Local schools wrapped up the first part of the academic year by teaching students one of life's most important lessons: giving to others.
Dozens of holiday gift collections brought in items ranging from toys to toiletries to benefit Long Island's less privileged children and soldiers serving overseas.
In Wading River, the town's elementary school teamed up with the Salvation Army for an "Angel Tag" gift drive that collected enough presents for 175 children in need. Students in the first and second grades filled a "giving tree" in the lobby with toothpaste, deodorant and soap for people in local shelters.
"The generosity our school has shown is amazing," said second-grade teacher Alice Steinbrecher, who helped organize the collection. "Even in these difficult times, people still manage to give so much to others who are in need. It just warms the heart."
In East Setauket, Nassakeag Elementary School collected more than 40 boxes of toiletries in a "Boxes for the Soldiers" drive. The boxes, which were decorated by sixth-graders, included homemade holiday cards for a platoon in Afghanistan where a staff member's nephew is stationed. The family of sixth-grader Tristan Rowland also donated 20 cases of energy bars.
In Medford, Oregon Middle School collected toys for the Kiwanis Club of Patchogue, while Saxton Middle School in East Patchogue held a holiday raffle to aid local families in need.
In Shirley, John S. Hobart Elementary School fifth-grader Tyler Allan used $215 of his savings to buy toys for Nana's House, a nonprofit in Mastic.
Northside and Wisdom Lane elementary schools, in the Levittown district, sent 650 holiday cards to soldiers overseas through the American Red Cross' "Holiday Mail for Heroes" program. In addition, Northside collected more than 800 toys and games as part of a drive to benefit children in local hospitals through the John Theissen Children's Foundation.
Traci Roethel has been appointed principal of Woodhull Intermediate School effective in February. Roethel will replace Mary Stokkers, who is retiring.
Roethel currently is an assistant principal at Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills and also has been a math consultant to several local school districts.
Earl L. Vandermeulen High School freshmen Emma Schoepflin and JiWon Woo joined forces last month to educate peers about diabetes in conjunction with the International Diabetes Federation's World Diabetes Day.
Their efforts included creating ribbon pins and diabetes fact sheets, as well as holding a bake sale to benefit the American Diabetes Foundation.
"People don't always understand diabetes," said JiWon, who has the disease. "I wanted to be a part of something that helped to educate others."
In other news, the school's drama club last month performed "The Laramie Project," which recounted the story of the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay student from Laramie, Wyo. One dollar from every ticket sold benefited the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Skyping in Spanish
Spanish classes at Harbor Country Day School, an independent school for preschool through eighth grade, are using Skype to connect with peers in Spain who are learning English.
The program, which is in its third year, consists of language lessons prepared in advance by Harbor teacher Elizabeth Williams and a teacher at the Colegio Público Juan Aguado in Toledo, Spain. Topics include geography, food and music, school officials said.
"The use of technology is bringing both schools closer together," Williams said. "It also helps them learn the differences and similarities of both cultures. This is perhaps the most rewarding and enriching part."
The New York State School Music Association's All-State Conference this month included 347 students from Long Island -- more than one-third of those chosen statewide to participate in ensembles at the event.
The conference, held Dec. 5-8 at the University of Rochester, featured performances by wind, string, women's chorus, symphonic band, mixed chorus, instrumental and vocal jazz ensembles. Thousands of students auditioned at NYSSMA festivals across the state last spring in the hope of winning a spot at All-State.
"It is quite an honor to be selected to perform in an All-State ensemble," said Paul Infante, director of fine and applied arts in the Commack Union Free School District, which had seven students selected. "Each of these musicians possesses exceptional talent, and we are proud that they are representing Commack on a state level."