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Three Village School District

The state just announced they will be cancelling the Jan. Regents exams. File photo

State officials said the January 2021 Regents exams will be canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Announced last week, state Interim Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa, along with her administration, said they were canceling the exams at the start of next year. The decision will apply to all Regents exams that had been scheduled for Jan. 26 through Jan. 29.

Over the summer, the New York State Education Department canceled the June and August exams due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Roger Tilles, of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the state’s Board of Regents, said the decision is only fair. 

“A lot of schools started at different times this year,” he said. “We started teaching all-remote, sometimes hybrid, Zoom classes, some in-person. How could you have one uniform test for all students?” 

According to Tilles, it is always difficult to have equity in a state uniform test. 

“Even without the pandemic, it’s inequitable because some schools have better resources and can attract certain types of teachers who have specialties that other schools don’t have,” he said. “So, the kids who are in high-needs districts are getting the same tests as students in the lowest-need schools in the state and compare those students to the other.”

Since there has been disparity in the way students have learned the last eight months, the board began thinking about how to handle the state testing early on in the year. It was officially announced on Nov. 5 that the tests would be canceled. 

“Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been the health and well-being of our students and educators,” Rosa said in a statement. “We determined the January Regents exams could not be safely, equitably and fairly administered across the state given where the pandemic currently stands. We will continue to monitor applicable data and make a decision on other state assessment programs as the school year progresses, being mindful of the evolving situation.”

And due to the cancellation, NYSED will propose modifications to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn high school diplomas, credentials and endorsements at the upcoming December Board of Regents meeting. 

Dr. Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District, said she also believes this was the right decision. 

“There are inequalities in different school districts and it wasnt creating a level playing field,” she said. 

One problem Quinn said she sees in the future is because of the January cancellation, students who planned on taking the English exam will be unable to. 

“A lot of our students take the English Regents in January,” she said. “If they end up giving it in June because they canceled in January, it’ll put the students at a disadvantage and will have to take it on top of their other exams.”

A representative from Three Village Central School District said the only Regents typically taken in January is the English exam, but now the students will have to take the exam in June.

“In the past, we have had a few students re-take a Regents examination in January to improve their score, but the number of students re-taking a Regents in January has been small,” the district said in a statement. “The impact is anticipated to be minimal.”

According to the statement sent out by NYSED, the modifications apply to all students who are completing a secondary-level course of study or makeup program in January and are scheduled to participate in one or more of the January 2021 Regents exams. 

“To ensure students are not adversely impacted by the cancellation of the exams, the department will ask the Board of Regents to adopt emergency regulations pertaining to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn diplomas, credentials and endorsements,” the statement said. “Under the proposed emergency regulations, students who are planning to take one or more Regents examinations during the January 2021 examination period at the conclusion of a course of study or makeup program shall be exempt from the requirements pertaining to passing such Regents examination to be issued a diploma.”

Other local districts said that due to the population size within their districts, the cancellation of the exam would not impact them. Port Jefferson, Miller Place and Rocky Point school representatives all said the decision does not affect their districts.

“There is little impact on our students in Port Jefferson, as we have very few students who take Regents exams in January during a non-COVID year,” Christine Austen, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Port Jefferson School District, said. “Any student who was enrolled in a Regents-level course last year was exempted from taking the assessment and received Regents credit towards graduation as long as they passed the course for the year. Due to the low number of students who usually take the January Regents exams, it isn’t a concern at this time.”

No decisions have been made yet by the Board of Regents regarding the June and August 2021 exams or any other state assessment programs. 

This article has been amended to better clarify the Three Village School District’s statement on the Regents cancellation. 

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.”

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Having lost to Riverhead by a single point back in December, the Patriots had a score to settle in the opening round of the playoffs. Settle it they did Feb. 13, torching the Blue Waves, 75-55, in the Suffolk AA quarterfinal.

The Patriots scored first, building an 11-point lead after eight minutes, up 16 points at the half and then never looked back the rest of the way. Senior guard Jack Holland did what he’s done all season leading the Patriots with 22 points. Teammate Giancarlo Serratore netted 18, while Ted Bliznakov banked 10. The Patriots 3-point game was devastating where Serratore and Holland nailed four treys each while Luke McIlvaine banked two for the win.

The No. 9 seeded Patriots (8-5) will have their work cut out for them on another road game when they collide with No. 1 seed Brentwood (13-0) Feb. 20. Game time is 6 p.m.

Ruth Gracey and Dr. H. Jean Berger are to be honored later this year by the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. Photos from Michelle Dougherty

Two women from the Port Jefferson and Three Village school districts have been posthumously named to the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 for their work organizing girls sports athletics.

Dr. H. Jean Berger and Ruth Gracey were named along with two other women for developing and organizing the Suffolk County Girls Athletic Association in 1949, 23 years prior to federal Title IX legislation, which established no discrimination of participation based on sex.

The hall of fame is naming them due to their “persistence and dedication,” which effectively jump-started women’s ability to participate in and coach school athletics throughout the county.

Berger and Gracey, along with Annamae McKeever-Kress and Jeanette Rogers, developed the constitution, policies and rules, guidelines for scheduling and officiating games for the SCGAA. They envisioned and created a senior athletic awards program and developed the coveted Gold Key Award to recognize senior high school athletes.

“The Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame is honored to induct these four trailblazing women for all they accomplished in building a path and platform for girls to success in sports in Suffolk County,” said Chris Vaccaro, the executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. “What they achieved, long before the passing of Title IX, is remarkable and hundreds, if not thousands, of women have dedicated their lives to athletics thanks to what they built more than 70 years ago. This is a posthumous honor for these inductees, but we know they will be with us in spirit that night.”

All four women are being honored at a ceremony May 26 during the hall of fame’s 30th anniversary celebration at Watermill Caterers, 711 Smithtown Bypass in Smithtown. Tickets are $125 for an adult and $75 for a child. More information can be found at suffolksportshof.com.

Ruth Gracey 

Gracey was born in Syracuse in 1906 and attended Syracuse University from 1926 to 1929, majoring in physical education. After, she received a master’s degree in physical education from Adelphi University. 

In 1944 she began her career as the single female physical education instructor at Port Jefferson High School. During this first year at the school, she started the Girls Leaders Club and a year later she was instrumental in creating intramural sports for girls. By the 1948 school year, she was named director of girls physical education and coached soccer, hockey, volleyball, basketball and badminton. In 1949, she helped create the Suffolk County Girls Athletic Association, specifically the constitution and by-laws, and helped to establish a girls sports awards program. She retired from Port Jefferson in 1971 and in 1996 was inducted into the Port Jefferson district’s Wall of Fame. She passed away in 1990.

Elizabeth Schwartz, Gracey’s granddaughter and former student, said her grandmother, along with her contemporaries, pioneered the sense that girls and women were just as capable in sports as anybody else. Gracey was one of the first to make field hockey an institution of Long Island sports, Schwartz said, and she also introduced programs for women in basketball and track and even an archery club. 

“She was one of the first to have the overriding idea that sports was a way to take positions of leadership,” Schwartz said, adding it was “a long time coming” to see the names of her grandmother and the other woman added to the wall.

Port Jefferson board President Ellen Boehm said that while she came into the district right after Gracey had retired, she was the one who took girls sports to the next level within the district. She said that before women like Gracey pushed for equality in sports, girls would often play just a few innings of a sport like softball with another school. 

“She was one of the trailblazers in bringing recognition to girls sports,” she said.

Schwartz remembered her grandmother’s memorial, how in a packed house with “people in the rafters” all saying the same thing, that “Ruth was a special person to them, and they were a special person to her.” They all realized, “she had that quality — to make you feel you were the most important person in the world.”

Dr. H. Jean Berger 

Berger was originally from Nebraska but moved to Erie County with her family in 1930. She graduated from Springville-Griffith Institute High School in 1941 and then from SUNY Buffalo State College in 1945 where she majored in physical education. She later attained her doctorate of education degree from New York University.

Her career started in Springville in 1946 before moving on to Bay Shore in 1949, where she developed sports activities for girls at a time when girls athletics was frowned upon.

She would spend most of her career at the Three Village Central School District, and from 1966 to 1980 she worked as teacher, athletic coordinator of girls sports, leadership teacher and clinical supervisor for the K-8 physical education, volleyball coach and adviser to the Girls Leaders Club and Girls Athletic Association. 

In 1949 she was the first president of the Suffolk County Girls Athletic Association, and in 1975-1976, she was the president of NYS Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. At various times between 1966 and 1980 she was very involved with Section XI, Suffolk County athletics: vice president, multiple committees, board of directors, volleyball chair, athletic council and Gold Key committee. 

Berger passed away in 2003.

Michele Dougherty was a coach and administrator in the Three Village school district from 1973 to 2007 and worked with Berger for several years until her retirement in 1980. Dougherty said she “had a profound influence on me professionally and on a personal level.” She added, Berger, or Dr. B as she and the students called her, not only fought for the Gold Star Award that she and other women helped introduce in 1953 but helped expand it to cover boys athletics as well.

“She has had a profound influence on girls sports through her historic efforts in developing athletic programs for girls throughout the county,” Dougherty said.

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie visit local schools to offer therapy dog services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Bob Lynch and his dog Kallie are magnetic, or at least it seems that way to watch people come forward, asking gingerly if they can pet the dog, her tail waving frantically.

Coming into the TBR News Media offices, Kallie was the star of the show, and Lynch just let her work her magic. She doesn’t make a sound, instead just walking toward people asking to be petted. 

Lynch, a 73-year-old Mount Sinai resident, has been volunteering his time working with therapy dog services for the past several years. He’s owned Kallie, a keeshond, since she was a puppy, and they have been a team for five years. Though he works part time as a risk management consultant, he finds his biggest joy nowadays is taking Kallie where she’s needed most, on a voluntary basis, through the local chapter of Love on a Leash, which provides these services free of charge.

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that.”

– Bob Lynch

Kallie has been to nursing homes, veterans homes and hospitals, but where she’s been that her breed might be best at is at schools. 

“[Keeshonds] were bred to be babysitters — when they see kids they light up, they love kids, and going to school is perfect for that,” he said. “The work in itself is fulfilling, you walk into a room and see the smiles, and see the demeanor of the people change very quickly.”

Lynch will soon be at the Port Jefferson high and middle schools often as part of a new pilot program in the district that they say will relieve stress among students.

Christine Austen, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said she was contacted by Lynch last year and submitted it to the curriculum committee as a pilot, which they approved. The pilot program will run twice a month for four months starting in February and ending in May. A mailer and email will be sent to parents asking them whether they would like to opt out of such visits with the dog, whether it’s from allergies or a fear of animals. Austen said the decision of whether the dog is allowed in certain classes would be treated like allergies.

When presented at the Jan. 14 board meeting, some trustees expressed concerns about safety. Austen said the dog trainer would not be allowed alone with a student at any time and would always have a faculty member present.

Tara Sladek-Maharg, who teaches social studies and psychology in both the middle and high schools, originally brought in a therapy dog for her AP psychology class last year. She had become enthused about the idea of a therapy dog in the classroom after witnessing firsthand what a demonstrably positive effect it had on her own father, when trainer Linda Christian and her dog Murphy, also of Love on a Leash, came to Stony Brook University Hospital and showed him love and compassion after he had a seizure and was going through rehabilitation.

“He goes into rehab and he just sits and goes to each individual person and just lays his head down on them — petting the dog is just so calming,” she said. 

Bringing Murphy into the classroom so that the students could review classical conditioning was a transformative experience, Sladek-Maharg said. She has done more research into just why these dogs have such a positive impact on so many. The research shows that being around such dogs has a significant effect on a person’s neurotransmitters and hormones and significantly reduces fear and stress.

Studies have also shown such animals have a positive effect on elementary school students, especially in helping them speak up in public or in class.

“Today our students are very stressed — our staff is very stressed, so having the presence of a dog is just a wonderful outlet,” she said. “They don’t discriminate, especially if they are trained therapy animals. They don’t have any reason to make somebody feel self-conscious, and they have a calming effect on us.”

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love.”

– Catherine Lynch 

Other school districts that have experimented with therapy dogs in classrooms have come away talking of success. Lynch has been a regular at events hosted in the Longwood school district, Miller Place School District and Ward Melville in the Three Village district. 

Miller Place High School Library Media Specialist Catherine Lynch brings in therapy dogs once a year during testing to help students relax during such a stressful time. One thing she has noticed is students regularly put away their phones when interacting with the dogs, instead talking and petting the dogs or speaking with each other.

“Just petting the dog, they get this feeling of unconditional love,” she said, adding she would like to see the program expanded to multiple times throughout the school year.

In the Comsewogue school district, special education teacher Tom King has been taking his therapy-trained labradoodle to his classes for years. Last June, during exam season, the district brought in multiple dogs into the school cafeteria to interact with students. 

Love on a Leash is a national organization that started in San Diego in the 1980s as a volunteer organization for therapy dogs. The organization has expanded to include chapters across the U.S. and several thousand members. The Long Island chapter was founded about a decade ago and includes over 150 members and just around 25 “active” participants covering Suffolk, Nassau and parts of Queens.

Theresa Schwartz, the chapter president, said schools have been expanding such programs with therapy dogs. When she started about three years ago, schools would ask her to come in during testing times, but that has expanded into doing reading programs in elementary schools, after-school wildlife clubs, SEPTA events and even offering support services during emotionally fraught times, such as when a teacher or a student passes away.

The fact that Love on a Leash is a nonprofit volunteer organization makes the program unique, Lynch said. From the start, people who train the dogs and take them around are also their owners, living with them 24/7, and they have personally seen the ways a dog has helped bring people who are truly suffering a little bit of joy.

“I think I can speak for most of our volunteers doing this kind of thing, [it] makes the team, the dog and the handler, feel better, and makes other people feel better,” she said. “You see what joy your dog can bring to other people.”

Young people in an environment like school, Austen said, respond especially to animals. It has even had a positive impact on faculty.

“It just seems to take down the level of anxiety,” she said. “There are so many instigators of that, whether it’s cellphone use or social media — all of that constant stimulation. Then there are the academics at the high school, and the push to perform.”

If successful, which she expects the program will be, she wants to expand it to the elementary school, where studies have shown therapy dogs have a positive impact on helping people speak up in class.

 

Three Village Central School District becomes the first school district in New York to join a national lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul. TBR News Media file photo

Three Village Central School District is joining the fight against vaping devices.

In a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and Board of Education President William Connors, the district announced it became the first school district in New York to join a national lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul.

“As educators, it is our duty to protect the health and safety of our students, and we believe this company is compromising those efforts while simultaneously disrupting the educational process by marketing to teens,” Pedisich and Connors wrote.

Officials stated in the letter that legal fees will be covered by the firms representing the parties in the suit and will not come from district taxes.

The district officials said in the letter vaping devices are easy for teenagers to hide and use. 

“This epidemic, while a national one, has had a direct and grave impact on our local school community,” school officials said. “As a district, we have needed to divert resources and deploy new ones to combat the problem of teen vaping.”

Three Village has installed devices to detect vaping, created prevention programs, adjusted health curricula to focus on the dangers of vaping, created a new student assistant counselor position to focus on prevention and treatment, and embraced new disciplinary actions and a districtwide zero-tolerance policy on vaping, according to the letter.

Nearly 40 percent of 12th grade students and 27 percent of high school students in New York State are now using e-cigarettes, according to New York State officials.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website that the use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for children, teens and young adults, as most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful substances. According to the agency, highly-addictive nicotine can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.

As at Oct. 8, the CDC has reported 1,080 vaping-associated illnesses in the United States with 23 deaths. There have been 110 cases attributed to New York, according to the state’s health department. On the same day, the death of a Bronx teen was announced as the first confirmed fatality related to vape products in New York.

 

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Sophia Zhukovsky, a Stony Brook University sophomore and Ward Melville High School graduate, addresses the school board Sept. 18. Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

Activism is strong in Three Village.

At the Sept. 18 Three Village school board meeting, parents, students and alumni came out in support of an issue that has concerned many members of the community: school start times.

“It’s very strenuous to strive for academic and personal success on half the medically recommended sleep time for people my age.”

Sophia Zhukovsky

Earlier in the month, the board heard from parents in favor of later start times for the district’s three secondary schools. Last week, the board heard from Ward Melville graduates and students, themselves.

“Sleep deprivation does not have to be a part of Ward Melville culture,” said Sophia Zhukovsky, a sophomore at Stony Brook University and a Ward Melville graduate.

“Ward Melville has a great deal of high-achieving, dedicated and bright students, but it also has a great deal of exhausted students,” she said. “It’s very strenuous to strive for academic and personal success on half the medically recommended sleep time for people my age.”

Student and parent speakers echoed Zhukovsky’s sentiments. They described mornings as a “time of family anxiety and stress” and shared personal stories about the impact of sleep deprivation on family time and emotional health.

“Even 30 minutes would do a lot for students at the school in terms of both mental health and for fostering community,” wrote Kirti Nath, 2017 Ward Melville valedictorian. Nath couldn’t attend the meeting, but her letter was read to the board by high school student Natalia Newton.

“Ward Melville is undeniably one of the best public high schools that I know of, and I am incredibly grateful to have gotten my start there,” said Nath, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore. “I write this because I think that the Ward Melville experience can be even better.”

Annemarie Waugh, a local artist, P.J. Gelinas parent and founder of Sidewalks For Safety, said allowing students more time to sleep would “level the playing field” both athletically and academically. She added yet another concern.

“The system now encourages inexperienced teenage drivers to be driving in the dark at the same time other students are waiting on busy roads with no sidewalks in the dark,” she said. “This arrangement doubles the risk of tragedy.”

In addition to drawing even more supporters than the previous board meeting, the It’s About Time: Three Village Parents For A Later School Start Time movement gathered more than 1,400 signatures in a little more than a week.

But breaking through the chorus of support for a later secondary start time was Vincent Sperandeo, a parent of Ward Melville graduates. “Changing us would also mean that other districts would have to change as well,” he said.

He pointed out that Ward Melville was within the range of start times for surrounding school districts and changing Three Village’s junior high and high school start times would have to be done “in coordination with other districts.”

While Ward Melville starts at 7:05 am, nearby districts range in start time from the 7:02 a.m. warning bell at Miller Place High School to 7:10 a.m. at Comsewogue High School, 7:20 a.m. in Smithtown and 7:30 a.m. in Commack, Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai.

“The real world out there is not starting at 9 o’clock,” Sperandeo said. “The real world out there is starting when your job is telling you to start.”

Although districts in the immediate area have start times well before 8 a.m., schools across the nation have been taking a serious look at delaying start times.  Ever since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 2014 that secondary schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., attention to the issue has grown. The State of California has even gone so far as to propose a bill pushing back start times for all of its secondary schools.

According to research, biological changes in the adolescent circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. Waking up to catch an early bus interrupts the later part of their sleep cycle, preventing them from getting the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep their developing bodies and brains need.

Researchers at Seattle’s University of Washington and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, found that students at two Seattle high schools that changed to later start times got more sleep during the week, had fewer tardies and absences in their first period classes and had improved academic performance.

“Changing us would also mean that other districts would have to change as well.”

— Vincent Sperandeo

Despite the abundance of information favoring later start times, most U.S. high schools start before 8:30 a.m., and some schools that considered change decided against it because of logistics.

That’s why Barbara Rosati, founder of It’s About Time, has suggested that Three Village officials attend the Adolescent Health and School Start Times Workshop, in Pennsylvania, which would cover the “science, strategies, logistics and tips” for making a shift.

The Nov. 13 workshop is already full. However, the website indicated that the organizer — the national group, Start School Later — was considering a second session.

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, who described the research on later start times as “cogent, valid and reliable,” said last week that the district would begin phase 1 of its investigation into the shift. This would mean “data gathering” so that there could be “meaningful conversation,” she said.

This process, the superintendent said, would include surveys of parents, staff and students, as well as conversations with districts that have made the time change and those that considered it, but decided against it. Pedisich estimated that if the board moved forward with a committee, it would take shape in January.

“The last thing in the world we want to do is give the impression that we’re not listening,” said board president William Connors during a telephone interview. “Fourteen hundred signatures is compelling and shows we have to listen and do our due diligence.”

But there are also a lot of factors to consider, he added, such as the “domino” effect on other grades and the fact that a shift could cost the district “literally millions of dollars” in additional transportation costs.

“I don’t like the idea of kids getting up at 5 in the morning, but we have to look at the alternatives and establish our priorities,” Connors said.

With 18 minutes left in the game, Ward Melville’s field hockey team retied the game at 4-all before Northport sophomore Shannon Smith scored the go-ahead goal two minutes later. It would prove to be just enough for the Tigers to edge the Patriots to win the game 5-4 at home in a Div I matchup Sept 11.

Northport’s scoring came from five different players. Along with Smith’s goal, senior Kate McLam rocked the box as did her younger sister, freshman Emma McLam. Sophomores Anna Trizzino and Sophia Bica also helped stretch the net.

Courtney Quinn, a senior, had a pair of goals for the Patriots while Amanda Lee and Isabella Paglia both put one in the back of the box.

The win puts Northport at 3-0 early in the season and the Patriots slip to 2-1.

Ward Melville retakes the field Sept. 13 at home in a non-league contest against Southampton, set to start at 6:30 p.m. The Tigers are back action the following day, Sept. 14 where the travel to Sachem North for a 12 p.m. start.

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Board of education listens to pleas to let students begin school later in the day

Parents, including Barbara Rosati, who organized residents, talked to the Three Village board of ed about the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day. Many wore stickers that read, “It’s about time.” Photo by Andrea Paldy

By Andrea Paldy

It’s about time. That’s what a group of parents told the Three Village school district board and administrators last week when they asked for later start times for the district’s three secondary schools at the Sept. 4 board of education meeting.

They wore their conviction on stickers that said, “It’s about time: Three Village parents for a later start time,” and filled rows in the board room to show their support for the cause.

School board members and administrators listened, with board president William Connors promising that the discussion would continue.

Parents, including Barbara Rosati, talk to the Three Village board of ed about the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day. Many wore stickers that read, “It’s about time.” Photo by Andrea Paldy

Parents, fortified with research and statistics to illustrate the consensus within the medical community, spoke about the toll sleep deprivation takes on the physical, emotional and mental well-being of adolescents.  

“Unlike other districts that have nonetheless successfully implemented the shift, you have our full support,” said Barbara Rosati, research assistant professor in physiology and biophysics at Stony Brook University.

The mother of a P.J. Gelinas eighth-grader and founder of the recent movement in the Three Village district, Rosati went on to say, “We encourage you to reexamine this issue today in a different socioeconomic context and with the renewed attitude of asking, not whether this can be done … but how this will be done here.”

Since first bringing the issue to the board in June, Rosati has organized two parent information sessions and launched an online petition that went live this week and gathered over 500 signatures in the first 24 hours. In addition to her request for a later start time, she has also asked the district to sponsor sessions with sleep experts for the school community and to include sleep hygiene in its health curriculum.

Marlo Dombroff, the mother of two secondary students and a clinical assistant professor and chief physician assistant in the division of gynecologic oncology at Stony Brook University, reiterated the dangers of sleep deprivation in young people, which she said, “negatively impacts their ability to learn, weakens the immune systems, leading to more missed school days, causes anxiety and depression, which leads to increased risk of suicide, increases accidents … and later in life, causes increased risk of hypertension, diabetes and obesity.”

Research shows that changes in adolescents’ circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. This is one of the reasons that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Academy and American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later, so that students can get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep their bodies need.

During a phone interview, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich agreed that the “research is 100 percent valid.” She added, though, that there are many variables to consider when it comes to shifting the school schedule.

“This is not that black and white, and, of course, students’ health and well-being are critical to us,” she said. “We’ve increased our clinical staff throughout the district. When people were making cuts, we never touched our clinical staff because we do believe our students’ mental health is critical.”

The last time the district looked at changing the 7:05 a.m. and 7:35 a.m. high school and junior high start times, a number of issues presented themselves, said Pedisich, who was co-chair of the committee that discussed the issue in 2010 and into 2012. Both elementary and secondary parents were on the committee, which discovered among its findings that parents of elementary school children were against the idea of having their young children home at 1:30 p.m., Pedisich said.

Additional considerations were transportation, scheduling for athletics, BOCES and the elementary music program. 

Last week’s speakers noted that many secondary students don’t ride the bus because of the early start times and suggested that a time change could be an opportunity to make district transportation more efficient and cost-effective.

“You are not alone. We can and we will help you,” Rosati said, offering access to experts who could help ease the transition.

While she would be willing to hear from those experts, Pedisich said the district’s transportation needs are special, in part, because the district buses all of its students unlike other districts. She also pointed to topographical issues with the layout and square mileage of the district -— 22.5 — which present their own challenges and require the knowledge of the district’s own transportation experts. 

Three Village’s staggered bus schedule, possible because of four different start times, won the district a state Management Efficiency Grant in 2013 and saves the district $1.5 million a year, said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services. The largest run uses about 50 buses, he said after last week’s meeting. If the junior high and the high school buses were to run at the same time to accommodate later start times, the district could pay more for buses.

Pedisich discussed other challenges, such as the nine-period high school day, which is specific to Three Village. A later start time could eat into instructional time at the high school and could also affect the ability of students to attend afternoon BOCES classes, she said.

Rosati referred to other districts like Jericho that have made the shift to a later start time and continue to have strong music and athletic programs, suggesting that the tension between athletics and scheduling can be overcome.

To Pedisich, who notes that Three Village has a particularly “robust” and competitive program, the decision is based on balancing the needs of all students. “It’s hard to say that maybe we can’t offer the same level of programs,” she said, which could be the case with a shift. For many students, athletics is their “lifeline” and connection to the school and community and is a source of self-esteem and confidence, she added.

Because many of the coaches and club advisers are teachers in the district, they too would need to be polled to see if they are willing to extend their days, the superintendent said.

Pedisich said the board would discuss the issue in a private session before bringing it back to an open meeting. Even if a task force were approved by the board, it would take a minimum of two years to reach a decision because of all of the logistics involved.

“I’m not opposed to it,” Pedisich said of a later start time. “I want to do what’s right for kids — but it can’t be for one group of kids. It has to be what’s right for all kids.”

Dombroff, who acknowledged that she like many moved to Three Village because of its reputation, said, “If it’s good now, imagine how good it would be if we let our kids get adequate sleep.”

When the applause died down, she added, “Let them function at the top of their abilities, leading to the ultimate goal of happier, healthier students.”

 

Sleep researchers say students who get even 30 minutes more sleep a night will see huge effects on overall performance. Stock photo

By Kyle Barr and Rita J. Egan

Come September, middle and high school students across the North Shore will wake up to the harsh sound of alarms, sometimes hours before the sun will rise.

Some will wake up late, and rush in and out of the shower, sometimes not having time to eat before they make it to the bus stop, often in the dark where the cicadas continue to buzz and the crickets chirp.

Port Jefferson high schoolers will shuffle through the front doors before 7:20 a.m. Students at Ward Melville High School will hear the first bell at 7:05, while Comsewogue students will be in their seats at 7:10.

Some scientists across the North Shore have said that needs to change.

The science

Brendan Duffy has worked in St. Charles Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center for nearly a decade, coming out of working at Stony Brook University as a sleep technician. As he worked in the field, he started seeing significant connections between the effectiveness of individuals during the day and how much sleep they got the night before. For teens, he said, the importance is all the greater. Sleep, he said, has a direct impact on risk-taking versus making smart choices, potential drug use, obesity and depression.

“The science is irrefutable,” he said. “Basically, anything you do, whether it’s mentally or physically — it doesn’t directly cause [these harmful decisions], but there’s connections and links.”

While some parents would simply tell their kids to get off their phone or computer and go to bed, scientists have said the bodies of young people, specifically teenagers, have internal clocks that are essentially set two hours back. Even if a young person tries to fall asleep at 9 p.m., he or she will struggle to slumber. Duffy said scientists call it the delayed sleep phase, and it directly affects the timing of the body’s melatonin production.

During sleep, the body enters what’s called “recovery processes,” which will regulate certain hormones in the brain and effectively flush all waste products from daily brain activity. Without enough sleep, these processes do not have time to work.

“The science is irrefutable.”

— Brendan Duffy

That is not to mention rapid eye movement sleep. REM sleep is a period during the night where heart rate and breathing quickens, and dreams become more intense. Lauren Hale, a sleep researcher and professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, called this period critical to sleep. The longest period of REM happens in the latest part of the sleep cycle, the one deprived by waking up early. 

“For decades, scientists have known young people are sleep deprived,” she said. “It’s not that they can get by on six or seven hours of sleep … teenagers are the most at risk of not getting the sleep they need.”

Of course, it is not to say modern technology has not affected young people. Duffy said phones and computers have meant the brain is never given time to rest. Even in downtime, minds are constantly active, whether it’s playing video games or simply scrolling through Facebook.

“They’re not given a break,” Duffy said. “Their brains are constantly processing, processing, processing.”

Sleep and sports

“I looked at all the school athletic programs that have been decimated by changing their start times, and I couldn’t find anything,” Duffy added. “It’s hard for athletes to perform or recover if they’re not sleeping well at the high school level.”

In research, college football teams looked at which kids were likely to be injured, and those who received less than eight hours of sleep were 70 percent more likely to be injured, according to Duffy.

That research led him to find Start School Later, a nonprofit national advocacy group to change the minimum school start time to 8:30 a.m., at a minimum. Duffy communicated with the nonprofit to provide data on the effect lack of sleep has on players. He has become its athletic liaison.

He points to professional sports teams, many of which have sleep professionals whose jobs are to set sleep schedules for their players and help reach peak effectiveness.

History of sleep and schools

Dr. Max Van Gilder is a retired pediatrician and coordinator for the New York branch of Start School Later. He said that while most schools traditionally started at 9 a.m. for most of the 20th century, the move toward earlier start times was relatively recent, only beginning around 1975 with busing consolidation. Schools started doing multiple bus runs for different grade levels, and high school students would be the first ones on these routes.

For decades, the early start became more and more established. Start School Later was created little more than a decade ago, but it’s only recently that some states have started to try later times.

In 2016, Seattle passed a law moving start times from 7:50 to 8:45 a.m. A study of the effects of that change showed students got an average of 34 more minutes of sleep a day or several hours over the course of the week. It also showed an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness. The study gave examples that in some classes average grades were up 4.5 points more than previous classes at the earlier start times.

“We need to work with the superintendents.”

— Max Von Gilder

In California, a bill that would have moved minimum start times to 8:30 a.m. was supported by both houses of the state Legislature before being vetoed by the governor last year. A similar bill is currently going through the legislative process again. Other states like Virginia and New Jersey have started to experiment with later start times.

On Long Island, very few districts have made significant increases in start times. Van Gilder said two-thirds of the high schools in New York state (excluding NYC) start before 8 a.m., with an average start time around 7:45. Only 2 percent of high schools start after the recommended time of 8:30, according to him.

The main difficulty of encouraging later start times is due to districts being so largely independent from both the state and each other. While this gives each district particular freedoms, it also means cooperation is that much harder. A district that changes start times would have to renegotiate with bus companies and find ways to navigate scheduling sports games between schools with different start times.

“The state constitution makes it very difficult for the State of New York to pass a law to say when you can start,” Van Gilder said. “We need to work with the superintendents.”

However, proponents of late start said the benefits easily outweigh the negatives.

“There are ways around it and, to me, this is a strong evidence base for opportunity to improve adolescent medical health, physical health, academic outcomes, safer driving — there is such a positive range of outcomes,” said Hale of SBU.

Parents working together

In the Three Village Central School District, more than two dozen parents filled a meeting room in Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Aug. 23. Barbara Rosati, whose daughter is an eighth-grader in P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, organized the meeting to discuss the benefits of teenagers starting school later in the day.

Rosati, a research assistant professor at SBU’s Renaissance School of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, said during conversations with Van Gilder she discovered there are only four high schools in New York that begin school as early or earlier than Ward Melville’s 7:05 start time. Because of their internal clocks, she described the teenagers as constantly being jet lagged.

“Older kids — adolescents, high schoolers, junior high school students — for them it’s much more difficult to get up early in the morning, and this has a physiological
basis,” Rosati said.

The goal of the Aug. 23 meeting was to go over studies, create an action plan and then put that plan into motion. The professor pointed toward the studies that show teenagers who are sleep deprived can be more susceptible to mood swings and drowsiness, and it can affect academic and athletic performance as well as cause long-term health problems such as anxiety, diabetes, eating disorders and cardiovascular problems.

“We’re spending a lot of money in this district to make our schools better and improve their performance, and then we undermine the kids with things like sleep deprivation,” Rosati said. “We undermine not only their health but academic performance.”

“We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

— Barbara Rosati

Parents at the meeting agreed they need to be sympathetic to the school board, and Rosati added that she believed, based on prior experience, that the board would be willing to help.

“We have to show them our support, and at the same time we have to make sure they are willing to do this and feel committed to such an effort, because this is not something that you do halfheartedly,” she said.

Frances Hanlon, who has a sixth-grade student in Setauket Elementary School, agreed that the parents can work with the board trustees and that it wasn’t an us-versus-them issue.

“We can’t be, ‘We know better than you and why aren’t you?’” Hanlon said. “We all have to work on this together and that’s what’s going to make a change.”

Rosati and those in attendance are set to survey how many families are in the district and, when the school year begins, will start a petition for those in favor of late start times to sign.

Among the suggestions parents had were bringing the late school start presentation that Rosati created to the school board and PTA meetings throughout the district, with further plans to record and send it by email to parents. One mother also suggested that high school students join the parents at BOE meetings. Rosati said she would also like to have experts such as Van Gilder and Hale present a talk for the board trustees.

“We can use the help of these professionals to inform the board that there is really solid scientific evidence, and we’re not just doing this because we’re lazy and don’t want to get up early in the morning,” Rosati said. “We’re doing this because we care about our children’s mental health and academic achievement.”

Reaction from districts

Both of Duffy’s kids are already graduates of the Port Jefferson School District, and he has yet to present in front of the school board, saying he wants to gain more traction in the community before bringing it to school officials. He has been trying to get support through posts on social media.

“It really can’t come just from me, it has to come from the community,” he said.

Though Hale has gone in front of school boards at Shoreham-Wading River and a committee in Smithtown, she lives in Northport and has two young girls at elementary school level. She has also written editorials in scientific journals about the topic.

When Rosati attended a Three Village board of education meeting in June, she said a few trustees told her that starting high school later in the day could lead to eliminating some of the music programs while teams may not be able to compete against neighboring schools in sporting games.

After her appearance before the school board, she said she researched a number of schools on Long Island, including Jericho High School which starts at 9 a.m. and saw that they could still manage to have music programs and play schools at sports with different start times.

A statement from the Three Village School District said it had commissioned a lengthy discussion regarding school start times, but while it was in support of the research, it identified negative impacts to the athletic programs, transportation, BOCES offerings and elementary music.

“You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

— Lauren Hale

 

The district said it also conducted an informal survey of a small portion of the student population, who said they were not in favor of later starts, but Three Village added it was only used to gather anecdotal information.

There are a few things parents can do to aid their child’s sleep beyond the later start. Rosati offered some tips, including regular bedtimes, providing balanced meals, curfew on screen times, and limiting extracurricular activities and the intake of sugar and caffeine in the evening hours. She and her husband have tried their best to follow those guidelines, but she said they still kept their daughter home multiple days due to sleep deprivation last academic year.

“We should not be put in the position to choose between education and health for our kids,” Rosati said.

When asked, Shoreham-Wading River, Port Jefferson and Northport school districts all said they were not currently looking into later
start times.

Still, Hale said despite her frustrations with the reaction from some districts she’s continuing to argue for later start times.

“We need to work together with communities so that parents and teachers and school board members understand this is for the benefit of the students and the community,” she said. “You don’t have to look hard to see the benefits of this.”

Rosati plans to host another meeting Sept. 10 at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket from 7:30 to 9 p.m.