HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - While the eighth graders and high school students were taking the annual PSAT test on Wednesday, Character Education Day was held for sixth and seventh graders at Hasbrouck Heights Middle School students, which included a group art project and team building exercises built around the guest speaker's message of going "All In."

Character Education Day was part of the school's Week of Respect. The special speaker was Gian Paul Gonzalez, a teacher from Union City, NJ, and motivational speaker who is credited with helping motivate the New York Giants on to the Super Bowl title in 2011. He has gone on to speak before countless professional teams and organizations including the Portland Trailblazers, Minnesota Wild, London Arsenal, military academies and the FBI.

"Your words and actions right now have more power than you realize," he told the students. 

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He recounted how he had been called to speak to the New York Giants before the team's Christmas Eve game against the New York Jets. He challenged the team, asking them if they were all in, likening it to a poker game and pushing your chips into the center of the table, giving it their all. 

"Challenge yourself," he told the students."Give your best for each other."

Gonzalez admitted that he "wasn't always all in all my life." He attributed his change to a history teacher who challenged him to give everything he had, win or lose. He also explained after being drafted in the NBA that he would blame others for his shortcomings, whether it was sneakers, teammates, or the coach. 

"Sometimes the only thing that keeps you back is you," he said. "Sometimes the thing that keeps you from doing it (your best) is not your teacher, teammate or coach."

He said that most people give a partial effort being an athlete, in the classroom, or as a sibling. 

"All in starts at home," he said. "Stop going halfway on yourself. Be better for yourself and those around you."

At the end of the assembly, each student received a poker chip, like the ones the New York Giants got, as a reminder. 

To reinforce the message, the Art teachers had the students draw on a personalized heart about whatever they are "All In" about.  Some students drew about their family, others drew about their friends, their performance in school (academics), their goals in life, their health, and sports.  Each heart was put into a bigger heart that is outside of the school's cafeteria to remind the students about being "All In" each and every day. 

"We want the students to understand the importance of "being their best" in every single thing that they are involved with in their lives," said Frank D'Amico, Middle School vice principal.

The PE activities included cooperative learning activities that they all rotated to within each session.  The activities included orienteering where students needed to use clear communication with one another in order to move their peers who were blindfolded.  The other two activities involved collaboration, teamwork, and communication while moving. 

"These activities were fun to watch because the students had to work as a team in order to be most successful," said D'Amico. 

"Last week was Week of Respect and Character Education Day is a great opportunity to build on and reinforce the idea of respect," said D'Amico.  "The sixth graders are still getting to know the students from the other elementary school (Lincoln/Euclid).  It's important for the students to interact with their peers on a given task while utilizing important life skills such as effective communication, tolerance, collaboration, and patience."  

"We hope that the students learn how to interact socially with one another and most importantly, to treat each other with respect," he said.


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