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More free meals available at Long Island schools 

This week's top stories

1. More free meals served in LI districts under USDA program

School systems across Long Island are offering free meals to more children this academic year, after a federal program that provides breakfast and lunch was extended and offered to all districts — and all students. "This unprecedented federal program recognizes the fact that the pandemic has presented unique challenges to all families," said Christine Costa, assistant superintendent for finance and management services in the South Country Central School District. "Some families are faced with job loss or loss of income, some are battling illness, others are adjusting to remote learning protocols, and more are struggling with child care and social emotional needs."

South Country, which had a summer nutrition program, is reporting a 60% increase in meals served to students in September compared to the same month in 2019. Last year, the system served 39,881 breakfast and lunch meals during the opening month of school, the district said. This year, that number was 64,777. Before the roughly 4,000 students returned to South Country this fall, tables were removed from the lunchrooms at the middle and high schools, and desks spaced 6 feet apart replaced them. Dividers were installed to separate food service workers from students on the lunch line.

The Valley Stream 13 district, which enrolls about 1,900 elementary students, also is serving meals under the USDA program, Superintendent Constance Evelyn said. "When kids are hungry, they can't concentrate. And if stomachs are grumbling, they cannot focus on learning," Evelyn said. The students, who wear masks for the school day and remove them for meals, eat behind dividers installed at their desks. The district is serving 200 breakfast meals and 450 lunch meals per day, district officials said.

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2. A month in, against backdrop of COVID-19, schools have adjusted

Reopening in the midst of a pandemic has worked out surprisingly well for most Long Island schools, at least for the first month of classes, educators and other experts said.

  • Many school leaders said they would like to bring more students back to regular classes five days a week. They are acting cautiously, though, in light of recent, temporary shutdowns in districts such as Lawrence and Sachem. As of Monday, public, private and charter schools in the Long Island region have reported a total of 588 COVID-19-positive test results among students and staff since Sept. 8.
  • Many educators responded that schools had changed daily routines to a remarkable degree, in ways both great and small. A key to safeguarding students and teachers from COVID-19 has been schools' willingness to make day-to-day adjustments — using a defensive strategy. "I have to say, it was much better than I ever expected," said Linda Norton, principal of Stewart School in Garden City, of the first month.

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3. Cuomo: Some NYC schools in COVID-19-hit areas can reopen

All schools in Queens and some in Brooklyn that were shuttered by the state two weeks ago because of high levels of COVID-19 infection in their neighborhoods can reopen, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday, though they will remain closed in parts of Brooklyn and all of Orange and Rockland counties.

  • The new restrictions shut schools and nonessential businesses and limited houses of worship to no more than 10 people in the areas with the highest level of virus spread. Cuomo's move Wednesday means schools and businesses can reopen in some neighborhoods, and religious gatherings can allow up 25 people or more in some zones.
  • The Lawrence school district was among those that quarantined earlier this month. Superintendent Ann Pedersen said that "given the fluidity and fragility" of the number of cases, the district will remain on a full remote schedule and determine next week if it reopens for hybrid in-person on Nov. 2.
  • The state’s COVID-19 Report Card, tracking coronavirus cases in public and private schools, reported 682 positive test results among students, teachers and staff on Long Island as of Wednesday — an increase of 30 cases from the previous day. The numbers include 510 students and 172 teachers and staff members.

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4. From hybrid learning to TikTok, LI teens' trends evolve

Dressing for hybrid school schedules, small gatherings and backyard events has amped up teen style. Though many teens are only going to school in-person half the time, there's still a thirst to update and adopt new trends.

  • Carys Hyland, 14, a freshman at Manhasset High School, spent her time in quarantine dreaming up outfits she might wear outside someday instead of the sweats and leggings she donned daily. "I was seeing how fashion was sort of evolving. I would watch videos on TikTok — like girls in really cool outfits and take inspiration from them but not copy them," she says.
  • Influencers and celebrities "resonate the most" with teens, and the number of micro trends "has only ramped up. One week everyone is bleaching one leg of their jeans and the next making DIY tops out of old sweatshirts.," said Matt Sebra, senior director at Macy’s Fashion Office.

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Resources for you

  • Thekidzpage.com has free Halloween activities, including coloring pages, jigsaw puzzles and dress-up games.
  • MathGames.com has over 1,000 fun and interactive apps and games that help students practice math skills.
  • Starfall.com is a children's website that teaches basic English reading and writing skills using games and phonics.

Your questions answered

Have questions? Send them to ednews@newsday.com. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.

Does the pandemic affect when to apply for the FAFSA?

Due to financial strain caused by COVID-19, nearly 40% of families that didn’t previously plan to apply for federal financial aid now expect to do so, according to a recently released survey from Discover Student Loans. The federal government, states, colleges and other organizations use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to award financial aid. You must complete the FAFSA to be considered for financial aid.

You have 21 months to submit the FAFSA for any given academic year. For the 2021-22 school year, the FAFSA opened Oct. 1 and closes June 30, 2022. But that doesn’t mean you should wait, according to an article by NerdWallet. "There is no downside to applying early, but a lot of risk in applying late," says Manny Chagas, vice president and head of marketing and product at Discover Student Loans.

Not only will you have a better shot at more money by applying early, but you'll have time to appeal a financial aid decision. Students and parents who are dissatisfied with their aid amounts or have a change in economic circumstances can appeal the financial aid award from their school. If you wait too long, the aid money could run out. If you apply for the FAFSA late, you not only risk a smaller award to begin with, but you also have less opportunity to "shop around" and submit a successful appeal letter.

Round of applause

Juliana Carfora, a fifth-grader at Longwood Middle School in Middle Island, has been creating "ladybugs" using craft materials she had at home — such as craft sticks, glass gems and googly eyes — as part of a project called LoveBugs of Kindness.

She sends the proceeds from their sales, at $3 each, to such organizations as St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the nonprofit Susan G. Komen, a breast cancer organization. As of late last month, she has sold hundreds of ladybugs and raised more than $1,100.

— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Catherine Carrera can be reached at catherine.carrera@newsday.com or on Twitter @CattCarrera.

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