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School isn't the same, kids say, but it's good to be back

This week's top stories

1. LI students, despite COVID-19's challenges, relish their return

Weeks into the school year, students say they're happy to be back, even if just for a couple days a week after being away for months because of the coronavirus pandemic. But while some are happy to just be in the building, others say they still feel disconnected with all the rules in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. They say they can't talk to their friends as much, and many schools have banned the use of lockers, a sort of social meeting place for students. Even lunch period looks different, with long communal tables replaced with desks so that students eat by themselves.

"This isn't normal," said Samantha Mack, 17, who currently attends Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick five days a week. "This isn't how normal is." There's little in the way of sports, and she had played on the badminton team. She worries that her final year of high school will not have a prom or traditional graduation.

The Martin L. King Jr. Elementary School in Wyandanch, where students follow the hybrid learning model, is surveying the student body on how it feels about this academic year. School psychologist Jonathan Afanador said about 20% of the students are expressing a sense of stress in terms of either learning, making friends or handling their emotions. "This whole pandemic has thrown a wrench into the academic development and social development for kids," Afanador said. "There are kids who need help with friendships and emotions, and there are some who report being sad."

Even so, some parents see an improvement in many students' moods being back in school. Jodi Luce said her daughter, Sophie, as well as her son, Joshua, a 10th-grader at East Meadow High School, are "thrilled to be back." As her son, who attends school twice a week and every other Wednesday under the hybrid model, said, "It feels like school but with less people."

Read the full story.

2. SUNY students must be COVID-19 tested before Thanksgiving break

State University of New York students will need to test negative for COVID-19 before they head back home for Thanksgiving, according to another measure by the state’s public higher education system aimed to stop the spread of the virus.

  • SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities will need to submit plans by Nov. 5 that adhere to the new mandate and get about 140,000 students tested.
  • Residential and commuter students who test positive will work with their respective campus student affairs department and county health department to determine where would be best for the student to isolate or quarantine, said Lawrence Zacarese, Stony Brook University's interim chief of police and assistant vice president of campus safety.
  • "I feel like we should get tested before going home because we don’t want to be at fault for spreading the virus," said Samantha Lu, 21, a senior at Stony Brook University studying biology. "It’s just safer to know."

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3. Cuomo touts NY's infection rate, more LI schools temporarily shut

New York State announced it has the second-lowest level of COVID-19 infection in the nation, higher only than Maine's, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday, even though concerns remain about gatherings where the virus could spread. Meanwhile, Long Beach, Hempstead and Lindenhurst districts reported school closures due to positive cases.

  • Long Beach public schools will be closed for in-person instruction for two weeks due to additional COVID-19 cases, officials said Wednesday. The virus cases, particularly in the transportation department, has "significantly affected our district's ability to operate," said Superintendent Jennifer Gallagher.
  • Two schools in the Hempstead school district have closed for in-person instruction this week due to cases of COVID-19, officials said. Hempstead High School closed after a staffer in the school health clinic tested positive for the virus, said Interim Superintendent Regina Armstrong, who posted a notice on the school’s website. The Jackson Annex Elementary School in Hempstead also closed after two students tested positive for COVID-19, Armstrong said.
  • The Lindenhurst Academy closed for in-person instruction Tuesday after a student tested positive for the virus.

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4. LIU Post students to return in-person Sunday

LIU Post plans to reopen — with enhanced safety measures — for in-person instruction Sunday, following two weeks of remote instruction to stem an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus.

  • The added safety measures include surveillance testing of up to 20% of the student body and staff each week for the coronavirus, tests of wastewater for signs of the virus, and spot temperature checks on campus.
  • At least 64 positive COVID-19 test results were reported over the past two weeks at the Brookville campus, and 213 students are currently in quarantine after exposures to infected fellow students, according to state and school dashboards.
  • LIU, which also has a campus in Brooklyn, offers most of its classes in person, although students could opt for remote learning. The LIU Post campus went to remote instruction Oct. 15 for two weeks to dampen the outbreak. Athletic team members were quarantined after school officials pointed to gatherings of teammates at off-campus residences as the source of the original cluster of cases.

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • Newsday.com/collegeguide offers information not just on choosing a college amid a pandemic but also financial aid, virtual college tours and fairs, worksheet assistance, esports, essay tips and more.
  • Kids.nationalgeographic.com has Halloween fun facts and activities to explore. There are also educational games and videos themed around animals, science and pets, among other things.

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.

What should students know about the college application process during the COVID-19 era?

The route to choosing a college might be different this year, pandemic protocols considered, but students can still select the school that is right for them, no matter how they decide, college experts say. Prospective college students may not face the usual application, decision-making and financial aid processes applicants faced in past years. But that doesn't mean there aren't ways to see a school, choose a school — or make yourself a most-attractive applicant.

As director of college counseling at The Stony Brook School, Christine Loo, said: "There's even more opportunity, in some ways, in our changed world." In part, she said, because students are actually "better able to interact with college professionals" during COVID. On-campus visits have been replaced in most cases by virtual tours, and applicant interviews replaced by Zoom or other virtual meetings with admissions advisers.

And Christopher Ruffini, assistant principal at Syosset High School, said colleges going "test-optional" — meaning applicants don't need SAT or ACT scores to gain admission in many cases — "puts weight into things that for some students really matter." Things like extracurricular activities, clubs, groups and the weight of their high school course curriculum — not just how a student scored on an aptitude test. Prospective college applicants may be able to use that to their favor, Lockwood College Prep CEO Andy Lockwood said, because many colleges also have expanded their admissions pool this year due to the pandemic.

Round of applause

Julia Savino, a senior at Smithtown High School West, has been named a 2020 Rising Scientist by the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. For winning, she was awarded a $2,000 scholarship.

Savino's research explored the mechanism by which N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activation causes a cascade of events that result in excitotoxicity. She studied the topic over the course of two years and used the model organism Nematostella vectensis.

— 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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