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LI schools using outdoor classrooms to allow for 'mask breaks'

First-grader Alessio Caronna works on alphabet skills at

First-grader Alessio Caronna works on alphabet skills at Smithtown Elementary School's outdoor learning space.  Credit: Smithtown Central School District

Outdoor classrooms are proving to be a breath of fresh air across Long Island.

Dozens of schools have been using outside spaces for instructional purposes to merge learning and social distancing — while also allowing for "mask breaks" — during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Smithtown Elementary School, an outdoor learning space was recently created to provide students and staff with an open-air classroom on a rotating basis. The classroom features items including a chalkboard, picnic tables and umbrellas — the last of which contributed by the school's PTA.

"With the onset of COVID and the challenges it brought to us, we've been bringing the children out regularly," Smithtown Principal Janine Lavery said. "Last year, we moved forward with plans to purchase picnic tables so that teachers and staff could eat outside. But also, outside of lunch hours, it could be used as an outdoor classroom."

In Rocky Point, the middle school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last month to unveil a new outdoor classroom that contains work surfaces that can be grouped together to form 15 tabletops or that can be turned into benches seating 30 students in a socially distant manner. Teachers reserve the space through the school's Google calendar.

In Malverne, an outdoor garden classroom was created in the spring that has a custom platform deck, tables with benches, and free-standing paint and chalkboards at Maurice W. Downing Primary School. Leland cypress trees were also planted for privacy.

In Island Park, the district has added outdoor classrooms to create opportunities for children to explore nature and study local ecology as it relates to various subjects at Francis X. Hegarty Elementary School and Lincoln Orens Middle School.


New principals

Rose Hutcherson has been named the acting principal of Edmund W. Miles Middle School, and Shirley E. Martin has been named interim principal of Park Avenue Memorial Elementary School.

Hutcherson was previously an assistant principal at Amityville Memorial High School and Park Avenue.

Martin, who replaced Robin Santiago, previously served as assistant superintendent for human resources and professional development in Roosevelt and as principal of Northwest Elementary School in Amityville.

"I am excited to bring my expertise and experience as an educational leader to this role," Hutcherson said. "I am looking forward to working with the staff and teachers as a partner to ensure the continued success of our students."


New principal

Danielle Flaumenhaft is the new principal of Babylon Elementary School. She replaced Travis Davey, now assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Babylon School District.

Flaumenhaft previously served as a literacy consultant, an elementary assistant principal and a principal in the West Babylon School District.

"I feel very fortunate to spend my day with such an amazing community," Flaumenhaft said. "From my first day, I was welcomed by everyone, and it is clear this is a community that works together for the children who live and go to school here in Babylon."


New principals

Eileen Vota and Christopher Hartigan are the new principals of Locust Elementary School and Stratford Avenue Elementary School, respectively.

Vota had been principal of Stratford Avenue since 2010 and replaced Jim Curran, who held the position on an interim basis. Hartigan had been Stratford Avenue's assistant principal since 2017 and spent five years teaching at PS 253Q in Far Rockaway, Queens.

"Elementary school is a time for students to become creative, independent thinkers and problem solvers," Hartigan said. "I look forward to working with Stratford Avenue students on developing their curiosity for learning while cultivating their individual passions, creativity and strengths."


New principal

Anthony Coggiano has been named principal of Ralph G. Reed Middle School.

Coggiano was previously divisional administrator for special education for Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Before that, he was principal of Bellport Academic Center and assistant principal of Westhampton Beach Learning Center.

"My priority is to establish and facilitate a safe, respectful and collaborative learning environment for all, placing students first," Coggiano said. "I want to build upon the amazing work already in progress at Reed, and we must always strive for excellence and improve student performance."


New principal

Margot Owen is the new principal of Nassau BOCES Willet Avenue School.

Owen had been assistant principal at The Riverview School D75 in Queens since 2017. She has also been a teaching assistant in Seaford and a teaching assistant, special-education teacher and school-based coach in New York City.

"I am honored and excited to bring my passion and enthusiasm to my students and the Nassau BOCES family," Owen said. "I know that through building relationships and partnering with students, their families and my school community that I will be able to support all students to be successful in reaching their maximum potential."


Broadcom MASTERS semifinalist

Tristan Bissoondial, an eighth-grader at Grand Avenue Middle School, was one of 300 semifinalists nationwide in this year's Broadcom MASTERS, a middle school science competition coordinated by the Broadcom Foundation at the Society for Science & the Public.

Bissoondial was invited to participate in the competition for his research project "Glycine Betaine Improves Tolerance to Cadmium in Lemna minor," for which he placed first in the environmental science category at the 2021 Tri-County Science & Technology Fair.

He was the sole semifinalist from Long Island.


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