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Four LI students named distinguished finalists

Michael Keschner, fifth from right, a sophomore at

Michael Keschner, fifth from right, a sophomore at Cold Spring Harbor High School, was one of four Long Island students named Distinguished Finalists in this year's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Keschner, who is the founder of Veggies for Veterans, is pictured here harvesting produce with local children. Credit: CSH School District/Karen Spehler

Four Long Island students were among six distinguished finalists statewide in a nationwide program that honors youth for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Viraj Jayam of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, Michael Keschner of Cold Spring Harbor High School, Kayla Minutillo of Manhasset Secondary School, and Abigail Wu of Syosset High School received the designations as part of this year's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. They received engraved bronze medallions.

The awards program, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. 

"Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service," said the association's executive director, JoAnn Bartoletti. "They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges."

Jayam is the founder of Helping Hands Long Island, which uses 3-D printing to create prosthetics for people in need, while Keschner is the founder of Veggies for Veterans, which has provided more than 4,000 pounds of fresh produce to local veterans. 

Minutillo is the co-founder of PINK, a project through which she and a friend sell handmade bracelets, hair accessories and a cookbook to benefit the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. They have raised more than $60,000.

Wu is the founder of Vision Competition, a student music competition that has raised more than $10,000 for the music therapy program at NYU Winthrop Cancer Center for Kids.

The state's two honoree designations went to students in Corning and Yorktown Heights.


Elementary Connect

Half Hollow Hills Central School District has launched a new program, called Elementary Connect, that provides its youngest students with social and emotional learning experiences.

Activities include skits in which students learn about common communication bloopers and role-playing games to help develop empathy. The program also features a monthly newsletter for families with activities and talking points on topics ranging from critical thinking to problem-solving. 

"This collection of character education lessons ensures a common thread and language throughout our district, while enabling our students and their families to grow skills and traits that are crucial to positive mental health," Half Hollow Hills Superintendent Patrick Harrigan said.


Valentine’s Day

Many local schools showed love to their communities last month through activities held in celebration of Valentine's Day.

In Rocky Point, Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School students created 475 cards for U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Bill White, a 104-year-old man living in California. White, who served in World War II, plans to add the cards to scrapbooks about his life.

In Riverhead, Roanoke Avenue Elementary School students created hundreds of cards that were presented to Sgt. Chris Clay, a member of the Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing. The cards will be distributed to Clay's fellow airmen.

In Elwood, middle schoolers designed colorful cards for veterans at the Northport VA Medical Center.


Distinguished Teachers

Thirteen Long Island educators have been named 2020 Distinguished Teachers by the Harvard Club of Long Island for their positive impact on students' lives. They were nominated by Harvard University undergraduates who went to local schools and will be honored during an awards ceremony in April.

Winners and their schools districts are: Robert Colascione, Cold Spring Harbor; Renée Locker, Copiague; Kevin Harrington, Elwood; Karen Lessler, Kings Park; Debbie DeBetta, Lynbrook; Pavithra Sundar, Manhasset; Bryan Horan, Northport-East Northport; Mary Lou O'Donnell, Plainview-Old Bethpage; Ann Gianfalla, Shoreham-Wading River; Kathryn Re-Yakaboski, Smithtown; Marcy Eagar, Syosset; and James Dornicik and Doug Elliot, Ward Melville.

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