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Back-to-school starts on Long Island with Jericho district

Sophomores Anna Lin, Caroline Yu and Mahina Sheikh

Sophomores Anna Lin, Caroline Yu and Mahina Sheikh enjoying a funny moment at Jericho High School while getting familiar with the new Chrome book, laptop computers and iPad tablets during class Tuesday Aug. 30, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

More than 430,000 students are returning over the next two weeks to Long Island’s public schools, where growing numbers will find their homework assignments and other activities mapped out on computerized sites they can check on personal smartphones.

The Jericho district, which exemplifies the trend, was first to open for the 2016-17 school year and welcomed students on Tuesday morning. Sixteen other districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties will follow on Thursday and Friday.

The remainder of the Island’s 124 districts start classes next week, with the largest number — 72 — scheduled to begin classes Sept. 6, the day after Labor Day.

The 3,100-student Jericho system, like many others, has purchased new scheduling software, along with Chromebook laptop computers and iPad tablets. The district now has about 2,200 of those electronic devices in its inventory, as well as 1,500 desktop computers and 350 Microsoft laptops.

“We’re going to be using technology in class almost every day,” said Lauryn Fischer, an English teacher at Jericho High School, as she briefed 11th-graders in a Regents-level class.

Fischer explained that the teens will do plenty of traditional reading: Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” and Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” a personal account of the Holocaust, both are on this year’s list.

Increasingly, however, Jericho students are accessing their textbooks online. In addition, the district this year adopted a new computerized classroom management system known as Canvas, where students can find course schedules, homework assignments and test results — and also exchange email messages with teachers.

“We can actually have conversations on Canvas, either in school or at home,” said another teacher, Suzanne Valenza, as she outlined the new system to a 12th-grade college-level class in creative writing.

Jericho, which is among Long Island’s best-staffed districts, has a director of technology, Linda Alesi, and seven technical assistants who split time between five schools, checking computerized systems.

Still, glitches inevitably occur.

In one second-period class, some students waited as long as 15 minutes for scheduling information to appear on their computer screens, while other students obtained the schedules right away. Those using their smartphones often gained the quickest access.

Daniel Salzman, who is the district’s curriculum associate for English, equivalent to a department chairman, said the delays conveyed an important lesson to students living in a digital world.

“What we want people to know is: ‘Things happen. It’s not a big deal,’ ” Salzman said. “Without risk-taking, you’re not going to have progression.”

Across the Island, schools are experiencing what education leaders describe as a high-tech “sea change,” driven by a proliferation of computerized hardware and software. In response, federal and state policymakers have pushed districts to expand their internet broadband capacity for handling the extra electronic load.

Carle Place, which starts classes Sept. 6, is buying 100 new Chromebook laptops, bringing its total inventory to 450. The district also is purchasing another 80 iPad tablets, on top of the 88 devices it already owns.

Richard Greenberg, the district’s director of technology, said teachers find the iPads especially useful in working with younger immigrant students who speak little English. Programs that operate on iPads include vocal dictionaries that allow students to touch on-screen pictures of familiar objects — foods, buses — and then hear the words for such objects pronounced in English.

“This is fun,” said Greenberg, who has worked 30 years in the school technology field, “and I am learning at the same time.”

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