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METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Once upon a time, a girl named Fiona read the book “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

She thought it was funny and charming that a child could see what no one else admitted. But then, something strange happened: she thought she could also see things that no one else could.

“That’s sweet, Fiona, but focus on your school work and let your imagination run wild at other times,” her father told her that night.

Fiona did as she was told because she wanted to please her parents and her teachers. It was her teachers that caused problems for her.

It started with Mrs. Butler in her third grade class. A tall, thin woman with white hair and glasses, Mrs. Butler always wore high-heeled shoes. She looked directly in the eyes of every student. One day, her friend Simona fell and hit her head. When Mrs. Butler bent down and checked on her friend, Fiona saw the kind of coat doctors and nurses wear appear around her shoulders. Fiona rubbed her eyes, but the coat was still there. Mrs. Butler calmly told the class to go to their seats, sent Bill to get the nurse and kneeled on the floor near Simona.

When the nurse left with Simona, Mrs. Butler’s white coat disappeared.

The next day, Jeff couldn’t understand a math problem. He wrote numbers all over the paper, but he didn’t have the answer.

Fiona noticed a change again in Mrs. Butler’s clothing. Instead of her powder blue blouse, she had an orange vest and white gloves. With numbers on the smartboard, she directed Jeff away from all the dead ends.

When he got closer to the answer, Jeff smiled. Fiona looked back at Mrs. Butler, whose orange vest and white gloves disappeared.

Later, Doug and Andrew got into an argument near the stack of books at the back of the room. When Doug swung his arm to make a point, he knocked over several books.

Fiona saw Mrs. Butler’s clothing change again, this time into the kind of black and white stripes that referees wear in football games. She could even see a whistle dangling from her teacher’s neck.

The next morning, Jill and Amanda couldn’t agree on how to do a class project. Jill marched to the front of the classroom to complain. Amanda followed closely.

While Fiona couldn’t hear everything, she saw a black robe form around Mrs. Butler.

When the conversation ended, Mrs. Butler said something that made both girls happy. They shook hands and walked back to their desks, where they returned to work on their project.

One day, Fiona arrived early to class. She and her teacher were alone and she felt like she had to say something.

“Mrs. Butler?” Fiona asked.

“Yes?” Her teacher replied.

“I see all the clothing you wear,” Fiona said. “I don’t think anyone else sees it.”

Mrs. Butler narrowed her eyes and looked carefully at her student.

“What do you see?” Mrs. Butler asked.

She described the medical jacket, the orange vest, the referee’s coat and the judge’s robe.

“What do you think of all that?” Mrs. Butler asked.

“Is it real?” Fiona asked.

“Thank you for seeing,” Mrs. Butler grinned. Other students walked into the room and class started.

Just then, Fiona heard an alarm. Mrs. Butler reacted immediately. She held up a shield and directed everyone to the back of the room.

While they waited, Mrs. Butler told everyone to remain quiet. The class waited for the all clear.

“It was a drill,” Mrs. Butler said. “You can return to your desks.”

Fiona was the last to leave the classroom that day.

“Fiona?” Mrs. Butler asked. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes,” she said. “Thanks for … everything.”

Andrew Patterson. Photo from PJSD

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School senior Andrew Patterson has advanced to the Finalist standing in the 2022 annual National Merit Scholarship Program. 

Andrew took the qualifying test as a junior and is now among approximately 16,000 high school students nationwide who were awarded the distinction. In the next several months approximately half of those students will be selected to receive a Merit Scholarship award, which is based on their abilities, skills and achievements.

An accomplished and well-rounded student, Andrew excels in academics, athletics and community service. He is a three-season athlete — captain of the soccer team and member of the winter and spring track team. Andrew is also a member of the school’s Latin Club, National Honor Society and Science Olympiad team. Outside of school, he is a member of the Port Jefferson Fire Department. 

Andrew’s Finalist designation exemplifies the Port Jefferson School District’s high level of student achievement and academically rigorous program for all students. National Merit Scholarship winners will be announced in the spring.

File photo.

Students at Kings Park, Hauppauge, and Smithtown school districts put in strong efforts this year to come out at the top of their classes. The valedictorian and salutatorian at Kings Park and Hauppauge, and the honored speakers at Smithtown High School East and West shared a little about themselves so the community can get to know them better.

Kings Park

Salutatorian: Joseph Ribaudo

Ribaudo will be graduating with a cumulative weighted average of 105.89.  He participated in  Model UN, varsity golf, Science Olympiad, math team, National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, trivia team and the business club DECA.  He only recently joined the  DECA program this year and  qualified  to go to the international competition in Anaheim, California.  He also excelled at regional and national science competitions.   Ribaudo  received the National Hispanic Scholar award, which is given to the top 2000 Hispanics in the nation.  He also teaches religion twice a week at St. Joseph’s parish.  Ribaudo will be attending Yale next year, double majoring in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and economics.

Valedictorian: Anjali Verma

Verma will be graduating with a cumulative weighted average of 105.98.  She serves as president of Science Olympiad, student leader of the Kings Park Chamber Orchestra, vice-president of Model U.N. and vice-president of the Independent Science Research Club.  She is a three-season athlete participating in the cross-country, winter track, and spring track teams.  For the past year, Anjali conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. James Dilger, volunteering in his lab to investigate a safer alternative to opioid pain medications.   She has been recognized as a Coca-Cola Scholar, a National Merit Scholar, a Presidential Scholars Program nominee, and was a 3rd place finalist at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair in the computational biology category.  Anjali will be attending Columbia University next year, majoring in mechanical engineering.


Salutatorian: Rachel Black, 18

Black will be attending the University of Notre Dame to study mathematics with a concentration in life sciences. Selecting her favorite high school memory is difficult, because there have been so many. She was fortunate to go on the German Exchange trip her sophomore year, and said that it was a blast and she learned so much. Also her freshmen year she ran her last race of the season in cross-country and became an all county runner. But there are so many, even small moments like bonding as a class, or joking around at  extra help, she doesn’t think she could say what her single favorite high school memory was. There are so many things she is excited about for college. She is super excited to be able to focus more intently on one area of study, as well as participating in the service events, club teams and ministry Notre Dame has to offer. She is going to miss the people in her high school the most. Black will miss her friends and  teachers, coaches, and advisors. She will also miss all her sports teams and being a part of the clubs she was involved in. She said Hauppauge High School was her second home and she will really miss it. Black was involved in student council and served as president,  treasurer of the school’s National Honor Society  and German Honor Society, co-president of  Science Olympiad , member of Natural Helpers, and participated in cross-country, winter track and spring track as captain.

Valedictorian: Angela Musco, 18

Musco will be attending Stony Brook University in the fall. She will be in the Honors College as well as the Scholars for Medicine Program (8 year medical program). She plans to major in biology with a focus in neurobiology, as well as  minor in Spanish. As president of Interact Club (a community service club), she helped organize Safe Halloween, an annual event to allow children to trick-or-treat and play games safely. This is one of her favorite memories because she said she likes working with the children. She is most excited to meet more people and make new friends at college. Musco said she is also excited to live on her own and be more independent; she is  looking forward to being exposed to new ideas and starting her journey towards  her career in medicine. She will miss seeing her best friends every single day. While in high school she was a member of  National Honor Society,  vice president of  Spanish Honor Society,  president of  Interact Club,  vice president of the student body,  treasurer of debate club and more.

Smithtown West

Honored speaker: Cory Zhou, 17

Zhou will be attending Yale University to study biomedical engineering or economics. His favorite high school memory is staying overnight every year at Relay for Life. He said it’s an incredible event that raises a ton of money for the American Cancer Society, and to be a part of it with his friends was so rewarding and fun. Zhou is most excited to be able to meet so many new people and form more lifelong friendships, as well as gain more independence to explore many new academic and extracurricular interests. He said he is going to miss the people at Smithtown West the most. All the teachers he had were so incredibly passionate, and he said he developed real relationships with each one. His amazing friends have been through so much with him; the best times he has had were the ones spent with them, and he said it’s going to be so hard not having them with him every day. In high school, he was involved in Academic Quiz Bowl, Science Olympiad, math team, DECA, Freshman Kickstart Mentoring, varsity badminton, symphonic band, and several honor societies.

Smithtown East

Honored speaker: Kyle DiPietrantonio, 18

DiPietrantonio will attend  George Washington University double majoring in international affairs and Spanish. His favorite high school memory would be attending DECA’s International Career Development Conference in Anaheim this past April. He said it was an amazing time spent with his teachers and friends. As this year’s co-president for Smithtown East, it was an excellent and full-circle way to end his DECA experiences. Aside from competing, some highlights included bonding with his peers, watching the sunrise, and visiting Universal Studios with 19,000 other DECA members from around the world. He is most excited about being in the vibrant city of Washington D.C. and in a new environment. He is also excited to meet new people from all walks of life and expand his perspective. DiPietrantonio will miss a tremendous amount about his school, especially the unforgettable people he was fortunate enough to cross paths with and all of the memories they shared. He said Smithtown has always been so supportive of him and has given him a solid base to succeed in his future. He is leaving high school knowing he genuinely took advantage of every opportunity, from intriguing clubs and classes, and even several trips abroad. DiPietrantonio was very involved in his high school’s extracurriculars. This year, he was the co-president of DECA as well as the vice president of Suffolk County DECA. Additionally, he was the co-president of the Spanish Honor Society and the co-president and captain of the Academic Quiz Bowl team. He was also part of the Smithtown Industry Advisory Board as a member of the international business committee. He was an active member in the leadership class the past two years where he led the Friends Dance committee that supported students with autism at the Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism. Finally he was involved as a member in the National, Social Studies, Business, Math, and DECA honor societies.

Stock photo.

By Bruce Stasiuk


The subject of this talk is American education; or, as I sometimes call it … artificial intelligence. Full disclosure: I admit that I don’t know much about what goes on in high school, having spent only four distracted years at that level. This presentation refers to the foundational years — the K-6 building blocks where I invested six seasons as a parochial student.

After completing the requirements at Adelphi Suffolk University, I was invited to teach a few graduate courses there. Afterwards, I spent 34 enjoyable, yet disorganized seasons as a classroom teacher, then eight more years instructing a course called Thinking Inside the Box for K-12 teachers, which gave me the opportunity to examine the species up close and personal. That comes to about 50 years in fuzzy numbers. But, who’s counting on me?

You’re urged to disagree with anything expressed here, because I make mistakes regularly, myself being a product of the American industrial-education complex. Let’s start with the premise that all knowledge is worthwhile and desirable. There is no benefit to not knowing something. Ignorance is not blissful. However, all knowledge is not of equal value. The ability to read about the inventor of the cotton gin is of more value than knowing and memorizing his name. Likewise, although there would be some usefulness in recalling every number in the Manhattan phone book, and the cognitive exercise would be an accomplishment, it would mostly be a huge waste of “edu-minutes.” Knowing how to alphabetically look up a phone number is a more valuable and transferable skill. At least until it’s made obsolete in our advancing digital world. So, can we agree that some knowledge is of lower value, some is of higher value, and some is rapidly approaching an expiring shelf life?

Since schools operate by the clock and calendar, there is a finite amount of class time for learning. There is so much to learn, but students can’t learn it all. So, choices must be made. Schools need to adopt a regular policy of knowledge triage. There’s got to be jetsam and flotsam in order to make room for the important cargo. But even if schools agreed to do it, would they flotsam the right jetsam?

Ask your local administrator what’s the last thing added to the curriculum. Then ask, what was removed to make room for it. If there’s no answer, it means the program was diluted (unless the school day or year was expanded — not a chance) or in a misguided way, the usual ballast of art and music were reduced. Like the roach motel, once something enters the schoolhouse door, it can almost never leave. Schools change very little. If you were in the fifth grade 25 years ago and you visited a class today, it would look very familiar. Computers and tablets are used like electric paper, but the substance is the same. Oh, the blackboards are now smarter … but are the kids? Old wine in new bottles.

Remember, the learning clock is ticking. Time is passing. As a child, I had a fantasy of every person, at birth, receiving a huge hourglass. Except it wasn’t designed to measure an hour. It was constructed as a lifetime-glass. The top bulb contained all the sand representing one’s life according to actuarial tables. It was inverted at birth and the sand started trickling through the narrow stem passageway. One could see the top bulb dripping sand into the bottom bulb. Even at night, opening one eye, one could visualize their lifetime with the lower heap growing while the upper kept draining smaller. I wondered if a life would be led differently with such a visual aid.

Schools have to think that way. They must sort out, rummage through, and evaluate all available knowledge and select those age-appropriate things that will help develop students into educated people with transferable skills and functional wisdom. Ideally, layer upon layer will build up until enough practical knowledge and related talents enable graduates to negotiate life in a fluid and uncertain world — a very moveable feast. A friend recently told me the experience of his dental school orientation at the University of Maryland. The dean advised the new students that 50% of what they’d learn would no longer be true by the time they graduated. Furthermore, he advised, they won’t know which 50% it was.

So what did we learn in school? Reading. Of course reading. And math. Although I never did divide 4/7 by 3/9 ever again, I remember some lessons quite well. Pilgrims wore funny hats and buckled shoes. We drew pictures of them. They were brought home and taped to refrigerators — or iceboxes —remember, this was the South Bronx in the ‘50s. “Mary’s violet eyes … ” helped us learn what was, at the time, the order of the planets. But of what practical value is there in knowing that Jupiter is nearer to the earth than Saturn? So little time … so much knowledge.

Bruce Stasiuk of Setauket continued to teach after retirement. He currently offers workshops to seniors (citizens, that is) as an instructor in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, housed on the campus of Stony Brook University.

Look for part 2 in next week’s edition.