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Community outreach challenging during Covid

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One of the expectations for high school students to become members in the National Honor Society is involvement in the community, which has been challenging to find during the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, Oyster Bay-East Norwich and the Locust Valley central school districts have found creative opportunities for students to experience fully their membership in the nationwide organization.

What is happening at Oyster Bay High School

Joe Pesqueira, who is the Oyster Bay High School NHS co-advisor, along with Dr. Ryan O’Hara, said the criteria for membership in the district’s chapter does not require a certain number of community service hours. Each year he looks for well-rounded students to add to the NHS roster. They usually are or have been involved in some type of community service, he said.

During the pandemic students have been virtually tutoring younger students. And NHS’s publicist Rachel Singer said she has found other opportunities too. The junior has taken part in food drives and participated in Covid-safe walks to raise money for cancer research.

“It is very important for NHS members to reach out to the community, now more than ever, because of the toll that Covid-19 has taken on many individuals nationwide,” Rachel explained. “Many families are lacking even the bare necessities due to a loss of business and work opportunities. So, it is important for us, as students, to try and contribute in any way possible that would help all kinds of people in unprecedented times like these.”

There have also been school events, some of which require reaching out to the community. The Field of Honor is one such event.

Every fall students honor veterans by creating a Field of Honor, which this year included 100 flags that are placed on the lawn outside OBHS. The event is organized by the Interact Club, which Pesqueira serves as advisor.

The flags are sold to residents who are permitted to attach messages, which are often  sobering, like one in the past that listed the names of Oyster Bay High School graduates who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country. Other messages commemorate relatives who died long after their military service, and still others thank those who currently served.

Pesqueira said the students in the NHS worked hard to make sure the flags were sold and because they were successful, were able to donate to local veterans groups. And the NHS students benefitted too. For every flag that was sold, they received a half hour of community service.

“It is incredible how resilient the kids are,” Pesqueira said. “There is a reason why they are members. They are leaders. It takes all of us to manage in these difficult times.”

Pesqueira had originally planned to hold the ceremony in March but cases of Covid peaked so he changed the date to October. After a summer where cases of coronavirus dropped dramatically, it increased once again in October, so the induction was cancelled once again. Ninety new members were inducted a few weeks ago virtually.

Laura Castrogiovanni, who is the NHS’s treasurer, said even though life can be difficult with the virus that it is important to remain a member of the organization.

“The honor society believes in character, service, leadership, and scholarship,” the junior said. “With this, we devote our time to learning, working for the benefit of those in need, taking initiative in and out of the classroom and providing examples of characteristics we value, all of which contribute to being a better student and person.”

Pesqueira said being flexible is the key. “The kids want to do good work but the opportunities just aren’t abundant now. They understand that they can’t do as many community service projects and it is no fault of their own,” he said. “We recognize that.”

What is happening at Locust Valley High School

Membership in the National Honor Society chapter at Locust Valley Central School District requires 12 hours of community service by January in a candidate’s junior year. Rachel McShane, the district’s co-advisor, said opportunities have been expanded to help students reach this goal, including a virtual tutoring program. 

“It grew more through remote learning because there are more opportunities for it,” she said. “At one time we had students go by way of the bus to the elementary schools or arranged for a meet-up at the high school. Now they meet on Google Meet.”

NHS Locust Valley High School senior, Emma Gallo, has been a virtual tutor for a  first grade girl since April. Students of all ages were having trouble learning last spring when schools switched to remote, Emma said, and it was especially difficult for students that did not have a parent at home.

“I tutored her every day in the summer,” Emma said. “It’s good not only because it helped the kids with schoolwork but it also became a way for kids and older kids to connect. And being a tutor made me a better communicator and a better teacher too.”

LVSD has also set up a pen pal program in the spring called Ebuddies, through the nonprofit Best Buddies. It is a valuable program that connects LVHS students with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, McShane said.

Teaching through instructional videos is also an avenue available for NHS members to rack up community service hours. And it is also fun, said NHS co-advisor Stephanie Scavelli. LVHS student Jena Halpin created the Google Classroom opportunity for students to share what they know last year.

“Before Christmas break students read stories and provided holiday trivia games on video,” Scavelli said. “It’s an opportunity for our members to reach the community. It was popular.”

The NHS officers have worked hard to keep members motivated with the goal of having a successful year, despite Covid-19, McShane said. And although she is not certain how much colleges weigh membership when choosing its students, she said it is an honor for a high school student to list NHS membership on their resumes.

The members are resilient. “I’m proud of the kids,” Scavelli said, “who remain dedicated to their studies and to the projects they started before Covid.”

Scavelli and McShane worked with the NHS officers to create a virtual induction ceremony on Jan. 20. Eighty six students became members.