SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A new character education program and ongoing reading initiatives taking place at Kennedy Elementary School were showcased during the South Plainfield Board of Education’s (SPBOE) Oct. 16 public meeting. 

Since the 2017-2018 school year, a school wide program has Kennedy students ‘reading across America.’ In addition to reading and learning about the United States, students garner one mile for every 100 minutes read and totals are tracked using a map of the country. In 2017-2018, students read 387,900 minutes to travel 3,879 miles and, during the 2018-2019 school year, they read 413,800 minutes to accrue 4,138 miles and make their way to Louisiana. For the current school year, the goal is 450,000 minutes to garner 4,500 miles to travel west from South Plainfield to Texas. 

“Through this program, students read and learn about the United States…. [and] because of this idea, [we] have continued to learn that reading is very important and that all students should read every night,” said fourth grader Alianna Belt, adding, “Reading every night leads to better vocabulary knowledge and a better future…This fun way of learning really makes Kennedy School at great place.”

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Additionally, for the second consecutive year, Kennedy took home the trophy for most books read during the South Plainfield Public Library’s annual summer reading program. With 4,115 books read, the pre-K through fourth grade school surpassed all other schools this past summer to earn the trophy and bragging rights; in 2018, Kennedy students read 4,311 books. 

“We are proud of this accomplishment,” said Alianna. “This is another way that shows reading is important to our school.”

“We spend a lot of time reading, not only in school but at home,” said Principal Kevin Hajduk. “It is a very important part of academics across the board.”

A new character education program was also implemented at Kennedy School this year. Each month, the focus is on a different character trait with the goal of helping students make good choices and be more respectful. A motto focusing on the month’s character trait is read during morning announcements and, over the course of the month, students can earn T.I.G.E.R. Bucks for exemplifying appropriate behaviors appropriate; T.I.G.E.R. stands for ‘Today I will give Everyone and Everything Respect.’ 

“As a fourth grader I am expected to be a leader in our school and the programs at Kennedy School help me to the best I can be….” said fourth grader Ava Valluzzi. “Kennedy School is a great place to learn because there are fun programs and a lot of great teachers. This entire program reminds the students that everyone that works and comes to Kennedy School is important.”

Additionally, ‘Buddy Classes’ were also introduced at Kennedy School this year; through this component of the program, older students work with younger students, reading to them and participating in group activities to building relationship and promote good character. 

“The Buddy Classes are great ways to have some of the older students work with the younger students…’ said Amey Grover, whose fourth-grade class is working with first graders this year. “The purpose of these meeting is to show the younger students how to be good students and also to build relationships with students that I normally wouldn’t see every day…I am looking forward to getting to know my Buddy Class as the school year continues.” 

“It is a really good rapport-building [program] for our older and younger students,” said Hajduk, noting that the school also holds character education theme days, such as ‘team jersey day’, ‘crazy sock day,’ and ‘mismatch day,’ to name a few, and that another component to the character education program planned. “I don’t want to give it away because we have students here, but we have another stage to this character education program that I am really excited about,” he said. “It will include our SROs and bring in all our staff from the building and we will have a lot of fun with it.”

Following the presentation, Alianna and Ava both had the opportunity to read original works and members of the SPBOE commended the principal and students. 

“I can’t get over the hours of reading in a year your school has done,” SPBOE member Jim Giannakis said. “That is just so fantastic. I think it is a tremendous testament to your school and what you are doing.”

“Mr. Hajduk, I want to compliment you on everything you are doing at the school; you are a great leader for the students there,” said SPBOE President Doug Chapman, adding that the three fourth graders who spoke should also be commended for ‘some of the best public speaking’ he has ever seen. “As someone who does public speaking on a weekly basis, I can tell you that I rarely see adults perform like you guys did tonight. You are all gifted; that is a special skill set and I hope that you guys take advantage of it. It is going to carry you far in life. Great job.”

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