As school districts throughout New York state work to present reopening plans for the 2020-2021 academic year starting in September, a handful based in Nassau County, including Bellmore-Merrick, continued to provide a valuable service this summer.
About 60 special need students in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District are receiving Extended School Year services, said Director of Special Education and Pupil Personnel Services Eric Arlin. About 40 are doing so in person at Merrick Avenue Middle School, while others took the remote option.
“We had an uptick in participation because typically many kids go to Camp ANCHOR during the summer, but this year that camp is limited,” said Arlin, referring to the popular Town of Hempstead program based in Lido Beach. “We were very excited on June 5 when Governor Cuomo announced the population of students with special needs could receive in-person instruction for the summer, [and] we worked hard to make it happen.”
ESY services began on July 1 and run through Aug. 11. It’s operating Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., after alternating every other day for the first few weeks to make sure they could safely follow social distancing guidelines, Arlin said.
“We have eight special education teachers working this summer, and one is dedicated to handling the online students,” said Arlin, who noted the services are available for seventh graders up to persons as old as 21. “Every staff member was trained on how to carry out safety measures, and we haven’t had any issues arise.”
Staff and students are subject to daily temperature checks, hand washing every 45 minutes and are not allowed to share any materials. Arlin said class sizes are smaller than previous years, making social-distancing rules, as well as one-on-one instruction, easier to achieve.
Bruce Willig, who enrolled his 20-year-old daughter, Victoria, in the program for the first time, said its been “very difficult” for her to be stuck inside during the pandemic. “She’s been bored at times and it’s great for her to get out of the house,” he said. “The teachers have all been marvelous. It’s a labor of love for them. Really, this program is worth its weight in gold.”
A typical day at ESY begins with outdoor exercise and entertainment in the mornings, followed by 60-90 minutes of academic work, snack time and skill-building sessions.
“My favorite part is doing science because there’s a lot of interesting facts to learn,” said Michael Bennett, a 16-year-old student in the program.
Another student, math enthusiast James D’Auria, 16, enjoys the time he gets to work on his favorite subject. “I like doing equations and solving root problems,” he said.
Arlin, who is assisted by Emily Paluseo, the assistant director of Special Education and Pupil Personnel Services, said students have also participated in a play that was filmed one kid at a time, and will be shown on the last day of the program. This year’s production features a collaboration of Dr. Seuss stories.
“We have to figure out if we can invite parents to this year’s showing,” Arlin said. “All the parents have been really great. They’re thankful to have an in-person option for their kids. All of the feedback we’ve received has been positive.”