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Colleges planning for 'much more normal' fall

This week's top stories

1. LI colleges looking at more in-person learning this fall

Colleges and universities on Long Island will shift to more in-person instruction in the fall, administrators say, although plans could change if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens again. Forced into remote instruction when the coronavirus hit campuses last spring, schools reopened in the fall with a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid instruction. Now, with widening availability of vaccinations and lower infection rates statewide, they are ready to return to a more normal academic year.

"Students are increasingly unhappy with being Zoom Post-it stamps on a screen and the type of interaction that happens," Hofstra University Provost Herman Berliner said. While the university is prepared to modify plans based on conditions in the fall, "At least the trendline now means we’ll be able to be much more in-person and it should be a much more normal semester."

There could be more in-person activity as early as this spring, he said, including club meetings and, if possible, an in-person commencement.

The SUNY campuses are evaluating their plans for the fall. SUNY Old Westbury said no firm decision is in place, although there likely will be more face-to-face instruction than the current 10%. Stony Brook University is planning to operate primarily in-person this fall, consistent with state and federal public health and SUNY guidance, officials there said. The school is gradually returning to more in-person operations this spring, with 4,500 students living on campus and about a quarter of classes offered in-person or in hybrid modes.

Read the full story.

2. High school football kicks off — but not for all teams

The high school football season opens Friday night across Long Island, marking the first time in the area's history that games will be played in March. The season's start was moved from last fall — however, some teams are going to have to wait a little longer to hit the gridiron as the COVID pandemic continues to affect schedules.

  • Section VIII, the governing body of Nassau’s interscholastic sports, announced the cancellation of five games this weekend.
  • "We have districts in Nassau County that have announced they will not play teams that don’t test weekly for the COVID," said Pat Pizzarelli, the executive director of Section VIII. "Those games will be counted as forfeits when a district holds another district to a higher testing standard than what is required by the Nassau Department of Health. We also have a few teams in quarantine ... those games will be considered non-contests, not forfeits."
  • According to Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, which governs all of Suffolk’s sports, the Suffolk schedule is intact for this weekend.

Read the full story.

3. What it takes to become a Regeneron finalist

Long Island has been represented each year in the nation's best-known science competition, the Regeneron Science Talent Search, which began in 1942. Two Nassau County seniors will compete next week. This three-part series looks at what it takes to become a finalist and what the competition means for these aspiring scientists.

  • Wheatley School senior Lucy Zha will be among 40 finalists competing virtually next week for awards of up to $250,000 in the prestigious competition. Zha, whose school is in the East Williston district, was chosen for her research on the impact of plant-based chemicals on cancer cells.
  • Jericho High School senior Justin Shen, another Long Island finalist, focused his research on how amino acid in green tea can reduce toxicity in water pollutants. His project examines a link between water contaminants and Parkinson's disease.
  • Three former Long Island high school students recalled what their participation in the intense science competition meant to them — and discussed what they're doing today.

Read more about Zha, Shen and the three students.

4. NYC high schools will reopen March 22, mayor says

New York City public high schools will reopen their doors on March 22 for in-person classroom learning, four months after they were shuttered because of rising COVID-19 cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

  • Meanwhile, a steady decline in coronavirus cases, along with the warmer weather, will allow for the return of all sports for both in-person and fully remote students through the city's Public Schools Athletic League by mid-April, de Blasio said at his daily news conference.
  • Roughly 55,000 students in grades 9-12 who opted in for in-person learning are expected to return to high school buildings — with about half of them able to attend classes close to five days a week, officials said. About 17,000 high school employees will return to their buildings beginning March 18 and 19 to prepare for the reopening.

Read the full story.

Resources for you

  • The Long Island Children's Museum has returned its weekly stART (Story + Art) program for ages 3-5 on Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Every week, the group will read childhood classics and introduce new favorites, and then take home a book-inspired craft. Class size is limited to provide room for physical distancing. Tickets must be purchased online in advance. Visit licm.org.
  • The American Museum of Natural History created a science website just for kids: "OLogy." From microbiology to paleontology, there are plenty of activities, games, videos and stories for kids to learn. Visit amnh.org/explore/ology.
  • Families with kids of all ages are invited to join educators from the Whitney Museum of American Art for free weekly online art classes on Saturdays. Participants will experiment, create and learn together with at-home art materials. Visit whitney.org/education/families-open-studio-from-home.

Round of applause

After a diagnosis of a degenerative disease that causes central vision loss, Nick Germano's life changed in 2015 at 12 years old. The Smithtown athlete became legally blind and was forced to give up baseball, his favorite sport. But that didn’t mean his athletic career was over.

After his diagnosis, Germano stayed with the baseball team as a pinch runner and an assistant coach for the remainder of the season. With baseball no longer an option, he devoted more time to wrestling and made it a year-round sport.

"I didn’t want to stop playing baseball, but there wasn’t a choice," Germano said.

Now a senior at Smithtown West High School, Germano has finished his varsity wrestling career with a 107-19 record against opponents with the power of sight. And after going 8-0 as a senior, he has been named Newsday’s Wrestler of the Year.

"I can’t imagine what we would have done if he didn’t have something to take the place of baseball," said Lorrie Germano, his mother. "He didn’t love wrestling at the time. It was something that he could work hard at, set goals for and occasionally experience a sense of accomplishment. It was a godsend."

Germano became motivated by an appearance by inspirational speaker Rohan Murphy, a county runner-up from East Islip who wrestled at Penn State. Murphy has gone through life without legs.

"He came to our middle school and I had the chance to wrestle him in front of everyone," Germano said. "He was amazing. And he inspired me to realize I can do anything when I put my mind and body to it."

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.

Should standardized testing change?

After the U.S. Department of Education announced that schools must give standardized testing this year, New York education officials said they will administer four Regents exams statewide in June should they fail to get federal waivers for testing. Some Long Island educators discussed recently how standardized testing should evolve a year after the pandemic forced the shutdown of schools.

"We have an opportunity here to re-imagine how we would assess and really give the reason that we should be testing and that is to inform instruction," said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of the Malverne school district and former president of New York State Council of School Superintendents. Lewis said it’s important that learning be measured in a timely and purposeful way. But confidence has been lost in recent years in standardized assessments because results were not returned in time to inform instruction and the score used to determine passing and mastery was arbitrary and capricious, she said.

Terry Earley, director of teacher and leader education at Stony Brook University, said there needs to be a balance between accountability and creativity when it comes to educating students and measuring that learning. "We can’t go to one spectrum of accountability where you stifle the teacher from being an exciting, informative facilitator of learning and on the other hand you need some type of structure and accountability," Early said.

In a letter to educators last month, Ian Rosenblum, the acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said state assessments play an "important role" in advancing educational equity.

Dia Bryant, New York interim executive director of the Education Trust, said information from assessments helps educators design curriculum and intervention. "I couldn’t imagine being a teacher or principal without information about what my students knew and were able to do," she said. "And really thinking about the ways in which I need to support them."

— 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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