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Three Village

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, right, enjoys a string performance during the CommUniversity Day event held Saturday, Oct. 14. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University
By Samantha Rutt

Stony Brook University showcased the many facets of its campus community during the CommUniversity Day event Saturday, Oct. 14.

Starting at noon, the event highlighted the campus through hands-on interactive activities, entertainment and thought-provoking mini-talks, as stated in the campus newsletter. The free event welcomed all members of the community, faculty and staff, friends and families.

Although rescheduled from its original date, the community response to the event was extolled by CommUniversity Day executive director Joan Dickinson.

“Despite weather delays and changing plans, CommUniversity Day 2023 was a wonderful event for visitors of all ages,” Dickinson said. “The response was amazing.”

Held in the uniquely designed university staple, the Charles B. Wang Center, CommUniversity Day featured “neighborhoods,” or stations, for community visitors to explore. Some attractions included Tech & Discovery Zone, The Arts and Kazoo-university, Find Out in 15, Rubber Duck Race, Health, Safety and Traditions.

“We had a couple of past favorites, such as the Teddy Bear Clinic and the Instrument Petting Zoo, as well as some new activities, such as the Tooth Fairy Story Time and the Appliance Autopsy,” Dickinson added. “CommUniversity Day is a great way to give the community an inside look into Stony Brook through hands-on learning.”

Several students displayed research projects on topics ranging from the arts to health care and medicine. Karen Kernan, director of programs for research and creative activity at SBU, expressed her excitement for the event.

“I have always enjoyed CommUniversity — it’s great to see families connecting with all the wonderful activities showcased, from the arts to the environment to health care and medicine,” she said. “The picture would not be complete without our wonderful student researchers. We’re so proud of the work they are doing.”

Also present at the event was Stony Brook’s Island Harvest Food Drive, encouraging all eventgoers to bring nonperishable food items to contribute to the cause and for a free cooler bag.

CommUniversity Day was introduced to the Stony Brook community in 2017, created to connect the campus cultures and the surrounding area, cultivating stronger ties. SBU plans to continue holding this event for years to come.

“It was an incredible day,” Dickinson said.

Police car

In an email to the Three Village Central School District community, Kevin Scanlon, superintendent, announced the passing  of eighth-grader Qamat Shah.

“It is with a heavy heart that I share that earlier this morning the district was informed that a Murphy Junior High School eighth-grader, Qamat Shah, tragically passed away after an accident on an area roadway,” Scanlon wrote. “We are extremely saddened to hear of this heartbreaking news and know that a sudden loss like this can have a profound effect on the entire school community.”

Scanlon continued that a crisis intervention plan was implemented in the school district. Grief counselors would be on hand for students and staff at all schools as needed. Scanlon also instructed parents with “questions or concerns about how to navigate discussing this news with their child” to contact the main office of their child’s school. Secondary-level schools will also provide support through the guidance office or the high school counseling center.

According to Suffolk County Police, David Zerella, of Port Jefferson, was driving westbound on Route 347 at Wireless Road in Setauket on March 2 when his 2015 Dodge Charger struck bicyclist Qamat Shah at 6:30 p.m. as the 14-year-old was crossing Route 347. Qamat was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Zerella and his passenger were not injured. The vehicle was impounded for a safety check. Suffolk County Police Sixth Squad detectives are investigating and asking anyone with information to call 631-854-8652.


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Main Street in East Setauket looking east about 1935. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

The appearance of Main Street in East Setauket has changed considerably over the years with the needs of the business community. Today, this small historic business area is seeing a revitalization. Old businesses are sprucing up and new businesses are moving in. The park along the waterway is a delightful and favorite addition. Businesses looking for a local historic flavor should take a closer look at available locations along this small area of Route 25A.

harles E. Smith and Sportin’ Bill in front of Smith’s general store in East Setauket. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

In the 1800s, the business district of East Setauket was confined to an area between South Street, now Gnarled Hollow Road, and Baptist Avenue, now Shore Road. The village blacksmith shop, run by William Smith, stood where East Setauket Automotive is now and to the east were two wooden bridges that spanned the stream that still runs under 25A. The road was much lower then and the north side of the bridge was ideal for thirsty horses that were permitted to drink. The blacksmith shop was moved in the 1850s to a location on Gnarled Hollow Road where it was purchased in 1875 by Samuel West.

Over the years, the stores on the south side of Main Street changed with names such as Jones, Jayne, Smith, Bossey, Darling, Bellows and Rogers prominent among shop owners. Shops included a general store, meat market, shoe store, tailor, clothing shop and the usual combination of general store and post office. One of the shop owners in the late 1890s was Charles E. Smith. C.E., as he became known, was born in 1841 on his family’s farm in South Setauket. Before he was 20 years old, he was running a butcher wagon and had a large trade in the area. He established, according to the Port Jefferson Times, the first permanent meat market at East Setauket and later became the owner of the general store founded by his father-in-law, Carlton Jayne. His brother, Orlando Smith, ran a butcher shop in Stony Brook.

Charles E. Smith was very successful and eventually owned a great deal of property, including acreage where the Stony Brook University is now and other land across Route 25A from the old East Setauket schoolhouse. The house on the southwest corner of Coach Road and 25A became his home by the early years of the 20th century and his general store stood on the present empty lot west of what is now HSBC Bank.

All his life, he was a lover of good trotting horses and delighted in driving them. His last horse was a spirited one named Sporting Bill. He used to race Bill at the Hulse track in East Setauket and the story of the race between Irish Mag and Sporting Bill is detailed in the book, “Setauket, The First 300 Years.” Sporting Bill was stabled in the Hawkins barn that was later destroyed to make way for a housing development along Old Town Road.

East Setauket Mai Street looking west. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

Charlie Bickford remembered working with the horse for C.E. “I was scared of him as a boy. The horse was skittish and even bit me on the shoulder once. One day, C.E. told one of the fellows to get Bill out of the barn and brush him down. They didn’t like that. When you went into the stall Bill would turn his head the other way and squeeze you against the stall. I worked a few summers for C.E. plowing his fields and spreading manure. One day, I was driving Bill to the fields behind the Stony Brook Railroad Station when he darted into the brush and nearly upset the wagon. He used to do that kind of thing quite often to brush the flies off his back.”

At the age of 82, Charles Smith was fatally injured when he was dragged under the teeth of a hay rake attached to his horse Sporting Bill. C.E. died on April 22, 1923, and was buried at Caroline Church in Setauket. The store of Charles Smith continued to operate as a general store through the 1950s.

Many other changes have taken place over the years. In 1926, the road was paved for the first time, and in 1928, the property on the southwest corner of 25A and Gnarled Hollow Road, called “Colonial Corners” by its owner Mr. LaRoche, was changed to its present appearance with the addition of a group of stores. The house on this site, which was at one time the home of blacksmith William Smith, remained behind the stores, but the entrance was changed so it faced Gnarled Hollow Road. When this writer was growing up it was the home of Sarah Ann Sells who worked as a laundress. I remember stopping there from time to time with school friend Larry Payne. Mrs. Sells always offered us a peanut butter sandwich.

Beverly C. Tyler is a Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730. or visit www.tvhs.org.

Above, Main Street in East Setauket looking east about 1935. Below, Charles E. Smith and Sportin’ Bill in front of Smith’s general store in East Setauket. Photos from Beverly C. Tyler

Mark Freely with a furry friend. Photo from Mark Freely

Mark Freeley is the kind of person who likes to get his hands dirty, especially when it comes to helping people in need.

The longtime Stony Brook resident is usually juggling multiple projects, sometimes all in the same day. Whether he’s fighting insurance companies on behalf of his law firm’s clients or picking up rescued dogs, Freeley never shies away from stepping up.

As a young law student at Hofstra University, Freeley got his first taste of how his career could make a difference.

“I was a law clerk for a small firm that did personal injury cases, and I found that I really enjoyed it,” said Freeley, founder of The North Shore Injury Lawyer based in Woodbury. “It’s gratifying to know that I can help people dealing with serious accidents or injuries fight for the insurance money they need.”

This year, he’s also been working with small businesses struggling to access financial assistance in the wake of the pandemic.

Those efforts caught the attention of Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, who also advocates for local businesses.

“I thought it was terrible that so many businesses were being denied support from their insurance companies because of the nature” of the pandemic closures, Rocchio said. “When I found out Mark was involved in fighting for those businesses, I picked up the phone and introduced myself. He has so much compassion for the entire community.”

As it turned out, Rocchio and Freeley often crossed paths while walking their dogs around the T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park. Last summer, Tropical Storm Isaias did significant damage to the site, leaving piles of rubble and a six-figure bill in its wake.

Without prompting, Freeley launched a social media campaign to help restore the park and chipped in some of his own money. 

That’s only the latest example of how Freeley has used social media to create positive change. In 2017, he and his dog Storm earned national attention when Storm rescued a drowning deer on their usual walk. Freeley created a Facebook page, Good Boy Storm, to raise awareness of local animal rescue needs.

While he’s always loved animals, it was Freeley’s daughter that led him to do more. Their weekly visits to see the puppies at the Lake Grove Petco store in her younger years blossomed into them volunteering together with Last Chance Animal Rescue in Southampton.

“We did it every Saturday for eight years, rarely missing a week,” Freeley said. “They’re such wonderful people, and I’ve made some really tight bonds through helping to save animals.”

Last Chance is run entirely by volunteers, and Freeley has done everything from fostering to running adoption events and picking up newly rescued dogs at 6 a.m. each weekend.

“I meet the transport van in Patchogue every Saturday, when they bring up rescued dogs from South Carolina. I’m in charge of all the collars and leashes, and making sure the right dog is going to the right foster family,” he explained. “When that van opens up and you see it full of animals that have been saved from being killed, all that effort is worth it.”

This past year, according to Last Chance, it has facilitated the adoption of 875 dogs and cats. And even though his daughter is now away at college, Freeley keeps coming back. 

“Mark and his daughter Nicole were so faithful right off the bat, and Mark was always willing to take on additional responsibility when needed,” said Judith Langmaid, director of adoption for Last Chance Animal Rescue. “He’s been there to teach other volunteers that come in, run his own supply drives, sponsor fundraising events, and even play golf in the pouring rain for our benefit. He really is a superb individual and we are so grateful to have him.”

Langmaid added that Freeley is humble and would likely shy away from any attention focused on his contributions.

“He’d rather highlight everyone else and encourage others to lend a hand,” she said.

Before congratulating Mark Freeley for being named a TBR News Media Person of the Year, consider fostering or adopting through Last Chance Animal Rescue. An animal can only be brought to Long Island if there is a foster family ready to take it in, so help is always needed. Learn more by calling 631-478-6844 or visit www.lcarescue.org.

George Hoffman, right, moved to the Three Village area after meeting his wife, Maria Hoffman. File photo from Maria Hoffman

George Hoffman is a familiar face from Setauket Harbor to Brookhaven Town Hall. Intending to make a difference in the Three Village area each day, he revitalized the civic association, co-founded the Setauket Harbor Task Force, helped head up the Route 25A Citizen Advisory Committee and more.

For someone who has such a presence in the community, people are surprised to hear that he hasn’t lived here for decades. Hoffman moved to East Setauket after he met his wife, Maria Hoffman, former chief of staff for state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

In a 2019 TBR News Media interview, the Hoffmans said they married in 2009 in Frank Melville Memorial Park. A couple of years before they tied the knot, the two met through Englebright’s office. George Hoffman, who had a career in the political field for 35 years, was living on the South Shore working with former county Legislator Wayne Prospect (D-Dix Hills) when he first met Englebright. One day when he saw Maria at the office, she asked him to take a walk in the park and soon after they started dating.

Charles Lefkowitz, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, met Hoffman more than 20 years ago when both of them held government jobs. The chamber president said Hoffman’s passion for the Three Village community combined with his experience in politics, drive to protect the environment and also understanding the importance of economic viability are fitting for the area.

“He has the ability to work with town, county, state and federal officials,” Lefkowitz said. “George understands how government works to the benefit of the not-for-profits he’s involved in. His biggest attribute is his ability to work in a bipartisan manner for the benefit of the community.” 

Laurie Vetere, one of the co-founders of the harbor task force, has known Hoffman since they both started in the civic association and calls him a driving force.

She said he steps up where needed and is always dependable, adding he attends town board meetings and coordinates meetings with the county and Department of Environmental Conservation to speak about the health of local harbors on behalf of the task force.

Hoffman lowering a Sonde sensor to collect water depth, temperature and salinity readings before taking water samples for alkalinity. File photo from Maria Hoffman

“He’s always pretty much prepared with everything he does,” she said. “He puts the time and effort in, because he really wants to do good work, and he just values being proficient at what he does.”

Vetere added that Hoffman has learned environmental science and marine science information that he applies to the organization’s water testing activities that the task force does for Save the Sound and a sugar kelp project with the Moore foundation

“We have a great group of volunteers on our board, but George has really taken up the whole heavy load, and he’s learned so much science,” she said.

Lefkowitz counts Hoffman being one of the founding members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and implementing a water quality testing program among his greatest achievements.

“Becoming a steward of Setauket Harbor, I think that’s one of his greatest accomplishments as well as the revitalization of the civic association,” Lefkowitz said.

Hoffman became president of the civics earlier this year, taking over for Jonathan Kornreich who was elected as Brookhaven councilman (D-Stony Brook) and stepped down as civic president. Both Lefkowitz and Herb Mones, a former civic president, credit Hoffman along with Kornreich with revitalizing the civic association as members began to age out about a decade ago. Lefkowitz said Hoffman always works with the business community, which is important because years ago the chamber and civic organizations were at odds with each other.

“George was one of the individuals that extended the olive branch and built that bridge,” Lefkowitz said.

Mones said soon after Hoffman moved to Setauket “he immediately wanted to be involved in the issues that were going on inside the community.” Mones described his fellow civic member as “an active advocate for the community over and over again.”

With Hoffman’s former role in government, Mones said he knows all the elected officials and how to the system works.

“He can give insight as to how to best navigate the desirable outcome for the community with some of the different issues that occur,” Mones said.

Kornreich agreed and said Hoffman’s unique skill set makes him effective on the civic and a “fierce advocate for the environment.”

“He’s been successful in getting literally hundreds of thousands of dollars directed toward environmental conservation, environmental remediation and protection,” Kornreich said.

The councilman added in addition to being a passionate activist, Hoffman is “also a clear-eyed realist.”

Mones also credits Hoffman for heading up the Route 25A revitalization committee with Jane Taylor, executive director of the chamber, and added it was a difficult project.

“It’s such a complex issue trying to bring everybody together and plan the future with so many different interests and so many different voices,” Mones said. “It’s certainly not an enviable task. But, you know, he accepted that responsibility and has made it so that at least there’s an idea as to what we see is the best buildout along 25A as opposed to just kind of randomly allowing spot development wherever it occurs.”

The civic member also credits Hoffman not only for taking on Brookhaven issues, but also helping to join forces with Smithtown residents over the potential development of the Gyrodyne property in St. James. Mones said Hoffman was the first one to bring to the Town of Brookhaven’s attention how the buildout of the property, with a proposed sewage treatment plant, would affect the local area.

Mones said Hoffman has been the ideal choice to step in as president of the civic association.

“He enjoys the responsibility and the opportunity to give leadership on the different issues,” he said. “I have to commend him that he’s very affable in handling the different concerns and complaints and issues that come before him.”

For the second year in a row, the Memorial Day parade could not be held along Main Street  and Route 25A in Setauket due to COVID-19 guidelines.

However, Veterans of Foreign War Post 3054 organized a wreath-laying ceremony at Setauket Veterans Memorial Park May 31. Veterans, elected officials and residents memorialized those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

At the end of the ceremony, photo below left, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) took time out to take a photo with Post 3054’s new Post Commander Reanna Fulton, second from right.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

A new experience is heading Down Port, with a focus on whiskey.

Thanks to a group of 10 from all across the North Shore, the entrepreneurs have taken over the former space of Fork & Fiddle, now creating The Whiskey Barrel.

Located at 138 Main St., the group of whiskey enthusiasts signed the lease just two weeks ago and are anticipating a Memorial Day weekend opening.

John Louis, owner of Maui Chop House in Rocky Point, said The Whiskey Barrel will focus primarily on brown liquors, and also feature a full menu.

“We have 100-plus bottles of whiskey, bourbon, Scotch,” he said. 

And the menu will be curated by 18-year-old Maddy Bender, the barrel’s young and enthusiastic sous-chef and partner, who’s been working and gaining notoriety at Maui Chop House over the last year. 

“It’s more of like a rustic American kind of thing,” she said. “We’re going to have all different burgers and wings. We’re going do a steak sandwich or pork katsu sandwich, so definitely something that would be really cool with all the different bourbons and whiskeys.”

Bender added the barrel will also have bourbon and whiskey pairings on the menu.

The recent college student said this whole experience has been surreal. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“John told me that he was looking to possibly open a new place in the village and said, ‘I want you to come in as a partner with me,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy.’ And now that it’s like actually happening, John says it to me every day, that I’m not even 21 and I’m going to be owning a bar. He gave me the keys and it’s so real now.”

The group began discussing the idea less than two months ago, Louis said, and from then it was full-speed ahead. 

Now that they took over the former Southern-inspired spot, which closed right before the COVID-19 pandemic after a short-lived life on Main Street, Louis said that all they need to do is build a bar and do some cosmetic changes. 

“All the fixtures, the kitchen’s in great shape, brand-new fridges I think that only had been on for six months — it’s all ready to go,” said co-owner David Tracy, of Stony Brook. 

Thomas Francis, of South Setauket, said he hopes this restaurant becomes a destination. 

“It’s really that old-world Kentucky cigar-bar feel that we’re going for,” he said. “It’s something that when you walk in, it’s going to be a destination. It’s going to be why you want to come to Port Jeff.”

Francis, a whiskey expert himself, said that the bar will not be a place with intimidation. 

“Some of this might intimidate folks,” he said. “So, hand in hand is an education aspect. We bring people along for the experience, and shepherd them along the way.”

He hopes that it will be a place where those who are interested can learn the whiskey ways.

“We’re not just looking to open the doors and that’s it,” Francis added. “We want to be an experience, and have you come along for the ride.”

The group said they also obtained their tobacco license and will sell cigars to pair with the liquors.

But for those who can’t handle a whiskey or a bourbon, don’t worry. Another part owner, Paul Hess of Rocky Point, said there will be craft beer on tap and a wine list. 

Bender said that although the group of partners and investors is large, everyone brings some-thing different to the table.

“We have a little bit of everything in here,” she said.

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Photo from school district

By Kimberly Brown

For many students on Long Island, after-school activities have been canceled until further notice due to the pandemic. However, R. C. Murphy Junior High School is one of the very few schools that were able to overcome all obstacles and revive its drama department, making their performance of the musical “Pippin,” which tells the story of a young prince in early Middle Ages searching for meaning and significance, possible again. 

Together with the help of the Three Village Central School District Board of Education, director Anthony Pollera was able to allow himself to think outside the box and find a way to organize the show as well as adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. As a result, he came up with the idea to record the show and sell it as a DVD.

Despite the restrictions, Pollera made “Pippin” safe for the students. All singing parts were prerecorded and performed 12 feet apart, and dancing portions were performed 6 feet apart. Each actor wore masks that worked well with their costumes.

“Our board and superintendent are so supportive of music, theater and the arts.” Pollera said, “They are the reason why all these programs are still ongoing. This group of leaders in our district has rolled up their sleeves and found a way to make it work for us.”

“Pippin” was supposed to be showcased last March but was abruptly canceled once schools began to shut down. Many tickets had already been sold, and Pollera said the students made it all the way to dress rehearsal when two days before the first performance Murphy officially shut down.

“They were crushed, but we felt it was only fair to do the same musical [again],” Pollera said. “However, to be fair and honest, we still held auditions and cast the parts accordingly.”

The students and their parents were more than happy to be back in show business. Dylan Saavedra, who stars as Pippin, said he couldn’t wait to be back on stage, and his parents were equally as thrilled. 

“My parents wanted me back in theater because they knew I was going crazy without it,” Dylan said. “They were pumped that we could do this safely. With masks it is harder to do acting, but they were still super pumped and excited to see it.”

Rachel Rose, who is a leading character in the musical, said while face masks made it harder for the students to act, they took a positive spin on this obstacle and saw it as a personal challenge. In the end, it would improve their acting skills. 

“I think it’s so easy to get caught up in facial expressions that you don’t realize so much of acting is your movement and your voice,” Rachel said. “Wearing a mask has definitely forced me to focus on that, but I think it’s a challenge that is only going to make us better ultimately.”

Details about the “Pippin” DVD release date have not been announced yet.

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Sometimes it takes a village – sometimes it takes a whole district.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in North Shore school districts had to buckle down and create a new game plan from early on. March saw the closure of schools and the introduction of distance learning. September brought a return to in-person, but a host of new issues.

With constantly changing guidelines, they had to reconstruct their plans. Superintendents had to lead their districts to continue learning and to keep their students safe, while teachers, librarians, custodians, librarians and so many more worked and sacrificed to do the best they could, often exceeding what was expected. 

Gerard Poole, superintendent of Shoreham-Wading River school district, said it was a collaborative effort. 

Superintendent Gerard Poole. Photo from SWR school district

“So much had to happen for all of this had to be in place for the start of the school year,” he said. “Administrators who didn’t take any time off this summer, to teachers who had to move around classrooms. There were a lot of things that had to be done.”

One of those things that were applauded by community members was the reopening of the vacant Briarcliff Elementary School in Shoreham, which helped increase social distancing and lower the class sizes.  Poole said that in June, after they learned the 6-foot requirement between students and their desks was going to be in place, by opening up the formerly closed school they could have every student in five days a week.

But the superintendent stressed they couldn’t have done it alone. The school board was instrumental in making this happen, maintenance workers helped move supplies and nurses were there early on ready to work. 

“It was an easy academic decision to make, but equally as important socially and emotionally,” he said. “This year seems now like a major win.” 

And while SWR had to implement a plan to reopen a closed school, Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of Three Village school district, said early in the spring the district formed a committee that would look at the narrative, and implement a school opening plan with the ultimate goal to go back to school, as normal, five days a week.  

“The issue of health and safety was most important,” she said. 

Pedisich said they initially developed a hybrid model, but the more she and her colleagues discussed it, they became concerned of the lack of continuity, also the mental, emotional and social impacts being on a screen would have on students. 

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich. Photo from Three Village Central School District

“We wanted to bring our students back to school,” she said. “What we experienced during the spring were a lot of students’ mental health [issues]. The children felt very isolated — it was hard to connect. There was a lot of frustration in terms in the remote learning.”

By creating an education plan early on that opened the school up to five days a week head on, the district was able to hire more staff, and prepare for socially distanced learning. 

“Even though they’re wearing masks, they’re happy to be there,” Pedisich said. “We’ve had cases like anyone else, but no more cases than districts that went hybrid.”

And schools that run independently also had to figure out how to cope with these unprecedented times, including Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station, a nonprofit that offers an alternative education program. The CEO, Carol Carter, said they had to work with staff to handle the change. 

“We provided support to the staff and a strong leadership to the staff, so the teachers felt comfortable,” she said. “Then we did training on it. They had to learn along with us as we’re learning — they’re learning how to run classes online, how to put homework online and how to communicate with the students.”

While their school has a very small staff, they continued to help kids who were struggling at home. 

 “We would try and reach out to students and their families almost daily,” Holly Colomba, an English and science teacher at Sunshine said. “We were trying to check in, whether it’s with their mental health or educationally, just trying to keep in contact with them and let them know we’re still here — and that we were there to help them.”

And technology was huge in every district as the COVID pandemic was navigated. Joe Coniglione, assistant superintendent at Comsewogue School District, said the district wouldn’t be running smoothly without the help and initiative from the technology department.

 “These guys made it possible with going remote and doing hybrid instruction,” he said. “They orchestrated training every teacher in the district and worked around the clock to make sure kids were learning. They went way above and beyond to help us operate in time.”

From left, Frank Franzese, Dr. Don Heberer and David Rebori are Comsewogue’s tech team responsible for transitioning the school into online/hybrid learning. Photo from Heberer

Don Heberer, Comsewogue district administrator for instructional technology, said he remembered the day well. It was March 13 and he was at John F. Kennedy Middle School, scrambling and making sure every student had a device to use at home. They delivered about 300 Chromebooks to families who didn’t have devices. 

“I relied on my staff,” he said.  “And our number one focus was how can we make learning possible.”

Heberer and his colleagues — Jan Condon, David Rebori and Frank Franzese — made sure that communication was getting out to members of the community, students and their families. Teachers were constantly being trained and students were able to access their work online.

“We were in the middle of a crisis,” he said. “We have to remember people are losing their jobs, their lives, their entire livelihood. It’s important to be empathetic to that and doing everything we can to make it a little easier — students, teachers, parents and the community.”

He said they kept people in the loop using the districts app, which has roughly 7,000 people logged in. 

School librarians, too, had to change shape to keep kids reading. 

Monica DiGiovanni, a librarian at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point, said she and her colleagues focused this year on teaching students Sora, a reading app by OverDrive. 

She said that Sora is an electronic version of their library, so kids would still be able to access books and read them on their Chromebooks. 

Along with DiGiovanni, Rocky Point librarians Jessica Sciarrone, Catherine O’Connell and Bettina Tripp have been responsible teaching students how to use the system since the school library cannot be used due to the pandemic. 

Monica DiGiovanni, the school librarian in the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, was instrumental in getting kids e-books during COVID.
Photo from DiGiovanni

“As librarians, we were like, ‘Oh gosh we can’t give them books?’ That was a huge issue,” DiGiovanni said. 

After researching platforms to get them e-books, all four librarians decided to devote most of their library budget to the electronic reads.

“There’s so much that books provide that children get out of it,” DiGiovanni said. “They enjoy going to other places — fantasy worlds — so they can get that now with e-books.”

She said they’re definitely utilizing the service. 

“Some kids prefer them,” she added. “They like to be able to finish a book and go onto something new right away.”

At Port Jefferson high school, the Varsity Club is traditionally a group that inspires a sense of community involvement in student-athletes. Teachers and advisers to the club — Jesse Rosen and Deirdre Filippi — said that what their students usually do to get involved with the community was altered or canceled because of the pandemic. 

“As a result, some new events were created by our students and we found alternate ways of giving back to the community,” Filippi said. “We were especially impressed by the fact that our students saw this phase of their life as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle.”

Along with reading programs paired with the elementary school, Edna Louise Spear,  and hanging of flags on 9/11 and Veterans Day, the club hosted a Halloween trick-or-treat drive-thru event at the elementary school. 

“Oftentimes, when we feel somewhat helpless about our own situations, the best thing we can do is help those around us,” Filippi said. “This event was a perfect representation of our club´s mentality.”

A good part of the community came to the school to experience a unique and safe trick-or-treating experience. 

Students from the Port Jefferson Varsity Club during their drive-thru trick or treat event. Photo from PJ School District

“The idea was simple, the communal impact was overwhelming,” she said. “This speaks to what we try to achieve as educators. Our students recognized an opportunity within our community and they developed and executed a plan perfectly.”

The impact the club and its students made was overwhelming for Rosen and Filippi. 

“As educators, the actions of our students often inspire us,” Filippi said. “It is rewarding to see our students take the initiative and do whatever they can to put a smile on the face of their fellow students and community members.”

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.”