New vape detectors will be installed in Lindenhurst Middle School to help curb e-cigarette use. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

During his 21 years as principal of Lindenhurst Middle School, Frank Naccarato Jr. has heard plenty of suggestions during his monthly principal's council, which allows students serving as leaders in the school to present their ideas to him.

He had not, however, heard a suggestion as ambitious as the one Vanessa Faith Probst made in November 2022 as the student council vice president when she expressed her concern with the rise of vaping in the middle school.

The next week, she met privately with Naccarato and gave a presentation outlining why the school needed to take action. She even included four different vape detector companies the school could hire.

Over a year later, Lindenhurst Middle School has vape detectors in its bathrooms, and Probst's call to action has grown into a communitywide anti-vaping initiative with support from Babylon Cares, an organization focused on youth substance misuse, and funding from the Town of Babylon. Representatives gathered Friday morning at the middle school to promote the initiative and recognize Probst for her commitment to the cause. 

“My main goal is to help students, not punish them,” Probst, now a freshman at Lindenhurst High School, said at the event. “We want to help them not be addicted, because addiction is such a big problem. People who aren't addicted don't see how hard it is for the students struggling.”

While local politicians and school officials also spoke, the moment belonged to Probst, who was recognized by the Town of Babylon and ICAS, a New York City company that produces security systems, including vape detectors.

“It has been absolutely incredible to work with Vanessa,” Naccarato, who is set to retire, said. “She is an amazing young lady who made us all excited to do something good for the kids.”

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.6% of middle school students and 10% of high school students vape. The same CDC statistics reveal 67.4% of students who reported vaping also reported attempting to quit in the last year.

Probst says she was particularly inspired to take on this cause after seeing one student tell another they could not go back to class without taking another hit of their vape.

Now there are plans to expand the program and add vape detectors at Lindenhurst High School and in the Copiague and Wyandanch school districts. 

The middle school's vape detectors were purchased from Ronkonkoma-based Soter Technologies and were installed by ICAS. The school purchased 24 detectors; officials say they each cost between $700 and $995.

The smoke alarm-like devices use sensors to detect vape smoke and changes in air quality. If vape use is detected in a bathroom, the school is alerted and a staff member is sent to the bathroom. 

Students who are caught for the first time are not traditionally punished. Instead, they have to work to educate themselves through conversations with school staff or research of their own, which they must later present.

“Lindenhurst is already a wonderful community, but I want it to be the very best it can be,” Probst said. “This is something I felt personally and wanted to take action on.”

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