal of the Northport-East Northport Community Theater group at the William J. Brosnan Administrative Building of the Northport school district.

Robert Miller. Photo from Northport Police Department

Northport police said Miller, a technical director with the theater group, requested a teenage girl accompany him outside to the parking lot to check on a motor issue with his car.

Once outside, Miller instructed the teen to sit in the car and rev the engine while he looked
under the hood. The girl said she was instructed to take off her socks and shoes, so she could “feel the vibration of the gas pedal” and did so, according to police. Police said the girl said she noticed Miller standing behind her, outside the driver’s side door with his pants unzipped, hand down his pants and was allegedly masturbating. The theater director allegedly told the teenager to look forward and watch the car’s dashboard gauges. Police said the girl reported she looked at Miller again and he was still allegedly masturbating.

Robert Banzer, superintendent of the Northport-East Northport school district, sent a letter out to residents Oct. 6 regarding the incident, which occurred on school grounds.

“The Northport police department notified the district of an alleged inappropriate action that took place on school district property, Friday night after school hours,” Banzer wrote, noting the theater group is not affiliated with the school district. “The district will continue to cooperate with police in their investigation to the fullest extent possible.”

The superintendent noted the schools would also make support services available for students Tuesday, after the Columbus Day break.

Smithtown school district Superintendent James Grossane also sent a letter out to district parents to address Miller’s arrest, as he has worked in that district for 14 years.

“[D]uring the teacher’s 14 years working within the district there have been no incidents reported,” Grossane wrote. “The teacher has been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately, and we will continue to assist in the police investigation as needed.”

The Smithtown superintendent said a math teacher would immediately be placed in Miller’s classrooms Tuesday in order to ensure “no disruption to the academic process” and support services would also be made available to students.

The theater group declined to comment on Miller’s arrest.

Northport police said they have reason to believe there may be other people subjected to allegedly lewd behavior by Miller. Anyone who feels they were a victim of Miller in the Northport area is asked to contact Detective Peter Hayes or Detective Peter Howard at 631-261-7500.

Any individual who believes they are a victim of Miller in the Smithtown area is encouraged to contact Suffolk County Police Department’s 4th Precinct detective squad at 631-854-8452.

East Northport resident awarded an honorary degree from Smithtown High School West June 21

A lifelong dream has been made a reality for a Holocaust survivor who, after nearly 30 years educating others, can finally say he’s received his high school diploma.

East Northport resident Mordechai Miller was given an honorary degree at the 103rd commencement of Smithtown High School West June 21, becoming a member of the graduating Class of 2018. The 87-year-old donned a blue cap and gown, sitting with his fellow graduates on the field to wait to hear his name called by Principal John Coady.

“It’s very exciting,” Miller said upon hearing he was being granted a diploma.

The moment was decades in the making for Miller.

Everything he’s wanted in life he’s been able to achieve, except for this.”
– Leah Miller

“Everything he’s wanted in life he’s been able to achieve, except for this,” said his daughter, Leah. “He’s really wanted this for a long time, but it’s not something you can ask for.”

Miller was born in the village of Jablonna, Poland, in 1931. Due to the outbreak of World War II, he was only able to complete first grade before he and his family were forced to live in a Jewish ghetto before eventually going into hiding. They were liberated from the war front town, where they had taken up work as Polish refugees, by the Soviet army in January 1945.

Miller moved to the United States in 1956 where he settled in Brooklyn. A self-motivated man, he started his own business selling used truck parts and eventually opened his own junkyard in Bay Shore after moving to East Northport in 1984.

Since the 1990s, Miller has shared his life story as a public motivational speaker at hundreds of events, according to his daughter. For the past 10 years, he has regularly been a guest speaker in Christina Cone’s Holocaust and Genocide class at Smithtown High School West.

We thank you for all your work with our students, sharing your experiences and congratulate you on receiving your diploma.”
– John Coady

“He will always start out by saying that he loves to come to school because he didn’t get a chance at an education,” his daughter said.

The Holocaust survivor’s goal in sharing his life and experiences with students each year is to increase tolerance in the world. To honor Miller’s message of doing right by others, Smithtown’s staff decided to confer upon him an honorary degree.

“As he was deprived of a formal education and was never awarded a high school diploma, it is our privilege to bestow upon him this long-awaited document,” the principal said. “We thank you for all your work with our students, sharing your experiences and congratulate you on receiving your diploma.

Miller was given a standing ovation by the students, parents and Smithtown faculty at the June 21 ceremony as he walked across the stage and accepted his degree.

“He has always wanted this opportunity, and tonight they have made his dream come true,” his daughter said.

While the school district has given out honorary diplomas before, Miller was the first be allowed to walk in the ceremony.