MONTVILLE, NJ - Cedar Hill Elementary School in Towaco was recognized at the June 7 Montville Township Board of Education meeting for being named not only a State School of Character but also a National School of Character by the website character.org. It was also named a Promising Practice school by the website, due to its Diversity Committee.
Schools must satisfy the website’s eleven principles of effective character education. Once an evaluator determines the school is a State School of Character, it is eligible to be named a National School of Character. The applicants go through an in-depth and rigorous evaluation process, according to the website.
Cedar Hill alumnus and Character Education Committee advisor Shane Harper introduced the seven fifth-grade members of the committee, who went to Rider University on May 20 to accept the award.
Harper said the program was created in 1998, before the state even made character education part of the elementary school curriculum. The students presented to the board their many achievements, detailing the ways they “connect with respect,” as their character ed program is called. The presenters said they connect with “respect for self, others, community, and property.”
The school has reached out internationally through the Pagus Organization to sponsor student Musah Abu in Ghana at the Bishop Forson School for four years. Now the school is sponsoring a student named Have Richmond at the Airfield School, also in Ghana. Cedar Hill also sends books and texts to his third grade class. They have also adopted a third student in Ghana this year, a fourth grader. The students donated toward building a learning center in Ghana.
“The Ghana students are truly our brothers and sisters,” said Milo Hricay.
Within the state, the school supported a school in Long Branch, NJ, that was closed by Hurricane Sandy, collecting different types of school supplies for students who had been relocated to a different school without access to their supplies, said Jake Shenkman.
Locally, the students helped an eight-year-old girl with her medical bills. It is a long-standing tradition to host Montville Township veterans for a Veterans’ Day celebration, which Savannah Olsson described for the board. The children have also performed volunteer work filling bags with supplies for the Hearts ‘n Hands mission, on which Montville residents Cathe and Bob Davidson serve as board members. They collected $4,000 in a Read-a-Thon for teacher Maureen Livera’s nephew Zachary, who had large medical bills, plus another child in the district who was in need.
“His friends call him Super Zach, and so do we; he is our hero,” said Ian Glennon.
The school’s knitting club meets with seniors and knits for the homeless.
“Our knitting club has brought us closer together as a school but moreover has taught us the meaning of giving homemade products to others,” said Hailey Zuckerman.
The students also made 600 sandwiches for Towaco’s own Homeless Bus organization, and teachers and parents drove into Manhattan to deliver them to the homeless.
Within the Cedar Hill community itself, there is a program called Bucket Fillers, in which students compliment each other, and the names of the students being complimented are announced during morning announcements.
“We have worked very hard for this award, and so many of our classmates before have worked so hard. We are grateful to have received this honor,” said Allie Szwagulinski.
The students finished their presentation with thank you’s to Superintendent of Schools René Rovtar, Principal Michael Raj, and the many teachers and parents who aided their projects. They then gave their Connect with Respect cheer, and showed the video they made for “Super Zach.”
Teacher Beth Hughes, Chair of the Cedar Hill Diversity Committee, explained to the board that the committee was named a Promising Practice by character.org. The school was chosen in May, from among 327 schools, districts and youth organizations internationally. She said the committee’s goal, which is composed of parents and teachers, is to expose the Cedar Hill community to holidays and traditions throughout the year. Exhibits are shown in a glass display case in the school’s lobby, with explanations of what the items represent.
In this way, each student can “feel welcomed and valued for who they are,” she said.
“The children also learn about their classmates’ beliefs, which ultimately promotes understanding and tolerance of others,” Hughes told the assembly.
Board President Matthew Kayne told the group he was “so proud of the students, the teachers involved, thank you for the wonderful things you’re doing for these students, and the parents as well. Thank you.” He called students presenting to the board “the best part of being a board member.”
Rovtar said, “We are proud of you for showing respect and caring beyond words in Montville Township and clearly around the world. We’re very proud of the work that you’ve done.”