02/28/16 4:00pm
02/28/2016 4:00 PM

On Thursday, we presented Aquebogue Elementary School teacher Robert Shilling with our Educator of the Year award at a ceremony at Martha Clara Vineyards. This is the video we screened during the ceremony and the original announcement from January.   READ

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01/29/16 5:59am


Just after 11 a.m. Friday, a puppy charges down the hallway at Aquebogue Elementary School. Wearing her official yellow and blue Canine Companions for Independence vest, she trots around the corner to Joanne DeGruccio’s special education classroom and waits outside. READ

12/03/13 5:11pm

BARBARAELLEN FILE KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead High School band director Lee Hanwick conducts ninth-graders Jessica Sisti (left) and Kayla Myers in playing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ during the school’s March concert. The orchestra and senior band also performed.

The Riverhead School District has announced its upcoming event and concerts.

• Phillips Avenue’s concert is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the school.

• Riley Avenue’s concert is scheduled for Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• Aquebogue’s winter concert will take place Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. in the school.

• Pulaski Street’s winter concert is set for Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• Roanoke Avenue’s winter concert is scheduled for Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. in the school.

• The middle school’s eighth-grade winter concert will take place Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• The middle school’s seventh-grade winter concert is set for Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.

• The middle school’s choir, chamber orchestra and jazz band will perform at Martha Clara Vineyard on Dec. 21 at 11 a.m.

• The high school’s chamber choir is scheduled to perform at House of Praise on Hubbard Avenue in Riverhead on Dec. 11, at 6 p.m.; and the Jamesport Meeting House next Friday, Dec. 13, at 6 p.m. On Dec. 15, the chamber choir will also perform at Diliberto Winery at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church located on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.

• The high school’s winter concert is set for Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the school. Performances include full choir, and 10th-12th grade band and orchestra.

• The high school’s chamber orchestra is scheduled to perform at Long Island MacArthur Airport on Dec. 19 at 4:30 p.m.

• The high school’s ninth-grade band and orchestra is set to perform the second winter concert on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium.

• Riverhead Free Library is currently exhibiting student art work. Pieces from Pulaski Street will be on display this month; Roanoke Avenue next month; Aquebogue in January; and Phillips Avenue in February. Riley Avenue and high school students’ art work will be displayed in March.

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11/09/13 12:00pm
11/09/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | First-graders in Keri Stromski’s class during a lesson Monday. From left: Yoni Jeronimo, Elizabeth Guice and Luis delaCruz Quintana.

As the students write, instrumental music plays in the background. A digital projection of a roaring fire dances on a nearby wall.

When their work is finished, the students gather in a circle on a rug and exchange thoughts and opinions about what they’ve just learned. The students take turns debating among themselves about the lesson’s meaning with little interference or direction from their teacher.

Although this scene reflects what’s been typically happening inside most high schools and universities, this particular group of students aren’t teens or coffee-sipping college kids. They’re first-graders at Aquebogue Elementary School.

In Keri Stromski’s class Monday afternoon, the students were learning how to read using a program called Reading A-Z, or RAZ. It’s a program students in the Riverhead School District have used for about 10 years. But the district purchased a new, complementary program called RAZ Kids during the 2012-13 school year, and through the program the younger students can log onto the Internet for a system to read digital books at their own reading level — all in the comfort of their own homes. The system can also read stories aloud and administer quizzes. All the while, Ms. Stromski can monitor their progress remotely. She then supports the homework using RAZ-designed lesson plans in the classroom.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Ms. Stromski teaching a Reading A-Z lesson.

Ms. Stromski said she approached the school district’s administration about purchasing the program last year because she believes it gives students the confidence to read independently. Teachers can send their students encouraging messages and monitor their progress, such as finding out how many times they read a story, or had it read to them. She can track quiz scores, too.

What makes it enjoyable for the kids? For each task a student completes, they can also earn points and redeem them for virtual prizes, like collectible cartoon aliens and planets. Ms. Stromski said she believes the point-reward system plays a big part in encouraging students to complete their work.

And the more they practice, she said, the better readers they become.

But they’re not completely on their own, and Ms. Stromski clearly strives to set up that at-home feeling in her classroom, so the difference as to where home ends and school begins isn’t so stark.

“Grab your book, yellow highlighter and a pencil,” she told her class on Monday.

As she broke down the text for them on a Smartboard, the students then highlighted certain words they already understood and circled other words they didn’t know with a pencil in the books she prepared for them.

The goal for first graders is to be able to read chapter books by the end of the school year, she said.

Aquebogue Elementary School principal Phil Kent said he believes the new program also helps prepare students for the state’s rigorous new curriculum under the Common Core State Standards Initiative, because RAZ Kids encourages them to read more independently.

“Kids are able to get through more books, and teachers are able to track their progress,” he said. “RAZ Kids has shown students the spirit that they can do it.”

Riley Elementary School art teacher Melissa Haupt said her daughter, Olivia, was in Ms. Stromski’s class last year, and said she’s seen a significant improvement with Olivia’s reading skills since she enrolled in the new program.

“She was very excited to come home, log on, and have a book read to her,” Ms. Haupt said. “She wanted to make Ms. Stromski proud of her for what she was able to do.”

While there are a few kinks to work out, such as figuring a way for students to transfer points over to other classes, Ms. Stromski said she’s grateful to have the program in Riverhead.

Preparing lesson books involves a lot of photocopying and folding for Ms. Stromski, but she doesn’t mind.

The results are residual.

“I had students continue to read at their just-right level all summer long,” Ms. Stromski said. “This prevents the dreaded summer slide.”

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06/02/13 1:00pm
06/02/2013 1:00 PM
The new research area.

Phillips Avenue Elementary students in the school’s research area in March.

A recently released state report shows that two Riverhead elementary schools with poorer and more diverse student bodies are underperforming on English-language arts and math assessments.

The state issued its annual “report cards” for all school districts in March. The reports comprise district demographics, enrollment and student assessment performance information. The number of students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch is also included in the report.

Of Riverhead’s four elementary schools, which educate pre-kindergarten through fourth-grade students, Phillips Avenue and Roanoke Avenue lagged behind Aquebogue Elementary and Riley Avenue in Calverton. Test scores and information about the Pulaski Street School, which educates the district’s fifth- and sixth-graders, was also included in the report.

While populations of both black or African-American and white students have slightly decreased slightly in the Riverhead School District since the 2010-11 school year, the Latino student population has increased significantly.

Last school year, 2011-12, the Latino student population was 1,384, an increase of 191 students over 2010-11. There were 907 black students enrolled in the district last year, down by 67, and 2,585 white students, a decrease of 35.

Phillips Avenue Elementary in Riverside and Roanoke Elementary in Riverhead had the highest numbers of minority students, and the highest amount of students meeting federal economic standards to qualify for free lunch. The state also reported that Phillips Avenue students had the poorest performance on English-language arts and math assessments.

Following is a summary of report findings for each school.

Phillips Avenue

• The report found that Latinos made up 46 percent of Phillips Avenue’s student population in 2011-12, with 258 students. There were 160 black students and 126 white students. Of those enrolled, 409 students, about 73 percent, were eligible for free lunch and 39 students were eligible for reduced-price lunch.

• About 35 percent of Phillips Avenue third-graders and 23 percent of fourth-graders scored below the state’s English-language arts proficiency standard. About 22 percent of students in third grade and 15 percent in fourth grade didn’t meet math proficiency standards. Nearly 11 percent of students who took the science assessment at Phillips Avenue scored below the state’s proficiency standards.

Roanoke Avenue

• According to the report, 182 Latino students, 124 white students and 66 black students were enrolled at Roanoke Avenue in 2011-12. Of those, 237 students were eligible for free lunch and 24 qualified for reduced-price lunch. Free lunch eligibility nearly doubled compared to 2010-11, up by 116 students.

• Nearly 23 percent of third-graders and 25 percent of fourth-graders scored below state proficiency standard in English-language arts, the report found. In math, about 10 percent of third-graders and 8 percent of fourth-graders failed to meet the state standards. Nearly 8 percent of the students who took the science assessment scored below the state’s proficiency standards.

Aquebogue Elementary

• The report counted 247 white students, 136 Latino students and 71 black students at Aquebogue. Among this population, 189 students qualified for free lunch and 25 for reduced-price lunch.

• Nearly 14 percent of third-graders and 10 percent of fourth-graders scored below the state’s English-language arts proficiency standards, according to the report. About 11 percent in third grade and 6 percent in fourth grade didn’t meet math proficiency standards. Nearly 6 percent of fourth-graders who took the science assessment scored below state standards.

Riley Avenue

• Riley Avenue’s student population included 485 white students, 98 Latino students and 39 black students. Of those, 185 students were eligible for free lunch and 38 for reduced-price lunch during the 2011-12 school year.

• Riley Avenue had the highest percentage of students who met or exceeded state state’s proficiency standards for English-language arts and math. About 5 percent of third-graders and 4 percent of fourth-graders scored below the standard for ELA and about 4 percent in third grade and 2 percent in fourth grade did so in math. All 121 students who took the science assessment scored above the state’s proficiency standards.

Pulaski Street School

• The report found 380 white students, 192 Latino students and 128 black students were enrolled in the school in 2011-12. A reported 285 students qualified for free lunch and 55 for reduced-price lunch.

• In fifth grade, 10 percent of English-language arts assessments and 7 percent of math exams received scores below the state’s proficiency standard. In grade 6, about 8 percent of English-language arts scores and 4 percent of math exams fell below the standard.

Districtwide results

• About 40 percent of all district students, or 2,021, were eligible for free lunch during 2011-12 and another 357 for reduced-price lunch. Those numbers compare with 1,833 students and 336 students, respectively, during the previous year, 2010-11.

• Nearly 12 percent the Riverhead School District’s elementary enrollment during the 2011-12 school year — 596 students — were considered limited English proficient, or LEP, according to the report. That’s an increase of 55 students over the 2010-11 school year, the report shows. LEP refers to students who have not yet developed fluency in reading and writing because their primary language is not English.

• Phillips Avenue had 160 LEP-designated students; Roanoke Avenue had 120; Aquebogue had 73; and Riley Avenue had 60. The Pulaski Street School had 51 LEP students.

• According to the report, the district’s black, Latino, LEP-designated and economically disadvantaged students in grades 3-8, as well as students with disabilities in those grades, failed to make adequate yearly progress in English-language arts assessments. Adequate yearly progress, or AYP, indicates progress toward proficiency for all students.

The same classifications of students in those same grades also failed to make AYP in mathematics last school year.

As for science, as measured in only grades 4 and 8, the district’s black and white students achieved AYP. Riverhead’s secondary students achieved AYP in both English-language arts and math.

• The report also addressed enrollment and graduation rates, documenting a total district enrollment of 5,010 students during 2011-12, up 112 students from the previous year. There were 328 Riverhead High School graduates in 2012, up 20 students from the previous year. However, the total number of dropouts was also up by 10 students, to 71.

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05/12/13 10:00am
05/12/2013 10:00 AM

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Ellie Schultz, a 9-year-old ballerina from Jamesport, warming up at the Mo Chuisle Moya Strast School of Dance in Mattituck.

Her auburn hair pulled back into a tight bun, 9-year-old Ellie Schultz practices jetés on the hardwood floors.

Ellie, who is small for her age, leaps swiftly from one foot to the other across the small studio in Mattituck, her freckled face a canvas of concentration.

“You missed a step,” instructor Cheryl Kiel tells Ellie. “Do it again,” she says encouragingly.

Uncomplaining, the ballerina completes several more series of jumps, not seeming to tire. Only once, after a set of particularly successful jetés, does Ellie allow herself to convey any emotion. She glances quickly at herself in a large mirror.

She grins.

Ellie has good reason to smile. The Aquebogue Elementary School third-grader was recently accepted to the American Ballet Theatre’s Young Dancer Summer Workshop, a fiercely competitive two-week program in New York City. She was encouraged to audition by Ms. Kiel, who owns Mo Chuisle Moya Strast School of Dance on Pike Street and has instructed Ellie in Russian ballet for the past four years.

DEBORAH SCHULTZ COURTESY PHOTO | Ellie performing at a dance recital in 2012.

“She’s the first student I’ve had that I felt was ready for the program,” Ms. Kiel says. “I told her mom from the first time I gave her a private lesson that I knew she had special talent. Being a ballet dancer myself I can see the feet, the body, the alignment. I knew if she had the correct training she would probably be able to do something [with it].”

“I think it might be cool to try it,” Ellie says shyly of the Young Dancer Summer Workshop, for which she auditioned in January. The 14-day program, which begins at the end of July and will be held at ABT’s dance studio in Union Square, is for dancers ages 9 through 12. For five days each week, Ellie will take ballet classes and attend educational workshops on topics such as nutrition and technique.

Ballet has been a part of the Jamesport girl’s life for nearly as long as she can remember. When Ellie was in kindergarten, her mother, Debbie Schultz, signed her up for one of Ms. Kiel’s group ballet classes. The then-5-year-old had joined the class a few months later than her peers so Ms. Schultz, who works for Honeywell, a technology company, enrolled her daughter in private lessons with Ms. Kiel to help her catch up with the other students for an upcoming recital. Ellie learned the material quickly and began to flourish. She now comes to Mo Chuisle four days a week and dances alongside teenagers in an advanced class.

“She quickly fell in love with ballet,” Ms. Schultz says of her eldest child. She and her husband, Fred, who owns Sterlington Deli in Greenport, also have a 6-year-old daughter, Sadie.

Her raw talent aside, Ellie’s determination and studious approach to ballet help set her further apart from other dancers her age.

When she was 6, the wisp of a girl walked into the dance studio wearing a white tutu and clutching the sheet music for “Giselle,” a famous French ballet in which she was set to perform a solo during an upcoming recital.

“I need to do it again,” Ms. Kiel remembers Ellie telling her. “I don’t have the timing right.”

“That’s when I knew she was different,” Ms. Kiel recalled.

Ms. Kiel grew up in Babylon and has been teaching Russian ballet, which emphasizes the development of a strong upper body and use of the arms, for 12 years. As a teenager, she trained seven days a week with a number of teachers, including Yuli Zorov, a graduate of the internationally famous Bolshoi School in Moscow. This particular afternoon, Ellie is practicing a solo from the comic ballet “Coppélia,” which she’ll perform in June in a recital at Pulaski Street School in Riverhead. After doing some pliés at the barre to warm up, the 9-year-old waits, her tiny body composed but relaxed, for the music to start. When it does, the song, with its intense dramatic flair, provides a stark contrast to Ellie’s innocent face. As she dances, she exhibits a gracefulness unusual for a 9-year-old girl: it’s almost womanly, with focused but fluid movements.

“All little girls love ballet; when Ellie dances you can see that she has something extra,” says Linda Stavrinos, the mother of one of Elllie’s classmates. “You can just see it.”

Ellie’s talent is undisputed, but when the ballet slippers come off, she’s a 9-year-old who likes writing, playing lacrosse and going to sleepovers at a friend’s house. When asked what she likes about ballet, she answers, “My teacher.”

“We never really pushed her, Fred and I,” Ms. Schultz says. “We always ask her, ‘Do you still want to continue? Is this what you want to do?’ She has always wanted to take more classes. She loves being here.”

Does she want to be a ballerina when she gets older?

“Sure. Maybe. I don’t know,” the girl says.

And then, perhaps pondering the future, she smiles.

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