At Long Island Youth Summit, two Bellmore-Merrick students honored


Jayda Levine and Haniyyah Myricks, two students from John F. Kennedy High School, have received the Best Project award at the Long Island Youth Summit, an annual contest that tests students intellectually and develops their leadership skills. 

The two students entered the contest, submitting projects through essays that analyze issues young people face today and long-term problems they will encounter in the future, including substance abuse, mental health, housing, and the ethics and social impact of new science and technology. They received certificates at a summit which place at St. Joseph’s University in Patchogue on April 12.

Seventeen other students from Kennedy, in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, ended up as finalists in the competition.

“What this program and this competition does, it really enables students to think critically and it prompts them to come up with some solutions,” Gail Lamberta, St. Joseph’s associate dean for community development, said. “We try to hone in on what general social issues are there, and also kind of connected with the target population, which would be high school students.”

The competition teaches students how to think critically, research solutions and present them to their peers, Lamberta said.

Levine and Myricks were able to speak with peers, educators and experts about their topics at the event, and created presentations to summarize their findings for those in attendance.

Levine received the award for the Impact of Climate Change category, with an essay focusing on climate change’s generational impact and its future. She proposed methods for local groups to be forward-thinking about their relationship with the environment, with programs for water conservation and energy efficiency. Levine is a member of the school’s Helping Our Planet Earth club — also known as Hope Club — which focuses on local climate activism.

“I’ve kind of tried to focus on what we can do within our school, or even just as teens ourselves, like driving cars,” Levine said. “We’re at the age that we’re probably going to start driving soon and get our license.”

Myricks received her award in the Leadership category, with an essay exploring the nature of leadership in the past and present, and how it relates to the other social issues that her peers discussed. Myricks, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is active in local politics, aspiring to bring unity to local communities with empathy, resilience and community to end violence and reduce drug use.

“I felt as if the root of conflict — like in teens, and in general — is really not understanding each other and not knowing where each individual comes from,” Myricks said. “So I emphasized that neighboring schools should be able to partner with each other and discuss certain issues together.

“For my student project, I was advocating for temporary protected status for refugees in the Congo and the center of Africa,” Myricks added. “I was advocating for the end of exploitation and the healing of refugees there. I really hope that my efforts, from my advocacy, could potentially be a way of them being able to get back on their feet and have a sense of security.”

At Kennedy, Levine and Myricks are both in the school’s Community Leadership program, a multi-year course that encourages students to become young leaders in their community. The program provides a supportive environment for them to explore ideas and to prepare for college. Students are provided with incentive to stand out among other students in honors classes by showing their participation in the community and strengthening existing skills.

“I know this past year has been really hard with college applications and getting in because it’s so competitive,” Levine said. “So I feel like I have a little bit of a leg up compared to some of my peers. So all that adding up together really makes me feel confident for the schools that I’m going to try to apply to.

“Sometimes you don’t feel like you’ve done enough or like you should be doing more or that it’s not good enough,” Levine said. “So I guess they made me realize that I’m worth a lot more than I think I am.”

Their teacher, Brad Seidman, expressed pride in his students’ performance at the Long Island Youth Summit.

“Their projects demonstrate their deep understanding of the issues and their commitment to actively seeking solutions,” Seidman said in a school district release. “They truly embody the spirit of leadership and service we encourage at Kennedy.”