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1999 comes early for some

Jimmy Sicardi tried his best to stay up last New Year's Eve. But sometime around 11 p.m., Mr. Sandman started sprinkling that magic dust, and suddenly the third-grader was off in the Land of Nod.

Not to worry this year though _ when it came to ushering in 1999, Jimmy and the other kids enrolled in the PLACE program at Deer Park Elementary School had the bases covered.

They simply set the clock ahead and celebrated the birth of 1999 at noon.

The party came complete with noisemakers, party hats, a countdown, a garland-clad replica of the Empire State Building (made out of K'Nex building toys _ a cross between Tinker Toys and an Erector Set) and a descending plaster of Paris big apple.

After bidding 1998 adieu and saluting 1999 with a march outside, the kids feasted on what kids like best: hot dogs, chips, punch and chocolate chip cookies.

Deer Park was just one of the many PLACE day-care programs to greet the new year with a noon bash.

Shady Hills Elementary had a similar ball-dropping celebration.

At Pasco Elementary, the kids partied down around 2 with a gala ball. For some, the New Year's party has become a tradition to look forward to.

"We did this last year, too," said second-grader Antoinette Polizzi, adding that she was planning to stay up past her bedtime to watch the new year come in for real. "We always watch the ball go down (in Times Square)," Antoinette said. "I've seen it a few times."

Fourth-grader Josh Jones said that while the PLACE party was fun, he was looking forward to a family tradition: New Year's Day dinner.

"We have pork and black-eyed peas and that big bread kind of stuff," he said.

Tradition also was on the mind of fifth-grader James Howell, who spent two days this week working on the Empire State Building replica with classmates Bryan Ray, Bryce Sliz, Michael Jones, John Waters and Megan Mullen.

"I've set tons of goals," James said of the new year. "Like I don't want to get any checks on my conduct, no missing assignments, and I'm going to start thinking about trying out for the X-Games."

But for Zachary Michaels, having fun was the best new year's resolution any kindergartener could make.

"It's a party," he said, smiling brightly as he toyed with the party hat he'd fashioned out of construction paper and colored markers. "I love parties, and I love it when I get hot dogs."

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