Tag Archive | "pierson middle/high school"

School District Administrators Propose Plan for In-House Special Education Program in Sag Harbor

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Sag Harbor seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

Sag Harbor seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Hoping to develop a new in-house program for students with disabilities, Sag Harbor School District administrators proposed a special education budget to the Board of Education on Thursday, March 12, that would keep those students in the district while still reducing expenses by almost 5 percent from last year’s budget.

“For the first time in many years, we have a lot of preschool students with some very profound disabilities,” Director of Pupil Personnel Services Barbara Bekermus told the board. “These are our kids and they should be in our schools is the bottom line…. I also think it’s a benefit, and it’s more effective to keep the students in our school financially, but most importantly, they belong in our community.”

Ms. Bekermus said the parents of special needs students that she has spoken with are “so excited” at the prospect of their children staying at Sag Harbor Elementary School, rather than traveling to programs as far away as Center Moriches and Cutchogue, and spending as much as three hours on a bus each day.

The in-house program would be a class with students in kindergarten, first and second grade, with up to eight students, a teacher and three teaching assistants. Ms. Bekermus said there are about 11 students entering those grades who would qualify for the special services and estimated that four or five of them would be assigned to the special class, while the rest would be based in inclusion classrooms. The elementary school already has a behavioral specialist, Elizabeth Rasor, on staff.

“When I observe other programs and I know what Sag Harbor Elementary School does, I know we can do it as well if not better…I have total confidence,” said Ms. Bekermus.

If the district does not start its own in-house program at the elementary school, it would be required to find alternative placement for those special educations students and would need to pay tuition to the school they attend, such as Childhood Development Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton. The district also pays busing costs for those students.

Even with adding the teachers, speech therapist and occupational therapist, and the respective salaries and benefits, Ms. Buscemi said, “you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.” If the district decides to pursue an in-house special education program, the new students coming in would add a projected cost of $614,000, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. She said those costs would be offset by lower expenses elsewhere, such as for busing and tuition rates.

Despite the projected increase for the proposed new program, the special education budget would still be decreasing by 4.9 percent overall. The proposed budget for next year, the 2015-16 school year, for special education is about $3.8 million, a decrease of nearly $200,000 from the current school year’s operating budget.

“It would still cost the district and taxpayers less if we bring it in-house than if we don’t. So, this is a benefit to the students and it’s a benefit to the taxpayers,” summed up Chris Tice, the board’s vice president.

Ms. Bekermus noted that if students choose to stay at CDCH despite Sag Harbor having its own program, the district would still have to pay for those students.

“This is heart-driven, this is really all about children,” said Superintendent Katy Graves, who was in support of the proposal, citing research that “tells us when students are around their peers they make much faster progress,” and that special education students often read at a faster rate and excel when “mainstreamed” into their local schools with students of all levels.

There is also the advantage of students being integrated into the community where they will likely be working and living as young adults and adults, Ms. Bekermus said.

Ms. Tice added that non-special education students would likewise benefit from developing relationships with their peers who have disabilities.

After hearing about the impact of tax rate projections at its upcoming budget workshop on Monday, March 23, the Board of Education plans to adopt the budget on April 22, with a hearing scheduled for May 5 and the annual budget vote and election on May 19.

Pierson Robotics Team Wins 3D Printer to Help with Bot Building

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A member of the Pierson Robotics Team works on Sag Harbor's robot. Photo courtesy Gayle Pickering.

A member of the Pierson Robotics Team works on Sag Harbor’s robot. Photo courtesy Gayle Pickering.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a contest with more than 4,000 competitors, the Pierson High School Robotics Team has won a 3-dimensional printer, which is already being used to make parts for this year’s robot.

Each year, the robotics team, First Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 28, competes in an international competition at Hofstra University against teams from other Long Island high schools but from as far away as Canada, Brazil, and Israel.  Last year’s team went to the finals in St. Louis, and this year’s team is working hard in hopes of repeating the fate.

The robotics team meets twice a week for most of the year, but in January ramps it up to meetings every day for six weeks, leading up to “Stop Build Day” on February 17, when the completed robot is shipped to FIRST. The team continues to meet every day in preparation of the regional competition, held March 26 through 28.

The new EKOCYCLE 3D Printer, won by the Pierson Robotics Team. Photo courtesy Gayle Pickering.

The new EKOCYCLE 3D Printer, won by the Pierson Robotics Team. Photo courtesy Gayle Pickering.

This year’s competition, “Recycle Rush,” is focused on combining technology with environmental responsibility.

“Recycle Rush is a recycling-themed game played by two alliances of three robots each,” according to FIRST. “Robots score points by stacking totes on scoring platforms, capping those stacks with recycling containers, and properly disposing of pool noodles, representing litter. In keeping with the recycling theme of the game, all game pieces used are reusable or recyclable by teams in their home locations or by FIRST at the end of the season.”

To win the contest, two members of the team, Abigail Gianis and Clara Oppenheimer, wrote an essay explaining why Sag Harbor’s student engineers deserved the printer, an EKOCYCLE Cube Printer that uses a filament cartridge made with recycled material.

The FIRST Robotics Competition, which Pierson competes in annually, invited all registered teams to apply for one of approximately 1,600 printers, donated by 3D Systems and the Coca-Cola Company.

“They had basically a grant, that if you wrote a proposal and justified your need,” you would be awarded a printer, said Rob Coe, one of the team’s mentors.

“We went into detail about how we would incorporate it into our school to show both students and teachers the new kind of technology coming out,” said Abigail.

“We spoke about how our school embraces being eco-friendly,” she added. “The biggest point we made was regarding our robot. We spoke about how we would be able to print parts for our robot, so we could have the part we need in hours, as opposed to what could be weeks if we ordered a part.”

The essay competition is one example of how the robotics program doesn’t just teach students to manufacture robots, but also provides hands-on experience in marketing, teamwork, and real-world applications.

“There’s lots of talk about jobs and all the jobs are in technology and engineering and the U.S. is behind and we’re not putting out enough students to be able to fill those jobs—so this is a program that enables kids to gain that experience and go out into the real world and perform,” Clint Schulman, the faculty advisor to the robotics program, told the Sag Harbor Board of Education last month.

Already being used in the team’s shop, the printer immediately saved the team money and time, easing the robot-building process.

“We’ve been making a lot of parts for the robot,” Mr. Coe said, as the Ekocycle printed fervently. “We’re making hubs for motors, we’re making hooks for picking up the trash cans.”

“There’s already a bunch of printed parts in our robot,” added Abigail. “The printed parts allowed us to implement things into our bot that we haven’t been able to before because we lack a connector part—all we had to do is print out the connector and now it’s perfect.”

Niche Ranking Names Pierson 49th Best Public High School in New York State

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Pierson seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

Pierson seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Sag Harbor’s Pierson Middle/High School was ranked the 49th best public high school in New York State in the Niche list, a national rating determined not just by statistics, but also alumni, parent and student survey responses. Pierson’s grade, of which academics account for 50 percent, was an “A+” overall.

“A high ranking indicates that the school is an exceptional academic institution with a diverse set of high-achieving students who rate their experience very highly,” Niche said of its annual list, which looked at statistics and survey results at 14,431 high schools nationwide. Magnet, charter and online schools are not eligible for ranking.

In 35th place in New York, Westhampton Beach Senior High School was the top high school on the East End, followed by Pierson at 49, East Hampton at 58, Southampton at 65, Shelter Island at 213 and Greenport at 236.

On Monday, Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves attributed Pierson’s strong showing to its “strength of schedule,” strong course offerings like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The school started offering IB in September 2012 and Pierson’s first diploma candidates in the program graduated last year.

“This reinforces again that our overall rankings keep coming out clearly—our students are doing such an outstanding job,” said Ms. Graves, comparing the Niche grade to Pierson’s strong test scores.

Government and other public data, Niche’s data and over 4 million surveys, which asked parents, alumni and students to rate their schools, determined the rankings.

“They feel like the academics, the administration, the policies and our educational outcomes are really outstanding,” Ms. Graves said of the survey respondents, adding that Pierson was given a top score of A+ for the quality of Sag Harbor teachers. “That resonates. I think that really sends a great message out to keep doing what we’re doing and to continue doing our personal best to give that Sag Harbor experience to all of our students,” she said.

Half of a school’s score is based on academics, 10 percent each on health and safety, student culture and diversity, survey responses and the teachers’ grades, 5 percent on resources and facilities, and 2.5 percent each for sports and extracurricular activities.

Pierson was given a top score of A+ for teachers and resources and facilities and A’s in academics and health and safety. Extracurriculars and activities received a B+, sports and fitness a B-.

Pierson’s lowest score was in student culture and diversity, which received a C+. Eighty-two percent of Pierson students are white, 14 percent are Hispanic and 2 percent are black, according to Niche.

Much of the data came from statistics reported by the schools to the U.S. Department of Education from 2011 to 2012. Some schools that scored well did not qualify for an official ranking due to insufficient data.

Many of the schools on the list are science and technical institutes. High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey, came in first in the country, followed by Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and two New York schools, Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and Staten Island Technical High School.

Sag Harbor School District to Consider Six Options for Later Start Times at Pierson

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By Tessa Raebeck Start Times Sidebar copy

Striving to be leaders in the national trend toward later high school starting times, Sag Harbor administrators have outlined six options of potential time changes for the school district.

In early October, in response to concerns expressed by parents and students and a growing body of research that supports moving start times later for students’ overall health and success, the Board of Education created an ad-hoc committee, to explore possibilities and develop plans to present to the board. The committee is in the midst of eight scheduled meetings, with each meeting designed to tackle a specific challenge, such as after-school program scheduling at the elementary school, transportation and budget challenges and athletics schedules.

The decision to pursue a schedule change came shortly after the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in late August that called insufficient sleep in teenagers “an important public health issue” and recommended all high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The report, and others, showed that teenagers’ circadian rhythms make it nearly impossible for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake before 8 a.m., and that growing adolescents have less ability to focus in the early morning than younger children and adults.

The school board voiced its support of making a change for students’ benefit as early as last spring, but remained wary of the challenges of altering the long-ingrained schedules of school buses, interscholastic athletics and extra-curricular activities.

As it stands, the day at Pierson Middle/High School starts at 7:25 a.m.—which is on the earlier side of national start times—and ends at 2:26 p.m. After a 45-minute route, Pierson buses drop students off between 7:10 and 7:15 a.m. The Sag Harbor Elementary School day begins with morning program at 8:35 a.m. and ends at 3:10 p.m. Elementary school buses also have a 45-minute route, and students are dropped off at the school between 8:20 and 8:25 a.m.

The school district, which owns all of its buses and runs transportation itself to save money, has seven large buses, five mini-buses and one van, and 13 bus drivers and two substitute drivers. There are 750 students who are eligible to ride the bus.

The committee has come up with six possible options (see sidebar) to change the high school start time, which will be presented when the board meets on December 1.

Under the first option, the morning bus runs would remain separate, but the afternoon runs would be combined, meaning that students in kindergarten through 12th grade would ride the bus together. Both the morning and afternoon runs would be combined under options two and three. For those three options, administrators project that five additional buses would be needed. Purchasing two buses and contracting out three buses would cost an estimated $690,799, or $511,769 if the two buses were leased instead of bought. That cost includes an additional parking lot to store the new buses, as the current lots are at maximum capacity.

“Economically,” Superintendent Katy Graves said Monday, “it’s such a challenge to combine the bus routes.” The committee also expressed concerns over having five-year-olds ride the bus alongside teenagers.

“The combined bus runs—again, I always think we can work through issues and we would—but initially, that would pose some obvious difficulties and challenges,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone.

“We’re always aware of the goal of trying our best, within reason, to keep these little kids young as long as we can…that’s something that we’re very cognizant of, so [sharing buses] would be something that we’d have to really talk through and work through,” he added.

Under options four and five, the district would keep the separate bus runs and thus need no additional buses or funding, administrators said. Option six was just added last Thursday and hasn’t been thoroughly vetted yet, but Superintendent Katy Graves said the plan, which is a less ambitious option with a still early start time of 7:45 a.m., “could possibly increase our busing to athletics.”

Ms. Graves said the fourth option, “flipping” the elementary and high school start times, is a popular choice in districts that have successfully implemented a change, but “culturally, the way we built our district with the morning program and everything—I would be very concerned about that.”

Another concern, which was echoed by Mr. Malone and Donna Denon, the elementary school vice principal, is the potential loss of the time allotted for after-school programs, if there was a later dismissal time at the elementary school.

“There’s no way to do this without some kind of effect and a compromise,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, who has been vocal in her support of moving high school start times later.

“Unequivocally,” she continued, “it is so much healthier for kids to go to school later…. Every piece of research documents that this is a worthwhile process to go through, but we have to acknowledge that, I think, almost every choice or recommendation that’s made—it’s going to have some pain associated with it…. That’s going to be the conversation—what is most beneficial with the least negative impact on children?”

The administrators are creating a survey about the potential changes to get feedback from parents, students and staff.

Representatives from Section XI will discuss the impact a change would have on athletics at the committee’s next meeting, on Wednesday, November 19, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson library. The committee will draft final plans on Thursday, November 20, also at 7 p.m., and present those plans when the school board meets on December 1 at 6 p.m. in the Pierson library.

With Ample Jobs to Choose From, Coding Could Become Sag Harbor Schools’ Newest Pursuit

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By Tessa Raebeck 

Coding, or computer programming, for which there is an abundance of jobs but a lack of workers with the requisite skills, may be incorporated into all levels of the curriculum in Sag Harbor’s schools if Superintendent Katy Graves has her wish. At the Board of Education’s meeting on Monday, November 3, Ms. Graves said she intends for Pierson High School to offer an elective in coding by the next school year, as well as an extra-curricular coding club—as a start.

Coding is learning the language of computers. Students would learn several languages used to structure and style websites, such as HTML, CSS, Python and Javascript. Using knowledge learned in a beginner course, a student could build a professional website entirely on their own, without having to use a host platform.

According to the Conference Board, a global, independent business research association, there is a demand exceeding the supply of available workers of more than 15 percent for computing jobs in New York State, while in all other jobs, the demand surplus is less than 5 percent. In a presentation to the board, school personnel and a small audience, Ms. Graves emphasized that there are far more jobs in coding than there are skilled laborers to fill them.

“At least for the foreseeable future, if you have skills in coding, you’re going to be employable,” she said.

A 2010 to 2012 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the United States is adding over 130,000 jobs a year in computing across all industries, and a study by the Georgetown University Center of Education revealed that over 60 percent of those computing jobs are outside the tech sector. Yet the National Science Foundation estimates that less than 2.4 percent of college students—about 40,000 annually—graduate with a degree in computer science.

“This is the biggest explosion of jobs—and these are not low-paying jobs,” Ms. Graves said.

Despite the increase in students’ access to technology, the number of computer science graduates across the country has actually declined in the last decade.

“Now, since children are born with an iPad in their crib, we don’t usually give them computer classes anymore,” explained Ms. Graves. “So, actually our exposure—exposing children to computers—has gone down, so children thinking of that as a career has gone down as well… we’re not even exposing kids, so kids don’t even think of [computer programming] necessarily as a job.”

New York is one of 25 states where students can count computer science for credit toward high school graduation. The New York State Department of Education does not recognize computer science as a “core” class, but Ms. Graves said programming could be offered as an elective through the math or science departments.

“If we expose children to coding and to computer software, we’re also teaching them computational thinking,” Ms. Graves added, supporting her position with recent editorials in The Guardian and The New York Times that argue coding is not only a hands-on way for students to learn the language of computers, but also teaches them a new way to think about the world, breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable steps.

The administrators and board appeared to support Ms. Graves’s belief that coding is a significant piece of a well-rounded contemporary education. In a separate presentation the same evening, which Ms. Graves said she did not collaborate on, Pierson math teacher Jason LaBatti updated the board on the computer-programming course he teaches, which is part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

Mr. LaBatti, a graduate of Pierson who has been teaching math at his alma mater since 2003, said that in the past, he had many students who went out on their own, taking the initiative to teach themselves coding in the absence of a programming class at school.

“Finally, we made that happen,” he said of his students’ demand for a course. Pierson currently has two computer science classes that are available to IB students; one is 150 hours, the other is 240 hours.

The district has been steadily increasing students’ access to technology in all grades since computers were first introduced to classrooms, and administrators seemed confident Sag Harbor has sufficient laptops and internet access to further implement coding into its curriculum.

Mr. LaBatti said the Smartboard and 25 Macbook laptops he now has in his classroom make “teaching this concept, this whole technology, very, very easy.” He would like to see all students graduate from Pierson with the ability to “design a website from the ground up,” he said.

With most of the technology already in place, Ms. Graves said the financial considerations of implementing a comprehensive coding program would be minimal.

“The curriculum that is supplied is absolutely free of charge,” she said of the program she intends to use, which is offered by Code.org, a non-profit website, funded by top tech personnel like Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, that aims to expand participation in computer science and teach every American student how to code. Launched in 2013, Code.org has a curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade, with instructions, videos, and interactive lessons school districts can use for free.

“The only investment by the district is teaching,” said Ms. Graves, adding that math and science teachers usually instruct computer courses.

“You start out with a small dedicated group and a teacher that’s willing to take on a fairly daunting task,” she said. “We also want to do, if we can, a coding club because that gives us more chance for exposure.”

Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said a fifth of a teacher’s schedule would be required to implement a high school elective, which is how the district would begin to expand computer-programming opportunities. The school would also offer a coding club as an optional extra-curricular activity after school.

Sag Harbor’s Eighth Graders Host Book Drive to Aid Middle School Affected by Hurricane Katrina

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Students in Christine Farrell's eighth grade English class at Pierson with books they're donating to Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana, which lost all its supplies due to flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Christine Farrell.

Students in Christine Farrell’s eighth grade English class at Pierson with books they’re donating to Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana, which lost all its supplies due to flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy Christine Farrell.

By Tessa Raebeck

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, it looked like the flooded Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana, would close its doors forever. Nine years later, the school has a brand new building, but its desks, bookshelves and supply cabinets remain empty.

Sag Harbor students are determined to help fill those shelves. Eighth graders in Christine Farrell’s English classes at Pierson Middle School are collecting books to send down to Kenner, a small city in the New Orleans suburbs.

“They are very happy to pay it forward,” Ms. Farrell said of her students, who have plastered posters around Pierson’s halls asking classmates for donations.

Superintendent Katy Graves connected the middle schools after hearing from a former student of hers, Katy Clayton. Ms. Clayton began teaching at Roosevelt Middle School this year, with six classes, including eighth grade English.

“She started the year with no paper for the copy machine, no books,” Ms. Graves explained. “Literally, the school was gutted. They built the school where the flood had come in, but they had no resources at all.”

Ms. Graves quickly got on the phone with John Olson, the principal at Roosevelt Middle School. Mr. Olson had worked in some of the highest performing schools in the south, but, rather than pursuing a lucrative interim job, after retirement he decided to return to work in his hometown. His hometown needed his experience: Before its doors opened for classes this fall, the middle school was already in the red, with no money for such basic supplies as pens and paper.

Ms. Katy Clayton and her eighth grade English Language Arts students at Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana.

Ms. Katy Clayton and her eighth grade English Language Arts students at Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Kenner, Louisiana.

“They have a brand new building and it’s all pretty, but they have literally next to nothing for the classroom, they don’t have even white Xerox paper,” explained Ms. Farrell.

“The kids,” she said of her eighth grade students in Sag Harbor, “ have an abundance of books and typically for eighth grade, I ask them to read independent books on their own and usually they read it once and then nothing happens—it gets lost under their beds.”

The eighth grade ran a “very successful” book drive for the Little Flower School in Shoreham several years ago, so Ms. Farrell said she knows “Pierson will definitely come through with this.”

Although the focus is on the eighth grade at Roosevelt Middle School, Sag Harbor students have been collecting non-fiction, fiction and picture books for all students in the school, which has students in grades six through eight. “They need really everything,” said Ms. Farrell.

The drive has only been running about three weeks, but Pierson students have seen ample donations from parents and community members since word got out.

Eighth grade students bringing donated books into Pierson. Photo courtesy Christine Farrell.

Eighth grade students bringing donated books into Pierson. Courtesy Christine Farrell.

“We have all this stuff collecting in our house,” Ms. Farrell said, “but you don’t want to throw it out, it’s a book.” Families who may have overdone it on the school supplies shopping this fall can bring any extra items to the school. “Whatever they’re not using can be donated,” she said. They are still working out the logistics of how to transport boxes of heavy books to Louisiana.

Although Pierson students are starting with the book drive, they hope to continue working to support the southern school in various ways throughout the year.

“We want these kids to develop; we’re really working hard on character and empathy and thoughtfulness and really reaching outside yourself,” said Ms. Graves, adding, “I’m so proud of them.”

Ms. Farrell hopes to connect her eighth graders with their southern counterparts more directly by establishing literary pen pals; students would write letters to each other based on the books they’re reading in class.

When Ms. Carlson, the teacher at Roosevelt Middle School, accepted Pierson’s offer to help, Ms. Graves gave her one condition: The Yale graduate will be coming to Sag Harbor to speak with students about getting into a top school from a small town later in the year—and she’ll likely be returning south with plenty of boxes.

If you’d like to donate books or school supplies to the Theodore Roosevelt Middle School, please drop items off at the main office at Pierson Middle/High School, with an attention to detail for Christine Farrell.

Sag Harbor to Consider Later School Start Times for Sleep-Deprived Students

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Pierson teacher Eric Reynolds tries to wake up his student Shane Hennessy in class on Wednesday, September 24. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Pierson teacher Eric Reynolds tries to wake up his student Shane Hennessy in class on Wednesday, September 24. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

By Tessa Raebeck

On weekday mornings, Grace Gawronski’s alarm goes off at 6:20 on the dot. The 12-year-old reserves about 10 to 20 minutes to drag herself out of bed, then spends another 20 to 30 minutes getting ready for school at Pierson. She gets on the bus at 7 a.m. and arrives at school between 7:10 and 7:15 to make it to class by the starting bell at 7:26.

Most days she doesn’t have time to eat breakfast or pack a lunch, and her stomach rumbles until she can buy some cafeteria food during her lunch period.

Grace, a seventh grader, is in school from 7:15 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. After school, she has two hours of field hockey practice or a game, which can involve upward of an hour of travel time to and fro. She gets home at around 5 p.m. and starts her homework, which takes her 45 minutes to two hours.

“I am tired throughout the whole day,” Grace said Tuesday. “When I get to field hockey practice I’m very tired and I really don’t feel like playing sometimes because I’ve been in school all day. But it’s one of my favorite parts of the day.”

Her most favorite part of the day, Grace said, is after school, sports, homework and dinner, when she finally gets to return to her bed. Grace tries to get in bed before 10 p.m. so she can get eight hours of sleep, but said she needs “at least nine and a half hours of sleep to be wide awake the whole day.”

Schedules like Grace’s are prompting a discussion among parents and administrators about potentially moving Sag Harbor’s middle and high school starting times—which are some of the earliest in the country—about an hour later, to 8 or 8:30 a.m.

In addition to personal anecdotes from tired families, research into teen sleep cycles and the effects of sleep deprivation on mental and physical health, as well as on behavior, safety, and academic, athletic and extracurricular performance have prompted the Board of Education to look into ways to balance healthier starting times with already established schedules.

At its meeting on Monday, September 29, the board is expected to announce a district goal to come up with plans that would allow Sag Harbor students to sleep later.

Busing logistics, both in the morning and to after-school sports, are often cited as the key reason schools start their days around dawn and end mid-afternoon. Sag Harbor’s head bus driver Maude Stevens said in an email Wednesday that she hasn’t been “approached by anyone in the district about time changes.”

In addition to pointing to scheduling obstacles, some opponents of later times express fear that teenagers will start going to bed later and parents who need to be at work by 9 a.m. will be unable to get their kids on the bus or drop them off. Those were the concerns raised upstate last year after Glen Falls High School changed its start time from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m. The school board narrowly voted to stand by the changes and in the first year, students’ grades improved, teachers said they were more alert in class and the percentage of students who were late for school dropped by nearly 30 percent.

“It can be done, because there’s a ton of school districts throughout this country that are showing us it can be done,” said Susan Lamontagne, a Sag Harbor parent who has been at the forefront of the national push for later start times for over four years. Some schools, she said, have early morning hours for families who need students dropped off earlier so parents can get to work. Research shows students with later start times aren’t going to bed any later, they are simply getting more sleep.

“It’ll be challenging,” Superintendent Katy Graves said of the potential switch, adding the board will be forming an ad-hoc committee “to look at what are all the challenges involved with the later start time and what are the pieces that we have to put in place to make a later start time happen.”

Mr. Reynolds tries a little harder to wake up Shane Hennessy on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Mr. Reynolds tries a little harder to wake up Shane Hennessy on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

At previous school board meetings, Vice President Chris Tice cited the research in support of later start times and encouraged the board to look into how it could be applied in Sag Harbor. Other board members appear to be supportive while acknowledging athletics as a major obstacle to a change.

“They’re listening to the community and they’re listening to the medical community and they’re saying, ‘Let’s see if we can make this work.’” Ms. Graves said of the board.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan acknowledged the scheduling difficulties in an NPR interview last September during which he voiced his support for later start times.

“But at the end of the day,” he said, “I think it’s incumbent upon education leaders to not run school systems that work good for buses but that don’t work for students.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also weighed in on the issue in a publication released last month, in which doctors recommended all American middle and high schools start after 8:30 a.m.

Calling insufficient sleep in adolescents “an important public health issue,” the academy urged schools to aim for later times that allow students to get at least eight and a half hours of sleep a night, in order to improve physical health and reduce obesity risk, improve mental health and lower rates of depression, increase safety by limiting car crashes caused by “drowsy driving” and improve academic performance and quality of life.

Pierson senior Zoe Vatash said she usually wakes up between 6 and 6:30 a.m. “which is late compared to some of my friends.”

“Teenagers need more sleep. Telling us to ‘just go to bed earlier’ isn’t realistic and isn’t working,” she said.

During teenage years, the body’s circadian rhythm shifts some three hours backward, making it nearly biologically impossible for teenagers to go to bed earlier than 11 p.m. and awake before 8 a.m.

“Because of the shift in their circadian rhythm, asking a teenager to perform well in a classroom during the early morning is like asking him or her to fly across the country and instantly adjust to the new time zone—and then do the same thing every night, for four years,” said David K. Randall, author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.”

On Shelter Island, school starts for all students at 8 a.m. Everyone rides the same bus, with elementary students in the front and middle and high schoolers in the back.

“Shelter Island is even smaller than Sag Harbor and often travel time to games can be quite long” with added travel time on ferries, said Jean Cowen, a Sag Harbor parent who was the guidance director for the Shelter Island School District for 25 years.

The school day on Shelter Island ends at 2:30 p.m. and teachers are contractually obligated to stay in their rooms until 3 p.m. to provide extra help, which many also do voluntarily from 7:30 to 8 a.m.

Senior Liam Rothwell-Pessino, who travels to Pierson from his home in Springs, wakes up for school before 5:30 a.m. “At least in theory,” he said. “Most days I hit the snooze button a few too many times.”

If he had gone to the Springs School, which has students in kindergarten through eighth grade, instead of Sag Harbor, Liam would have started school at 8:20 a.m. and gotten out at 3:10 p.m. Instead, he aims to leave home by 6:40 and get to school by 7:10 at the latest, in order to have time to stop by his locker and be in class before the 7:26 bell.

Sag Harbor parent Andrea Grover said the current schedule “negatively impacts an entire family, and I know we are not alone.” Her 12-year-old Lola wakes up at 6 a.m. to get to Pierson Middle School in time for the morning bell.

“Last year her lunch was at 10:15 a.m.; this year it’s mercifully one period later,” Ms. Grover said. “I drive her to school because it buys her an extra 30 minutes of sleep and because I don’t want her waiting for the bus on Noyac Road in the dark.”

After dropping Lola off, Ms. Grover heads home to wake up Gigi, her 9-year-old who attends the elementary school, then returns to town to drop her off by 8:35 a.m. when morning program starts.

“So from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. I am in transit between my children’s schools and my home, and then I finally head to work. I’d say we are often all sleep deprived,” said Ms. Grover, who added that out of the schools her children have attended in Texas, Pennsylvania and other towns in New York, Pierson Middle School starts the earliest. Ms. Grover said Lola tells her she is tired at least once a day.

Liam, the senior at Pierson, confirmed the condition: “Ask any high school student how they’re feeling and nine times out of 10 the response is, ‘I’m tired,’ or something along those lines. On a daily basis, I will see four middle school kids out of five holding a coffee cup walking down the hallway. That’s not even an exaggeration.”

Drone Spotted Flying Over Sag Harbor

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An aerial view of Sag Harbor taken by Pierson Middle/High School students with the school's new drone, donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust. Photo courtesy Peter Solow.

An aerial view of Sag Harbor taken by Pierson Middle/High School students with the school’s new drone, donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust. Courtesy Peter Solow.

By Tessa Raebeck 

At the signal from Theo Gray, Isabella di Russa sprinted down Pierson Hill, a streak of pink and red as a long Chinese dragon kite trailed behind her. Darting among a triangle of bright beach umbrellas held by classmates at the bottom of the hill, she weaved the dragon between them.

From Theo’s view at the top of the hill, the colorful umbrella tops were hardly visible, but he had a better vantage point. A drone, hardly noticeable except for the humming of its engine, whirred above Isabella’s head, capturing the scene below.

A small, remote-controlled aircraft with a camera attached to its base, the drone is the latest instrument of Sag Harbor’s student artists. Donated by the Reutershan Educational Trust, a privately funded art program created by Sag Harbor resident and architect Hobart “Hobie” Betts, the drone is being piloted in a weeklong workshop at Pierson High School.

On Wednesday, August 6, five students, Theo, Isabella, Danielle Schoenfeld, Joy Tagliasachhi and Zoe Vatash, two visiting artists, Francine Fleischer and Scott Sandell, both from Sag Harbor, and art teacher Peter Solow experimented with their new tool.

Mr. Sandell manned a remote control that operated the white drone, an alien-like aircraft with four propellers that move simultaneously in different directions. To capture photos and videos, students took turns controlling an iPhone connected simply by Wifi to the drone’s camera.

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Sag Harbor students took photos with their new drone on Pierson Hill on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Theo Gray.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, were until recently used primarily for military operations and by the occasional pioneering photographer. The technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, with the once pricey gadgets (some of which still cost as much as $30,000) now available from vendors like Amazon for less than $75.

As with most new technology, drones are proliferating too fast for laws and regulations to keep up. On Sunday, August 3, Senator Charles Schumer urged the Federal Aviation Association and the U.S. Commerce Department to regulate the use of drones for both commercial and hobby purposes. New York City, the senator said, is the “Wild West for drones,” with multiple instances of the devices crashing into trees, apartment terraces and hovering outside windows reported this summer.

But on Pierson Hill Wednesday, the need was not for regulations nor drone policy, but for a way to master the new technology while also figuring out how to create art that is unique, inspiring and innovative, despite the gadgets’ soaring popularity.

“When people initially started to use computers to make artwork, they didn’t know what to do and everything they did was bad,” said Mr. Sandell, an artist and printmaker, who, like Ms. Fleischer, has worked with Sag Harbor students for years doing site-specific artwork and photography projects through the Reutershan Trust. “But now, people have learned how to use it and control it and software has caught up to the ideas and so, now you can create beautiful things with your computer.”

“So,” he added, “this is just another tool and that’s what’s really important here—taking that experience and putting it into your school of thought, your sensibilities, in terms of what’s possible.”

Pierson's new drone hovers over student Zoe Vatash on Wednesday, August 6. Courtesy Peter Solow.

Pierson’s new drone hovers over student Zoe Vatash on Wednesday, August 6. Courtesy Peter Solow.

“There’s a wow factor to the technology,” added Mr. Solow. “And this is the essential question that we’ve challenged the kids with and the thing that’s really tough—how do you take this technology and make art?”

Now that most people have cell phones with strong camera capabilities, everyone is constantly taking snapshots, Mr. Solow said, “so what’s the difference between a really great photograph and a snapshot? Everybody is going to have drones, what is the difference between what everybody will do with a drone and having some sort of artistic merit to what we’re doing?”

With just three days of drone experimentation under their belt, on Wednesday, the students appeared to have risen to the challenge. They had dozens of photographs and videos, including aerial shots of Sag Harbor Village with the harbor and North Haven in the distance, videos looking down on Zoe doing cartwheels and Isabella dribbling a soccer ball, and even a video of the drone crashing into a tree.

The drone, Theo said, allows the young artists to “do things that we really can’t do with a normal camera, with angles and views…it’s interesting just to see what we can do with photography.”

In one video, Zoe worked the camera while Danielle, Isabella, Joy and Theo rolled down the hill.

In a “self-portrait,” as Mr. Solow called it, the drone captured its own shadow reflected on the hill, a slightly eerie shot for anyone familiar with movies featuring rebellious robots.

“It’s awesome,” said Ms. Fleischer, a portrait, landscape and fine art photographer, “because you can use the ground as your canvas. So, with that in mind, it just gives you another perspective.”

A video taken in the Pierson gymnasium looks directly down onto the lines of the basketball court, with Mr. Solow and the students standing around a circle juggling and passing a soccer ball. As the drone hovers, figures move in and out of the shot. As Theo does a header, the ball comes dangerously close to the camera.

Pierson student Theo Gray and visiting artist Scott Sandell have a flight consultation on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Peter Solow.

Pierson student Theo Gray and visiting artist Scott Sandell have a flight consultation on Wednesday, August 6. Photo by Peter Solow.

Filming indoors poses an additional challenge, as “the drone is so powerful that the propellers create a great deal of turbulence,” said Mr. Sandell. “When you’re inside, the turbulence bounces off the walls and comes back at the drone so you create a wind shear.”

When inside, the drone can be knocked around by the reflection of its own turbulence and harder to control. Outside, a gust of wind or an ill-advised bird could send it whirring away.

Despite the turbulence, the camera is generally still and focused, which is a good thing, as the students’ ideas of how to push the boundaries—and thus create innovative art—keep coming.

While brainstorming for new means of experimentation with the drone, Zoe asked, “Could we fill water balloons with paint and drop them from it?” No one denied the request.

 

More photos taken with Sag Harbor’s new drone:

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Pierson Places 49th out of 100 in Division at FIRST Robotics Championship

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Member of the Pierson Robotics Team on their way to the closing ceremony of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri Saturday, April 26. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Member of the Pierson Robotics Team on their way to the closing ceremony of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri Saturday, April 26. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

By Tessa Raebeck

After months of preparation and four days of intense competition, the Pierson Robotics Team placed 49th among the 100 teams in its division at the finals of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Saturday.

The Pierson Robotics Team arrives in St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

The Pierson Robotics Team arrives in St. Louis for the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

Pierson’s Robotics Team, also known as FRC Team 28 and the “Beasts from the East,” spent six weeks designing, building and programming a robot—among myriad other competition-related tasks such as networking, marketing and fundraising—starting in January.

At the end of March, the team competed in the Long Island Regional competition at Hofstra University, earning second place and the Engineering Inspiration Award, which qualified it for the national competition.

The successful season culminated Saturday with Sag Harbor earning a position among the top teams in the world—and lots of ammo for next year.

“Everyone seems very motivated to have a great off-season,” said Liam Rothwell-Pessino, a junior at Pierson in his second year on the team. “Plus, everyone had a lot of fun,” he added.

After arriving in St. Louis on April 23, the team kept busy attending conferences, meetings and matches—and enjoying some special celebrity appearances. A total of 400 teams from across the world competed in four divisions: Pierson competed in the Curie Division.

Pierson Robotics teammates at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Pierson Robotics teammates at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Team captains Lucas Pickering and Alex Cohen, who are both seniors at Pierson and have led the team for the past two years, are passing on the “reins of leadership,” as Liam called them, to junior Kevin Spolarich, who started on the team in 2012 as a freshman.

Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Photo by Zoe Vatash.

“I’m happy about where I’m leaving the team, but I’m not quite done yet,” Lucas said Sunday. “We’ve got a lot of plans for the rest of the year to prepare for next season. I’m really glad Kevin is here to take the team over. I know for sure that it’s in good hands.”

“I definitely have some big shoes to fill, but I’m determined to keep our momentum going,” Kevin said of his new position. “We’re going to be recruiting, learning and practicing all through the off-season so we can do even better next year.”

“It was a really great learning experience for us to see all of the amazing robots sponsored by companies like Boeing and NASA and now we know what to expect from competition at that level, which will help us next year,” he continued. “We also were inspired by a lot of interesting designs [at the championship] and we’re planning to experiment with some new systems during the off-season, like the ability to switch between two types of wheels during a match.”

The Engineering Inspiration Award that qualified Pierson for the international championship was given to the team for its work to expand the team’s role in the community. Team 28 did robotics-related charitable work around town, brought in students from East Hampton High School, showed the robot to students at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and taught Costa Rican children about robotics, among other initiatives.

Such awards demonstrate the FIRST competition’s commitment to not just robotics and technology, but also to using the camaraderie and innovation required by a robotics program to further altruistic initiatives and enhance education.

The arena of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

The arena of the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

“FIRST really tries to put focus on spreading the message and helping others outside the competition,” Lucas said. “The Hall of Fame is made up of the Chairman’s [Award] winners, which shows that the most important part of FIRST is actually about teamwork and helping others, rather than just robots.”

“When NASA paid for our entry fee to St. Louis because we won the Engineering Inspiration Award—something they didn’t do for competition winners—it showed us how much focus there is on going outside the robot to spread the message of FIRST,” he added.

In the closing ceremony Saturday, the 2014 Chairman’s Award was presented to Team 27, from Clarkston High School in Clarkston, Michigan, for its work helping to advance education. The team flew to Washington, D.C. to lobby for legislation involving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education for underprivileged children.

“It made me really want to give back to a community that’s been so supportive of us,” Lucas said of the inspirational closing ceremonies.

Robotics mentor Clint Schulman and team leaders Lucas Pickering, Kevin Spolarich and Alex Cohen prepare for competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

Robotics mentor Clint Schulman and team leaders Lucas Pickering, Kevin Spolarich and Alex Cohen prepare for competition in St. Louis. Photo by Zoe Vatash.

The closing ceremonies also involved a guest performance by musician and seven-time Grammy Award winner will.i.am, famed as the front man for the Black Eyed Peas and his music videos supporting President Obama’s 2008 run for office.

Throughout the competitive season, in addition to the networking and the fundraising, the technological innovation and community outreach, the lobbying at school board meetings and celebrating at their parade, Team 28 has always appeared dedicated first and foremost to one key component: having fun.

“The closing ceremonies were very fun,” said Liam. “Will.i.am played, but he was pretty mediocre. We had fun throwing paper airplanes from six stories up down at the president of FIRST. One almost hit him.”

The Pierson Robotics Team at the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Pierson Robotics Team at the FIRST Robotics Competition Championship in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Gayle Pickering.

“The Fantasticks” Premieres as Pierson’s First Student-Directed Musical

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The cast/production team of "The Fantasticks." From left to right, front row seated: Emily Selyukova, Becca Dwoskin, Audrey Owen. Middle row: Shane Hennessy, Paul Hartman, Colleen Samot, Matthew Schiavoni. Top row: Denis Hartnett. Photo courtesy of Paula Brannon.

The cast/production team of “The Fantasticks.” From left to right, front row seated: Emily Selyukova, Becca Dwoskin, Audrey Owen. Middle row: Shane Hennessy, Paul Hartman, Colleen Samot, Matthew Schiavoni. Top row: Denis Hartnett. Photo courtesy of Paula Brannon.

By Tessa Raebeck

In its first ever musical produced and directed entirely by students, Pierson Middle/High School presents “The Fantasticks,” a comedic romance that tells the story of two neighboring fathers who pretend to feud in order to trick their children into falling in love.

First opened in 1960, “The Fantasticks” is the world’s longest running musical, after running for over 52 years in Manhattan. Tom Jones wrote the book and lyrics and Harvey Schmidt composed the music, which includes classics like “Try to Remember,” “They Were You” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

Along with acting in the show, Pierson Senior Emily Selyukova is making her directorial debut.

“With a keen eye and natural instincts, she guides her fellow classmates through a difficult but beautiful score, iconic characters and a story that is both familiar and needed,” Paula Brannon, Pierson’s theatre director, said of her student.

Acting as both performers and production designers, Becca Dwoskin, Denis Hartnett, Paul Hartman, Shane Hennessy, Audrey Owen, Matthew Schiavoni, Colleen Samot and Zoe Vatash make up the rest of the cast.

“The Fantasticks” will run Wednesday, April 30 and Thursday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 725-5302 or emailing pbrannon@sagharborschools.org. All proceeds benefit the Pierson Theatre scholarship fund. The show, which also marks the first time Pierson High School is offering a third musical in one school year, was not budgeted for by the district and was instead funded entirely through donations by local merchants and parents.