West Orange Schools Recognize Black History Month

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Washington School Honors Choir with choral director Barbara Heil.
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WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Board of Education meeting in Washington Elementary School on Monday night, February 7, was both spirited and interactive.  Members of the Board acknowledged numerous endeavors in West Orange schools to celebrate Black History Month.  Students and teachers alike are focusing on understanding the idea of ‘diversity’ and accepting different points of view in the classroom this month in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent African Americans in history who worked to forward the civil rights movement.

The meeting opened with a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” by the Washington School Honors Choir, under the direction of Barbara Heil. Students are invited to join the choir if they are able to sing the entire anthem on pitch without accompaniment (a cappella).  The auditorium was full of proud parents attending the meeting to support their children as well as to participate in the happenings of the school community.

Those at the Board meeting had the opportunity to watch a few recent recordings of school events. Laurie Degenshein, a teacher at Washington Elementary School, taped one of her class lessons on diversity with student teacher Laura Jones, which was aired on the local television program WOHS on Comcast channel 36. The two teachers read “I Am America” by Charles R. Smith to their elementary students.

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Degenshein had her elementary students talk about their tastes in music, colors, and favorite animals. She encouraged the students to recognize that “even though we’re all different, we’re still kind of the same because we’re all living together in the community, the school community,” she said.

Another showing from the local television broadcast was of the high school celebration of Martin Luther King Day, and recent performances from the WOHS jubilee choir, chamber orchestra, and drill team.  Renditions of the programs can be viewed on local cable television and online on the school webpage.

Students will be studying the work of famous African Americans who have made contributions to society in all subjects, including math, science, literature, and politics. Dr. Donna Rando, Assistant Superintendent of West Orange schools, spoke about events during the upcoming weeks to remember the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, such as the Black History Month dinner in the Tarnoff Café on February 25. The dinner is hosted by the high school student council, and tickets for the event are $10.00 each.

In other news, the Board approved personnel and curriculum motions on the agenda. Finance measures were also approved, including Alternate Placing Tuition for students and disciplinary hearings 1 and 2.

There were numerous comments from community members once the meeting opened for questions from the public.  Debbie Zarro spoke first about an event called “WO-town Goes Motown” that took place on January 28.  The event featured an evening of dancing with R&B and soul music.  Zarro expressed that while she was overall happy with the occasion’s success, she was disappointed regarding its low turnout.  “I was hoping to sell three to five hundred tickets,” she said, explaining that the event was a fundraiser for a West Orange summer enrichment program and senior scholarships.

“I’m trying very hard to get the community involved, and our children,” said Zarro.

While Zarro was expecting larger numbers, various members of the community rose to the microphone to congratulate her on a job well done, and thank her for her hard work.  Zarro assured the community that she was not deterred in her mission for more community involvement in future events.

Christine Boscl raised the issue of new traffic regulations at West Orange schools.  Boscl questioned Joseph Stalgar, the engineer who was hired by the school to oversee traffic changes.

“Did he do a traffic study?” Boscl asked.

Steven Christiano addressed her question, stating that Stalgar did not conduct an official study of the traffic situation in West Orange public schools, but instead oversaw recommendations of developer Herald Maltz and made his own suggestions.

“He didn’t do a traffic study; he did a response to Maltz’s report,” said Christiano. 

For those interested in learning more about the traffic changes, members of the community are invited to attend the West Orange Zoning Board meeting this Thursday, February 10 in Town Hall at 8:00 p.m.

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