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Students

Port Jefferson School District SCMEA Division I students. Photo from PJSD

In-person student musical performances are back, and Port Jefferson School District students represented at the recent Suffolk County Music Educators’ Association All-County Festival held at Ward Melville High School.

In the fifth and sixth grade Division I, students Josie Amtmann, Jenny Cheung, Isabella Fratticci Cseri, Nina Gnatenko, Kai Gronenthal, Ruairi Hogan, Patrick Hutchinson, Nila Manian, Austin Nam, Adyson Nocito, Clara Pearce, Violet Pryor, Sara Puopolo, Aiden Fraticci Rodriguez, Sebastian Salzman, Dylan Sproul, Kaho Sugimoto, Leilani Von Oiste and Elizabeth Yin were selected. Seventh and eighth graders Rowan Casey, Crystal Reustle, Sadie Salzman and Daria Zakharova were selected for Division II, and Division III’s ninth and 10th graders welcomed Earl L. Vandermeulen High School student Andi Kelly.

“Congratulations to all of our outstanding student musicians who were fortunate to perform in the FIRST in-person county music festival in nearly three years!” said Dr. Michael Caravello, district director of music and fine arts.

Last month, Terryville Road Elementary School celebrated National Random Acts of Kindness Day. Guided by the school social worker, Tiffany Liebling, students practiced kindness by participating in Kindness Bingo. Boys and girls could check off a box on their board by paying a student from a different class a compliment or making someone smile.

“It’s an absolute joy to see how thoughtful Terryville students are! I feel blessed to work with such exemplary children,” said principal Annemarie Sciove. 

A student-created poster contest depicting thoughtful quotes and artwork decorated the building for the last few weeks and winners were just announced. Congratulations go to 5th grader Anderson Latt, 4th grader Paige Stonehill and 3rd grader Gia Ochoa. And a special acknowledgement to Mrs. Stoeber’s class who won the Kindness Bingo and will enjoy a pizza party next week. 

“It’s good to take care of the world,” said 3rd grade winner, Gia. 

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Join the Middle Country Public Library for an exciting evening of career exploration! Long Island teens in grades 6 to 12 and first/second year college students are invited to register for this informative panel of professionals from specialized job fields who will give insights into their professions. Attendees will have an opportunity to chat with panelists one-on-one and learn about the library’s Career Counseling services.

Featured career panelists include:

Stephanie Knorzer: Owner/Operator, The Cookie Shop, Centereach

Dominika De Leon: Graphic Designer/Creative Director, Konwalia Design

Danielle Gruttaduario: Forensic Artist, Suffolk County Police Department

Karen Oswald: Senior Evidence Specialist, Suffolk County Police Department

Large Anthony: Tattoo Artist, Main Street Tattoo, Kings Park

Chris Kelly: Training Director, Long Island Electrical JATC with IBEW 25 & NECA LI Chapter

This event will take place on Wednesday, March 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Middle Country Public Library’s Selden location at 575 Middle Country Road. Registration required and open to district and non-district residents. Register in-person or call 631-585-9393 ext. 115.

Edna Louise Spear Elementary School students in Port Jefferson joined thousands of schools nationwide to celebrate Read Across America Week. School librarian Meg Hoon reimagined and reignited a love of books with Drop Everything and Read, which featured five days of fun and festivities.

The hallway leading to the library showcased student reviews of favorite books. Each student created a flag with title, author, illustrator, favorite character and reasons why they liked the story. The first day featured fifth grade guest readers in younger classes. On day two, students wore pajamas and brought favorite books from home. The third day, students were encouraged to read with a buddy and day four was a time to dress like a favorite character. On day five, Hoon and students took the challenge to Read Across America in a literal sense.

Drop Everything and Read was a motivating and inspiring activity throughout the building. Together, students read for 2,913 minutes. This is the distance from New York to California via Interstate 80. Hoon marked the milestone on a map of the U.S. so that students could see the progress and celebrate their achievement.

Albert G. Prodell Middle School seventh grade students in the Shoreham-Wading River School District are commemorating Women’s History Month with their studies and a paper quilt that was created to showcase the dynamic and powerful contributions of many women in history. 

The project was spearheaded by social studies teacher Corinne Fallon, who is a member of the Women’s History Month committee. 

The quilt features black and white cutouts and short profiles of Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Anne Frank, Frida Kahlo, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Sonia Sotomayor and others. It is a tribute to and reminder of the vital role that they play in America’s past, present and future.

Shoreham-Wading River High School students Andrea Castillo-Manas and Katelyn Roberts were each honored with a Quill Award in the Adelphi University Press Day competition. 

Andrea, a senior, won third place for Best Opinion Piece for her article, “The Concern for Long Island’s Future.” Katelyn, a freshman, won first place for Best Opinion Piece for her article, “Uniformed Injustice: Sexism Rooted in Athletic Uniforms.”

Both articles are published in the high school’s digital newspaper, “The Pause.”  

“The journalism students are so proud of their peers,” said English teacher and journalism club adviser Sara Trenn. 

World Trade Center Twin Towers. Stock photo

It’s been 20 years since the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, which now means that high school students were nowhere near alive when the events actually took place.

The history teachers in local schools remember that day vividly — some were just children themselves in school that warm Tuesday morning.

Districts across the Long Island now include what happened that day in their curriculum — a day that impacted nearly 500 Long Islanders who were among the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93. 

At Port Jefferson high school, 11th grade U.S. history teacher Jesse Rosen said that the district uses the story of one of its own to teach students about what happened — the documentary “Man in Red Bandana.”

“As a department, we were exposed to this heroic story through a former graduate of PJHS, James Burke,” Rosen said. “James’ uncle, William F. Burke Jr., gave his life in the line of duty as an FDNY member on September 11, 2001. As a result, James and his family were introduced to other stories of heroism.”

Rosen, who is in his 15th year at the high school, said he was a freshman at SUNY Albany during the September 11 attacks. 

This image of James Burke hangs on the bulletin board of Jesse Rosen’s U.S. history classroom. It is a true reminder to ‘Never Forget.’ Photo from PJSD

“I remember an introductory to psychology class being canceled, walking back to my dorm seeing many other students with canceled classes,” he said. “After putting on the television in my dorm room, I recall watching the plane hit the second tower. Above all else, I recall a state of shock and confusion. At the time, I was completely unaware of the magnitude of the events that were unfolding.”

Bryan Vaccaro, a global studies teacher at the high school, was younger than his current students in 2001. He was in third grade.

“I can vividly recall that day moment by moment,” he said. “Most kids in my class were being picked up from school but me, and I wondered why everyone was leaving but me. When I got home seeing the images unfold on television was surreal, almost as if you couldn’t believe what was happening. An extra level of worry settled in as well since my uncle was a firefighter in the FDNY in Company Squad 270 at the time whose main focus was search and rescue.”

Vaccaro, who has been with the school district for five years, said that when he has to teach his students about September 11, it’s important to tackle the topic head on and make sure students are aware of how the events unfolded that day.

“Many don’t know that there were four total planes in three different locations, simply because at this point none of them were born,” he said. “We always welcome hard-hitting questions in the classroom and discuss thoroughly.”

He added when students learn about the events, they’re overwhelmed with emotion — shocked because although they’ve been exposed to images and videos of the attacks, they have minimal knowledge about what actually happened.

“By the end of the lesson I think their understanding is heavily increased,” he said. “My main premise for my 9/11 lesson is to prove that there are impactful moments in history where time stands still, and you can vividly depict where you were at that specific time.”

Vaccaro said each generation has those moments.

“Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the Space Shuttle Challenger, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, etc.,” he noted. “And I make sure the students understand that it could happen next week, next year, 20 years from now, but there will be those moments for them. It makes history real and personal.”

Over the last 20 years, Island residents have felt a deep connection to that day. Vaccaro said that while it’s a sensitive and hard topic to talk about, it needs to be done. 

File photo

“I don’t think it’s difficult to teach a subject that hits home for Long Islanders,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be embraced wholeheartedly. It’s part of our story as a region and a country. It showed our resolve as people and proof that we can unite in times of chaos and tragedy — a characteristic that makes us the greatest country in the world.”

High school social studies and special education teacher Melissa Zinger has been an educator for 15 years, the last 10 at Earl. L. Vandermeulen High School. 

“On September 11, 2001, I was attending college on Long Island and was at home,” she said. “I remember my mother calling and asking me if I had heard what happened and to turn on the news. As we were on the phone the second plane hit. As I continued watching the news, my dad stormed through the front door in a panic after he raced home from work. He immediately did two things. He tried calling the Red Cross as he told me, ‘They will need blood and supplies,’ and next he made sure our American flag was hanging outside.”

Zinger said that reflecting on what happened 20 years ago, she realized that her parents’ reactions were different than what she was feeling personally.

“I watched the day unfold in shock, and my dad watched the day unfold with fear,” she said. 

Now as a teacher, she said her approach to teaching about 9/11 has changed.

“In my first few years of teaching, the approach was more reflective as students had their own memories of that day,” she said.  “And over the years, the students only know about 9/11 from what they have heard, so the approach has to also be educational, informative and reflective.”

As an educator, she has her own connection, experiences and emotions from that time, but she is able to see what her students feel depending on the closeness to their homes and experiences of their families. 

“Over the years the responses from students have changed as the students have no longer ‘lived through it’ as opposed to have lived through the impacts from it,” Zinger added. “In the beginning years of my teaching, students would share their memories of that day, one student I recall even remembering the exact name of the color crayon he was using when his mother got the call. Presently, I believe that the students are aware of the events and some more personally than others, however, a true understanding of how tragic and life changing for a country I believe they don’t. All they know is life post-9/11.”

On April 6, Stony Brook University administered 1,400 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to students living on campus. The mass vaccination day fell on the first day that New York granted eligibility for those 16 of age and older. 

“I’m so thrilled that the eligibility came much earlier than we ever expected,” said Rick Gatteau, vice president for Student Affairs at SBU and dean of students.

The administration sent out an email to residents last Thursday with a link to sign up. Within two hours it was filled, and there is currently a waitlist of 500 students waiting for the next session.

The event took place in the newly constructed Student Union building, where students arrived at their assigned time and were guided through the process by dozens of volunteers. They will return for their second dose on May 4. 

“I felt compelled to get the vaccine”, said Victor Shin, a sophomore chemistry major. “I’m hoping that the campus will open up very soon and we can head back toward in-person learning.”

By the end of the day, 30% of on campus residents received a vaccine. With the semester wrapping up in a few weeks, the administration is hoping to vaccinate all students who are interested so that the second dose falls before the last day of classes May 4. 

“The fact that we’ve had such a huge turnout is reflective of our students’ interest in getting the vaccine,” Gatteau said. “We’re a big STEM school focused on research, and students know the value of the science and research that went into it, which is similar to their own career pursuits.” 

Residents were selected first due to their risk of transmission by living in close quarters in dorms. The next group to be offered a spot will be commuter students who travel to campus and those who are fully remote but live on Long Island. 

“Even if it was never required, I think we’d get to our herd immunity number just based on interest,” Gatteau said. 

The decision of whether or not vaccination will be required of students returning to campus in the fall is still up for deliberation by the State University of New York administration. This week they announced that in the fall, 80% of classes will be held in person. 

Stony Brook students performed self mouth swab COVID-19 tests before leaving for home. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Stony Brook students and faculty have been utilizing the campus’ quick, free saliva swab testing to stay clear of the Coronavirus before holiday break.

Stony Brook University student volunteers, from left, Elah Ginsburg, Patricia Indelicato and Emily Lam help test students before they leave for Thanksgiving. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Although students will not be returning to campus after the Thanksgiving holiday, the university began implementing swab testing sites on three parts of campus for commuter students, residents and faculty.

Earlier this month, Marisa Bisiani, assistant vice president for student health, wellness, and prevention services issued a message to students concerning COVID testing and the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We are committed to maintaining the health and safety of our campus community,” she said. “This includes requiring COVID testing for students who, like you, live off-campus, but may come to campus for an in-person class, work on campus or visit campus facilities.”

In accordance with SUNY policy, all commuter students must complete a COVID test within the 10-day period prior to the start of the break.

“As many COVID cases are asymptomatic, meaning you can be infected, and unknowingly and unintentionally spread the disease to others, we want you to know your health status before Thanksgiving to help keep you and your family safe,” she added.

Faculty and students who are on campus from Nov. 9 through Nov. 20 must get tested. If a student will not be on campus at that time, they must fill out an exemption form online.

After scheduling an appointment online, students are able to visit the Student Activity Center, the Health Sciences Center Galleria and for East End students, at the Stony Brook Southampton campus’ student center. There they receive a mouth swab and safely hand it over to the workers for testing. Results come back two to five days after the swab.

“We get over 150 tests done a day,” said Elah Ginsberg, a sophomore on campus who works at the testing site. “Yesterday we have 300 come by.”

The need for quick testing on campus began early last month, with new requirements that faculty, staff and commuter students to get checked for the virus.

“All commuters have to get their cheeks swabbed,” Emily Lam, a senior volunteer at the site, said. “I think it’s way safer and ensures that they’re healthy when they come to campus.”

Patricia Indelicato, health administration coordinator on campus, said she loves that this opportunity is so easily available. “It’s great and it’s helping to keep the community safe.”

Lauren Crennan, who works at the university’s undergraduate college, said that although it’s required for her to get tested, she doesn’t mind doing it one bit.

“I’m happy that they’re doing it,” she said. “It gives me a peace of mind and it’s an easy two-minute walk from my office.”

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that schools in our community  pare opening in a few weeks. Our school administrators, school boards, school support staff and teachers are working overtime to create safe, responsible learning opportunities for all of our students.

Every school community has a unique profile based on economics, size and cultural diversity. As community members, we need to urge caution, respect and responsible and doable planning based on each of these unique profiles.

For more than 40 years I’ve been privileged to be actively engaged in both public and private education as a school administrator, junior high and senior high school teacher, and undergraduate and graduate school professor in the area of social science and clinical social work. Our schools are the heart and soul of our communities. This pandemic has impacted them in more ways than many of us fully realize.

If we listen to our students on every grade level, lack of socialization and human interaction has been devastating for so many. Many traditional social experiences from senior proms to graduations were canceled for the class of 2020. For the class of 2021, many fall sports have been canceled and/or postponed.

Our students continue to get a mixed message regarding some of the very basic healthcare provisions that are critical and that we all must practice if we want to protect ourselves and others and reduce the spread of this virus.

As we scurry to get ready for a new school year, there is another vital resource for students that might not receive the support it needs, especially with so many schools facing economic issues and cutbacks due to the pandemic. So many of our students at all levels are reporting increased stress, anxiety and depression. They admit they do not have the coping skills to manage.

Unfortunately, during these tough economic times, we too often cut services that support our students psychological and emotional needs. I feel compelled to give voice to this issue. As a veteran educator and licensed clinical social worker who runs a mental health clinic in our community, I can attest firsthand that mental health services are desperately needed both in our schools and in our community. Our outpatient clinic has a waiting list that is growing every day.

Our two community hospitals have been heroic at the way in which they have responded to this pandemic with compassion and competence. What very few people realize is that John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson is the only local hospital that provides comprehensive mental health services. St. Charles Hospital is the only hospital in our area that provides competent, comprehensive detox and residential rehabilitation services for drugs and alcohol.

The issue that no one wants to address, including the people who lead us, is that there is no money in mental health services and even less money for alcohol and drug rehabilitation services. I have heard too often the bureaucrats on the corporate side of healthcare say“there’s no money in these services. We lose money.” This kind of thinking coming from corporate healthcare systems is reprehensible and is a profound violation of their Hippocratic oath.

During these very difficult times, we need more than ever greater access to mental health beds and rehabilitation beds for substance abuse not less beds. Insurance companies should not sentence people to death; our young should not be denied treatment for being unable to make payment.

Let us stand up and support Mather and St. Charles and thank them for their courageous service and loudly advocate for their support. A growing number of young people are at risk if we remain silent. He or she could be your son or daughter!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.