Tag Archive | "children"

Vaccine Debate Rages On in Sag Harbor

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Dr. Gail Schonfeld gives an injection to a little girl in January 2011. Photo by Michael Heller.

Dr. Gail Schonfeld gives an injection to a young girl. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

The recent measles outbreak, which started in California, has evoked fear among parents, painful memories among doctors, and intense debate, finger pointing and even name-calling from all sides nationwide. The outbreak has fueled discussion on playgrounds, in waiting rooms, and on Facebook groups here on the East End, where an estimated 3 percent of school children are not fully vaccinated.

Largely centered on the M.M.R. vaccine, which targets measles, mumps and rubella, the debate has made unlikely bedfellows of those on the far left and those on the far right. A growing number of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children for a growing number of reasons, ranging from their belief in holistic medicine, the power of Mother Nature and the natural strength of the human body’s immune system, to a general mistrust of government, injections and in some cases, science itself.

An airborne disease that is highly contagious, measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, but experts believe recent outbreaks originated with international travel to areas that have low or non-existent immunization rates, like parts of Africa.

“There’s measles in the world, there’s international travel and when you get below a certain percentage of people who are adequately immunized, the disease will start to spread and it will come back, and that is exactly what has happened,” said Dr. Gail Schonfeld, an East Hampton pediatrician who has been in practice for 33 years.

Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are often clustered in geographic hubs, making the disease’s spread more likely. The recent outbreak of measles in California, where a growing number of children are not vaccinated, has been linked to Disneyland, but originated outside the U.S.

Health experts believe outbreaks are limited when the population is above a certain immunization rate, due to a phenomenon called “herd immunity.” If a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated, believed to be 95 percent for measles, the disease cannot spread to enough people during its incubation period to sustain itself, which is why recent outbreaks have been contained.

So, although recent outbreaks stem from international travel rather than non-vaccinated American children, if the numbers of unvaccinated children continue to rise, the disease will spread more easily the next time it comes to the U.S.

A measles outbreak in Ohio last June, connected to Amish missionaries returning from the Philippines, more than doubled in size in 10 days and eventually spread to 339 mostly unvaccinated Amish people, according to state health officials. Ohio granted more than three times as many religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccines to kindergarten students in 2013 than it did in 2000.

Unlike in Ohio and some other states, philosophical exemptions from vaccines are not permitted in New York, but the rate of religious exemptions has risen over the last decade, from 0.23 percent in 2000 to 0.45 percent in 2011, according to a 2013 study in the medical journal Pediatrics.

The current rate of immunization in the Bridgehampton School District is 98 percent, with all but three students fully vaccinated. Those children, the district said, are partially vaccinated, but have religious exemption from some vaccines.

In the Sag Harbor School District, 97 percent of students are vaccinated, with 3 percent exempt for religious and medical reasons, according to the district.

On Monday, February 9, the New York State Department of Health sent a letter to all school superintendents in the state reminding schools to follow the requirements for vaccinations.

“Given the recent media attention and the fact that DOH has confirmed three cases of measles in New York State, including New York City, we write to remind you to continue to take all appropriate measures to protect New York’s students through your responsibility to oversee children’s admissions to school,” said the letter.

Under state law, children must receive vaccinations before attending public or private school, unless a doctor confirms that vaccines will harm the child or a parent provides a written explanation of a “genuine and sincere” religious objection, which school officials can accept or reject.

Parties on all sides of the debate are guilty of fear mongering; Some M.M.R. opponents link the vaccine to autism, despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support their claim, while some vaccine proponents incorrectly assert that the instances of measles are testament to a rapidly approaching epidemic that immediately puts all American babies at risk. The extent of loud, often misinformed opinions on both sides can make researching vaccines difficult for the average parent.

Elizabeth Schmitt, an East Hampton mother who decided against vaccinating her eldest daughter Ruby, first became aware of the arguments against vaccines through an Internet message board, branched off of Parents.com. As she continued to “read around” online, the new mother quickly became “really scared.”

As Ruby neared kindergarten age, her younger brother, Cole, at the time about 15 months old and also not vaccinated, started to show strange symptoms: he stopped talking, started twitching and had a high fever.

“It was just all these really scary symptoms out of the blue,” said Ms. Schmitt, “and the funny thing was that all these symptoms were what people kept saying would happen to kids after the M.M.R., but he never had it, so that had me rethinking things really fast.”

“I was looking at a lot of different websites that, I guess in hindsight, aren’t as credible as I thought they were at the time, so then I started looking at the sources. If the site had an article about a certain study, instead of just reading the article, I started reading the study—and realized that the study didn’t say anything that the guy said in the article, and that was really aggravating,” she added.

Ms. Schmitt changed her opinion after further research, and now her children, Ruby, Cole, and 23-month-old Andy, are all fully vaccinated.

“Even the parents who choose not to vaccinate now, we’re all just on the same team, really, everybody’s just really scared about the whole thing,” she said, adding that the “real information” and scientific studies are far more difficult to find, read and understand than the anti-vaccine “sites that we have, like Natural News and the crazy stuff that’s not even true, but so user-friendly and so easy to read, that we didn’t find reason not to believe it.”

While Dr. Schonfeld said she understands “completely and absolutely where the misinformation is coming from and why people are saying and doing what they’re doing,” the pediatrician recently announced that families who choose not to vaccinate are no longer welcome in her practice, as she has “no question [that decision is] wrong on every level.”

“I think what people have to understand is the balance between personal choice and safety and social responsibility. This is the United States and we’re all about personal choice, but when your personal choice endangers the safety of your child and others around you, that’s the line you cannot cross,” she said.

Although she finds many parents’ fear of vaccines unfounded, Dr. Schonfeld’s experience practicing medicine before some of them were invented gives her a larger, more tangible fear: the return of measles and other preventable diseases.

“I’ve personally known and diagnosed children with several of the diseases that we now prevent with the vaccines, and I’ve seen some horrible, horrible things in my time—and I’ve seen the changes, so I understand it from a very different point of view,” she said. “I have very clear memories of the pain and suffering and death of these children and what their families went through…but I also have seen how it’s changed my life to not have these sudden life-threatening infections occurring in children. It’s very challenging to diagnose and treat them and have them survive.”

Although recent measles outbreaks in the U.S. are “horrible,” Dr. Schonfeld believes the incidence of measles is not high enough to justify a routine immunization at six months of age, rather than the standard 12 months.

“I am a firm believer of science and not emotion when it comes to the practice of medicine…When there is as much measles in the United States as there is in, say, parts of Africa where there is no vaccination, yes, we would go back to doing [immunizations before 12 months]—I just don’t think I could stand it if we got to that point,” she said. “I’m really thinking maximum one or two children dying, people are going to get it and stop doing this.”

East End Weekend: Highlights of July 18 to 20

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"Calabrone" by Ramiro. Courtesy Grenning Gallery.

“Calabrone” by Ramiro. Courtesy Grenning Gallery.

By Tessa Raebeck

Summer is in full swing and there’s plenty to choose from to do on the East End this weekend. Here are some highlights:

 

The Grenning Gallery in Sag Harbor is hosting an opening reception for Ramiro’s Solo Show on Saturday, July 19, from 6 to 8 p.m.

“Ramiro solo show this year steps forward into a more mystical and hopeful realm,” owner Laura Grenning wrote in a press release.

“Anchoring the exhibit is a suite of four substantial figurative works, with each painting representing a season of the soul.  Although well known for his expert likenesses in portraiture and grand figurative work, Ramiro’s distinguishing characteristic is, ironically, his ability to let go of the discreet reality of the eyes when necessary.  With this, he infuses his narrative compositions with mystery that allows the paintings to endure the critical test of time,” added Ms. Grenning.

The Grenning Gallery is located at 17 Washington Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-8469.

 

Water Mill’s  Parrish Art Museum is hosting its second edition of Gesture Jam, an adult figure drawing class in which artists sketch live models in a high-energy environment, Friday, July 18 at 6 p.m.

Facilitated by local artist and educator Andrea Cote, this year’s Gesture Jam will be held outdoors on the museum’s terrace and include live musicians Nicolas Letman-Burtanovic on bass and Sean Sonderegger on saxaphone. Local dancers Adam and Gail Baranello are the models.

“Imagine going home with drawings that look like you’ve been to some sort of psychedelic cabaret, and feeling that way too. Andrea Cote’s Gesture Jam classes have just that effect,” Parrish Curator of Special Projects Andrea Grover said in a press release.

The Parrish Art Museum is located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. For more information, call (631) 283-2118.

 

Celebrities are coming to Bridgehampton for CMEE’s 6th Annual Family Fair on Saturday, July 19 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The Children’s Museum of the East End‘s largest fundraiser, this year the fair will have a magical theme.

George Stephanopoulos, Dan Abrams, Jane Krakowski, Joy Behar, Julie Bowen, Molly Sims and Tiffani Thiessen (of Saved by the Bell fame) are some of the CMEE supporters expected to be in attendance.

Children and their families can enjoy magical arts and crafts, water slides, games and entertainment, music, food, and CMEE’s brand new nine-hole miniature golf course.

CMEE is located at 376 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike on the Bridgehampton side. For more information, call (631) 537-8250.

 

A painting by Georges Desarmes. Courtesy Christ Episcopal Church.

A painting by Georges Desarmes. Courtesy Christ Episcopal Church.

Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor is hosting its fourth Haitian Art & Handcraft Sale all weekend, July 18 to 20, to benefit the village of Chermaître in partnership with the Vassar Haiti Project.

An opening reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday and the sale will continue in the Upper Parish Hall on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Two hundred original paintings and a large assortment of unique and affordable gifts, including silk scarves, jewely and iron sculpture, will be on sale.

Many women in the village, Chermaître in northwestern Haiti, are struggling to start small businesses to support their families by selling the crafts they create and the coffee they grow. Proceeds from the church sale will go toward building a community center in the village to support those women.

For more information on the charity, call (970) 946-7614 or visit haitiproject.org. The Christ Episcopal Church is located at the corner of East Union and Hampton Street (Route 114) in Sag Harbor. For more information, call the church at (631) 725-0128.

 

The gallery at Sag Harbor’s Canio Books is hosting artists Ron Focarino and Jeanelle Myers, with her latest assemblage series, Plains Reverie, with an opening reception Friday, July 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

“Myers work reflects the influence of her Nebraska roots, echoing the work of Wright Morris and Joseph Cornell,” the gallery said in a press release. “Myers incorporates a diverse array of found objects including old letters, metals, writing implements, fabric and many other materials into her compelling assemblages.”

"Golden Scarab" enamel sculpture by Ron Focarino. Courtesy Canio's Books.

“Golden Scarab” enamel sculpture by Ron Focarino. Courtesy Canio’s Books.

Artist Ron Focarino will also be exhibiting, showing his “creature creations, delightful enamel sculptures of insects, including a dragonfly, crane fly, scarab and others,” according to Canio’s.

The exhibit runs July 11 through August 5 at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-4926.

The Romany Kramoris Gallery in Sag Harbor presents the artwork of Anna De Mauro and Thomas Condon, with an opening reception Saturday, July 19 from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Sculptor and painter Anna De Mauro is a figurative artist working from the live model.

“Her work process includes observation from life to record instinctual responses to the subject, passage of time and impressions of the metaphysical and the human condition,” the gallery said in a press release.

Thomas Condon lives part-time in East Hampton and focuses on the local landscape here on the East End, as well as the urban scenes of New York City.

The show runs July 17 through August 7 at the Romany Kramoris Gallery, 41 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call (631) 725-2499.

Sag Harbor’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program Will Extend to Include Elementary Schoolers

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Consultant Marian Cassata Updates the Board of Education last August. Photo by Ellen Frankman.

Consultant Marian Cassata updates the Sag Harbor Board of Education on the district’s substance abuse prevention program last August. Photo by Ellen Frankman.

By Tessa Raebeck

Initiatives to combat substance abuse among Sag Harbor teenagers will reach all the way down to kindergarteners next year, district officials confirmed Tuesday.

The evening’s board of education meeting included an update on the district’s drug and alcohol abuse prevention program by Marian Cassata, a prevention consultant and the former director of Pupil Personnel Services at Pierson Middle-High School.

Ms. Cassata, along with her husband Bob Schneider, the former principal of Pierson, is active in the Sag Harbor Coalition, a group of community members dedicated to reducing the use of alcohol and other drugs among local kids. She and Katherine Mitchell of East End Counseling LLC were hired as consultants to address drug and alcohol prevention in the district last spring.

The increased attention to drug and alcohol abuse prevention comes following data from several surveys of local youth that found the rates of alcohol and drug use among Sag Harbor students are higher than average rates in Suffolk County.

Sag Harbor’s drug and alcohol abuse prevention program has traditionally started in middle school, when children are believed to be at the beginning stages of coming into contact with substances. The focus on younger grades has been on other relevant health topics, such as eating well and resisting peer pressure. But an effort to address what some say is an alarming number of Pierson High School students abusing alcohol and other drugs have caused the district to change its program.

Next year, the drug prevention program in the district will involve children as young as 5.

“Next year is the full implementation of that bottom strand of the pyramid,” Ms. Cassata said Tuesday.

Following recommendations made by the consultant to the board in August, the district decided to switch from its existing drug and alcohol program to HealthSmart, “a comprehensive K-12 health education program,” according to the company website.

For students in kindergarten through the fourth grade, the HealthSmart program includes four units: Personal and Family Health, Safety and Injury Prevention, Nutrition and Physical Activity, and Tobacco and Alcohol Prevention, introducing substance abuse prevention to Sag Harbor kids at a much younger age than the current program.

A source familiar with the current program who wished to remain anonymous expressed concern that students will be introduced to adult topics like drugs at an earlier age and said the district needs to educate parents prior to its implementation on what their children will be exposed to under the new program.

Ms. Cassata and Ms. Mitchell, as well as members of the Sag Harbor Coalition, believe an all-inclusive program is the most effective means of delivering a consistent and effective health curriculum that will prevent kids from abusing substances.

Ms. Casata said Tuesday staff development for the HealthSmart curriculum at the elementary school level will begin in June and the program will be “up and ready to launch fully in September.”

Ms. Casata told the board in August that the materials are estimated to cost in excess of $13,000 at $400 a kit and that she had already worked to secure grant money to fund the program.

According to Business Administrator John O’Keefe, drug and alcohol prevention services for the current school year, 2013-14, were budgeted at $25,000. The district has budgeted $20,000 for next year, 2014-15, slightly less because more funds were required to get the program up and running this year, Mr. O’Keefe said. Those funds cover payments to Ms. Cassata and Ms. Mitchell, as well as payment for guest speakers and “things like that,” he said.

Bond Upgrade

Also at Tuesday’s board meeting, Mr. O’Keefe announced Moody’s Investors Service has upgraded the Sag Harbor School District from a credit rating of A1 to Aa3, the first upgrade in the district’s history.

“This significant upgrade is based upon the district’s strong, successful financial management practices over the past several years, which have resulted in both improved and satisfactory reserve levels,” the district said in a press release.

As a result of this upgrade, the district anticipates saving approximately $330,000 in interest for the work proposed in the recently approved $9 million capital projects bond, as well as approximately $15,000 in bond insurance premiums. The district also plans to save additional money during the annual tax anticipation note borrowing.

“Really, that’s work for children, because that kind of money can be freed up for programs and for important things,” school board member David Diskin said Tuesday.

CMEE Unveils Bridgehampton’s First Miniature Golf Course

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An aerial view of the new miniature golf course at CMEE in Bridgehampton, which will open this Saturday, May 24. Photo courtesy CMEE.

An aerial view of the new miniature golf course at CMEE in Bridgehampton, which will open this Saturday, May 24. Photo courtesy CMEE.

By Tessa Raebeck

Children must be accompanied by adults—and adults must be accompanied by children.

This is the principle at the new miniature golf course at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, where a collection of nine bright and colorful holes opens Saturday in the museum’s backyard on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

Bridgehampton’s first miniature golf course is a far, but welcome, cry from the traditional theme park courses of pirates, dinosaurs and waterfalls. The holes are laid out in designs that are best described as wacky, with blue, orange and red adornments complementing the putting greens.

Players move through the nine holes in a clockwise motion, starting with an optional practice green. One hole has a loop de loop, another dots that chime with music when struck. Each has a distinct look—and a distinct lesson.

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Photo courtesy CMEE.

“Each hole teaches something different about math and physics,” said Paul Johnson, marketing assistant at the museum.

Keeping with the mission of CMEE, an organization at the forefront of combining play with learning on the East End, the mini golf course incorporates interactive play with the basic principles of physics.

Rather than studying a flash card, kids can learn Newton’s Law of Inertia (an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force) by hitting a ball. Newton’s Second Law (force equals mass times acceleration) can be understood by catapulting that ball through the loop de loop.

In planning the course, CMEE surveyed 7-to-10-year-olds to find out what their favorite mini golf holes were. Once the most popular designs were established, they worked with science teachers at the Ross School’s Innovation Lab and other local schools to figure out how to incorporate learning.

At every hole, a descriptive panel explains how to make the shot and what to learn while doing it.

The first hole, “What’s Your Angle?” teaches players how various degrees will affect their putt.  In the corner of the L-shaped hole, a blue fan attached to a pole directs, “Move Me!” It can be positioned at different angles to reflect a player’s putt toward the hole—or away from it as the case may be.

The sign marking the hole asks several questions, such as whether the angle is acute, right or obtuse, for children to figure out as they play.

Rather than your standard score card, each player gets a folder complete with both the scoring reports and further explanation of the respective lessons and challenges of each obstacle.

After the first hole, players wrap their way around the “whimsical” course, playing through a green with ridged hills, another with parallel loops of different sizes, and various slopes, angles, rocks and other obstacles, learning as they go.

The miniature golf course is the first exhibit realized by the museum’s capital campaign, now in its second year. CMEE is more than halfway toward a fundraising goal of $2 million, which it hopes to reach by the end of the summer.

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Photo courtesy CMEE.

“This is kind of the first fruit of that labor,” Mr. Johnson said.

In addition to paying down the existing mortgage, establishing an endowment and helping to cover costs of the museum’s day-to-day operations, the campaign will also fund the expansion of museum exhibits and several new additions, including a room dedicated to energy and electricity, a redesigned ship exhibit and a new pizza oven for the play kitchen.

“Energy: Wind, Water & Solar” will allow children to experiment with the forces of nature while learning about conservation and the environment.

In the four-level pirate ship, children will be able to navigate the seas with climbing tubes and ladders, hoist the sales and clamber up ropes to a 25-foot-high crow’s nest. Six simple machines at the ship will teach the foundations of engineering.

All the projects, like the miniature golf course, will include bilingual signs for Spanish and English-speaking visitors. The mini golf course is entirely wheelchair accessible.

CMEE’s course will be unveiled in an invite-only ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 24. Executive Director Stephen Long and Board President Amy Tarr, as well as elected officials and museum supporters, will be on hand to give remarks. Coffee from Java Nation and SweetTauk lemonade will be served. In addition to playing the course, guests can take golf clinics led by Kate Tempesta of Urban Golf Academy.

Following the event at noon, the course will officially open to the public, with games at just $5 a head for groups of up to five players.

In the future, CMEE hopes to use the course after hours for mixers and other private events.

Visitors will find the ninth and final hole is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding.

“It works almost like a pinball machine,” Mr. Johnson said, adding that although the course incorporates learning, it is designed, above all else, to be fun.

Struck into a corridor on the green’s right side, the ball hit the top of the green and ricocheted back towards the hole, knocking green, silver, blue, red and orange pin balls with a satisfying chime after every hit.

“Isn’t that fun?” asked Mr. Johnson. It was.