For the second consecutive year, Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills is the state's best when it comes to constitutional knowledge.
The school's 21-student team beat nine other groups last month to take first place in "We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution," a statewide competition of mock congressional hearings held in Albany.
State champs compete against 50 other teams at the national finals in Arlington, Va., April 30 and May 1.
"We were all shocked," Half Hollow Hills East senior and team president Ben Speigel said of the achievement. "Whatever happens happens [at the national finals], but we're really proud to have made it this far."
The competition requires six four-member units from each school to make brief speeches on predetermined topics, such as the history and philosophy of the American political system and rights that are protected under the Bill of Rights.
Teams then answer questions from a panel of lawyers and government leaders serving as judges and are evaluated based on their ability to relate today's news to their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution.
To reach the state level Half Hollow Hills East finished second among seven teams in a regional competition this winter at Smithtown High School East.
"Our students did a very good job of researching and preparing their opening statements," said David Pitman, the school's advanced-placement government and politics teacher and "We the People" team adviser. "Today's kids are our leaders of tomorrow, and this helps to give them a real understanding of the Constitution and their rights as citizens."
The team is undecided about whether to attend the nationals, Pitman said, because travel costs could be as much as $1,100 per student. The team is inviting donations.
The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and run locally by the New York State Bar Association.
Need playground funds
Park Avenue Memorial Elementary School recently announced a campaign to raise funds for a new playground through a spring carnival and a "Pennies for a Playground" fundraiser in which each of the district's five schools will set up collection jars for donations.
The project's cost is estimated at $150,000, but if enough volunteers help with assembly "the cost would be considerably less," school officials said. Park Avenue has two basketball hoops and one baseball field, but no playground.
"We are trying to turn nothing into something," principal Scott Bullis said in a statement.
Drug abuse prevention
Centereach High School educated families on the dangers of drug abuse last month with a "Rise Above the Influence" presentation that included the distribution of free drug-testing kits for parents to bring home. Speakers included representatives of the Suffolk County Police Department and Courage to Speak, a nonprofit that advocates for drug prevention.
In other news, representatives of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach honored students from Newfield High School last month for their ongoing volunteer efforts at the farm during a ceremony at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket.
Pen pals with Ukrainians
Sayville Middle School sixth-graders are learning about life in Ukraine this school year through a pen pal program coordinated by Meghan Brown, a 2005 district graduate who is teaching English in Khmelnytska Oblast (province) as a Peace Corps volunteer.
The students already have exchanged several handwritten letters and various items ranging from photos to currency.
"Many of my students enjoy writing with their pen pals so much they are going to continue this long-distance friendship over the summer," said sixth-grade teacher Jen Chapman.
Odyssey of the Mind
Three Long Island teams have advanced to the 2011 World Finals of Odyssey of the Mind, an educational program in which students are asked to devise creative solutions to various problems. The advancing teams are from Stanley D. Saltzman East Memorial Elementary School in Farmingdale, Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson and Long Beach School District's Learning Activities for Raising Creativity (LARC) program.
To reach the world level teams competed at the 32nd annual state finals last month at Binghamton University. Challenges ranged from creating a mousetrap-powered vehicle to creating a weight-bearing structure that incorporates a hinge.
The 2011 World Finals will be held at the University of Maryland May 27-30.