Robotics season on Long Island officially kicked off this month with a special event revealing this year's competition theme to more than 800 techie teens at Stony Brook University.
The theme, titled "Aerial Assist," challenges three-team alliances to score balls in goals during 2-minute, 30-second matches -- with extra points earned by robots working together and throwing and catching balls over a truss suspended about 5 feet high.
This year's Long Island Regional FIRST Robotics Competition will draw 49 local teams to Hofstra University March 27-29. FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
"This proves to be an exciting time for the students and the mentors when they learn the name and the rules of the game," said Joani Madarash, executive director of the School-Business Partnerships of Long Island, the competition's sponsor.
At the kickoff, each team received a kit of components they will use to design, build and program their robots over a six-week period. In addition, parents learned about the impact of the program on their children's lives and shared ideas on ways to help raise funds for the teams.
In other news, Plainedge High School's Team 527 won the competition's musical theme contest. The team will receive $1,000, and their song, "Ignition," will be played during this year's matches.
The contest received 17 entries from 12 schools.
Signing story time
Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf recently used story time to introduce local children to sign language during a visit to Ann MacArthur Primary School in Locust Valley.
During the visit, Mill Neck speech therapist Betty Quartuccio read aloud Elizabeth Spurr's children's book "The Gumdrop Tree," while Mill Neck high schooler Yoli Gomes signed the words to kindergartners. The pair paused several times during the story to allow children an opportunity to practice sign language using words that appeared in the book, school officials said.
Jennifer Thearle was appointed principal of Charles E. Schwarting Elementary School this month. She replaces Bethanne McCoy, who departed to take a position in another district, school officials said.
Thearle previously served as assistant principal of East Broadway Elementary School in Seaford. She began her teaching career in Freeport in 1998 and went on to become a reading specialist and literacy teacher in the Levittown school district, which she joined in 2004.
"I look forward to proving myself as an effective leader for Plainedge school district," Thearle said in a statement.
Seaford middle and high school students learned the importance of spreading kindness last month during a visit from representatives of a nonprofit created in honor of Rachel Scott, one of 12 students killed in the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
The nonprofit, named Rachel's Challenge, is based upon the teenager's writings challenging others to start a chain reaction of kindness.
The assembly included a video of Rachel's life and those who were affected by her kindness. Seaford students then separated into groups for icebreaker activities that required them to express their feelings and share ideas on ways to spread kindness throughout the year.
"We should all live our lives in Rachel's image," seventh-grader Mike Catalanotti said.
'The Polar Express'
Several local schools put a wintry twist on learning last month with lessons and activities pegged to the children's book and animated fantasy film "The Polar Express."
In Seaford and Wantagh elementary schools, kindergartners received mock train tickets stamped by Seaford Principal Debra Emmerich and Wantagh Superintendent Maureen Goldberg, who served as train conductors. Seaford students watched the film in their pajamas, while Wantagh kids tackled craft projects ranging from making reindeer hats to papier-mâché candy canes -- all symbolic of moments in the book.
In Copiague, Great Neck Road Elementary School third-graders performed a presentation of the book in the style of reader's theater, which required students to read a script adapted from the literature. The children spent two weeks learning their lines and creating scenery for the production.
In Port Jefferson, Edna Louise Spear Elementary School students compared the movie to the book and helped teachers make hot chocolate, which is a celebrated refreshment in the film.