This story was reported and written by Scott Eidler, John Hildebrand and Joie Tyrrell.
Bright and early Tuesday, the line of parents and children waiting to enter Maurice W. Downing Primary School in Malverne stretched the better part of a block. Many of the mothers, fathers and grandparents gave children brief parting kisses.
“It’s a new beginning, a new classroom, a new teacher, new friends, new things — so she’s a little nervous,” said parent Jeannine Shaw, 46, who dropped off her daughter, Corinne, 6, for the first day of first grade.
The Malverne district was one of 70 public school systems across Long Island where classes began Tuesday — the biggest opening day of the 2017-18 academic calendar, marking a fresh start for more than 223,000 students. That included grades 10 through 12 in Suffolk’s William Floyd district, where the earlier grades jumped off last week.
Another 180,000 students begin school in 44 districts on Wednesday and five systems open on Thursday. About 29,400 students commenced classes in six districts last week.
Steve Gilhuley, an assistant superintendent in the Malverne district who greeted the arrivals, said two parent orientation sessions held last week seemed to ease opening day.
“We have no criers — it’s a good start,” Gilhuley said.
In the South Country school district, some parents who dropped off their children at Frank P. Long Intermediate School expressed concern. The proximity of the Bellport school to the Brookhaven Town landfill, as well as some staffers’ and students’ complaints of bad odors, has prompted controversy.
On Aug. 16, after completion of environmental testing and letters from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Health, the school board announced it would not close Frank P. Long Intermediate. That same week, however, the state Health Department announced a review of cancer rates and disease occurrence related to the school.
Tuesday morning, Amir Georges, 43, dropped off his son, Max, 9, who is entering fourth grade.
“I’m concerned about sending my kids here, but as a parent you have no say or any control over any testing, water testing . . . You trust the school,” Georges said.
School board president Cheryl Felice has said there was “no definitive reason” for closure after an environmental consultant’s report concluded the building was “free of elevated levels of contaminants” and test samples were “similar to background levels compared to similar schools.”
Across the Island, educators are placing a focus on high-tech instruction — reflecting not only demands of the job market, but also the personal interests of many residents.
A public opinion poll released last week by Phi Delta Kappa, a global network of educators, found that 82 percent of adult respondents across the Island and other metro-area suburbs regarded tech-oriented classes as “extremely” or “very” important.
Many of the region’s 124 districts are expanding programs in subjects such as pre-engineering and robotics, with the help of national or international organizations dedicated to encouraging career studies in such areas.
One such program, Project Lead the Way, is offered by a nonprofit group based in Indianapolis. Sixty schools on the Island currently participate in the program among more than 10,000 nationwide, project officials said.
Malverne High School this year added courses designed by Project Lead the Way in biomedical science, engineering design and computer science to two engineering courses introduced last year.
Kaitlyn Ramharakh, 16, a junior at Malverne High School, voiced hope that courses she is taking in pre-engineering and advanced science, combined with similar coursework last year, will help lead to a career in medical research.
The district’s superintendent, Jim Hunderfund, agreed that rigorous studies pursued by Ramharakh and other students like her are good preparation for the future.
“I think college will be a breeze after this,” Hunderfund said.
Other popular programs are provided by FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, which is headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire. On the Island, one FIRST-supported operation is a regional robotics competition, which started with eight high school teams in 1999 and has since expanded to more than 50 teams, including several from Queens. This year, sponsors expect participation to grow to at least 60 teams.
Mineola High School, which also opened Wednesday, just started a robotics program. It represents the latest expansion of a district-wide initiative offering FIRST programs at four different levels, starting in third grade. All of the programs encourage student teamwork in solving problems through research.
“The robotics is secondary to the research,” said Michael Nagler, superintendent of Mineola schools. “If you have a great robot, and that’s all you have, you can’t win the competition.”