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First few LI school districts head back to class on Tuesday

Ninth-grade English teacher Jennifer Bisulca holds up a

Ninth-grade English teacher Jennifer Bisulca holds up a selection of books that students in her class will have the opportunity to read at E.W. Miles Middle School in Amityville on Monday, Aug. 31, 2015. The first day of school begins Tuesday, Sept. 1. Credit: Barry Sloan

Teachers at Robert Seaman Elementary School in Jericho greeted one another warmly Monday morning at the main office as they grabbed fistfuls of paper from their mailboxes and zoomed off to their classrooms to make last-minute preparations.

Jericho is among 32 districts Islandwide starting classes Tuesday, with scores more to open through Sept. 9.

While some teachers are returning to familiar routines, others face new challenges: Jill Kaufman, who has taught second grade for three decades at Seaman Elementary, will lead a first-grade class for the first time in her career.

She said she's ready. She knows exactly what her students must learn to prepare them for the next grade. Reading, writing and mathematics will be key, she said.

"I'm excited to focus so deeply in these areas and watch these fundamental skills develop," she said.

Teachers at Amityville Memorial High School spent Monday afternoon completing a "poverty simulation exercise" in which they gathered in clusters in the gymnasium and were assigned to play the role of a financially struggling family.

Susan Tietje, who teaches business for grades 10 through 12 at the school and who participated in the game, called it realistic and eye-opening.

"It gives you a greater sense of empathy and understanding as these children sit in your classroom," Tietje said.

The scope of her job is enormous as she tries to prepare students for life after high school. While in her care, students will learn how to better interview for jobs, write college applications and formulate proper responses to work-related emails.

Tietje also will help students secure summer internships, pair them with mentors outside the classroom and invite guest speakers to impart real-world knowledge.

"They get it," she said of her students, many of whom are first-generation immigrants.

In the East Moriches district, teachers had been readying their classrooms and lesson plans for more than a week, though there was still a lot of excitement in the hallways.

"You want to make sure everything is laid out and you have a smooth flow to the day," said Abi Bengel, who will welcome a class of 22 students Tuesday in what is her 31st year of teaching kindergarten.

Bengel said it is always challenging in the first few weeks of school when students have trouble separating from their parents and have relatively short attention spans.

"We often joke that the teachers in the older grades prepare six, 40-minute lessons while we give 40, six-minute lessons," she said.

Nicole Papa, a special-education teacher at the school who works with a smaller class of just six students, was at her desk busily planning how she'll determine their reading, spelling and math levels.

"The challenge is assessing their abilities while making them think they're having fun," she said. "Sure the kids are nervous, apprehensive at first. But you'd be surprised, after a few days, the kids seem like they never left."

And as more complex lessons were prepared for the older students, kindergarten teachers at Fairfield Elementary School in Massapequa put finishing touches on a variety of classroom decorations, such as "You're a Star!" boards, where kids will post their hobbies to help them find classmates with similar interests.

"They get excited when they see their own name," teacher Nicole Valentine said. "We want kids to be happy and comfortable. Most of the first month is about getting to know each other and adapting."

Tips for the first day of school

Teachers in several Nassau and Suffolk districts had this guidance for parents and caregivers:

Establish and stick to schedules and routines such as bedtimes and mealtimes.

Don't get emotional. If kids see parents cry on the first day, they're more likely to cry.

Communicate a child's health issues, such as allergies and asthma, to school officials.

Check your child's backpack every morning to make sure he or she is properly prepared. Upon return home, let the child take the material out to show you. It will help him or her gain a sense of independence.

Dress children appropriately. The first few weeks of school can be very hot.

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