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Technology

Retired teacher Virginia Armstrong, district head of IT Ken Jockers, head Buddhist Monk from Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center Bhante Nanda, and Superintendent Gordon Brosdal prepare to load computers to be donated into cars at Mount Sinai Elementary School July 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

An African proverb states that “It takes a village to raise a child.” Though when helping to get 140 computers in the hands of children overseas, more than just a village is necessary.

Virginia Armstrong, a retired Mount Sinai educator, joined up with Bhante Nanda, a Buddhist monk from the Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center in Riverhead, and the Mount Sinai School District to help ship 140 retired netbooks, or small laptop computers to children in both Sri Lanka and to the Maasai tribe in Kenya. Thirty will go to Sri Lanka and the rest to Africa. District Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, Armstrong, Nanda and others were at Mount Sinai Elementary School July 18 to help load the computers into cars headed back to the Riverhead facility where they will be shipped out.

“When the world is in many pieces – when people are just pushing each other away, it’s the little guy, the people on the ground that will keep the world going,” Armstrong said.

Both Armstrong and her partner Ron Hamilton have been working together for the past five years to raise donations for children of the Maasai tribe in Africa. Though the school district donated the computers to them last year, the project hit a snag this year when the district learned the shipping cost climbed upwards of $80 per box. The two requested the help of Nanda, who is a native of Sri Lanka, and he agreed to help ship the large bulk of computers as long as he could send some back to his homeland as well. Shipping donated items is something he and his community have been doing for more than two decades.

“We get satisfaction and happiness from helping others,” Nanda said.

Computers set to be shipped and donated to Kenya and Sri Lanka from Mount Sinai Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Barr

Armstrong retired from Mount Sinai after 28 years of teaching. After leaving the district she first decided to climb the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Afterwards she went to the rural parts of the country to teach. That’s where she met Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko, the leader of more than 5,000 Maasai tribal members who reside in Kenya and Tanzania. His group, the Maasai Good Salvage Outreach Organization, receives outside donations of many necessities and supplies from outside Africa. Armstrong and Hamilton have dedicated the past several years to sending clothing and other supplies for the children there, and the Mount Sinai School District has been a big supporter of their efforts.

“It’s faith over politics,” Brosdal said. “[Chief Joseph] and their culture is so strong, and then we have [Nanda] who’s helping too. It’s become so multicultural.”

The netbooks are all approximately five years old and were deemed obsolete by the district. Ken Jockers, the director of information technology at the school district, said each netbook has been reimaged, meaning all computer files have been wiped and all programs re-installed. All the netbooks currently run Windows XP operating system and contain Microsoft Office programs. Being reimaged means they should require little fixing and maintenance.

“That’s important, because maintenance is so hard in some of these places,” Armstrong said.

Nanda arrived in the United States from Sri Lanka in 2001, and he said he has come to love the cultural diversity of this country. While his group of Buddhists have existed in Port Jefferson for several years, in 2017 they opened their Riverhead meditation center, where Nanda said many people, not just Buddhists, come to meditate and find peace.

With a smile that can illuminate a dark room, Nanda said that doing things like donating the computers, helping children both overseas and in the U.S. is an integral part of his and his community’s beliefs.

“Everybody needs peace and happiness,” Nanda said. “Buddhist, Christian, whatever we are, if we don’t help human beings, and if we don’t help other people we lose a part of ourselves.”

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There’s a lot of talk about public-private partnerships at all levels of government. If our state officials can strike a deal to benefit New York’s inmates, we think it’s time to negotiate for the benefit of our collective future — Suffolk County students.

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced a deal with a private company, JPay, to provide free tablets to approximately 51,000 state prisoners. JPay is a Miami-based company that provides technology and services to help the incarcerated stay connected with people outside prison. The state prisoners will be able to read e-books, listen to music and even have family send money back to them.

“The decision by New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to allow inmates to be provided free tablets is a slap in the face and an insult to every hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying family across New York State that struggles to provide these same tablets and other school supplies for their children,” said state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).

We have to agree. To be clear, helping incarcerated citizens develop tools for success upon their release is a worthwhile endeavor for both the individuals and the society they hope to assimilate back into at the conclusion of their sentence. However, if such a deal can be struck for those in jail, we’d like to see the New York State Department of Education at least attempt to negotiate a private-public partnership with technology manufacturers or educational software providers to see if a similar arrangement can be made.

It’s no secret that many Suffolk County teachers wind up purchasing basic supplies — crayons, construction paper, glue, markers, calculators and other supplies — for their classrooms out of their own pockets. If a penny of funding for basic staples is coming from teachers’ pockets, more expensive, big-ticket items must also be a problem, despite the passage of the Smart Schools Bond Act in 2014, which was enacted for the purpose of updating technology in schools.

Kings Park High School announced it received approval for its state technology initiative in November 2017, one of the first districts on Long Island to do so. It is the first time the district can afford major technological upgrades in 10 years. Let that sink in — the computers, networks and internet capabilities our students rely on are more than a decade old.

Suffolk County’s public schools educate more than 235,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the New York State Department of Education’s figures for the 2016-17 school year. While this is five times more than our state prisoners, it should not be perceived as impossible.

We’d like to see the state education department and our school districts get creative in finding solutions to budgetary problems. School budget season is getting underway and finding and negotiating public-private partnerships with some of the large businesses in their backyard could be the solution taxpayers are looking for.

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Here is an interesting bit of research about our friendly computers, one which some of us had already intuited. I will quote from an article in the Nov. 26 edition of The New York Times Sunday Business section: “[A] growing body of evidence shows that overall, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.”

Wow! That means a victory for pen and paper. That means classrooms filled with students busily typing notes as the lecturer speaks are doing themselves a disservice. Ditto for those paying big bucks to attend seminars, workshops and the like, who are shortchanging themselves.

“In a series of experiments at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture,” The Times reported. “Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.” Also those students who routinely used laptops in class did significantly less well at the end of the semester.

Because the notes taken on laptops more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries, the theory goes that the lecturer’s words go straight to the students fingers, which are typing faster than they can write, without going through their brains first for processing. To take notes by hand, the listener has to abridge the lecturer’s words in order to keep up and so must consider the essence of what is being said. Enter the brain.

Honestly, I am not a Luddite, looking to smash modern inventions and disavow progress. On the contrary, I marvel many times at what the computer and the internet can do. For example, it is so much easier for me to write my column, rearranging words and whole paragraphs with just the click of the mouse and a couple of keys. Before computers, I practically drank whiteout. And as I am writing, if there is something to check or research, I can engage the internet, get the facts and continue the column with only that brief interruption. So much for the encyclopedias of my youth.

But I still believe there will always be a place for pen and paper. There are instances where jotting something down quickly is easier and time saving compared to pulling out the computer, turning it on, finding the right file and typing in the info.

And then there is my real problem with computers and the internet: addiction. Most people, especially parents with teens, would agree that electronic devices are addicting. It is difficult to get kids to put down their cellphones in favor of conversation. Researchers in Utah are even studying a spike in teen suicides there in the last five years to see if there is a connection. Some 14 percent of the teens had recently lost privileges to use their electronics. Further there has been an increase in teen suicides from 2010 to 2015 across the nation, at the same time as social media use has surged. Teen suicides had declined in the two previous decades, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much more research is required before deciding cause and affect here, but anonymous bullying, made possible by Facebook or Twitter and other social networking services, in addition to relationship problems thought to result from diminishing face-to-face interaction, need to be evaluated.

It is not just kids who are so attached to their electronics. I chuckle when I see couples or whole families in restaurants, awaiting their food orders, completely absorbed in their cellphones. Then I feel sad for them. Conversation with people I enjoy is such a major part of life’s pleasures for me, and these phone addicts are missing that opportunity. I can only hope they are texting each other.

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File photo

Parents of Port Jefferson School District students rejoice.

With the implementation of a new smartphone application for parents in the district called Here Comes the Bus, those waiting to meet their kids when they’re dropped off by the school bus in the afternoon, or waiting to be picked up by the bus in the morning, can now do so within the comfort of their own homes, instead of on a cold street corner.

An image from the Apple version of the app.

The service was kicked off Nov. 1 for high school and middle school bus routes, with availability for parents of elementary students to come at a later date, according to the district. Users of the app can see the location of their child’s bus both before and after school, confirm that their child’s bus has arrived at the bus stop, at school or both, and also can sign up to receive a push notification or email message when the bus is near their stop, has been substituted, or when the district has important information to relay.

“You will have the information you need to send your children to the bus stop at just the right time, helping to protect them from inclement weather and other roadside dangers,” the district said in an email that went out to parents last week. “What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your children haven’t missed the bus.”

The GPS-tracking technology is currently only available for regular inbound and outbound buses at the beginning and end of the school day at the present time. The Here Comes the Bus app can be downloaded and used for free through Apple’s app store or on Google Play. Before use, the app requires that parents verify they are a parent of a student in the Port Jeff district by entering their student’s school identification number, and a five-digit code provided by the district to ensure buses can’t be tracked by anyone other than parents or the district.

“My kids ride a bus that is sometimes late as it drops the middle school and high school after school activities participants off first,” said Brenda Eimers Batter, a parent in the district, in a Facebook message. “It would be nice to be able to track when they are coming around the bend so I don’t have to stand outside in the rain or cold.”

“My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

— Laura Dunbar Zimmerman

Another parent who used the service Nov. 6 gave it rave reviews.

“Love it!!” Laura Dunbar Zimmerman said. “My kids walk to the corner for the bus. On rainy/frigid days three to five minutes waiting makes a big difference. Today the bus was later than usual but we could see where it was and knew to walk out later.”

Kathleen Brennan, president of the Port Jeff board of education, said during a phone interview the board was first made aware of the technology through the bus company.

“We thought it would be a benefit for parents and caregivers of students to be able to know when the bus is getting to the neighborhood, and if the bus is delayed they’d be aware of it also,” she said. “I think it’s a great safety feature and a great time saver.”

The application is available in English, Spanish and French. Those with questions about Here Comes the Bus for Port Jeff district can call 631-791-4261 or visit www.help.herecomesthebus.com/en/support/home.

Your phone is across the room. You want it to come to you and you put out your hand. Nothing happens. You scrunch your face and flex the muscles in your outstretched fingers, but, still, nothing happens.

Someday the iPhone C (for 100) or iPhone M (1,000) may fly through the air when you reach for it (avoiding people’s heads along the way). And, someday, we may figure out how to use the energy field described in such detail in the Star Wars franchise.

Yes, just as the new iPhone X (a mere 10) arrives at Apple stores, Star Wars is revving its intergalactic engines, bringing an aging Luke Skywalker and his rebel friends back, yet again, to battle with evil.

At the heart of the franchise is the Force, which would be a convenient skill to have when we can’t find the remote control or our phones.

So, what is this Force and do we only acknowledge it in the movies?

Thousands of years ago, long before Darth Vader, when primitive people struggled through a drought and needed rain, they prayed, they did rain dances or they carved images of rain in the walls so that future archeologists and artists could analyze and appreciate them years later.

I’m not minimizing or trivializing religion or a belief in any deity. I am suggesting, however, that the Force and the battle between good and evil and the free-flowing energy that is a part of this mythology come into play in our daily lives.

As we prepare to walk out the door, our shoelace snaps. We don’t have time to take the lace out of the shoe and put another one in. We’re also not completely sure if we have other laces handy.

We demand to know “Why now?” from the lace. We might even get annoyed and say, “No, no, no, come on! I can’t be late.”

To whom are we talking? Are we personifying the shoelaces so we can complain? By expressing our frustration to the shoelace, perhaps we are externalizing our anger.

But, maybe the dark side is challenging us in a moment of weakness, encouraging us to get angry, to take off our shoes, open the door and throw them deep into woods?

We get into our car and turn the key. It doesn’t start. We hold our breath. “Please, please, please, you can do it,” we beg and try again.

From whom are we asking for help? Are we seeking assistance from a deity who might be nearby or everywhere? Are we speaking to the inanimate engine, hoping that Bessie, like Herbie the Love Bug, will come to life, rev her engine and shift back and forth from one tire to the other in a happy car dance? Maybe we promise Bessie a refreshing oil change if we can just get to work today.

Or are we talking to a Force that makes things go our way, the way we hope a Force encourages our loved ones to answer the phone while we’re waiting for them or our favorite team to succeed in the moment?

We may hope many of the objects we talk to, apart from our electronic friends Siri and Alexa, will respond to our needs, the way earlier people hoped that their efforts affected the weather.

Movies may come and go from the big screen, but we live through our own nonintergalactic battles, escaping from the shadows of our fathers, perhaps, or finding our own destinies. As we do, we may turn to some version of the Force, or something like it, for help in a pinch.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is located at 5 Randall Road in Shoreham. File photo by Wenhao Ma

Shoreham’s Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is hosting the Electric Dream Expo Saturday, July 8 — a community event honoring science innovator Nikola Tesla’s 161st birthday, as well as the 100th anniversary of the dismantling of Tesla’s famous wireless transmitting tower. The Electric Dream Expo is comprised of an afternoon Science & Innovation Expo from 2 to 6 p.m. on the site of Tesla’s last existing laboratory in Shoreham, with exhibits, demonstrations, food and entertainment.

There will also be an evening of Tesla entertainment, called Summer Electrified!, from 8 to 10 p.m. at Shoreham-Wading River High School, 250A Route 25A, Shoreham, featuring Tesla-inspired performances.

Technological innovation of the past, present and future is the expo’s theme, and attendees at the daytime Science & Innovation Expo will experience Tesla-themed exhibits and activities for all ages, including a HAM radio presentation, displays by The Museum of Interesting Things and Long Island Radio & TV Historical Society, Tesla coil exhibit, 3-D printer and robotics demos, interactive exhibits of Tesla inventions and a Tesla car display.

Tours and a special presentation of innovation will feature the history of Tesla’s 187-foot wireless transmitter tower, built on the Shoreham site in 1907 and dismantled 100 years ago. The tower’s base remains as a focal point, along with Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Laboratory, built from 1901 to 1905 by renowned architect Stanford White, and now being renovated into an immersive science and education center.

The Summer Electrified! an evening of Tesla entertainment, features ArcAttack!, a musical light show using Tesla coil technology, as well as a unique lineup of performances and readings focused on Tesla’s life and legacies.

Admission to the Science & Innovation Expo is $15 for ages 13 and over, $5 for ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5. Tickets for the Summer Electrified! performances are $25 per person 13 and over, $12 for ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5. Admission to both events is $35 for 13 and over, $15 for ages 5 to 12 and free for children under 5. A special price of $25 per car covers admission to the daytime Science Innovation Expo for all passengers, and is limited to the first 50 car tickets purchased. Tickets can be purchased at www.teslasciencecenter.org.

On a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon, members of the community young and old had the chance to get outside and exercise their imagination at the third Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire. The popular event, hosted by the Port Jefferson Maritime Explorium June 10, saw demonstrations using robots, interactive activities, exhibits and performances from various “makers” at the Village Center and outside at Harborfront Park.

The Port Jeff maker faire is a scaled down version of the larger Maker Faire brand, which hosts worldwide events similar to the one in Port Jeff. According to the Maritime Explorium’s website, more than 100 makers and 2,000 participants attended the 2016 Mini Maker Faire, and even more were projected to show up this year, although final totals were not readily available.

Some of the makers on display included Funtown Studios, which brought an interactive fireball sculpture; robotics teams from the Sachem and Smithtown school districts; electricity and magnetism demonstrations by representatives from the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham; an underwater robotic demonstration by SeaPerch; representatives from Stony Brook iCREATE, an innovation facility designed to encourage “innovation and entrepreneurial nature” of the Stony Brook University campus community; and many more.

Before the 2016 faire, Stephanie Buffa, a volunteer board member at the Explorium, explained the importance of the message of the event and the museum as a whole.

“Everything is at our fingertips,” she said in a phone interview. “If you’re sitting at the dinner table and somebody asks a question, you ‘Google’ it. It’s so easy to get answers that way…it’s so easy to get caught up in all of these pre-packaged things that we forget to sort of, do it yourself. You can be creative in so many ways. You don’t have to be a good artist and be able to draw beautiful pictures to be creative and to make things.”

Lauren Hubbard, founding president and former executive director of The Maritime Explorium, who is listed as a producer of the faire, said the day was a success, though attendance numbers are not available as of yet. She said in a phone interview the goal of the event is to show local people of all ages they have the creativity to be makers.

“It’s really about highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for young people to see how that process happens, how to create something completely new.”

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields Central School District is looking to improve how teachers teach and students learn, with Tech 2.0, an education initiative meant to equip the district with technology-driven learning aids.

As soon as Superintendent Francesco Ianni took over at Harborfields, he said, he started to work with the administration to roll out this plan, which involves students and teachers using Chromebooks, lightweight laptops, with lesson plans.

“The nice thing about this plan is it’s a wonderful opportunity for the entire district,” Ianni said in a phone interview. “We’re not only providing Chromebooks, but a plan for teachers’ curriculum to revamp how we teach and learn here. We want to make sure these are meaningful changes, not just another machine we’re bringing in.”

Currently the district has a certain amount of Chromebooks teachers can sign out in advance for a class lesson. But Tech 2.0 would create a plan where every lesson has possibilities with Chromebooks to enhance the class. Ianni said the initiative is expected to begin in the 2018-19 school year, when every student and teacher in the high school will have a Chromebook, and right now the district is using a pilot program for selected teachers to get a jump-start on learning how to use the technology effectively with their students.

“We don’t know what the future will look like but we want to give the students every opportunity to learn and be prepared,” Ianni said.

Administrators have sat in on several classes involved in the pilot program, and said they have already noticed exciting new ways students are getting involved in lessons.

Jordan Cox, executive director of instructional services, said students have been able to go on virtual field trips, take polls on events and take quizzes attached to the end of a presentation.

“The students have the ability to look at 3-D objects and interact with classmates on Google Docs, which is especially helpful if a student is out sick and needs to work on a group assignment,” Cox said in a phone interview. “This changes the learning landscape.”

He sat in on a class of students learning about World War II and the Holocaust, and the kids were able to take a virtual reality tour of a concentration camp.

Ianni said he observed a lesson recently, in a class learning about applying to college and applying for financial aid. He said the students were able to use Google Earth to go on virtual tours of the campuses of schools they were interested in. He also said this plan will help teachers see what students are understanding in real time. In a math class he sat in on, the students were taking a quiz and the teacher was able to look at the grades right away, instead of taking them home to grade that night. She saw a majority of the class was struggling with a certain question, and she was able to go over it again with the class right then.

Rory Manning, assistant superintendent for administration and human resources, said another benefit of using the Chromebooks comes with the price tag.

“We used to have desktops in certain classrooms, but with these Chromebooks it’s cheaper,” he said in a phone interview. The district is now able to offer more resources than before, he said.

Administration is not the only supporter of Tech 2.0

The Harborfields Alumni and Community Educational Fund, a not-for-profit established to support educational programs in the district, made a $50,000 donation to the initiative, which is going to help purchase more Chromebooks for the classrooms.

In April HACEF hosted a Mardi Gras gala with members of the Greenlawn community, which raised $34,000 in a single night. HACEF then decided to donate $16,000 of its own funds to help bring the total to $50,000.

“It’s amazing the support from the community,” Karin Fey, vice president of HACEF, said in a phone interview. “This is the wave of the future, and we wanted to give something significant to show how important we think this is.”

R. C. Murphy Jr. High School. File photo

The Three Village Central School District implemented a new type of technology to help alert the community when a lockdown is underway at one of the schools.

In partnership with IntraLogic Solutions, blue strobe lights have been installed on the exterior of every school building. Should a lockdown be initiated in that school, these lights will flash on all sides of the building, serving as a signal that the facility is in lockdown and entry is prohibited. For security reasons, the district defines a lockdown as a time when a threat to the safety and security of students and staff exists within the school building. This differs from a lockout, when the threat exists externally, but in the vicinity of the school building, for example if a criminal on the run from law enforcement in the area.

The district advises the community and visitors to the schools that if they see the strobes activated, they should return to their vehicle at once and leave the scene, as a critical incident may be unfolding.

Although the majority of the details of the system are kept confidential, the district assures residents that once the system and its technology are activated, members of law enforcement will be notified immediately to respond. Additionally, as per the district’s emergency management plan, parents will be notified immediately upon activation of an actual lockdown and provided with instructions.

Residents with questions can contact the district’s security coordinator at 631-730-5089.

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The improved Port Jefferson Village website includes new features like paying parking tickets online. Image from village website

Port Jefferson Village is now accessible to residents and visitors in ways it never was before.

The village launched its upgraded website in June after countless hours of research, planning and development, and at this point the hard work seems to have paid off and then some.

“We just really wanted a much more vibrant [site], something that gives off the vibe of the village and we also felt that there was not a place where residents could get information that they really needed,” Mayor Margot Garant said in an interview last week.

A view of the website from a mobile device. Image from village website
A view of the website from a mobile device. Image from village website

Village officials interviewed half a dozen companies, Garant approximated, before settling on a collaboration between two that just happened to operate out of the same building on Main Street. The project cost the village about $40,000 all told, Garant said.

Kendra Beavis of Moka Graphics and Drew Linsalata of The Gotham Bus Company put their heads together to handle the data and design of the site. Garant said during the process she realized how much of an advantage it would be to have people who work right in the village working on a site that would serve as a gateway to Port Jefferson.

“We wanted a nice hometown look — they get us,” Garant said.

The new site has features tailored to residents. Information about recycling bins, leaf pickup, birth and death certificates, along with the ability to sign up for recreational events or pay for parking or even parking tickets were some of the highlights Garant mentioned which should serve to improve the residents overall web experience.

Though the list is much longer.

Garant said the village essentially crowdsourced ideas by asking various departments what they most frequently receive phone calls about on a daily basis. Now, most answers are a click away.

Another component had village employees like Jill Russell, who handles media relations for Port Jefferson, enthusiastic about the upgraded site’s features for visitors.

“I think one of the things that I really pushed with the site, the missing link was the visitors’ side,” Russell said in a phone interview Wednesday. Visitors can now get a feel for restaurants in the area, activities and other events before they even arrive in the village.

“I, for one, am very excited,” Russell said.

Garant and Russell both expressed excitement about another possibility that is still in the works for the site — information for prospective business owners about requirements and permits for opening a business, and eventually even listings of available spaces.

The site is not complete as more information and features are still being added.

Check out the new village website at portjeff.com on desktops or mobile devices.

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