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Author Prompts Students to Tap Into Their Imaginations

Author Prompts Students to Tap Into Their Imaginations photo
Author Prompts Students to Tap Into Their Imaginations photo 2
Seventh-graders, who have been creating their own fictional stories in Jenny Theall’s Creative Writing classes, welcomed author and Rye Neck parent Beth Duchanaud to their school to gain new skills about the writing process. 

During her visits on March 5 and 6, Duchanaud shared insight about her creative writing process, discussed her experiences in self-publishing her young adult novel “Hold Up” and offered practical advice to the budding student-authors. She encouraged them to create a writing ritual and continue to practice crafting original stories. Duchanaud also discussed the importance of knowing their audience, drawing inspiration from real-life experiences to develop a compelling story and provided them with tips on how they can bring their characters to life. 

As a conclusion to her interactive workshop, the author challenged the students to a writing prompt, which centered around one setting – a fictional Spring Fair. 

“Each student received a prompt, which depicted a specific character and scene,” Theall said. “Yet, they were all interconnected. The students used their imaginations to become a staff member running an air castle, a lost child, the winner of the Cake Walk and more. They were actually assigned opposing characters, which created hilarious contrasting points-of-view and they loved it.” 

Theall said she hopes the learning experience inspires her students to establish their own writing rituals. 

Library Clerk Sparks Interest in Indian Culture, Traditions

Indian image

Seventh-graders – who have been reading “Homeless Bird” by Gloria Whelan in Jenny Theall’s English classes – welcomed library clerk Shailaja Vangala as a special guest in their classes to discuss the concepts in the book.

Referencing “Homeless Bird,” a fictional story that takes place in rural India, Vangala shared insights about her Indian culture and customs and the places depicted in the book. She shared photographs from her own travels to the capital of New Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra, as well as India’s sacred Ganges River, where prayer offerings take place every evening. She also showed them how to wear a sari, which is a garment traditionally worn in India, and discussed various examples of embroidery. 

“The novel’s protagonist, Koly, is in an arranged marriage and becomes a widow as a child,” Theall said. “She is abandoned in the City of Widows, deals with poverty, violence and starvation – a far cry from Rye Neck in many, many aspects. So, Mrs. Vangala helped this realistic fiction novel come to life.” 

During her presentation, Vangala explained that although child marriages and the tradition of dowry still happen in villages and small towns, they are illegal. In addition, for the most part, widow houses in Vrindavan give shelter to older women who are abandoned by their children and family. She also discussed that arranged marriages remain common in India, but dating and live-in relationships have become more common in Indian cities and many Bollywood films revolve around these themes. 

“I wanted to give students a current perspective to these places and traditions,” Vangala said. “I hope they understand that younger people in India focus on reaching their passions and dreams and do not always live in an archaic bubble. As an Indian-American, I always wish people knew more about how alike the two countries are – both are democracies, secular and open economies, even though India still has its own issues."


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Science Olympiad Members Earn Medals, Spirit Award

Science Olympiad Members Earn Medals, Spirit Award photo
Science Olympiad Members Earn Medals, Spirit Award photo 2
Sixteen members of the Rye Neck Middle School Science Olympiad Club competed in the annual Lower Hudson Regional Science Olympiad on March 2 at Scarsdale Middle School. The competition brought together students from 35 area schools and allowed them to demonstrate their skills in various scientific and mathematical disciplines.

Seventh-grader Derek Ryan and eighth-grader Katie Sykes won second place in the Heredity category, which tested their knowledge of biology, heredity, genetics and DNA. Eighth-grader Nicholas Boron and seventh-grader Alex Harris won fourth place in the Roller Coaster category, where they had to build a device to maneuver a rolling marble for a designated time frame. The club also won the Spirit Award based on the team’s sportsmanship, attitude and enthusiasm.

“We are so proud of our students and the team’s hard work and energy,” said seventh-grade science teacher Lauren Zeoli, who co-advises the club with eighth-grade science teacher Jessie Vega. “It was so much fun working with them and watching them grow over the year. We are already looking forward to next year’s events.”

Members of the Science Olympiad team are Ella Aulfinger, Nicholas Boron, Mateo Casciano, Valentine Casciano, Johnny DeToro, Charlotte Geary, Alex Harris, Alex Hull, Lily Kapustin, Hiroto Plugh, Matthew Rubin, Derek Ryan, Kyle Ryan, Katie Sykes, Julie van Roijen and Maya Wintermantel.

Two Freshmen Perform With All-County Ensembles

Two Freshmen Perform With All-County Ensembles photo
Rye Neck High School freshmen – Nicholas Esposito and Diana Teodorescu – were selected to perform for All-County music ensembles by the prestigious Westchester County School Music Association for its 2019 festival concerts.

Esposito (timpani drums) performed with the Intermediate All-County Orchestra, and Teodorescu (flute/piccolo flute) performed with the Intermediate All-County Band. The talented musicians were selected based on results from a highly competitive and rigorous audition process that took place last spring. 

“They devoted many months of private study and practice to this endeavor,” music teacher John Mattera said. “Their commitment affords them the opportunity to perform challenging musical repertoire alongside other highly dedicated student musicians from Westchester County, all under the direction of special guest conductors.”

The Intermediate All-County Band concert was held on March 2 and the Intermediate All-County Orchestra concert was held on March 3 at SUNY Purchase.

Seniors Discuss Policy Issues With Senator

Seniors Discuss Policy Issues With Senator photo

Rye Neck High School seniors – who have been conducting extensive research on public policy issues that affect our local community as part of their Participation in Government classes – welcomed New York State Sen. Shelley Mayer as a special guest speaker to their school on March 1.

“It’s important that government leaders visit schools to understand the issues and priorities of our young adults,” said teacher and social studies department chairperson Karen Parisi, who organized Mayer’s visit. “It is also important for young adults to hear about the actions that our elected leaders are taking, their plans for the future and how students can influence the legislative process.” 

During her visit, Sen. Mayer shared her experiences working in Albany and encouraged the students to be civically engaged and have a voice in what happens in their community. Some of the policy issues that Sen. Mayer discussed with the students included school safety, climate change, water safety on the Long Island Sound, legalization of medical marijuana and prevention of trucks from accessing roads like the Hutchinson River Parkway and hitting overpasses. 

“I liked the solutions and actions that she spoke about regarding water pollution, which is important to us as we live so close to the Long Island Sound,” senior Joseph Yang said. 


Seniors Named National Merit Scholarship Finalists

Seniors Named National Merit Scholarship Finalists photo
Three distinguished Rye Neck High School seniors – Risa Liebman, Delaney Park and Elena Tisnovsky – were selected as finalists in the 2019 National Merit Scholarship Program competition. 

The three students entered the competition along with approximately 1.6 million students nationwide by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test as juniors in 2017. Students with the highest scores were chosen to advance as semifinalists and required to submit a detailed scholarship application, demonstrate an outstanding academic record, write an essay and earn SAT scores that confirmed their high performance on the qualifying test.  

The pool was further narrowed down to 16,000 finalists who remain in the competition for 7,500 prestigious scholarships. 

National Merit Scholarship winners will be announced in the spring.

Three Middle Schoolers Honored as Students of the Month

Three Middle Schoolers Honored as Students of the Month photo
Rye Neck Middle School students Ensar Burrja, Margaux Duchanaud and Ethan Felenstein were recognized for their accomplishments and honored with Student of the Month awards for the month of January. 

Burrja, a sixth-grader, earned the recognition for being polite and conscientious. According to his teachers, he is hardworking and enjoys helping others in class. He is also a leader in small groups, takes feedback and is able to make changes to his work to improve it when asked. Outside of the classroom, he likes to play basketball and soccer.

Duchanaud, a seventh-grader, is a high-achieving, kind, respectful and caring student who is concerned with the well-being of others. According to her teacher Trisha Appel, she is motivated and dedicated to being successful in all of her art projects and always tries to be creative with her ideas. In addition, Duchanaud always has a smile on her face and says hello to others. 

Felenstein, an eighth-grader, is a trustworthy, compassionate, approachable, hardworking, polite and well-mannered student. According to his teachers, he puts forth excellent effort on a daily basis, both in and out of class. Outside of school, Felenstein enjoys music, videogames and volunteering with his synagogue youth program.  

First-Round Verdict in Favor of Mock Trial Team

First-Round Verdict in Favor of Mock Trial Team photo
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First-Round Verdict in Favor of Mock Trial Team photo 3
Members of the Rye Neck High School Mock Trial team – who are vying for the coveted Westchester County championship title – won the first preliminary round of the competition against the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, held at the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains on Feb. 28. 

The students have been diligently examining this year’s case of Harley Davison v. Gotham City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and preparing to act as attorneys and witnesses as they present their case in a courtroom setting. The case is about Harley Davison, who is fighting for legal custody of an apartment that Harley claims to live in with their aunt before the aunt’s unfortunate passing. After the aunt’s death, Harley filed for succession rights of the apartment but was denied by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Harley is appealing the department’s initial decision on the grounds that the investigation was arbitrary and capricious and Harley did in fact meet the department’s guidelines for succession.

In the first round, juniors Nathan Lesser, Lucas Pasquina and Juliana Silva led the plaintiff side of the case as attorneys, while junior Tiana Colon and sophomores Josh Rubin and Gabe Miller supported their strong case as convincing witnesses. 

Marcella Scalise, the Mock Trial team coach and a social studies teacher, said her students have been diligently preparing for the competitions and are ready for the challenges ahead. 

“We have gotten off to a great start and I hope to continue this success throughout the season,” Scalise said. 

The Rye Neck High School Mock Trial team will compete in the second round against Blind Brook High School at the Westchester County Courthouse on March 7. 

Publishing Party

Publishing Party photo

F.E. Bellows Students Craft Authentic Stories

F.E. Bellows Students Craft Authentic Stories photo
F.E. Bellows Students Craft Authentic Stories photo 2
F.E. Bellows Students Craft Authentic Stories photo 3
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Fifth-grade students who have been studying the art of fictional writing and character development in their English language arts classes recently worked with Jenna Gavigan, a writer and accomplished Broadway and television actress, to craft their own stories. 

During the first session, Gavigan, who graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, shared insight about her professional career, the process of writing and getting one’s work published. She also helped the students develop a list of character traits and plots, as well as locations throughout Rye Neck that could make for a good setting for their fictional stories. 

“Jenna encouraged the students to create a story that leads our characters through Rye Neck in an effort to solve a problem at hand,” said William McKeon, the library media specialist at the school. “This year, we used a ‘choose kindness’ theme, and the story outline has been bringing students together for the purpose of making a new student’s transition to Bellows easier.” 

As a conclusion to the lessons, Gavigan will provide each fifth-grade class with the completed story they created together. Then in May, the students will welcome local artist Laura Bott from The Bott Shoppe to their school to create digital illustrations for their books. 

“Laura will show the students immediately what their character might look like with red hair or wearing gym shorts and sneakers,” McKeon said. “The students are always wonderfully engaged during this session. Laura will then take their ideas and images back to her shop to create the booklet in digital form.” 

Once printed, parent volunteers will bind the books and provide each fifth-grader with a copy. Special thanks the PTSA for generously supporting the students’ work with the author and artist.  

Middle Schoolers Honored as Students of the Month

Middle Schoolers Honored as Students of the Month photo
Rye Neck Middle School students Blathnaid Grenouillon and Shelby Preisser were recently recognized for their accomplishments and honored with Student of the Month awards.

Grenouillon, a seventh-grader, is an eager, attentive student. According to her teacher Jenny Theall, she has one of the highest GPAs in her class and willingly helps others. Outside of school, Grenouillon participates in gymnastics and basketball. In addition, she volunteers at a food pantry in Port Chester and is in the Girl Scouts, where she has earned a certificate in archery.

Preisser, a sixth-grader, is an enthusiastic and conscientious student who always puts forth her best effort. According to her teachers, she earned the recognition for preparing well for her classes, having a great sense of humor and interacting well with students and teachers. In addition, her teachers described her as a great leader in and out of the classroom. Preisser enjoys reading, playing tennis, softball and diving, and also plans to volunteer at a soup kitchen in the near future.

Photos: Students, Staff Bond Over Volleyball Game

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Rye Neck Middle School eighth-graders and staff members faced off during a friendly volleyball game, held at the gymnasium on Feb. 15. The game was designed to bring together the school community and promote school spirit.

“It allowed all eighth-graders to participate, if they wanted to,” Principal Eric Lutinski said. “It was available to all regardless of ability, but there was no grade or penalty for watching from the stands. It helped to humanize the staff and let the students see us having a good time.” 


Senior Earns Gold Key Award in Writing Competition

Senior Earns Gold Key Award in Writing Competition photo
Rye Neck High School senior Risa Liebmann has earned a Gold Key award in the 2019 Hudson-to-Housatonic Writing Region of the Scholastic Art & Writing awards competition for her collection of poems, “Fragments.” 

“What makes Risa unique is her voice – it is real and honest, and a product of her being a wordsmith,” her teacher Melinda Merkel said. “This is her first Scholastic entry, and the result is gratifying, but not surprising.” 

A panel of professional novelists, editors, teachers, poets, librarians and journalists considered 2,151 entries submitted this year. They awarded 345 honorable mentions to promising works, 194 Silver Keys to distinguished works, 120 Gold Keys to the most accomplished works and five American Voice Nominees to the strongest regional works. 

As a Gold Key award recipient, Liebmann has advanced to the national level of the competition. She will be recognized at an awards ceremony at Manhattanville College on March 3.   

Third-Graders Explore Informational Writing


Third-grade students, who have been exploring the craft of informational writing, are creating their own books as part of the Writing Workshop curriculum at F.E. Bellows Elementary School.

“They possess a great deal of knowledge and have delved into the world of writing informational texts, teaching others about what they know,” said third-grade teacher Ann Cullagh, adding that the topics vary depending on the students’ interests. “The students nurture their writing identities and personal passions by sharing their expertise with their readers.”

As part of the unit, the young writers planned for their informational books by generating questions that go with the topic. They also wrote entries with cohesive answers to those questions and carefully considered the sequence of information they need to present to their readers. Throughout the process, the students were encouraged to revise their writing by including precise language and visuals and to make sure their questions and answers align.

“The students worked with their partners to provide more specific, meaningful feedback and get support with their own work,” Cullagh said. 

As a culmination to their informational writing unit, the students will host a writing celebration for their families on Feb. 14. 

Writing Workshop, a K-5 initiative at the Rye Neck Schools, was implemented at the beginning of the school year to engage students in the art of writing and empower them with the tools and confidence to see themselves as writers. Throughout the year, the students participate in five units of study to explore informational, narrative and opinion writing and build upon their writing techniques. 


Senior Earns Recognition at Yale Model United Nations Conference

Senior Earns Recognition at Yale Model United Nations Conference photo
Rye Neck High School seniors Maggie Victory, Dasha Boswell, Jose LaTorre, Risa Liebmann and Sandy Zhang attended the 45th annual Yale Model United Nations conference from Jan. 17-20. 

Accompanied by their adviser Thomas Graziano, the students – who were among more than 1,700 student-delegates from more than 80 schools worldwide – stepped into the shoes of United Nations ambassadors to debate a variety of current issues. Zhang represented Panama in the World Health Organization committee, Victory represented Sierra Leone in the African Union, LaTorre represented North Korea in DISEC (Disarmament and International Security Committee), Liebmann represented North Korea in the Social, Cultural and Humanitarian Affairs Committee, and Boswell represented Panama in ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council). In addition, the students submitted position papers that addressed their assigned topic.

In her essay, “The Ties That Bind Us: International Networks in An Area of Globalization,” Victory wrote about macroeconomics and its effect on globalization. As a result, she earned third place in the essay competition and was recognized by a panel of judges for her passion and interest in the topic she analyzed. Victory’s submission will be published on the website of the Yale Review of International Studies, Yale's premier undergraduate journal of international relations scholarship.

“Maggie is one of the best writers in our Model UN at Rye Neck, and she takes pride in the clarity of her thoughts, as well as in ensuring all of her statements are supported by factual evidence,” Graziano said. “Her background in Advanced Placement European History during her sophomore year, as well as her current AP Macroeconomics class, helped her craft a great essay concerning the impact of globalization and interdependence in the contemporary world.”

Graziano said the students who are part of the Model UN Club, which was founded three years ago at Rye Neck, have worked tirelessly to ensure that the club remains a competitive Model UN delegation. 

“Through all of their hard work, afterschool meetings, and trial and error at local Model UN conferences, they have demonstrated that they have the skills and determination to compete on a global level with delegations from around the world,” he said. “They had a great time making deals and friendships with the delegates they met at Yale, and exemplified sheer determination in ensuring that we were able to participate in one of the largest Model UN conferences in the Northeast.” 

Graziano said Rye Neck High School Principal Tina Wilson has been instrumental in the success of the club due to her support throughout the year and providing students with the opportunity to attend multiple conferences. 

“Our students are honing their debate skills but also internalizing the need and ability to be the driving force for change in politics, society, and, hopefully, global affairs in the future,” Graziano said. 

First-Graders Craft How-To Books

First-Graders Craft How-To Books photo

First-grade students, who have been exploring the craft of informational writing, are creating their own books as part of the Writing Workshop curriculum at Daniel Warren Elementary School.

Having mastered the power of a strong introduction to hook their reader into their writing piece, as well as how to use transitional and action words, the young writers drafted their pieces and wrote introductions during a recent lesson in Melissa Wagner’s first-grade class. As experts in their chosen topics – which ranged from how to walk a puppy to how to fold a blanket, make hot chocolate and go on a sleepover – the students broke down each step for their readers to follow along. 

“Our students get motivated and excited when it’s Writing Workshop time,” said Principal Tara Goldberg, who added that teachers dedicate 45 minutes each day to develop their students’ writing skills. “Their personalities come out when they’re writing, and you can hear a lot of their voice in their original pieces. As a result, the students are applying what they are learning about spelling, as well as the craft and mechanics of writing.” 

Writing Workshop, a K-5 initiative at the Rye Neck Schools, was implemented at the beginning of the school year to engage students in the art of writing and empower them with the tools and confidence to see themselves as writers. Throughout the year, the students participate in five units of study to explore informational, narrative and opinion writing and build upon their writing techniques. 

Similar to first-graders, kindergartners are currently exploring informational writing and are creating their own how-to books. Meanwhile, second-graders are writing their own realistic fiction books and bringing their characters to life by including details, such as actions, internal and external dialogue, and vivid descriptions.

“Writing Workshop is an engaging way for students to practice their writing skills and to celebrate and see themselves as writers,” Goldberg said. “They’re filled with stories, facts and strong opinions. We’re teaching them to be confident to put them on paper and through that they’re growing their skills as writers.” 


Students Sell Bracelets to Raise Funds for Central American Artists

Students Sell Bracelets to Raise Funds for Central American Artists photo
Students Sell Bracelets to Raise Funds for Central American Artists photo 2
Rye Neck High School members of the Spanish Club have raised $865 for the Pulsera Project, a nonprofit organization that educates, employs and empowers Central American artists through the sale of colorful handwoven bracelets, or “pulseras” in Spanish. 

Twenty-five students took the initiative to sell bracelets and purses, which were handcrafted by artists from Nicaragua and Guatemala. Led by students Adesuwa Carlton, Kimberly Carlton, Nicole Pereira, Joshua Rubin and Elona Sebbane, who shared the art and stories of the Pulsera Project with their peers, club members sold 143 bracelets and 15 purses. 

"When I first found out about the Pulsera Project, I thought it was an amazing idea,” said Rubin, a sophomore and club president who contacted the organization to receive the materials and instructions. “I immediately knew that I needed to bring this incredible fundraiser to our school. I thought this would be a perfect initiative for the Spanish Club. At the end of this project, everyone who worked on it, including myself, realized the importance of helping others.” 

Each colorful bracelet and purse – which was a one-of-a-kind, wearable work of art – contained a tag with a picture and signature of the artisan who made it. Angie Garcia, a Spanish teacher and club adviser, said the money the students raised will help fund construction of schools, housing and welfare programs in Nicaragua and Guatemala. 

“The unique and colorful patterns, and the connection to the people who made them, motivated the Spanish Club members to want to raise funds,” Garcia said. “The students’ involvement in this project connected to their Spanish studies by providing information about the population, typical dishes, scenery, work and education customs in Nicaragua and Guatemala. The students better understood the economic challenges that young people their age face in these two countries.”

Given the success of this year’s fundraiser, students said they plan on hosting another fundraiser and provide school community members with the opportunity to further enjoy the handcrafted art while also supporting the artists and their families. 

“We are grateful for having the opportunity to help people in Nicaragua and Guatemala,” said Sebbane, a sophomore and events coordinator for the Spanish Club. “The Pulsera Project gave Rye Neck students a chance to become familiar with beautiful works made by hand by many talented children and adults from other communities.”