Covid-19’s effect on the people of my hometown, Commack

By Michael Sollicito

Editor’s note: Part eight in a series on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected Hofstra University students personally.

Life in Commack has changed drastically since the pandemic. Now security guards block fields, the schools are closed for the year, and like everywhere else, people are losing their jobs.

To fully understand how the pandemic has impacted Commack, I asked friends and family members about it. I spoke to a high school cook at Commack High School, a ninth-grade science teacher at Brentwood Union Free School District, and my sister, who is a graduating high school senior.

Chef Rosalie Duffy, of Commack, a colleague of my mother’s who has become one of her closest friends over the last four years, has had to step up during this time, along with seven other cooks. Duffy’s days begin at 6 a.m., and she works until 2 p.m., giving eight hours of her day to make food for those less fortunate. They have been making triple the amount of food they typically would make.

“We usually make about 700 to 800 lunches every day during a normal school year, but now we are making around 2,500 lunches per day,” Duffy said.

“The second we walk in we start,” she said. “We are constantly producing food.”

This pandemic has brought some new problems for Duffy, who is usually OK with bringing in new people to help in the kitchen, but during this pandemic would prefer to keep the same women working each day.

“I do not feel safe when they bring in other people to help us,” Duffy said. “We all wear our masks, keep our gloves on, but now they bring in new people, and I have no clue where they are and where they have been.”

The masks and gloves that Duffy and the other cooks have been wearing to protect themselves were their own until recently. On April 12, Governor Cuomo issued an e telling all essential business to provide anyone in the workplace with face masks.

Cooks like Duffy are not the only ones who had to adjust their workdays because of the pandemic. Teachers had to make huge adjustments as schools changed from in-person class to online.

Amy Henris is a ninth-grade science teacher in the Brentwood Union Free School District and has been my neighbor in Commack for 14 years. Her son, Sean, was my first friend when I moved here in 2006. I asked her about what some of her biggest challenges with teaching online were. They included becoming a more lenient teacher and understanding that students may have trouble with online learning.

“A lot of kids now have jumped into online learning for the first time ever, and it was a hard learning curve for them,” Henris said.

However, that is not the biggest problem for her.

“The biggest problem is really getting a true assessment as to how the students feel about what they are comprehending,” Henris said. “I can see their physical emotions, their mannerisms in class, but anyone can sit behind a computer screen and get the answer.”

This makes it difficult for Henris to estimate how her students are doing with the new material.

“I can give all the Castle Learning assignments I want and they can Google everything if they want to, so if they are getting good grades it is kind of hard to know if they truly get it,” she said.

Because Henris teaches in a school district where not every house has access to a computer, she often has to assign work online and have it due over the course of a few days instead of having live online class sessions daily.

“There is really no structure because [my students] may wake up late. I may not be getting emails until 8 p.m. at night when I am getting ready for bed. That means I need to respond at that time because maybe that was the only time they could do the work,” said Henris.

However, her students are not the only ones under her care. Henris has two sons at home, my friend Sean, who is 19, Kevin, who is 14. Henris’ husband, Todd, works from 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. as a UPS deliveryman, and so she is often left to tend to her family alone while he works.

Unfortunately for senior students like my 18-year-old sister, Nikki, they may be left without key events in their last year of high school. She is absolutely gutted.

“My senior year was cut way too short. I am just overall immensely sad it has already come to an end, especially when we had so much left,” Nikki said.

Moms around Commack have been creating lawn signs saying, ‘Commack senior lives here,’ among other items to try and support senior students like Nikki.

“They also are going to attempt to give us a prom and graduation in August and they have been making little senior packages to kind of support us,” said Nikki.

She has received two of these senior packages. Inside them are a graduation cap, Commack colored pens and pompoms, and senior shirts, among other items that would have been available had school still been active.

Nikki plans to attend SUNY Oneonta in the fall for her first semester of college. However, according to , Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is almost certain that the virus will return in the winter. This means that future college students, including Nikki, face the fact that they may have to wait even longer until they are able to move into dorms.

“I was so excited to go away and dorm, meet new people and get the college experience that everyone always talks about,” said Nikki. “The possibility of that not happening blows my mind.”

These events only happen once for seniors who, much like Nikki, often spend all year long counting down the days until they have their prom and graduation.

“I was looking forward to walking down at graduation and partying at prom with my boyfriend,” said Nikki. “My heart is literally shattered.”

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