Smithtown teens are among the region's best when it comes to constitutional knowledge.

A team from Smithtown High School West beat out a handful of other Long Island teams last month to win first place at the regional level in "We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution," an annual competition of mock congressional hearings.

The regional runner-up team came from Half Hollow Hills Central School District, which went on to finish second at the state level. Forest Hills High School claimed the state title.

"I'm incredibly proud of the kids," said Smithtown West coach Joseph Gatto, a history teacher at the school. "They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but they came together to work toward a positive goal. They were unbelievably good at not only analyzing questions deeply, but quoting opinions of Supreme Court justices and sections of the Magna Carta."

The competition, in which students demonstrate knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and issues affecting the nation's government, challenged six four-member units from each school to make brief speeches on predetermined topics.

One topic was the advantages and disadvantages of judicial review. Teams next answered questions from lawyers and local government leaders acting as judges and were evaluated based on their ability to relate today's news to their knowledge of the Constitution.

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and run locally by the New York State Bar Association.

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Sandy relief

Babylon Elementary School students have raised more than $2,500 for local families affected by superstorm Sandy by donating leftover portions of their lunch money this winter.

Another $1,000 was donated by an anonymous Babylon family. A Massachusetts school also donated money, books and clothing for children in need, according to principal Dana Basile.

"In the months ahead, using the monies we collected, we will be dispersing gift cards to families affected by the hurricane," she said in a statement.

The school's faculty members also recently joined forces to donate $800 from their own pockets for a relief fund to aid families affected by the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn.



Mayoral visit

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Earl L. Vandermeulen High School students recently learned about the challenges of a career in law and local government during a guest lecture from Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant, who attended the school as a teen.

During the visit, Garant explained the various types of law that relate to her position and shared the village's plan to help revitalize the town by constructing affordable housing.

"I love to talk with students here, because I once sat in those seats," Garant said. "One of our goals is to retain the youth in the community and help them make living in Port Jefferson a possibility."



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On-the-job training

Facilities maintenance students at Eastern Suffolk BOCES' Islip Career Center are gaining on-the-job work experience this school year by volunteering at Papa John's Pizza in Medford and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Patchogue.

Participating pupils are learning entry-level maintenance skills and performing janitorial duties at the locations for about one hour a week.

"It's a valuable experience for the students to learn how to clean per industry standards," said Art Pagano, Eastern Suffolk BOCES facilities maintenance teacher. "We appreciate being permitted the opportunity to come every week to clean the whole store."

Papa John's franchisee Amarpaz Singh said he rewards the teens with free pizza. The program also teaches basic carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills.



Commissioner's Schools

The Carle Place and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school districts are among a group of five districts statewide to recently be designated a "Commissioner's School" by the New York State Education Department.

The districts will receive grants that will enable them to act as models and disseminate their instructional practices to low-performing districts to help raise those schools' academic achievement and close gaps among subgroups of students.

Carle Place was selected for having one of the state's highest-performing middle/senior high schools, and for using multilevel data inquiry teams to monitor student progress, the state said.

New Hyde Park has three of the state's highest-performing elementary schools and creatively uses technology in classrooms.

"We are incredibly proud to be recognized for our efforts and also honored to share our best practices with other districts in need," said Carle Place Superintendent Dave Flatley.