This week's top stories
1. Teens start to get COVID-19 vaccine
Hanna Riva Goldberg, who attends the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, was the only one in her seven-member family not to contract the coronavirus, she said Tuesday. The 16-year-old was among those age 16 and up who became eligible Tuesday to receive a vaccine against COVID-19. She got her first shot, of Pfizer, during a news conference that day at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park. "I think it’ll put people to ease," she said, when they learn she has been vaccinated, and "that I’m not a danger to anyone."
Dr. Sophia Jan, chief of general pediatrics for Cohen Children's Medical Center, said getting the two-dose vaccine will make it possible for teenagers to play sports, travel and see — and even hug — family and friends. "It will be so much easier to go about your life," she said. Those ages 16 and 17 will need to show consent from a parent or legal guardian in order to get the shot, according to the state Health Department. A parent or legal guardian will have to provide verbal consent either in person, or by phone, at the time of the vaccine appointment, the agency said.
Of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use by the federal government, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be given to 16- and 17-year-olds.
Mary O'Meara, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, said her school system has been part of a multidistrict mobile vaccination pod that includes Jericho, Syosset and Oyster Bay. If doses are available next week, a mobile site will be set up in the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, which is a central location for the school systems. "If we can stop the spread among teenagers, then we can stop the spread in households and in the classroom and school settings," O'Meara said. "Students would have access, and we have the facilities to do it."
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2. NY comptroller cites two Long Island districts
With the approach of May school budget votes, districts are under pressure to provide residents with a clearer picture of how they’re handling their finances.
- The push for greater transparency comes from the state comptroller’s office, which recently conducted its first review of how school budgets and related documents are presented on district websites. The inquiry covered a random sample of 13 districts statewide, including Island Trees and Rockville Centre on Long Island, and revealed several shortcomings.
- Island Trees was faulted, for example, for not posting an audit of an activities fund in the proper location, while Rockville Centre did not post a corrective action plan related to another audit. In both cases, the two districts indicated they would avoid such oversights in the future.
- Charles J. Murphy, longtime superintendent of Island Trees schools, said his district would comply with state guidelines but was already making every effort to be transparent.
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3. High school salutatorian's yearbook photo goes viral
A Mattituck High School senior’s yearbook photo has gone viral for the way the teen expresses herself in a punk rock fashion while still being a mainstream academic achiever.
- The striking photo of Weronika Jachimowicz, the school’s 2021 salutatorian, features her wearing black horns, pentagram earrings and goth makeup, all while directing a knowing half-smile at the camera. It was first published by local news outlets and has since been liked on Twitter a half-million times and counting by people cheering on her unorthodox aesthetic.
- "It's just mostly what makes me happy. There really isn't anything behind it," said Jachimowicz, 17. "It's kind of just like when people prefer one food over another. I just prefer one style over another."
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4. Central Islip senior graces Time magazine cover
In so many ways, Twyla Joseph reflects the story of young people during the pandemic — her struggles with virtual schooling, her anxiety over college and career choices.
- Time magazine has placed the Central Islip High School senior on the cover of its April 12 / April 19 issue, which focuses on the "lost year" experienced by so many students.
- "In my community, Central Islip, we're kind of lower income and our schools are underfunded, so I wanted this story to go out there," she said. "I'm not the only person with this story. You come from a family that doesn't have unlimited resources. … It's harder, and it's not just harder for me, it's harder for my community."
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5. Wyandanch district guards say they fear for their jobs
School security guards in the Wyandanch district said last week that they had been threatened with layoffs, continuing a pattern of unstable labor relations that has troubled the 2,800-student district for several years.
- Robert Bryant, chief of the union representing Wyandanch’s security guards, said last week that a recent agenda notice about district officials looking into outsourcing security work to a private firm came as a surprise. He said he had not yet been able to schedule a meeting with district representatives despite his group’s willingness to be flexible in contract negotiations.
- The district’s superintendent, Gina Talbert, later issued a statement that "as this is a matter regarding negotiations, the district will have no comment at this time."
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Resources for you
- YouTube Kids free mobile app delivers age-appropriate videos in three categories: kids 4 and younger, 5-7, and 8-12. There are no in-app purchases, but there are ads that Google says are reviewed for content. Visit youtube.com/kids.
- PBS Kids ScratchJr free mobile app for children ages 5-8 encourages them to create their own stories and games, using more than 150 characters from popular TV shows, while learning the basics of coding. There are no ads or in-app purchases. Visit pbskids.org/learn/scratchjr.
- ABC Kids — Tracing & Phonics free mobile app for preschoolers and kindergartners has learning activities focused on phonics as well as alphabet-learning games. The app has no ads or in-app purchases. Visit rvappstudios.com/abc-kids-41.html.
Round of applause
A Massapequa High School student is striving to improve the mental health of middle schoolers in her district.
Isabella Ritieni, a senior, recently created a mental health awareness video to emphasize the importance of mental wellness to seventh-graders at Alfred G. Berner Middle School. The six-minute video, which was shown during the school's health education classes, focuses on strategies to cope with everyday stress and anxiety, and provided contact information for local mental health resources.
"I think it came out really great, and I think the kids learned a lot," said Ritieni, who noted that she chose seventh-graders as her target audience so they can take the knowledge into their teen years.
Your questions answered
Have questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.
How safe is the vaccine, being that it was rolled out so quickly?
That's actually a question that one of 22 Long Island kids asked recently as part of a story Newsday did to get their questions answered by regional experts. One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, kids and teens across Long Island are still wondering where the coronavirus came from and how masks can keep us safe. They’re also now curious about the vaccine, and how it might affect them.
This week, New Yorkers ages 16 and up can begin to book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine, state officials announced. Newsday collected questions from youth across Long Island and then consulted three experts — Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief for pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital; Dr. Uzma Syed, infectious disease doctor and chair of the COVID-19 task force at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip; and Dr. Sunil Sood, chairman of pediatrics at South Shore University Hospital and attending physician of infectious disease at Cohen Children’s Hospital.
In an answer to the question about the safety of the vaccine, Syed pointed out that scientists already had plenty of research from previous coronaviruses, such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
"The thing that is really important to remember is that these vaccines have really been screened and vetted very thoroughly," says Syed. "They’ve gone to really significant safety and efficacy standards and protocols in these clinical trials."
She added that the previous coronaviruses "never went full-fledged to the scale that this COVID-19 pandemic did, but we had a lot of researchers spend lots of time and energy on those other viruses so we could have all this data ready to deploy."