A new focus on elective classes

Wantagh Middle School hopes to pique students' interests early


If your child is currently attending – or will be attending – Wantagh Middle School, you should take a look at their comprehensive elective program.

Unique among many school districts on Long Island, Wantagh Middle School goes out of its way to make sure its electives are just as robust as its standard academic programs. According to Anthony Ciuffo, principal, every year each department is offered an opportunity to come up with a new elective for students. In order to generate interest, each elective teacher creates a video, which is shared with students and parents, giving families the opportunity to explore their 8th grade elective offerings.  All of these videos are accessible on the middle school’s website.

“If you're interested in art, there's an option for you,” Ciuffo said. “If you're interested in English, there's an option for you. If you're interested in science, there's an option for you. The goal remains to meet as many students’ interests as possible.”

One of the longest running electives is Salvatore Mule’s Modern Food Production, which takes place in his classroom-turned-hydroponics lab. Mule is a science teacher at the middle school, and this class started out as a passion project for him.

Modern Food Production uses both hydroponics and aquaponics techniques to grow food without soil. Mule started it in a closet before moving into a large science lab, where half of the room is set up for lecturing, and the other half is set up for growing food like kale, basil, eggplant, and peppers. The aquaponics techniques feature fish and crustaceans who provide fertilizer for the plants, and the plants filter and oxygenate the animals’ tanks.

“Modern Food is a classic, and it remains popular to this day,” Ciuffo said. “That one is purely built on Sal Mule’s passion for the subject. It’s completely his brainchild. There is no other district on the island that has what he built in there.”

Another extremely popular elective is Ultimate Chef, whose name is based on the reality television show “Iron Chef”.  This class takes place under the Home and Careers department, and was spearheaded by department director Frank Muzio.  Ultimate Chef teaches students how to make many different meals, from all around the world. Not wanting to drop the sewing element of Home and Careers, however, Muzio incorporated students making their own aprons into the class to tie both cooking and sewing together.

“It’s not necessarily a competition like the show,” Ciuffo added. “But we wanted to make the cooking class a little bit more robust.”

There is also Business Management, which is taught by Nancy O’Connor. This elective has students simulating business ownership through the school store. Guest lecturers – typically local small business owners – are brought in to talk to the students. The students also partake in a Shark Tank-like concept where they pitch business ideas to a panel of judges. Business management is also a very popular elective.

There are other successful classes, such as digital art and photography, ceramics, and printmaking. Courses run based on how many students register, and every year students are asked to give their top four.

Electives are typically an afterthought at the middle school level, but according to Ciuffo and Quattrocchi, they want to keep students engaged and hope to help them find their interests before high school in order to give them a head start on what they may want to do in college.

This effort has already proved successful; Wantagh High School’s 2021-22 valedictorian, Julianna Rose, is currently attending Cornell University and majoring in plant science, an interest she discovered through Mule’s Modern Food Production.

Assistant principal Rachel Quattrocchi has worked in other districts before coming to Wantagh and feels that Wantagh’s program truly stands out.

“From my past experiences, the courses offered here are unlike anything anywhere else,” Quattrocchi said. “There’s truly an option for every child. I think the key is to have something in every department so that every student can find something that’s interesting to them.”

Anthony Ciuffo has spent the entirety of his career in Wantagh schools, and has watched its electives grow through the years.

“I’ve seen the way the program has progressed over 22 years,” Ciuffo said. “It’s something I’m personally very proud of. Colleagues in other districts have always told me they’re impressed with the number of elective programs we offer.”

With the pandemic finally in the rearview mirror, Wantagh Middle School’s stellar elective program is in full swing this year.  Ciuffo and Quattrocchi hope to continue to add innovative offerings to the elective menu over the next few years.