High School Students Find Solutions at LI Youth Summit at Dowling

High School Students Work on Solutions at 2015 LI Youth Summit at Dowling

2015 LIYS pic

On April 17, over 300 high school students from 25 school districts across Long Island assembled at Dowling College in Oakdale for the 6th Annual Long Island Youth Summit. The students came prepared to tackle the region’s thorniest issues including bullying, teen self-esteem and wellness, prescription drug abuse, water quality, transportation, energy, socio economic inequality, economic development and housing, and leadership.

“I am very excited to see so many high school students who are interested to work with each other on solutions to Long Island’s problems. The topic of this year’s summit was Leadership in a Divided Society. The younger generation is much more diverse and they are bursting with ideas about how to make our society better. The Summit is a tool to empower them and give voice to this new generation of future leaders,” said Dr. Nathalia Rogers, organizer and co-chair of the 2015 Long Island Youth Summit Program.

After a warm welcome from the President of Dowling College Dr. Albert Inserra, the Summit’s finalists listened to the morning keynote address delivered by Dr. Errol Toulon, Deputy Commissioner of Operations at NYC Department of Corrections, and former Suffolk County Assistant Deputy Executive for Public Safety.   Dr. Toulon defined a leader as not necessarily being the most attractive, popular, best athlete or nicest person in school, but as one who accepts the responsibility to be a role model. He described his experience in a school divided by race and class in the South Bronx; divided not necessarily by fear, but by similarities. In his current role as NYC DOC Deputy Commissioner, he is tasked with overseeing an organization that has a $1.5 billion budget, 9,500 employees and 19,000 inmates daily. He left the standing room only crowd with these thoughts: “Leading is a process of growing and evolving; you must rely on everyone in your organization for success.”

Dr. Toulon’s message about tolerance, inclusion and responsibility resonated with the students as they broke out into their topic workshops that were relevant to the research projects that they submitted to the Summit’s finalist selection committee.  The LIYS program challenges students to research an issue and develop solutions that they feel would help the Long Island region.   During the day of the conference students worked in a number of workshops with experts in environmental, socio-economic and socio-medical fields.

In workshop on Bullying, Cyber Bullying and Social Networking the experts included Dr. Barry McNamara, Professor of Education at Dowling College, and Drs. Barbara Meyers and Gregory Vikingstad from the North Shore LIJ Health System.

Students in this workshop discussed the impact of bullying on their individual lives, their schools and their communities. A number of workshop participants produced videos to show both examples of bullying and bullying prevention initiatives in their schools in order to raise awareness about this issue. There was a discussion about creating bullying awareness weekends, where peers are selected and placed into groups to show examples of bullying that takes place both face to face and online. Participants also suggested that students should have an opportunity to share their stories confidentially in order to give a perspective on what bullied students are facing for people who are unfamiliar with this issue. Students from the Kings Park High School conducted a survey on bullying and found that 52% of students in their high school said that they were victims of bullying, and 32% of students said that they have experienced both being a bully and being a victim of bullying.

The students discussed various ways to help their peers to relate to others, and to humanize both students who bully and students who are bullied. Workshop participants did feel that bullying assemblies are a good tool to combat the issue, but these have limited effectiveness without any other follow-up programs.  Participants also suggested that all schools should have a dedicated liaison to report bullying activities for a follow-up.

The workshop on Teens and Abuse of Prescription Drugs was moderated by Dr. Lydia Gerges and Colleen Egan, LCSW, from the North Shore LIJ Health System.

In this workshop students discussed the recent increase in abuse of drugs by people who are being prescribed medications for legitimate reasons, but then begin to take drugs recreationally or sell them to peers. As body tolerance rises from abuse of the medication, individuals begin to feel the need to increase dosage and use various new methods of drug abuse to achieve the same “high” effect. When a person stops abusing prescription drugs, they begin to feel increasingly sick physically, and desperation can lead to the usage of more dangerous drugs, such as heroin, to feed their addiction.

With prescription drug abuse on the rise and the ease of drug use facilitated by social media, students and experts believe that parents are in a good position to stop the abuse at home, while it is still important for students to reject peer pressure to abuse prescription drugs. One solution presented in the workshop was to implement a prescription drug turn in program where unused prescription drugs can be bought back.  Two possible solutions to the issue proposed by participants were the need for early education about risks and consequences of prescription drug abuse, and a “lockbox” concept in the home where adults can ensure that medications are locked up and out of the hands of children who may be vulnerable to misuse.

The workshop Teen Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being was so popular with the Summit participants that the group had to be split in two subgroups and additional experts added to each subgroup. Denise Ingenito, LCSW, Director of Health and Wellness at Dowling College, Carole Rutkovsky, LCSW, from Sloane Kettering, Danielle Berg, LCSW, CASAC, and Sandy Erickson, LCSW, both from the North Shore LIJ Health System, and Louis A. Medina, LCSW, from the New York State Office of Children and Family Service served as experts for this workshop.

A robust discussion took place among medical and social work experts and the students about mental health awareness. Such awareness can be raised by discussing metal health issues at home, school, and in the work place. Students talked about a need to begin awareness programs as early as elementary school, with some expressing regret that such programs were not available when they were younger.

Proposed solutions to the issues included educating children about the need to balance media portrayals of mental health with the reality of lives of people suffering from such disabilities. One suggestion was to use social media to spread the message in a manner similar to the recent “ALS challenge” that became very popular among young people. Such social media-aided awareness could lessen the stigma surrounding those with mental health needs while simultaneously improving the self-esteem of those who help out the mentally ill. As one participant from the Bay Shore school district noted, “You gain esteem by doing esteem-able things.”

The workshop on Protection of Water and the Impact of Climate Change on Long Island was moderated by Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE).

Students presented and received feedback on their projects about clean water, the risks of nitrogen overload in the waterways, and the need for open space preservation to help combat issues that negatively affect the quality of our drinking water, our commercial fishing industry, and our recreational opportunities. After discussions it became clear to students that protection of water and open space are issues that impact Long Island on multiple levels.

Solutions that were proposed in this workshop included installing proper sewage infrastructure for businesses and residents, de-nitrification efforts, prohibiting the use of plastic bags, and banning micro-bead production in beauty and hygiene industries. Students felt that environmental education at a younger age would go a long way in helping young people to understand the importance of climate change and its impact on local and global ecosystems. One workshop participant proposed a solution of asking companies that distribute and manufacture products that may damage the environment, such as cosmetic products with microbeads for example, to contribute 10% of their revenue toward measures that would counteract the product’s negative impact on the environment.

The workshop on The Impact of Solid Waste was moderated by Maureen Murphy Dolan, Program Director at the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) and Jordan Christensen of the CCE.

Students discussed possible solutions to prevent solid waste accumulation that negatively impacts all aspects of the environment. The use of Styrofoam is being phased out in many nationwide fast food chains. Introducing fees for use for reusable plastic bags has been shown to reduce the use of plastic bags. There is the potential for companies to produce more bulk products to reduce packaging; however that would mean that the consumer would have to buy in bulk as well.

Use and reuse of glass through proper recycling practices for dune erosion projects, paving, solar cell batteries, and countertops was mentioned as a possible solution for reducing consumer waste while recycling for repurpose.   Some school districts are trying to encourage students to recycle, but it is difficult to educate and hold the students’ interest in these programs. Students mentioned an incentive program at one of the schools where they can write their names on a can or bottle before placing it in the recycle bin and receive rewards in the form of school credit at the end of the month. Other solutions included legislation to ban Styrofoam and plastic bags, and increasing the reach of recycling centers to be better able to pick up materials for recycling.

The workshop on the Renewable Energy was moderated by John Keating from PSEG, Tara Bono from Empower Solar, and Dr. Donald DiMarzio from Northrop Grumman.

Students discussed renewable energy concepts that included offshore wind platforms, solar panels, nuclear energy, proton exchange membranes, geothermal wells, and hydroelectric plants. There was a consensus that more could be done on Long Island in terms of renewable energy production and use, however cost prohibits some initiatives from moving forward. The students thought that education about renewable energy is important and can help bolster support for green energy projects.

Student recommendations included offering extensive subsidies, tax breaks and rebates to businesses and homes to use green energy options, increasing funds for renewable energy research and development and dedicating some of these funds for the use on Long Island so that younger workers can work on these projects rather than move out and work in other states.

Workshop on Living on Long Island: Economic Development, Community, and Housing was moderated by Ronald Roel, President of Roel Resources, LLC, and Elissa Kyle, Sustainability Director at Vision Long Island.

In this workshop students engaged in a discussion about the future of their communities and about implementing Smart Growth principles in the redevelopment of their downtowns. Students wanted to live in places that are collaborative and socially vibrant where they can easily meet their peers. Participants felt that there wasn’t a lot of awareness among young people about Long Island’s Smart Growth-designed places and about innovative downtown business proposals such as the LaunchPad. Many students were surprised to learn about the number of downtowns that are currently undergoing revitalization efforts and expressed the need to raise awareness among their peers about why Smart Growth is needed.

Feedback from students included the need for certain communities like Wantagh for example, to improve their downtown districts with more retail options. Students from Kings Park thought that their community should start thinking “outside the box.” They noted that the closing of the Kings Park Hospital decades ago has left the area struggling with few entertainment and employment options available to young people in the area. Transportation issues, such as the LIRR Port Jefferson Branch not being electrified were mentioned, as well as the need for more biking, walking and green transportation options.

Students suggested tackling these issues through providing financial and space assistance for start-ups while at the same time reducing tax burdens and regulations that make starting a new business more difficult. Having better public transportation access to all areas of the island was also mentioned as an important tool for making young people to stay on Long Island.

The workshop on Leadership that featured 2015 LIYS topic “Leadership in a Divided Society” was moderated by Hon. DuWayne Gregory, Presiding Officer, Suffolk County Legislature, Dr. Errol Toulon, Deputy Commissioner of Operations at NYC Department of Corrections, Berthe Erisnor, from the North Shore LIJ Health System, Hon. Steven Flotteron, Councilman from the Town of Islip, Dr. Nathalia Rogers from Dowling College, and Eric Alexander and Tawaun Weber from Vision Long Island.

In this workshop students discussed issues of racism, affordable housing, financial preparedness, and the role of government in the future of Long Island. Discussion focused on how forming a better understanding and finding solutions to these issues will impact young people’s decision to stay on Long Island after college. The students sought a better understanding of the roles of each level of government and how different levels of government can address the needs of young people.

Solutions proposed by the students included promotion of culturally positive and collaborative attitudes, and teaching problem-solving skills to young people early. Many students felt that a reduction in racial and economic segregation would benefit their scholastic experience and reduce the amount of prejudice that some of them experience while trying to pursue their academic and social goals.   Participants in this workshop felt that a sense of cultural tolerance and cooperation could be achieved through programs promoting interaction between members of different communities. Such programs may include inter-school athletic teams, inter-school collaborative science research teams; and multi-racial, multi-cultural summer camps.

The Youth Summit continued with the Awards ceremony where students received awards for the best projects in each Summit topic category, an overall Best Summit Project Award, and the Diana Coleman Scholarship Award, named in memory of the Roosevelt community activist Diana Coleman who passed away earlier this year. All students who attended the Summit on April 17, 2015 were finalists in the competition. One of the Summit’s key sponsors, Southwest Airlines has selected a number of students who submitted exemplary projects and who were active participants in their respective communities to receive a Southwest Airlines Award of a round trip ticket anywhere in the U.S.

Newsday columnist Joye Brown was the featured luncheon speaker. During her address she asked the students if they were aware that they could run for a seat on their school boards at 17 years of age, revealing that a vast majority of the students were unaware that they could have a voice in how their education is shaped. Ms. Brown conveyed the message that the body of decision-makers needs to include fresh faces and ideas to make a difference for Long Island. For those in the audience who showed interest in running for public office in the future, Ms. Brown pointed out that elected officials are respected by her because “they are the ones who have to make decisions and make changes”.

She went further to discuss why many young people leave Long Island after graduating from its 13 colleges and what can be done to make sure that local youth and those “imported” for college stay here and get job opportunities on Long Island. Ms. Brown pointed out that racial demographics had shifted dramatically in recent years. There is a 25% reduction in population of white people in the Millennial generation as compared to the Baby Boomer generation, making it an imperative for all generations to figure out ways to live and work together in contemporary society. Ms. Brown concluded with speaking about a life of an outstanding Long Island community activist and one of the co-founders of the Long Island Youth Summit Program, Ms. Diana Coleman.   Ms. Coleman, who passed away this winter, was a person who dedicated her energy and efforts to help people of different races with their everyday challenges whether it is placing children in the community child care center, or helping them to get scholarship to attend college. Ms. Brown concluded her speech with giving all Long Island Youth Summit finalists a challenge: “Diana (Coleman) got up every morning deciding what is wrong and how to fix it. You have more access to information than ever before. Use it well, you have power, keep using it well to fix what needs to be fixed in your community”. 

This year the following students won awards for their 2015 Long Island Youth Summit projects:

2015 LIYS Best Overall Project Winner

Alicia Soules, East Islip HS, for her essay on the topic of Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being (teachers Ms. Lisa Neri and Mr. Israel Malinowitzer)

2015 LIYS Best PowerPoint Winner

Sophia Asofsky and Alexandra Ehrhart, Bay Shore HS, for their PowerPoint on the topic of Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being (teacher Ms. Melissa Taylor) 

2015 LIYS Best Poster Winner

Christina Chalgren and Samantha Fong, Kings Park HS, for their poster on the topic of Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being (teacher Mr. Robert Celeste)

2015 LIYS Best Video/Art Project Winner

Brittany Lewis and Samantha Weinstein, Hauppauge HS, for their video on the topic of Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being (teacher Ms. Leanne Baronne)

2015 LIYS Best Overall Science Paper Winner

Mackenzie Switz, Fishers Island School, for her original scientific research paper on the topic of water pollution (teacher Ms. Carol Giles) 

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Mental Health, Self-Esteem, and Well Being

TonyAnn Ianucci and Jillian Shea, Smithtown West HS, for their paper on the topic of Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being (teacher Mr. Paul DeMatteo)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Social Networking

Mariana Guercio and Kathleen Schurr, Kings Park HS, for their paper on the topic of Bullying, Cyber-Bullying, and Social Networking (teacher Mr. Robert Celeste)

and Nootshy Romage, Westbury HS, for her PowerPoint on the topic of Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Social Networking (teacher Ms. Naomi Saddlemire)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse

Alysha Share, East Islip HS, for her paper on topic of Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse (teacher Ms. Lisa Neri)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Living on Long Island: Economic Development, Housing, and Community

Laura Tarone, General Douglas MacArthur HS (Levittown), for her paper on the topic of Living on Long Island (teacher Dr. David Friedman)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Leadership

Brianna Cea, Ward Melville HS, for her paper on the topic of Leadership (teacher Ms. Alison Kane)

and Emma Westbrook, West Islip HS, for her Power Point on the topic of Leadership (teacher Ms. Patricia Stack)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Race, Class, Economy, and Education

William Yoo and Gabriel Gang, Ward Melville HS, for their paper on the topic of Race, Class, Economy and Education (Ms. Alison Kane)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Renewable Energy/ Science Research Paper

Sabrina Chasen, General Douglas MacArthur HS (Levittown), for her original research paper on the role of acids in the degradation of bio-fuel oils (Dr. David Friedman)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Renewable Energy

Krish Kamdar, Bay Shore HS, for his paper on the topic of Renewable Energy (teacher Mrs. Maria Fagan)

and Stevie Schuessler, Eastport South Manor HS, for her paper on the topic of Renewable Energy (teacher Mr. Leyden)

and Joseph Prusan and Ryan Gray, Massapequa HS, for their paper on the topic of Renewable Energy (teacher Mr. August Eberling)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of the Environment: The Issue of Solid Waste

Emily Durcan, Smithtown West HS, for her paper on the topic of Solid Waste (teacher Mr. Peter DeMatteo)

and Benjamin Winston and Emily Winston, Ward Melville HS, for their paper on the topic of Solid Waste (teacher Ms. Alison Kane)

and Sarah Welhous, Eastport South Manor HS, for her paper and art work on the topic of Solid Waste (teacher Mr. James Farrell)

2015 LIYS Best Project in the Category of Environment: The Issue of Protection of Surface and Ground Water

Eric Wang and Samantha Mancuso, Ward Melville HS, for their essay on the topic of Protection of Water (teacher Ms. Alison Kane)

and Michael Gino and Andrew Lee, General Douglas MacArthur HS (Levittown), for their essay on the topic of Protection of Water (teacher Mr. Matt Zausin)

2015 LIYS Diane Coleman College Scholarship Award

Kimberley Bernard and Shamoya Dacosta, Westbury HS, for their video on the topic of Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being (teacher Ms. Naomi Saddlemire)

2015 LIYS Southwest Airlines Award (one free round trip ticket anywhere in the U.S.)

Alicia Soules, East Islip HS, for her essay on the topic of Mental Health, Self-Esteem and Well Being

Brianna Cea, Ward Melville HS, for her paper on the topic of Leadership

Sabrina Chasen, General Douglas MacArthur HS (Levittown), for her original research paper on the role of acids in the degradation of bio-fuel oils

Andrea Paredes, Bayshore HS, for her leadership effort in her community

Casey Nevins, Comsewogue HS, for her leadership effort in her community

Ivan Zarate, Bayshore HS, for his paper on the topic of Living on Long Island

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