Mattituck students clean beaches to earn community service, keep active while schools are closed

In the age of coronavirus, people are being urged to stay home and flatten the curve. A series of orders from Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shuttered schools and nonessential businesses and banned gatherings of any kind.

But visit any of the area’s many beaches and trails and you’ll find nature isn’t closed.

It’s something that struck Mattituck High School principal Shawn Petretti recently while he walked along Long Island Sound in Shoreham with his wife.

“We’re doing it on a daily basis,” he said, to try and get outside while working from home. “It hit me while I was walking: there’s no reason our kids couldn’t be out doing community service while we’re on home instruction.”

Mattituck began using Google Classrooms for remote instruction last week, making room for all nine periods under an abbreviated schedule ending at 12:24 p.m. Gov. Cuomo announced Friday schools across the state will remain closed through at least April 15.

“Typically, [after ninth period,] our students would have sports,” and other extracurricular activities, Mr. Petretti said. “Some of them are maybe losing the ability to be active, especially if they participate in team sports.”

Instead, Mr. Petretti has charged his students to opt outside: head down to a beach or park and earn community service hours by cleaning up trash. He reminded students to remember to practice social distancing and not congregate in large groups while they’re outdoors.

For each bag of trash they collect, photograph and email to their principal, students will earn two hours toward their community service log. Mattituck students have the option of earning an enhanced diploma by completing between 65 and 85 hours of community service hours by the end of their senior year. Mr. Petretti estimated that approximately 30% of each graduating class has typically achieved the enhancement.

“Our students have always done a lot of community service work. We wanted to keep up with that and keep everyone going,” he said. “To try and create some normalcy and help them realize that we have to keep trucking, we have to keep going,” despite the disruptions. Plus, he said, it gets kids outside for fresh air and away from their Chromebook screens.

Several students have already answered the call, sending their photos to Mr. Petretti, who shares them on a school Facebook page.

Some students took to Breakwater Beach in Mattituck on Thursday afternoon to participate in the challenge. Wearing latex gloves and making sure to spread out along the jetty, Alexis Stavrinos and her brother, Nikolas, were joined by friend Jeremy Stanzione, each carrying a bag halfway full after just 15 minutes of combing for trash.

“It’s everywhere,” Nikolas, 13, said as he walked along the shoreline, adding that he picked up a slew of shotgun shells on a walk earlier this week.

“I’m at the beach every summer pretty much at least twice a week,” Jeremy, 15, added. Most of the trash in their bags included straws, bottle caps, balloons and ribbon. “A lot of plastic,” he said. Alexis, also 15, said it’s disheartening to see the amount of plastic left on local beaches. “It’s scary to look at, when you see pictures of turtles and how much plastic they have inside of them,” she said.

Each is adjusting to learning from home and working through technical difficulties—Google Classroom was briefly down Thursday morning, which Mattituck School officials attributed to an increase in online learning as schools across the country have started using the platform.

“I miss the people,” Jeremy added.

His mother, Stacy, joined for the walk.

“It gets them out, they get to see friends a little bit without being on top of each other or too close,” she said. “And I was surprised honestly with how much garbage was down here.”