MONTVILLE TOWNSHIP, NJ – When New Jersey Senator Joseph Pennacchio (R District 26) was asked to read at Woodmont Elementary School, the Pine Brook, New Jersey, resident did not hesitate. His children, who attended Woodmont, are now grown, but the elected official admits he has a soft spot in his heart for Woodmont, the Montville Township Public School where his children spent their early educational years.

For the third year in a row, Pennacchio accepted Woodmont’s Read Across America invitation. This year, however, the Senator, who was unable to attend the grand opening of the newly renovated Montville Township High School Media Center in January, wondered if he might also be able to take a tour of the new MTHS facility.

Early in the morning, Pennacchio arrived at Woodmont, chose a book, “Mr. Lincoln’s Way," by Patricia Polacco, and headed to fifth grade to read. Having never see the material before, Senator Pennacchio was happy to learn of the story’s inspiring message. Written as a tool to discuss diversity and tolerance, “Mr. Lincoln’s Way,” gave the Senator an opportunity to talk about kindness.

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“Even though we are all different,” Pennacchio told the students, “everyone should be treated the same.”

He asked the students where hatred of others comes from. When the students noted that in the book it was a learned behavior, he asked, “So how can we stop hatred?”

As a class the students and Pennacchio said the best thing to do is to treat others as you would like to be treated; with respect.

Pennacchio also reinforced that if a student sees someone being bullied it is important to let the teacher or principal know.

After two sessions reading from a hard cover book with bright illustrations, Senator Pennacchio drove over to MTHS to meet with Principal Douglas Sanford and Superintendent Dr. Rene’ Rovtar.

Upon his arrival he noted, “Many years ago, when the Montville Educational Foundation was first founded, I remember volunteering to pull wire through this building to prepare it for a technology upgrade. It was probably obsolete in six months, and now, today it is all Wi-Fi.”

The Senator said the Smart TV’s mounted in the Active Learning Center area of the school’s media center were “wonderful.”

Sanford explained that, by using cell phones and ear buds, many students can share the space while watching five different programs simultaneously. This allows for research in many areas to take place at once.

The Senator saw student art displayed, flexible classroom spaces, outdoor reading areas, interactive projection technology and a circular area with an additional four monitors.

“What a wealth of knowledge,” Pennacchio said. “Imagine, you can bring a class in here and have students listen to experts from anywhere. They do not have to go anywhere, they can be connected right here.”

Another area that impressed him were the small study spaces.

“This is the future,” he said. “All I have to say is, where were you when I was growing up?”

Principal Sanford explained that the small study rooms are very popular with students working on individual and small group projects.

“I like books, though,” Senator Pennacchio added. “I read them and I collect them. I keep them on a shelf and enjoy them.”

“Interestingly,” answered Sanford, “We have checked out more books since the end of January, when the new Media Center opened, than we did in the entire second half of last year.” The principal went on to say that he feels the upgraded titles and enthusiastic interest in the space have sparked renewed interest in reading.

He also noted that the MTHS Media Specialist Jennifer Keneally is working closely with the Montville Township Public Library to make certain every student has a public library card.

“One of the most influential things in my life was getting a library card,” Senator Pennacchio recalled. “That card was an opportunity. It was a key to the outside world.”

Principal Sanford explained that with the new Media Center, students are spending time in an active learning environment and they are utilizing the extended hours and requesting more opportunities to have access the newly renovated space.