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Freeport teacher gives fourth-graders inventive 'survival kits'

Fourth-grade teacher Geraldine LaPenne assists one of her

Fourth-grade teacher Geraldine LaPenne assists one of her students during the first day of school at Bayview Avenue School in Freeport on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The 26 students in Freeport fourth-grade teacher Geraldine LaPenne's class found "survival kits" on their desks when they entered her classroom Tuesday morning for the first day of school.

LaPenne, an educator for 15 years, welcomed them back and talked about the kits, which included tissues, Band-Aids, an eraser, a button and a balloon.

The Bayview Avenue School teacher asked each of her students to write about the items and why they might need them. Her aim: to prompt them to think about each item in a figurative, rather than literal, manner.

The eraser, LaPenne explained, was a reminder that it's OK to make mistakes.

"There are always ways to make our mistakes right again," she told the class, whether it's to erase an error on schoolwork or to apologize to a friend whose feelings they have hurt.

Many of the students had LaPenne as their third-grade teacher, and were familiar with her loving but no-nonsense style.

"Do I offer hugs if you need a hug?" she asked the students.

"Yes," they said in unison.

"And do you get in trouble if you do the wrong thing?" she asked.

"Yes," they responded.

The Freeport district invites parents to the first day of school. Jon Henry, 43, was glad to be there, popping in and out of both of his children's classes during the morning.

Inside LaPenne's classroom, he stood over his son Jared's shoulder, reminding him of the importance of both reading and multiplication tables.

Jared, 9, said he is prepared. Math is his favorite subject, and LaPenne helped him master division and multiplication last year.

"She's a great teacher," Jared said. "She's very helpful."

At Freeport High School, English teacher Matthew Fliegel asked his 10th-grade students to list their three greatest wishes as a precursor to reading W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw." In the classic short story, the owner of the monkey's paw is granted three wishes, but those wishes carry a huge price because of interference with fate.

Fliegel wanted his students to think about the negative consequences of even the best wishes or intentions.

While "The Monkey's Paw" is a standard, taught over the decades, not all will be static in his course, Fliegel said. The class was recently modified to include nonfiction texts in an effort to comply with the Common Core academic standards.

After poking holes in each of the student's wishes, the teacher talked about his expectations for the year.

Students will have homework three to four days a week, sometimes with vocabulary words, he said. They also can expect two to three quizzes a week, to make sure they are reading the material.

Fliegel noted that homework is 20 percent of each student's overall grade and that it must be legible.

He gave fair warning that he does not accept late homework. "Turn the work in when it's due," he said.

Lawrence Bamburger, a living environment teacher at the high school, told his students that late work and absences are only rarely accepted.

He spoke about his expectations for the coming school year and made the rules clear: no cellphones, headphones, sugary drinks or food in class.

"I have high hopes for you guys," he said.

Robert Capalbo, an Advanced Placement college-level physics teacher, launched right into an assignment Tuesday afternoon, writing rapidly on his chalkboard.

His students, heads bowed, kept up as he pressed ahead.

"Any questions?" he said. "This is tricky. You've got to know your steps. You have got to spend 15 minutes every night reading your notes."

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