In Commack, a donation of school supplies several years ago to a New Orleans school ravaged by Hurricane Katrina has transformed into a full-fledged art-exchange program.

More than 100 students at Commack Middle School recently collaborated to create a six-foot-tall wood sculpture of a flower decorated with student photos, mirrors and images of local landmarks and culture - ranging from a drawing of the Empire State Building to a Long Island Ducks logo.

The piece is currently on display at the Louisiana Children's Museum alongside a sculpture of a southern bottle tree created by kids at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. Both sculptures will be shipped to Commack this spring and displayed in the middle school.

"Through this project, we wanted to convey the fact that we are all similar and there are people in other places thinking of you and reaching out to you," said Commack art teacher Grace Barrett, who spearheaded the art exchange with help from teachers Michelle Hidalgo and Liz Onesto.

Barrett said the relationship between the two schools began when she visited Louisiana for an art conference several years ago and ended up volunteering in one of the museum's art outreach programs. In addition to the art exchange, Commack students have raised some $1,600 for the New Orleans school via T-shirt sales, and donated more than 600 marble notebooks.

Commack kids also created homemade postcards this past fall that were sent to the New Orleans school. Students there are expected to mail back their own postcards this spring.

"It's important to show that we care," said Commack eighth-grader Theresa Rojas. "They've hung on through so much."


Gang prevention

Park Avenue Memorial Elementary School students recently received advice about the importance of staying out of gangs during a visit from representatives of STRONG (Struggling to Reunite Our New Generation) as part of the school's ongoing "Character Counts" initiative.

During the visit STRONG founder and executive director Sergio Argueta recounted his experiences as a reformed gang member and how those closest to him were struck down by gang violence. He also urged kids to refrain from bullying and denounce it among their peers.

In other news, 31 Amityville high-schoolers recently participated in a tour of historical black colleges - ranging from Virginia State University to Coppin State University in Maryland - hosted by COMPASS Coalition, a local group aimed at reducing drug use.


Multicultural festival

Oldfield Middle School recently hosted a multicultural festival in which kids decorated the school cafeteria with various national flags and families donated a smorgasbord of homemade food that represented their heritages - ranging from Polish pierogies to Italian baked ziti to Chinese lo mein.

Activities included a student performance of the alphabet in Spanish and a Hawaiian hula dance. The festival goal was to promote diversity and cultural tolerance, school officials said.


Mock weddings

Huntington High School's street law classes recently put their matrimonial law knowledge to use when students participated in three mock weddings designed to illustrate the legal aspects of the ceremony. Teacher Suzie Biagi presided as the teens read their vows.

"Chances are that most of these students will marry and have a family in the future, and now they will have a better understanding of the seriousness of the legal contracts they enter into," Biagi said.


Inspirational visitSpecial education students at Eastern Suffolk BOCES's Jefferson Academic Center in Port Jefferson received an inspirational visit last month from Rohan Murphy, an East Islip native and Paralympian who also competed as a Division 1 wrestler at Penn State University.

Murphy, whose legs were amputated at the age of 4 due to a birth deformity, spoke to students about his athletic achievements - including winning a bronze medal at the International Paralympic Council's 2006 World Powerlifting Championships in Korea. He also said he "accepts his disability as a gift" and urged kids to set goals, BOCES officials said.


Women in Science

Fifty female students from high schools throughout Long Island recently learned firsthand about careers in science at a Career Day that featured four female scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The event was coordinated by the nonprofit Brookhaven Women in Science and consisted of the four scientists' giving presentations on their research - on such topics as Alzheimer's disease, and proteins that cause a common cold - peppered with career advice.

Students also toured the lab's National Synchrotron Light Source, which uses powerful X-rays to study magnetism, and the control room of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, an accelerator that allows physicists to study what the universe may have looked like at the start of its creation.

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