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'Hour of Code' aims to raise Long Island students' interest in computer programming

Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School students were introduced

Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School students were introduced to the world of computer coding in December 2014 by using tablets to work on problem-solving activities. The lesson was part of an “Hour of Code,” a national effort designed to spur interest in the fast-growing field while encouraging creative thinking and problem-solving. Credit: Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District

The initiative only lasted an hour, but the hope is that its impact will last a lifetime.

Dozens of local schools on Long Island joined a national campaign to teach the fundamentals of computer programming as part of an "Hour of Code" — an effort designed to spur interest in the fast-growing field while encouraging creative thinking and problem-solving.

It was coordinated by the nonprofit and held in conjunction with Computer Science Education Week on Dec. 8-14. More than 91 million students nationwide have participated since the initiative began in December 2013.

In Plainview-Old Bethpage, the entire school district participated in hands-on activities based around programming languages such as JavaScript, Python and HTML. The lesson topics included drag-and-drop programming, application development and website design.

"In order to help prepare our students for the future and encourage a creative and problem-solving mindset, we must begin to integrate computer science lessons into everyday curriculums," said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District.

In Freeport, 83 students at John W. Dodd Middle School learned coding basics during lunch periods through presentations led by teachers Kristen Santamaria and Georgia Plakas.

And in Bethpage, 30 students at John F. Kennedy Middle School learned the foundations of programming through several online games and tutorials.

"I liked being able to work on something which then allowed something else to work," said Anna Haig, a sixth-grader at Herricks Middle School, which also held coding lessons.

In Middle Country, students throughout the district participated in hands-on activities that taught coding basics such as simple algorithms and conditional statements. They also learned the fundamentals of repeat-looping, a technique that allows users to repeat a code.

"Computer literacy has become vital for completing daily tasks, let alone career readiness," said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country Central School District in Centereach. "We must begin to provide computer science lessons to students in order to encourage critical thinking and prepare our students for the ever-growing digital world."

In Elwood, students at James H. Boyd Intermediate School and Elwood Middle School viewed video tutorials and tackled self-guided code activities that let them learn and work at their own pace and skill levels.

And in Bayport, fourth-graders at Sylvan Avenue Elementary School learned basic coding commands to help create interactive games, stories and art.

"Students were extremely excited to be part of the event," Hampton Bays Middle School teacher Scott Garafola said. "They even requested to continue learning about coding."


BELLMORE-MERRICK: Genocide survivor

Students at Wellington C. Mepham High School in Bellmore and Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Merrick recently learned about the horrors of genocide during a visit from Johnson Mutibagirana, a Rwandan who survived the genocide committed by Hutu extremists against his Tutsi tribe in 1994.

Mutibagirana, 29, was only 9 when he witnessed his mother executed along with 40 Tutsi neighbors. His father was killed in another province during the 100-day genocide campaign that claimed the lives of nearly 1 million Tutsi Rwandans, school officials said.

During his visit, the survivor told teens he has let go of the anger over his parents' murders. He now is studying law on a full scholarship at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.


GLEN COVE: International Night

Glen Cove High School students celebrated diversity during an inaugural International Night that included traditional ethnic foods prepared by teens in Herenia Padilla's Spanish Native II class and choreographed performances by the school's Dance Club.

The first-time event, held last month, was designed to reach out to district families who speak English as a second language and featured representatives from the Glen Cove Boys & Girls Club and the Glen Cove Public Library.

"This is an attempt to foster cultural diversity and multiculturalism, as well as create a forum for disseminating and sharing information on the available resources and services in Glen Cove," said Monica Chavez, a foreign language and ESL coordinator at the school.


HERRICKS: Neuroscience finalists

Herricks High School seniors Monica Lee and Deepti Mahajan are among 16 finalists nationwide in the 2015 Neuroscience Research Prize competition sponsored by the American Academy of Neurology and Child Neurology Society.

The contest encourages exploration of the brain and nervous system through lab research.

Lee's research explored the use of the body's immune system in treating Alzheimer's disease. Mahajan studied neuronal nucleolar structural changes after inhibition of an enzyme called RNA polymerase I.

Four winners will receive a $1,000 prize, along with all-expenses-paid trips to present their research at one of two annual science conferences held this spring in Washington, D.C.


EAST ISLIP: Inspirational wrestler

The East Islip school district recently educated students on the importance of positive choices during an inspirational visit from Marc Mero, a former wrestler with the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling who retired in 2000.

Mero has since founded Champion of Choices, a nonprofit aimed at deterring bullying and bad decisions.

The visit was possible courtesy of a grant from state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) in conjunction with the East Islip Community Watch Group.

"The students truly enjoyed Marc's message that the choices we make — and people we associate with — can greatly affect the path of one's life," Superintendent Linda Rozzi said.


PORT JEFFERSON: Students for a day

Two teachers at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School posed as students for a day as part of a project to gain insight into students' daily lives. Social studies teacher Jesse Rosen and English teacher Matt Sefick completed homework, changed for gym and even took quizzes.

Reflecting on the experience, Rosen said he formerly would be bothered when pupils packed up before the bell rang at the end of his classes, but he now understands why some do that. Sefick, meanwhile, found transitions between classes, in terms of varying subject matter, to be a challenge.

"One moment, I was thinking about the unemployment rate in the U.S. -- the next, I was in a darkroom trying to develop pictures," Sefick said. "To shift my focus from one subject to the next proved difficult."



Riverhead High School's physical education classes trained students last month in a "hands-only" CPR method that will allow them to initiate the lifesaving technique in the event of an emergency, while waiting for an ambulance. The training taught teens how to the respond to sudden cardiac arrest and also provided an introduction to the use of automated external defibrillators.

"The more people are trained to help, the higher the likelihood for survival," said Gregory Wallace, a local emergency medical technician and treasurer of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, which co-sponsored the event.


NASSAU COUNTY: Ballet performance

Six dance students at Nassau BOCES' Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset recently performed in the world premiere production of the ballet "Cracked," which is a reimagining of Tchaikovsky's holiday classic "The Nutcracker."

The local dance students performed alongside professionals from the nonprofit Nomad Contemporary Ballet Company and the American Theater Dance Workshop of New Hyde Park. The four performances took place last month at Chaminade High School in Mineola.

"This has been a wonderful experience for our students," Principal AJ Hepworth said. "They learned firsthand about the audition process and the rigors of working with a professional dance company."


SUFFOLK COUNTY: AstroSat Challenge

Teams from Commack High School and Longwood High School, in Middle Island, are among 15 winners nationwide in the 2014 AstroSat Challenge, which asked students to propose climate change experiments using a satellite in orbit.

The challenge was coordinated by the Association of Space Explorers and Ardusat, an education technology company.

Longwood's experiment will collect ground temperatures across different surfaces as a function of existing cloud cover. This will provide data to help refine climate change models and more accurately predict trends, school officials said.

"Since data collection over ocean surfaces is uncommon, the results will provide valuable insight as to how ocean surfaces react to radiative flux and cloud cover," said Longwood junior Ruojing Fang.

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