This Changes Everything

Work and school as we know it will never be the same.
As New York shuttered colleges and sent high school and elementary students home in mid-March, the state’s work force adjusted to a new definition of essential labor and to the use of new and old technologies. Here are a few of their stories.

Dan Tuthill, Store Associate
Riverhead Target

Dan began his job at Target last November. After living through the “massive crazy shopping” spree that preceded the pandemic, his workplace has become eerily quiet, and he spends a lot of time wiping down registers.
“Most people have been extra-friendly, considerate and civil,” he said. “It’s like they’re saying ‘Thank you for your service.”
There are a few crazy people left, he said, like a man wearing a mask and sunglasses and gloves who left his cart full of prepper supplies at the register and walked out in a huff when he saw that only the self-checkout was open.
“You’d think he’d have been glad to not have anyone else touch his stuff,” he said.

Gianna Volpe, Journalist and Morning 
Radio Host  88.3 WPPB, Southampton

Gianna Volpe considers herself a digital native — the highlight of her first foray into radio was a simultaneous Facebook live video stream that she posted while on air at Riverhead’s WRIV.
She’d just picked up with the Facebook simulcasts again when word came down from the station that all in-studio interviews had to stop.
Gianna dove in to learning the ins and outs of the station’s telephone system and honing her live phone interview skills. She realized using those skills made her a better listener, and it also made her feel like she had a better understanding of what makes legendary NPR interviewer Terry Gross so good. 
“This is all about serving the public, being adaptable, and getting them the information they need,” she said. “I hope people will learn a whole lot — And make the effort to really look at facts and trusted sources moving forward.”
“I have been waiting for a reform in journalism to appear, as advertorial content took center stage,” she said. “I’m grateful to all my siblings and colleagues fighting the good fight for fact-based news-gathering.”

Avenue Smith (left), Sophomore, SUNY Oneonta
Viola Smith (right), Junior, Riverhead High School

Covid-19 hit home early for Riverhead Latinists Avenue & Viola Smith, sisters who were dismayed to learn that beloved Riverhead High School Latin teacher Jeff “Doc” Greenberger’s father, Robert, was one of the first residents of Peconic Landing in Greenport to die from coronavirus complications.
Avenue, who is studying to be an English teacher, was on her college break and had one day of classroom observations left in Mrs. Strobel’s RHS class when schools were closed. Her college campus will now be closed through the end of the year. She’d already signed a lease to live off-campus this fall, and has to write a paper about her classroom observations that may now instead be about improvised education during a pandemic. Viola is unimpressed with having to do her schoolwork remotely.
“We’re grading each other’s essays, which is weird,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. But she has managed to catch up on some sleep.

James DiBartolo, Senior
Mattituck High School

James managed to sneak in time for an interview in late March between his heavy courseload, which includes calculus and AP English, and a teleconference meeting of the Students Against Destructive Decisions  club.
“Sometimes in calculus, it’s a bit harder to understand when you’re not in person with the teacher,” he said of his online coursework. “But it helps in a lot of classes to cut out filler and stuff that’s not as important.”
The biggest disruption to his life so far has been not being able to take a trip to his mother’s family’s hometown in Sicily over Easter Break, which he hasn’t seen since he was two years old. James is planning to go to St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn in the fall.
“I was there right before the quarantine situation, and I was really impressed,” he said. “Who knows with how this whole pandemic turns out. I might have to do my first year of college from home.”
James is trying to see the positives — if classes are online in the fall, he won’t have to find a way to pay for room and board. But he’s already missing the face-to-face social interaction of a day at school.
“Seeing everybody provides me with sense of peace and comfort, knowing that whatever goes on in the world or my personal life, that I’ll be able to count on going to school and the seeing same faces,” he said.

George Cork Maul
Composer & Music Teacher, New Suffolk

“I think that we’re finally going to start to use the internet the right way. It’s  supposed to be the way that people learn to be together and up until now it’s been a way for people to be apart,” says George, who recently maxed out the internet bandwidth in his house while streaming lessons, the news and the internet.
“Now we see the weakness of the technology — bandwidth and lag are much more important than they ever were before,” he said, adding that there’s no way yet for musicians to jam over the internet.
“We want to be in the same time. We don’t want there to be any lag,” he said. “My big hope is that we start to think of the internet as a utility instead of as a private service.”
“The coronavirus could end up giving us universal health care,  because telemedicine is going to make health care cheaper. We’ve entered into a new world.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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