PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield's Cresthaven Academy held its Polar Express Day on Friday to celebrate the holiday season. Students and staff wore pajamas, sang songs, and received a visit from Santa, too. Daniel Croson, Dean of Students, said over 1,400 presents were distributed to the school's 233 scholars.
Monica Villafuerte, Principal and School Leader, said parents spent 70 volunteer hours wrapping the presents.
Cresthaven Academy is a K-8 public school that, according to its website, exists to provide a comprehensive education to its scholars from the city of Plainfield. Right now there are students in K-2. There are 190 days of school instead of 180, and it has a longer school day, too.
Villafuerte said each of the school's classrooms are named after colleges. "The intention behind that is to make sure that our scholars understand that college begins at kindergarten. We also take college trips. We take our kindergarten class to Keane, we'll take first grade to Rutgers, and we'll take second grade to either Montclair or Princeton."
She added that many of the children will be the first in the family to graduate high school, let alone college; they could be the first to speak English, and the first to become a U.S. citizen.
The demographics of the school, Villafuerte said, are similar to Plainfield. The students are Hispanic and African-American, and approximately ninety percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) under the National School Lunch Program. There are 26 students in a class, with two teachers, and each classroom has a smart board.
All of the classrooms are similar per grade. Villafuerte pointed out a sign, and said, "This is how we manage behavior." Every day scholars start in green, and can move up or down. Each child has a homework binder, and results are captured in an APP.
There are also B.E.S.T. signs in each classroom: Back straight. Ears listening. Speak loud and proud. Track the speaker.
Villafuerte said, "I think sometimes in some charter schools they go overboard in how strict things are. We always want to make sure we are developmentally appropriate, that we're treating children like five-year olds or six-year olds. There's a lot of structure and discipline, but lots of love."
Students have breakfast, lunch and a snack eah day. Any food that isn't used is left out for families to take home. Families who are food insecure receive extra bags on Fridays for the weekend. The school also secures food from the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
"There's lots and lots of need here in the community," Villafuerte noted.
Back in the cafeteria, students were enjoying lunch and singing songs while they awaited the arrival of Santa. When the jolly guy in a red suit showed up, there were more songs, and dancing, too.
Large bags overstuffed with presents were handed out as students were dismissed.
Cresthaven Academy is located at 530 West 7th St. in Plainfield. For more information, call 908-756.1234.