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LI students gear up for 'The Great Gatsby'

Students from the junior and senior classes of

Students from the junior and senior classes of Shelter Island High School sport their "I Party With Jay Gatsby" T-shirts outside the school on Shelter Island. The students are reading "The Great Gatsby" in preparation of seeing the upcoming movie, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio. (May 1, 2013) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Devon Treharne, an English teacher at Shelter Island High School, plans to enter a movie theater in Mattituck Friday evening with 45 of her school's juniors and seniors wearing navy blue T-shirts that declare, "I party with Jay Gatsby."

Jack Canfora, an English teacher at Plainview-Old Bethpage's John F. Kennedy High, will head to a Farmingdale theater with students from his classes. They'll likely bump into Farmingdale High students celebrating the afternoon's just-finished Advanced Placement Language exam.

Theaters debuting the remake of the classic American novel "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald this weekend may be buzzing with Long Island high school students eager to see the updated, big-screen version of a classic that is a still a staple of their English curriculum in 2013. The new movie version is rated PG-13, stars Leonardo DiCaprio and British actress Carey Mulligan, and has a soundtrack with JayZ and Beyoncé.

"How often do we get to actually see that other people are also excited about the book that we're reading in class?" says Carisa Wellenreuther, an English teacher at MacArthur High School in Levittown whose classes are having a weeklong Gatsby celebration. "They're seeing stuff about it everywhere. Most of them have downloaded the soundtrack of the movie."

'GATSBY' 101

In brief, "The Great Gatsby," which takes place on the Gold Coast of Long Island in the Roaring '20s, is the story of self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby. With the dream of winning upper-class Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby rises from a poor youth to a wealthy aristocrat through illegal bootlegging activities during Prohibition. "So many of the themes are parallel to today," says Anastasia Ruggiero, 17, a junior in Diana Rossi's Farmingdale High humanities class, which read the book this year as part of a study of American culture and the American dream. "Fraud, corruption, fashion, passion."

Students say they're looking forward to seeing the era portrayed. For instance, Gatsby throws lavish parties at his estate, which is supposed to be in the area of Great Neck and Manhasset. "You can only imagine so much in the book about how extravagant they are," says Drew Garrison, 17, a junior at Shelter Island High. "I heard it's going to be over-the-top."


Sydney Lazar, 17, a senior at Lynbrook High, empathizes with the pressure to live up to the material -- her school just wrapped up a drama production of "The Great Gatsby" in which she played Daisy.

"Although all the characters seem immoral, they do have humanity, and I hope the actors are able to portray that," she says. "One of Daisy's hardest scenes is the fight scene, when Gatsby and Tom are arguing over her and fighting for her love. She feels the pull of two men."

Lazar and others say they are hoping the new movie -- the best-known previous version came out in 1974 and starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow -- doesn't stray far from the novel. "I get worried," says Jeff Littwin, English Department chair at Roosevelt High, who plans to see the movie Friday with former students. "I'm waiting to see it before I pass judgment."


High schools require students to read "The Great Gatsby" for reasons beyond the eloquent writing.

"Part of the appeal is the materialism in the book," says teacher Diana Rossi, who uses the book in her Farmingdale High humanities class.

"They could turn on 'The Kardashians' and 'Housewives' and see the same drive for materialism and greed today." Things don't work out well for Jay Gatsby, and that's a good lesson for kids, she says. "So maybe they'll rethink the whole 'Money buys happiness.' "

Says Leo Capobianco, 18, a senior at Locust Valley High: "When I'm trying to figure out what to do with my life, I think that's a very important thing to keep in mind."

There's also the relevancy to students because the novel is set on Long Island, says Beverly Wolcott, director of English Language Arts for the Uniondale school district.

And teens relate to the tragic love story. "Wanting someone so badly and not being able to have her," says Jennifer Blazy, a 17-year-old junior at Farmingdale High. "Even though Gatsby had everything anybody could want, he always wanted one more thing that he couldn't have: Daisy."

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