Long Island high school students recently had the opportunity to learn more about a subject that teachers say is attracting increased interest locally: philosophy.
Nearly 100 teens from seven local high schools gathered earlier this month to participate in the first Long Island High School Philosophy Conference. The event, held at The Stony Brook School, gave them an opportunity to interact with peers and educators who share a love of critical thinking.
The conference concept was the result of the growing popularity of the annual Long Island High School Ethics Bowl, which challenges teams of up to five pupils to engage in civil discussion on a moral dilemma — for example, the legalization of marijuana. Participation has doubled to more than two dozen teams since the bowl's inception about six years ago.
"Being able to think deeply about questions that really matter to human life is a worthwhile pursuit — and getting kids reflecting at an early age is important," said Sean Riley, Stony Brook's academic dean.
The conference started with a keynote speech from Baylor University philosophy professor C. Stephen Evans, followed by a panel of three local philosophy professors who engaged in a discussion about Evans' presentation.
Next, the students split into groups for discussions on friendship and honesty, followed by research presentations from a dozen teens.
"The level of conversation was something to behold," said Wendy Way, a social studies teacher from Bethpage High School, which had 22 students in attendance. "I just marveled as I listened to the students."
Other participating high schools were Farmingdale, Jericho, Plainedge, Roslyn and Collegiate School in Manhattan.
The inaugural event was supported by the Squire Family Foundation in East Northport.
ELMONT: Prediction Marathon
Stewart Manor Elementary School students in grades 4-6 raised nearly $2,400 for the American Cancer Society through a "Prediction Marathon" that challenged them to estimate how long it would take them to run the three-quarters of a mile from the school to Stewart Manor Country Club.
Funds were raised through pledges and the sale of pink bracelets.
Classes in grades K-2 participated by stationing themselves at street corners and cheering with pink pompoms.
"It's not about being fastest," said Stewart Manor physical education teacher Pete Kaczenski. "It's about who comes closest to the time they predicted, so everyone can be successful."
Freeport High School unveiled a new library and college center last month after being named the Long Island winner of READesign, a program from the Heart of American Foundation run in partnership with Capital One Bank.
The program helps transform school libraries into areas that "engage children's imagination and encourage them to read," Capital One officials said.
The renovations included the addition of 15 computers and donation of 200 books, along with extra books for each of the school's roughly 2,000 students to take home. Twenty-five Capital One volunteers assisted with assembling furniture and stocking books.
PORT WASHINGTON: Environmentally aware
Eighth-graders at Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School learned about the importance of environmental awareness last month during a visit from North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judy Bosworth.
Bosworth told the students about the town's Office of Sustainability, which seeks to implement programs protecting the town's natural resources, and touched on topics including recycling, composting and water conservation.
"I believe programs such as this provide young people with a greater sense of responsibility with regard to taking care of our environment," she said.
The program was presented by the town in conjunction with Optimum Community, a Cablevision initiative formerly known as Power to Learn. Cablevision owns Newsday.
EAST ISLIP: Mock trial tips
Eight members of East Islip High School's mock trial team visited Harvard University last month for a seminar that gave students nationwide the opportunity to learn from some of the country's top mock trial competitors. Harvard's mock trial teams have yielded more All-Americans over the past five years than any other program in the United States, the university said.
The seminar consisted of lectures from Harvard's most experienced team members and one-on-one sessions in which they taught the finer points of argument and trial advocacy. The high school students also competed in several scrimmages judged by Harvard students.
"It was a great learning and bonding experience for the whole team," East Islip junior Britney Baker said.
ISLIP: Fling kings
An 11-student team from Islip High School took first place last month in the Long Island Pumpkin Flinging Championship held at the Suffolk County Farm & Education Center in Yaphank.
The annual event challenges teams to build a catapult that can throw a pumpkin. Each team gets three attempts to throw a pumpkin the farthest.
Islip's catapult, titled "Jack-O-Splatter," achieved a winning distance of 916.7 feet with a speed of 145 mph. The team, which has competed for the past 12 years, holds the competition's overall record with a distance of 1,049.9 feet.
MORICHES: Elementary STEM
Moriches Elementary School recently unveiled the district's first elementary STEM labs — one for kindergartners and one for first-graders — in an effort to introduce children to science, technology, engineering and math at an early age.
The labs will enable students, under the direction of STEM teachers, to engage in simple experiments that use the scientific method.
The school kicked off the labs' opening last month with a visit from Aleida Perez, a virologist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Perez spoke about the importance of science, what it takes to be a scientist, and the tools she uses at work.
"We really want students to gain an understanding of why science is so important in our everyday lives," said Amy Meyer, a STEM educator for the William Floyd school district.
ISLANDWIDE: Tri-state scholarships
Ronald McDonald House Charities of the New York Tri-State Area is accepting applications for more than $726,000 in scholarships that will be given to high school seniors from the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas.
The four-year scholarships will be based on academic achievement, financial need and community involvement.
Scholarships will be funded by McDonald's owners and operators in the tri-state area, as well as public contributions to the nonprofit's donation boxes.
Applications are available online at rmhcnytristate.org. The entry deadline is Jan. 20.