The 4th “R” – Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic, and Respect
As you read this, we all have celebrated the commencement of our 2013 graduates. We in Westfield and districts throughout New Jersey have provided many resources throughout the years so that we may now declare our 2013 high school graduates college, career and citizen ready.
Hopefully, one of the lasting gifts we bequeath to these young men and women is the importance of good citizenship and "giving back" to one’s community, country and planet. Long before anti-bullying legislation, programs were underway to promote respect, to help one another, and to engage in active citizenship. For many years, our elementary schools have been partnering with the Westfield Rotary in the Early Act Club, a program that encourages students to help others in the community, the nation and the world.
At the middle school level we focus on respect for one another through peer leadership initiatives. One such program is called Teens Learning Respect N’ Compassion. As a result of a questionnaire developed last winter, "Mix It Up at Lunch" day was created this spring for the 6th grade class to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch.
Westfield middle school students are not only encouraged to reach out to make connections within the school community, but also to expand their understanding and respect of others through annual assemblies such as Veterans Day, Black History Month, and bullying prevention programs – all featuring poignant speakers.
For the second consecutive year, Westfield 8th graders participated in the Westfield/ Plainfield Exchange program, in which students from both communities jointly studied the Steinbeck classic Of Mice and Men. Students from both school districts shared their ideas electronically and in person regarding their visions of both the American Dream and their personal dreams, as well as analysis of the novel's characters and messages.
Our recent high school graduates can recall other programs from their middle school experience such as Project Citizen and Career Days, which enhanced their active role in local government and prepared them for the future. These programs continue to be a success today.
An event that engaged the entire school community this school year was Superstorm Sandy. Students, staff and parents at all levels contributed to the Jersey shore efforts to help our neighbors. One of the most involved in this outreach was the Community Service Club at Westfield High School. The Club took part in hurricane-relief efforts by serving meals to individuals at the shore and helped coordinate a holiday-relief effort for gifts and basic needs, resulting in thousands of dollars in contributions.
For the last five years, the Westfield High School Community Service Club has worked closely with a local organization called Bridges Outreach, which serves homeless and other low-income individuals. The Club delivered 3,000 lunches; nearly 3,000 winter coats; 700 gallon-sized bags of toiletries; and 5,000 children’s books. The list goes on and on.
As a result of the selflessness and extraordinary generosity of this club, the State Board of Education honored the Westfield Community Service Club at the Annual Student Recognition Ceremony at its meeting in Trenton this May.
Our school district is blessed also to be on the receiving end of generosity within our community. Through the United Fund of Westfield, the Westfield Foundation, Education Fund of Westfield, Glasser Foundation, Coalition for the Arts, Drama Guild, and Boosters, grants have been provided to enhance the classroom, to provide tutoring, to supplement equipment, and to support teacher projects.
As Superintendent, I appreciate the generosity and involvement of our community, including our extremely active and supportive PTOs. In addition, our residents have served on Citizen Advisory Committees for several different projects, including the establishment of the district’s 5-year strategic plan. Citizens have been most helpful in responding to our community surveys and in actively participating in organizations that support our schools, as well as serving on our Board of Education. Some of these citizens are former Westfield High School graduates. It is my hope that this is a tradition that endures.