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Four LI students named distinguished finalists

Viraj Jayam, a junior at The Wheatley School

Viraj Jayam, a junior at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, was one of four Long Island students named distinguished finalists in this year's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Jayam is the founder of Helping Hands Long Island, which uses 3-D printing to create prosthetics for people in need. Credit: The Jayam family

Four Long Island students were among six distinguished finalists statewide in a nationwide program that honors youth for outstanding acts of volunteerism.

Viraj Jayam of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, Michael Keschner of Cold Spring Harbor High School, Kayla Minutillo of Manhasset Secondary School, and Abigail Wu of Syosset High School received the designations as part of this year's Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. They received engraved bronze medallions.

The awards program, now in its 25th year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals. 

"Middle level and high school students are doing remarkable things to shape the future of their communities through volunteer service," said the association's executive director, JoAnn Bartoletti. "They inspire all students and schools to drive learning with real-world challenges."

Jayam is the founder of Helping Hands Long Island, which uses 3-D printing to create prosthetics for people in need, while Keschner is the founder of Veggies for Veterans, which has provided more than 4,000 pounds of fresh produce to local veterans. 

Minutillo is the co-founder of PINK, a project through which she and a friend sell handmade bracelets, hair accessories and a cookbook to benefit the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer. They have raised more than $60,000.

Wu is the founder of Vision Competition, a student music competition that has raised more than $10,000 for the music therapy program at NYU Winthrop Cancer Center for Kids.

The state's two honoree designations went to students in Corning and Yorktown Heights.


Mental health summit

Wantagh School District recently hosted its first Mental Health Summit to provide parents with the opportunity to learn from experts in the field.

The opening speaker was local child and adolescent psychiatrist Caryl Oris, who discussed the importance of early brain development and shared tips for raising successful children — including limiting their screen and social media time. Other presenters ranged from a nutritionist and dietitian to a hotline counselor for the Long Island Crisis Center.

"We want to increase awareness of mental health issues facing families and give parents resources to assist with their children's development through adolescence," Wantagh elementary school counselor Donna Schulman said. 


Valentine's Day

Many local schools showed love to their communities last month through activities held in celebration of Valentine's Day. 

In Bethpage, kindergartners at Central Boulevard Elementary School used crayons to create more than 500 valentines for local senior citizens as part of the school's Thoughtful Thursday initiative, in which children partake in monthly acts of kindness.

In Wantagh, Mandalay Elementary School's Student Council collected more than 100 baby wipes packages that were sent to troops overseas, accompanied by handcrafted cards through the nonprofit Blue Star Mothers of Long Island. 

In Freeport, Bayview Avenue Elementary School hosted an adopt-a-cop luncheon in which students thanked local police officers for protecting their community and being role models.


Distinguished Teachers

Thirteen Long Island educators have been named 2020 Distinguished Teachers by the Harvard Club of Long Island for their positive impact on students' lives. They were nominated by Harvard University undergraduates who went to local schools and will be honored during an award ceremony in April.

Winners and their schools districts are: Robert Colascione, Cold Spring Harbor; Renée Locker, Copiague; Kevin Harrington, Elwood; Karen Lessler, Kings Park; Debbie DeBetta, Lynbrook; Pavithra Sundar, Manhasset; Bryan Horan, Northport-East Northport; Mary Lou O'Donnell, Plainview-Old Bethpage; Ann Gianfalla, Shoreham-Wading River; Kathryn Re-Yakaboski, Smithtown; Marcy Eagar, Syosset; and James Dornicik and Doug Elliot, Ward Melville.

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