CHATHAM,  NJ - With the COVID-19 crisis causing public schools to close, and classes being taken online, one would think that school communities are just focusing on giving education. Yet, at Milton Avenue Elementary School, there has been a big accomplishment.

Recently, Milton Avenue celebrated being designated as a “Sustainable Jersey School.”

From pre-K to the third grade, the school’s 290 students and 70 staff members are proud to be recognized for the first time by the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. This allows the elementary school to receive the bronze level of certification.

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“Being recognized as a ‘Sustainable Jersey School’ is quite an honor for Milton Avenue School,” Principal Nicholas Andreazza said.

“This honor demonstrates the school community’s interest and commitment in sustainability, the environment, and the impact that one can have on the world.  The actions that were approved have involved student, teacher, and parent participation on a number of different levels. This recognition would not have been possible without the efforts of our entire team.”

Andreazza has served as Milton Avenue’s principal for five years. He has a teaching certificate as an elementary school teacher from Montclair State University and has had the opportunity to teach first grade for four years, followed by teaching fifth grade for seven years.

To become sustainable, Milton Avenue held several events and programs. This included Walk-to-School Days, where students who walk to school were greeted by school staff and given safety tips and activity ideas related to walking to school; the Milton Mile where families complete a one-mile run/walk scheduled for May 16th this year; the Milton Duathlon, where parents and students completed 15-minute bike run and 10-minute run back in October last year; Family Fitness Night, where families participated in fun exercises also back in October; and Waste-Free Lunch Days, where parent volunteers taught students how to package their lunches to minimize waste.

Milton Avenue also practices efficient energy tracking and management at building level, promotes healthy food choices and locally grown foods in the school menu, maintains school gardens, provides access to healthy water, conducts School Culture and Climate Needs Assessment surveys, and maintains a Green Team with a variety of staff members from the building, as well as a district science supervisor and district energy specialist (which meets four times each year), teaches lessons as part of health classes that focus on sustainable topics, and participates in a staff wellness program.

As the Milton Avenue community continues to highlight its green efforts, it focuses on the well-being of its students and staff during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Things have been very challenging during these unique times,” said Andreazza. “The most important thing on all of our minds is the health and safety of everyone around us. As a school, we are making our best good faith effort to provide high-quality instruction and support in light of these unique circumstances.

"The staff at Milton Avenue School has been amazing in supporting our students and families during this remote learning. We are very fortunate to have an amazing group of professionals who plan instruction and care as much about the students as they do. The effectiveness of remote learning would not be possible without the parents and students who are working so hard in a routine that is unfamiliar and not the norm. Despite the changes in learning, our families continue to rise to the occasion and work with our staff as part of a wonderful team.”

And as the coronavirus case rises, Milton Avenue students, teachers, staff and parents take it upon themselves to combat the pandemic and set good examples for those in the Chathams.

“It has been a priority of the district to help those in need during this situation,” Andreazza said. “As such, last month our school nurse collected PPE in the building which included gloves and masks. These materials were then donated to those on the front lines. As a learning community, we are so thankful for the essential workers who continue to risk their own lives to ensure the health and well-being of others. As a school community, we continue to try to lift the spirits of our students from home by having school spirit days.

"I attached the letter describing those days to this email. The spirit days serve as a nice way to bring our school community together during these times of being physically apart. As you’ll notice in the days’ descriptions, some of the activities are designed to show a sense of unity as a community, as well as to show our appreciation for the real heroes during this pandemic. In addition, this week our first-grade teachers have also assigned their students a special project. In an effort to acknowledge the nurses and doctors who are working hard right now, students are being encouraged to write a thank you note to a doctor or nurse and illustrate a picture that would make them smile. In addition, our school counselor has encouraged our students to use a guideline to help them think of essential workers in our community that we can show our appreciation for by making a poster or sign of thanks.”