‘I can make a difference’: More students seek to enter med school programs amid COVID

This week’s top stories

1. Nursing, med school applications on the rise

Giuliana Palasciano wasn’t sure about her career path when she came home from college last spring to finish out her senior year online. Then she saw the pandemic unfold on television. “I was watching the news for weeks and was so interested in what the epidemiologists were saying,” said Palasciano, 22, a University of North Carolina graduate. “I kind of stumbled into public health.” Now the Commack resident is enrolled in SUNY Stony Brook’s Masters of Public Health program, where enrollment is double what it was last year.

Applications are up nationally and on Long Island not only in public health programs, but in nursing and medical schools, and programs for paramedics and EMTs. Some of the application spikes are unprecedented, and no one can say for sure what factors are behind them. But the coronavirus pandemic is credited with inspiring interest in front-line professions and reaffirming the choice of those already enrolled in such programs.

At Stony Brook’s School of Health Technology and Management, applications to its emergency medical technician and paramedic programs, which don’t require many prerequisites, soared by 35%, said dean Stacy Jaffee Gropack. Stony Brook paramedic student Bridget Kennedy, 23, of Dix Hills, applied last summer after months as a volunteer EMT on ambulances transporting COVID-19 patients.

“These were very, very sick people,” she said. “There were multiple shifts I came home and cried. I wanted to keep helping, and the fact that I made it through and was able to keep helping cemented that, OK, this was something I could do. For me, it’s about being there for people on the worst day and worst moment of their life. Because I can make a difference.”

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2. Manhasset athletes have COVID-19 hurdles to clear

The Manhasset school district announced Monday that student athletes who participate in the high-risk winter sports — wrestling, boys and girls basketball and competitive cheerleading — will be required to have weekly COVID-19 tests and do remote learning.

  • Manhasset is the first district in Nassau County to require its high-risk athletes to be tested. Suffolk County announced last week that all high-risk athletes are required to be tested weekly, while Nassau County left that decision up to the districts.
  • Manhasset also is the first district to require high-risk athletes to learn remotely. The district has a hybrid model with students going to school two or three days a week and learning remotely the other days.
  • “It provides a safer place for our guys to compete and less chance of them being exposed to COVID because they’re learning from home,” said Manhasset wrestling coach Stephon Sair, in his 11th season. “On the flip side, if I’m a parent and I have a kid that struggles academically while learning remote, I would want them in school learning.”
  • Three players on the boys basketball team opted out because their parents wanted them in school, according to boys basketball coach George Bruns. “They’re faced with a tough choice of balancing the benefit of being in the classroom as to being on the team,” Bruns said.

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3. Eastport-South Manor teachers, staff get vaccine

As people go through all sorts of difficulties to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, the Eastport-South Manor Central school district inoculated some 300 teachers and staff during a “Vaccination Day” Saturday.

  • Mass vaccinations for school staff remain rare these days due to the scarcity of vaccine, but Superintendent Joseph Steimel said he hit the jackpot when he started making inquiries as soon as school staff were permitted to get the shot on Jan. 11. Long Island Urgent Care came through and was able to get the doses from the state, he said.
  • There was an urgency to do this, considering the pressure to keep schools open and safe, Steimel said, adding that the anxiety among teachers and staff has grown along with the infection rates and news of virus mutations.
  • Schools cannot mandate staff take the COVID-19 vaccine, and Steimel said about two-thirds of the workers either participated in Saturday’s event or have scheduled a shot on their own.

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4. Two students help out local businesses

They say great minds think alike: Caroline Zhu, a junior at Syosset High School, and Gerard Donnelly, a junior at Chaminade High School in Mineola, have never met, but when the pandemic put a squeeze on local business owners, the 16-year-old students had the same idea — create a GoFundMe page and raise money to help them.

  • Zhu created a GoFundMe titled “COVID-19 Relief for Small Businesses NYC/LI” in late March, raising about $3,600 thanks to the contributions of 25 donors. And recently, Donnelly, of Lynbrook, created the “Help Long Island Small Businesses” GoFundMe, raising nearly $1,100 with the help of 28 donors.
  • Zhu enlisted the help of other students by founding a new group she called “Students Combat Corona.” In September, she presented a $1,000 check to the owners of Chinese restaurant Kam’s Garden in Syosset. In November, the group presented another $1,000 check to the owners of a Wayback Burgers franchise in East Northport.
  • Donnelly plans to donate to Angelina’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Lynbrook, a pizza parlor he frequents, and the Garden City Skin Care Center, a business he felt compelled to help after a chat with owner Kelly Martinez about its struggles. It’s “the least I can do to give back to the community during such a hard time,” Donnelly said.

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Resources for you

  • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid will be accepted through April 1, according to the federal student aid website. The Education Trust-New York has put together a tool kit to help college hopefuls in the application process. Visit newyork.edtrust.org/fafsa-toolkit.
  • Anyone can learn computer science! Get started coding with free courses and activities or tune in to a CodeBytes mini-lesson. Visit code.org.
  • PBS Kids offers educational games and videos featuring characters from shows such as “Curious George” and “Wild Kratts.” Visit pbskids.org.

Round of applause

Many schools have been spreading warmth this winter through clothing drives to help people in need across Long Island. In Merrick, Cub Scout Pack 206 partnered with four schools in the Merrick and North Merrick school districts for a drive that collected more than 500 new winter coats. The items were donated to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless in Amityville.

“The results went beyond our wildest expectations,” Pack Leader Michael Kearney said. “The time the boys spent standing out in the cold will benefit so many less fortunate people.”

In Lynbrook, Marion Street Elementary School’s Student Council organized a “mitten tree” initiative in which community members donated more than 250 mittens, scarves and winter hats. The clothing was hung on a tree in the school’s lobby before going to the Salvation Army.

In Deer Park, students in the Deer Park Junior Community Association at Robert Frost Middle School and John F. Kennedy Intermediate School collected 200 hats, 200 scarves and 150 pairs of socks for the outreach program at nearby Saints Cyril and Methodius Church.

Your questions answered

Have questions? Send them to [email protected]. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.

Why do state education officials want to cancel standardized testing for a second year?

Though some educators say exams remain an important barometer of learning, especially during the pandemic, state education officials are seeking a federal waiver exempting standardized testing. Long Island Regent Roger Tilles says state exams for grades 3-8 need to be canceled due to challenges faced by school districts and students during the ongoing health crisis.

On the other hand, about 90% of parents across the state said they still support standardized testing, according to a statewide poll by The Education Trust New York, said Francisco Miguel Araiza, director of research and policy with the organization.

Araiza said the state tests are important, especially during the pandemic, because of the information educators can glean from them.

“It’s vital to understand what the real academic impacts of the pandemic have been, how they differ across districts, schools and student groups,” Araiza said. “And it’s going to be key to fulfilling our fundamental responsibility to provide families with consistent, accurate information about whether their children are making real progress.”

Joseph Coniglione, assistant superintendent with the Comsewogue school district, says the pandemic has forced students to face harsh circumstances that could prevent them from doing their best on Regents exams.

“We’ve had students who have unfortunately lost a parent, two or three days before an exam,” Coniglione said. “To have them come in and sit for a global Regents exam and write their essays that they need to write correctly, and appropriately, it just can’t happen. There are outside factors that can prohibit students from being successful.”

— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Catherine Carrera can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @CattCarrera.