Why in-person instruction can mean the world
This week's top stories
1. Parents of special needs students: Kids need to be in school
For children with special needs, a celebratory rub on the back or high-five can mean the world. In the age of COVID-19, those physical acts of reassurance happen less often, with school restrictions on social distancing and the stress of spreading the virus hanging in the air. But Long Island parents and instructors say having special needs students back in school, either full time or hybrid, is better than keeping them at home.
"We've always had our challenges. Now they're exacerbated to the ninth degree," said Tricia Desiderio, vice president of the Long Island Association of Special Education Administrators. The school environment is "less interactive," there's greater spacing between desks, and group-activity tables have disappeared, Desiderio said. Special needs educators across the Island said they saw numerous students' abilities — both physically and academically — diminish.
Schools are more than a place to learn math and science for kids with special needs — they host a spectrum of services, including counseling, and physical, occupational and speech therapy, educators said. Special needs students thrive on the structure, routine and expertise in schools. When a student regresses in school, they're not necessarily forgetting some fractions, but they're losing life skills that help them be more independent and communicate with others, educators said.
Melissa Clark, of West Babylon, said it was difficult doing speech therapy with her daughter, Brianna, who has autism, during the months of remote learning in the spring. She said her daughter lost some of her ability to speak in the time. She noticed the remote therapy sessions really didn't offer more than 15 minutes of instruction before Brianna's attention drifted elsewhere.
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2. Wyandanch school district plans to upgrade to sewer hookups
The Wyandanch school district plans to end the use of failing cesspools at two schools and hook up to the Southwest Sewer District under proposed legislation that would waive county sewer hookup fees for schools under a state fiscal monitor.
- The district is proposing to connect the Martin Luther King Jr. and Lafrancis Hardiman elementary schools, as well as the nearby administration building and bus depot. Suffolk County Legis. Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) proposed the legislation. Wyandanch is the only school district in the county under a state monitor, and its estimated fees for hooking up are $531,240.
- District Superintendent Gina Talbert described at a hearing on the legislation how heavy rains and rapid snow melt can overwhelm the septic system at the MLK school, causing a "horrific backup of sewage" through the floor drains in classroom bathrooms. She said an area between MLK and Lafrancis Hardiman that was used as a playground had to be cordoned off because sludge would seep up onto the field and produce a "very foul sewage smell."
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3. $2.2M payment staves off foreclosure of former Dowling College campus
Suffolk County’s planned seizure of the former Dowling College campus in Oakdale is on hold after the property’s owner paid more than $2 million in back taxes, officials said.
- A representative of Delaware-based Mercury International, which bought the 25-acre campus on the Connetquot River last year, hand-delivered a check for $2.2 million last week to the Riverhead office of county Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., Kennedy said.
- The former Dowling campus — home to the 19th-century Idle Hour estate once owned by railroad heir William K. Vanderbilt — has remained shuttered since the bankrupt college closed in 2016. The payment "stops any foreclosure process at this point," Kennedy said.
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4. Hicksville High School graduate wins Rhodes scholarship
Danielle Grey-Stewart, a Hicksville native who grew up enamored with science and how it shapes the world around her, was selected for the 2021 Rhodes scholarship program, one of just 32 recipients in the United States to receive the prestigious distinction.
- Grey-Stewart, a senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will begin her postgraduate studies at Oxford University in the United Kingdom in the fall. She will graduate MIT in February with a major in materials science and engineering. She is one of two recipients from the New York South region and one of two MIT students.
- As a Rhodes scholar, Grey-Stewart, 20, will pursue a two-year master's degree in nature, society and environmental governance at Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment. "It is really important to encourage scientists of color to really continue in the field and become engineers," she said.
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Resources for you
- 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
An Oceanside High School sophomore recently collected 30 boxes worth of donated art supplies for use by children in local hospitals. In lieu of a "Sweet 16," Autum Blois held one of her biggest art supply drive-by collections last month at her family's home, where about 700 boxes of crayons were dropped off by residents, said Maureen, her mother. She called this collection, "Autum's Colors."
Autum, who is on the autism spectrum, previously has held donation drives to benefit local hospitals, including Mount Sinai South Nassau and NYU Winthrop. Of Autum's passion for art, Maureen said: "She never leaves our house without some sort of drawing material."
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.
Are children safe from COVID-19 in school?
Medical experts say "yes" for the most part, but warn against gatherings outside of school, where the virus is spreading among children and adults. School buildings were shut for months at the start of the pandemic, though medical experts now believe children are less likely to be infected with the virus in an education setting where they are wearing masks, keeping their distance and cleaning protocols are followed.
"Schools have done tremendous work to try and make the learning environment very safe," said Dr. James Schneider, chief of pediatric critical care medicine at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. On the other hand, organizing parties and gatherings at home and in the community with 20 or 30 people — children and adults — is "absolutely irresponsible."
He added, "We know for sure that is how [COVID-19] is spreading."
Even though many children do not fall seriously ill, it’s a mistake to underestimate the impact of COVID-19 on children, as some people have done, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
"I think the first thing to remind them is that more children have died of COVID-19 this year than have died of flu in the past," Nachman said. "So when people don’t think these illness affect children, the answer is, ‘They do.’ "
— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Catherine Carrera can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CattCarrera.