NJ students: Evergreen Elementary School partners to provide fresh produce, food
Evergreen Elementary School in Plainfield has partnered with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to provide 200 families at the school with supplemental boxes of fresh produce and non-perishable food, twice per month.
"We understand that all children need healthy food to grow and succeed," said Gina Ogburn-Thompson, vice principal. "We are grateful for the opportunity to support our Evergreen families." This year more families signed up to receive the food and the amount of families has doubled from the 75 that signed up last year. The boxes of food have fresh produce such as potatoes, onions, apples, and oranges. The non-perishable food includes oatmeal, cereal, soups, tuna fish and macaroni.
Bound Brook School District
Stacey Giordano, a Special Education Kindergarten teacher at LaMonte Annex Elementary School in Bound Brook, was chosen as a 2022 New Jersey Exemplary Educator. The program recognizes educators statewide who exhibit strong knowledge and skills, an inspiring presence, and a positive impact on students, colleagues and the school community.
Hipolita Hernandez-Sicignano, principal of LaMonte Annex Elementary School, nominated Giordano for the program.
“Mrs. Giordano is truly an asset to the LaMonte team,” Hernandez-Sicignano said. “Her innate willingness to go above and beyond for her students and lend a helping hand is so appreciated by everyone in the school. This recognition is well deserved.”
Giordano was overcome with emotions when she learned she received the award. She recalled “being very overwhelmed by the recognition from my peers. It’s great to feel their support.” When asked what Giordano enjoys most about teaching in Bound Brook School District, she emphasized the teamwork amongst the faculty, as well as support from school administrators.
Giordano is currently in her ninth year of teaching in the Bound Brook School District. She co-teaches a Kindergarten Inclusion Class; a classroom instructed by both a general education and special education teacher, which allows for differentiated instruction for students based on their individual needs.
Surprisingly, teaching is Giordano's second career. After stepping away from a career in accounting to raise her children, she decided to return to school to pursue a career in Special Education at the suggestion of her professors. In 2019, she received a scholarship from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she received a Graduate Certification in the Orton Gillingham Approach, a phonics and multi-sensory based method to learning.
Giordano uses her experience and schooling to create a learning environment for her students to thrive.
"Mrs. Giordano is one of only 181 educators statewide that earned this award," said Dr. Alvin L. Freeman, the superintendent of Bound Brook School District. "We are blessed to have her wonderful energy and outstanding teaching capabilities in our school community.”
"I love seeing each of my students flourish in their own unique ways,” Giordano said. “Watching their eyes light up from recognizing their own progress is what makes all the hard work of teaching such a rewarding career.”
Mother Seton Regional High School
Each year, the students of Mother Seton Regional High School in Clark collect at least 40 baskets of food and each is accompanied by a turkey. These baskets are donated to St. Joseph's Social Service Center in Elizabeth.
These baskets are in addition to the weekly donations of sandwiches and food to St. Joseph's. Each Monday, year-round, the school donates hundreds of sandwiches and bags of food delivered by volunteers to St. Joseph's.
Mount Saint Mary Academy
More than 80 different colleges and universities were hosted at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung this fall. College admission professionals met in person with College Counseling staff and interested senior and junior students in the parlor of the Mount building, while some visits were hosted virtually.
“Many admission professionals were gracious and enjoyed the hospitable setting of the parlor. They appreciated the opportunity to engage with students, informing them about their respective college/university. Our students were welcoming and represented themselves and the Mount very well, eagerly exploring the opportunities they have,” said Director of College Counseling, Elizabeth Roper.
Stefani Drivas, a senior from Scotch Plains, said, “It was terrific to meet in person on campus with many of the admission professionals. They provided insight and answered any questions I had specific to their application process and programs, and I felt personally supported. It was really comfortable and convenient to meet with them right in our beautiful parlor, too.”
“I took Ms. Roper’s advice and attended several different college visits, some with 'known' schools and others that I was happy to newly discover. The meetings were insightful and just what I needed to get me started on my college journey!” said Isabelle (Izzy) Fretz, a junior from Chatham.
Also: Kathleen Brennan, mathematics department chairperson at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, was invited to serve as a panelist during the European Union Educators’ Summit on Sunday, Nov. 13, and Monday, Nov. 14, at the European Delegation to the United States in Washington, D.C.
“I was asked to attend as a panelist of the “Alumni Fireside Chat” led by Amy Medearis (Senior Advisor to the U.S. Executive Director, International Monetary Fund) because I have been the coach of Euro Challenge teams at the Mount since the program began in 2005,” she said, “and they wanted me to share why it is a valuable activity for students.”
Mount Saint Mary Academy’s 2022 Euro Challenge team edged out four other finalists in the competition on Thursday, May 19, with their topic of "Gender Inequality in Germany." Teams from Princeton, NJ, Charlotte, N.C.; Washington D.C. and New York, N.Y. rounded out the finalists.
“Euro Challenge is a national competition for ninth and tenth grade students with participants from across the country. The goal of the summit was to expand the program, and to network and share ideas with educators and representatives from the European Commission. I learned a lot about the history of the European Union and the importance of educating our students about the strong relationship between the United States and the European Union,” said Brennan.
“Euro Challenge helps students learn about current economic issues by challenging them to do a deep dive into how to address an economic issue in a country that uses the Euro. Students hone their research and data analysis skills, learn how to work as a team, and defend their research with a 15-minute oral presentation. The Q&A period is particularly impressive. It’s so amazing to see young students think on their feet to formulate and articulate well-thought-out answers,” she said. “The value of the program is long lasting. Regardless of the career path my team members ultimately choose, they always say that the Euro Challenge was an amazing and valuable part of their high school experience," said Brennan.
“Our students develop confidence and are empowered as Euro Challenge team members,” said Brennan. “You see them develop their sense of self, particularly in their ability to present an argument and defend their research. The goal is to develop students into critical thinkers and to me that is one of the biggest advantages of participating in the program. As much as it’s nice to be a winning team, the real value is that students learn that they can tackle real-world economic problems and pose solutions that are feasible and realistic. It truly is a win-win for all who are involved!”
Also: Westfield resident Zoe Schack has received a $725 grant from Civics Unplugged so that she can further her plan to develop a non-profit aimed at providing teens with mental health resources.
The junior at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, said, "Last winter, through my involvement in Junior State of America (JSA), I was introduced to a youth civics organization called Civics Unplugged. In January, I applied for and was accepted to the group's Civic Innovators Fellowship. For three months, I took part in sessions on how to apply the principle of civic innovation across different disciplines. Civics Unplugged also offers grants for students who complete the fellowship to pursue their own community initiatives."
She said, "This past summer, I submitted a proposal to the organization for my planned initiative: "Project Well-Z," a nonprofit that makes mental health resources more accessible to teens, especially underprivileged youth. I brainstormed with others, including Taryn Murphy, a senior of Westfield and a Civics Unplugged fellow, and Zoe Daly, a junior of Piscataway, who have collaborated with me on the project and helped craft the proposal."
When she was asked about the importance of her initiative, Schack said, “Throughout the course of the fellowship, one central theme was the idea of accessibility: making crucial resources available to all regardless of location, socioeconomic status, or age. I found that a lot of mental health advocacy, especially for teens, focuses on promoting self-care and positive thinking, but I wanted to take things a step further by connecting young people to substantial resources like helplines, local mental health centers, and meaningful dialogue among peers.”
“I was also inspired by my school’s emphasis on mental wellness and stress management,” she said. “As part of the Peer Facilitators, a group of mentors that monitor student mental health and support the student body, I’ve seen firsthand the difference that this support can make in a young person’s life.”
"This $725 grant will cover the costs of nonprofit registration, fund the creation of our website, (which will feature an interactive map of youth mental health centers) and pay for our social media advertising," she said.
Joanne Cadigan-Peters, social studies department chairperson and the JSA advisor at Mount Saint Mary Academy, said, “Civics Unplugged gives students like Zoe the opportunity to take initiative and be a catalyst for change. This is a meaningful non-profit that can direct young people to resources that will make a difference in their lives. Zoe’s creativity and determination will help to ensure the success of the non-profit. Being unafraid to discuss and address issues of mental health is critical for the future well-being of our younger generation.”
North Hunterdon High School
North Hunterdon High School in Annandale, Librarian Martha Hickson is the 2022 recipient of the Judith Krug Outstanding Librarian Award from the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). Hickson has successfully fought six attempts to ban books and actively protects students’ right to read in the school district. She has worked to share intellectual freedom best practices with librarians by presenting at conferences and webinars, including the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), Future Ready Schools, Freedom to Read Foundation, and the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL). Through her writing, appearances on podcasts, and presentations to community groups, libraries, and churches, she has also raised awareness about censorship among the general public.
Each year NCAC, an alliance of 59 of the nation’s leading education and publishing organizations, recognizes the notable contributions of Free Speech Defenders whose activism has had a profound impact on the protection of First Amendment rights in schools, libraries, and publishing.
David Levithan, author of numerous novels for young adults, presented the award to Hickson at the Free Speech Defenders gala in New York City on Tuesday, Nov. 15. Also honored at the event were NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Human Rights Watch founder Aryeh Neier, First Amendment lawyer Michael Bamberger, and author George M. Johnson, whose memoir "All Boys Aren’t Blue" is among the books Hickson defended.
Since its inception in 1974, the NCAC has functioned as a first responder in protecting freedom of expression, a fundamental human right, and a keystone of democracy. Representing 59 education, publishing, and arts organizations, NCAC encourages and facilitates dialogue between diverse voices and perspectives, including those that have historically been silenced.
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Raritan Valley Community College
Raritan Valley Community College has been recognized by the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge (ALL IN) as one of the 2022 ALL IN Most Engaged Campuses for College Student Voting.
The ALL IN Most Engaged Campuses for College Student Voting recognizes colleges and universities for making intentional efforts to increase student voter participation. RVCC joins a group of 394 colleges and universities across the country — and is one of only two NJ community colleges — being recognized by ALL IN for completing the following actions:
• Participating in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge• Sharing 2020 National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE) Reports with campus voting data with ALL IN• Developing and submitting a 2022 democratic engagement action plan with ALL IN• Having a current signatory to ALL IN’s Higher Education Presidents’ Commitment to Full Student Voter Participation.
This is not the first time RVCC has been recognized for student voter engagement. A recent report from the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE), creators of the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, also highlighted RVCC’s student voting increase of 16.6 percent from 2016 to 2020.
In addition, Raritan Valley Community College was included in Washington Monthly’s 2021 Best Colleges for Student Voting Honor Roll. RVCC was one of eight community colleges highlighted out of 205 colleges nationally.
“RVCC students are leading voter registration and voting efforts through their civic engagement endeavors, which are an essential element of our students’ education. Voting is a valuable opportunity for students to be leaders in our democracy by making their voices heard and supporting important issues both locally and nationally,” said RVCC President Michael J. McDonough.
“College student voter turnout has increased since 2016, and this increase has been driven by students. The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge is excited to expand our ALL IN Student Voting Honor Roll to recognize these student voting champions across the country,” said Jennifer Domagal-Goldman, executive director of the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. “These students registered voters, served on their campus voting coalitions, spearheaded voter education efforts, advocated for campus polling locations, and organized other voter engagement efforts to ensure their peers were confident and informed voters. We are excited to see what they continue to accomplish ahead of the 2022 midterms.”
The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge empowers colleges and universities to achieve excellence in nonpartisan student democratic engagement. Campuses that join the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge complete a set of action items, with the support of ALL IN Challenge staff, to institutionalize nonpartisan civic learning, political engagement, and voter participation on their campus. The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge currently engages more than 9 million students from more than 950 institutions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Somerset County Vocational and Technical Schools
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, students in the Culinary Arts program at Somerset County Vocational & Technical High School (SCVTHS) held their Fourth Annual Amuse-Bouche Contest. Amuse-bouche is a French term for “mouth amuser” and traditionally features single-bite appetizers.
For the contest, the culinary arts students were divided into their cohorts and worked in small teams to compete against each other. The students then used their creativity and culinary skills to create amazing amuse-bouche dishes.
This year, in addition to SCVTHS School Counselor Susan Kiser and Supervisor of Academics Randee Holz, who served as judges, the contest featured a guest judge in 2017 SCVTHS alumna Becca Coviello. Coviello, a Culinary Institute of America graduate and the current cake decorator and production lead chef for 90 Acres at Natirar Park, returned to visit the program and assist with judging the competition. The judging panel was used to determine a winner for each of the second, third, and fourth-year students, as well as an overall winner of the contest.
At the end of the competition, second-year Culinary Arts students Jonathan Romero Cruz of Raritan and Alyssa Robinson of Somerset were named the overall winners of the contest. Cruz and Robinson's winning amuse-bouche dish featured a shrimp tostada. Toni Romani of Neshanic Station and Charlie Shiloff of Somerville were named the fourth-year winners, Ava Bottone of Hillsborough and Nick Meyers of Hillsborough were the third-year winners, and the team of Mackenzie Monto of Manville and Jackie Hernandez of Hillsborough were named winners of the second-year culinary arts students.
Culinary Arts Instructor Keith Johnson said, “Our Fourth Annual Amuse Bouche Cook-Off was a great success! I am very proud of all the participants and looking forward to next year's competition.” Culinary Arts Instructor Mark Mastrobattista said, “It was great to see the creativity and camaraderie that came through on all levels!”
Westfield Public Schools
It was a celebration of family and remembrance at Roosevelt and Edison Intermediate Schools on Tuesday, Nov. 1, and Wednesday, Nov. 2, as students in grades sixth-eighth and their world language teachers marked Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
The Day of the Dead, which largely originated in Mexico but is celebrated throughout Latin America and elsewhere, honors deceased loved ones with festivals and lively celebrations. At Roosevelt, a colorful display adorned a corner near the main entrance.
“At first glance, you notice the beautiful colors of flowers and designs,” said RIS World Language Teacher Maria Reilly, who collaborated with technology and special education teachers, the media specialist, and “creative helper students” to create the display. “Upon further glance, students and staff were able to learn more about this special day that honors our deceased loved ones by using QR codes throughout the display.”
At Edison, student-created displays, or ofrendas, blended the traditions of the holiday with traditions of their own to honor a family member who has died. Some students celebrated the life of a pet or a well-known person as well.
Also: At its Tuesday, Nov. 15, meeting, the Westfield Board of Education approved the appointment of Dr. Jill Sack as Interim Principal of McKinley School, effective Sunday, Jan. 1, through Friday, June 30, 2023. Sack, a retired educator with 37 years of experience, will serve in this six-month interim position to give the district time to conduct a thorough search in early 2023 for a successor to McKinley Principal Dr. Marc Biunno, whose resignation also was approved at the meeting.
“As interim principal, I intend to provide support and stability to the McKinley school community,” said Sack. “My goal during my time at McKinley is for all students to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.”
Sack served 12 years as a middle and elementary school administrator and 22 years as an elementary and middle school teacher. Most recently, she retired in August 2021 as principal of Buzz Aldrin Middle School, a STEM Magnet School in Montclair, and has been serving as a University Teacher Mentor at Montclair State University.
Sack holds two advanced degrees from Seton Hall University in Educational Administration and Supervision, a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and an Education Specialist (Ed.S.). She received a master of arts in Educational Psychology from Montclair State University and a bachelor of arts in Elementary Education from American University in Washington, D.C., with a minor concentration in Psychology.
“We are very fortunate to have an administrator of Dr. Sack’s caliber available to fill this interim position for the remainder of the school year,” said Superintendent Dr. Raymond González, who also wished Biunno well as he prepares to take on the role of Director of Curriculum and Instruction in another school district. “Dr. Biunno will hold a number of planning sessions with Dr. Sack and feels very confident in her ability to lead McKinley during this period of transition.”
Biunno also has scheduled a series of opportunities for the McKinley school community to meet the new interim principal.
“I am looking forward to getting to know the McKinley students, staff, and families. I want every child to thoroughly enjoy their time in an engaging and nurturing learning environment,” Sack said. “I would love to see students who just can’t wait to get to school each morning.”
Also: The Westfield Board of Education is seeking an applicant who is interested in serving on the Board from Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023 through Monday, April 24, 2023 to fill the vacancy resulting from the resignation of Board member Amy Root.
The process for the Board of Education to select a member from the applicant pool is for the Board to interview applicants in a closed, executive session.
Westfield citizens interested in filling the Board vacancy from Sunday, Jan.1, 2023 through Monday, April 24, 2023, should submit their resume or letter of intent to Board Secretary Dana Sullivan via email at email@example.com no later than 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
To be considered for a seat on the Board of Education, a candidate must be:• A citizen of the United States of America• At least 18 years of age• Able to read and write• A resident of Westfield• A registered voter in Westfield
The closed interview session will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 13, at Westfield High School, 550 Dorian Road (time and room location to be announced later). The vote to select the candidates will be in public and is expected to take place at the board meeting later that evening.
If they wish to retain a seat on the Board, the newly-appointed board member would be required to file for candidacy according to the election process established by the county in order to be placed on the ballot in April 2023, along with any eligible Westfield resident who chooses to run.
Student and School news appears on Saturdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Sampson is Executive Office Assistant for the Courier News, The Home News Tribune and MyCentralJersey.com, and handles the weekly Student News page.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ students: Evergreen Elementary School partners to provide food