Posts Tagged ‘NJ’

Magic Moments in North Plainfield, Part 1

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Magic Moments in North Plainfield, Part 1

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch and Tony Mussari
Copyright 2014
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Moons and years pass by and are gone forever, but a beautiful moment shimmers through life a ray of light. Franz Grillparzer

Some days the sun cannot find a higher place in the sky.Sky_5_13_8555 The cloud formations are more beautiful than any words can describe. Wherever you look, you see things that produce a kind of joy that is best described by Amanda Gore in her new book, Joy Is an Inside Job and It’s Free:

Joy is the constant light within us that guides us from fear to hope.

True Happiness is joy. It is connected to God, and it serves others in some way.

For Kitch and me, gratitude is the mother of virtue and the expressway to happiness and joy.


May 9, 2014, was a joy-filled day. It began early in the morning when Kitch and I entered the North Plainfield High School to participate in the first of two screenings of our documentary Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg.

The day ended 14 hours later in a Ruby Tuesday restaurant when, like two teenagers celebrating a big event, we shared a delicious piece of New York cheesecake. Everything in between was pure joy.

This is our attempt to thank the people who made this day so special.


Debbie Mayo is the head custodian at the North Plainfield HighDebbie_2_8279 School. She is an excellent representative of the people who live in North Plainfield as well as those who are associated with the school district. She is helpful and kind. She goes out of her way to make visitors feel welcome, and she always has something nice to say to the people she meets.

On this morning, Debbie was the first person we met, and she made us feel at home with nine words:

“It’s always good to see you in North Plainfield.”

Debbie’s comment set the tone for this day of magic moments. It reinforced the truth of John Lubbock’s advice:

A kind word will give more pleasure than a present.


Tom Mazur is the Director of Fine, Professional and Performing Screening 1_2AA_IMG_8045Arts in the North Plainfield School District. He is an accomplished actor, composer and musician. He organized all of the events for our visit, and he attended to all the little details that would guarantee the success of the events. Tom was our host for the screening, and he did everything he could to make us feel comfortable in our home away from home.

When we entered the parking lot, we saw him carrying a construction cone to reserve a parking place for our car. He expedited the security process at the entrance to the high school. He introduced us to Susan Loyer a newspaper reporter for the Courier News. He coordinated all of the technology for the screening, and he arranged the schedule so that we could have some down time between the morning and the evening events.

On this day, Tom’s actions gave meaning to the words of Helen Keller:

No one ever became poor by giving.


As we walked to the auditorium we saw students checking out theScreening 1_IMG_8045 learning stations that comprise an award winning Holocaust exhibit. It was created by middle school students and their teachers to reduce discrimination and prejudice. The exhibit is a poignant and powerful example of creative teaching and effective learning.

As I watched the students taking notes and sharing their thoughts with one another, the words of my favorite definition of teaching put these scenes in perspective.

I am not a teacher, but an awakener. Robert Frost


Before the morning screening began, Susan Loyer asked me to sit with her in the back of the auditorium for an interview. While we Screening 1_2d_IMG_8045were discussing the origin and purpose of the Medal of Honor Project our conversation was interrupted by Mark Havrilla.

Mark participated in our 2012 documentary project, Walking into the light at Gettysburg. He is a fine young man with a deep sense of patriotism and a strong desire to serve his country. He once explained his thoughts about America with these words:

America is the last frontier of hope and opportunity. Here anything is possible… America has perfected its values and adjusted its cultural views to adapt to the changing world around it. The United States is unique… the American spirit and the goal that every American shares to be the best they can be.

His face was beaming with pride when he shared his good news. He had signed the official orders to enter the U.S. Marine Corps.

This unexpected moment reflected the insight of W. Clement Stone’s thought:

If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.


Six students participated in the Medal of Honor Project. All of them attended the morning screening at the high school. Each one ofAdrianas comment them was courteous and polite. One of them decided to sit next to Kitch and me during the event.

Adriana Miranda is a senior. She participated in both of our educational experiences in Gettysburg. She is a thoughtful young woman who is very disciplined and mature for her age. She has a dream, and next year she will enter a program that will enable her to realize her dream.

While she watched the documentary, she expressed her gratitude in a very personal way. She held Kitch’s hand and mine. The verse of Philip James Bailey best describes this moment:

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; in feelings, not figures on a dial. We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels noblest, acts the best.

The first words I heard after the enthusiastic applause of the students came from Susan Loyer:

“This documentary is excellent.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched two students walk to the front of the auditorium to express their reaction privately. ‘It was so encouraging. It was inspirational.”

After I shook their hands and expressed my thanks, and before they turned to walk away one of the students looked me in the eye and quietly said these words: “I will never forget it.”

Screening 1_4_IMG_8045

As I was catching my breath, a very pleasant man stepped forward. At first I thought he was a young teacher. I was wrong. He is the father of one of the students who participated in the project. His words of appreciation were straightforward and unconditional. We had an instant connection rooted in respect and mutual admiration. As we talked about his son, his potential and his future, I was again reminded that this is the place and these are the people who are the Face of America’s tomorrow today.

There is but one word that accurately describes the atmosphere in the auditorium as the students made their way to their classrooms, jubilation.

An adaptation of the words of Ernestine Gilbreth Carey best describes the impact of this Magic Moment in North Plainfield, New Jersey:

In a person’s lifetime there may be not more than half a dozen occasions that he can look back to in the certain knowledge that right then, at that moment, there was room for nothing but happiness in our hearts.

(To be continued in Part 2)
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Four Days in North Plainfield, NJ, Part 3

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Teaching Moments

Written By Tony Mussari
Photographs By Kitch Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project,

Teaching Moments

“Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

Doc 05: the Challenge

Prior to my visit to the North Plainfield High School for two presentations to the student body, I spent many restless nights conceptualizing the nature, objectives and tone for this unique teaching opportunity.

I wanted to connect with the students. I wanted to engage the students in a series of exercises that would reinvigorate the seeds of optimism and opportunity planted by their teachers. I wanted to inform the students about the material in our documentary about Shanksville and transformation. I wanted to define the word hero in a way they would not forget. I wanted to leave these students with positive memories about themselves and what they learned.

It was a tall order for a person who is old enough to be their grandfather. It was a challenging for someone who had not spoken to an audience of 500 students in a high school setting in more than 30 years.

For three weeks, I had been thinking, reading, planning and mulling over in my mind what I would say, and how I would say it.

To be very honest, I was somewhat apprehensive about the situation I had gotten myself into, but I was determined to make the best of it.

Several things worked to my advantage. I like these students. I admire the educational leaders in their school district. I respect their teachers. I know a good deal about the history and culture of the school district.  My wife and I have been here several times, and I taught small groups of students in their classrooms during our visits. I was a guest speaker at two athletic awards banquets, and I recorded a number of public service trips taken by the cheerleaders and their coach Skip Pulcrano.

When the light of discovery and direction finally went on in my mind, it was simple, understandable and very practical. I would do something my mother always encouraged me to do. I would be myself. I would teach in much the same way I taught in my own classroom, from my heart as well as my head. I would apply the information I learned from a teacher at Kent State University: “Effective teaching is as much about good performance as it is about good information.”

Doc 05: the Content

Now that I had a strategy, I could spend time thinking about content, examples and a theme.

The main event for the assembly was a screening of our documentary Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation. The film features 12 Cheerleaders from North Plainfield who visited the people’s memorial in Shanksville in 2010 during our Face of America Journey, three Flight 93 Ambassadors who helped us during our ten year What is America? project in Shanksville, the woman who took the only picture of Flight 93’s ending, Val McClatchey and the woman who created the 9/11 National Remembrance Flag, Joanne Galvin.

The film addresses several questions about America at its best, American heroes and American values. It begins with the North Plainfield High School Concert Band playing Flight of Valor.  It ends with a montage of images summarizing the events of September 11, to the music of Jo Ann Biviano’s I’ll Always Remember.   

This screening provided an excellent opportunity to talk about the person who inspired our Face of America Journey, 2LT Emily Perez, the first Black/Hispanic honors graduate to lose her life in Iraq. I could tie Emily’s Legacy into the life work of another inspirational American, Professor George N. Parks, the teacher who built a national reputation for the Minuteman Marching Band at the University of Massachusetts. His work with students could be linked with another motivational teacher and coach, Herb Brooks and his 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team.

The documentary films Kitch and I produced about Coach Brooks and Professor Parks and the short films we edited about Emily Perez, gave me all the material I needed to tell their stores in what I hoped would be a compelling and interesting way to the students in North Plainfield.

The narratives of each of these American heroes gave me an opportunity to address the question, What is a hero? I could make the significant distinction between a hero and a celebrity. That would open the door to the matter I wanted to emphasize for the students, the impressive examples of industry and service Kitch and I found in North Plainfield, the genuine goodness of this place and the radiant Face of America it projects.

Doc 05: The Moment

The first assembly began sometime after 9 a.m. on a beautiful Monday morning. After introductions by the principal, Jerard Stevenson and the Supervisor of Fine Arts, Tom Mazur, I climbed the steps to the stage. Standing behind the podium, I waited for a few seconds, and then I enthusiastically greeted the students.   

They responded and we were off to a very good start.

After a few moments, I made a costume change.

The year I retired from teaching, Kitch and I worked with twenty students on a documentary project about the 25th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. It was designed to teach the students life lessons and work values by studying Coach Herb Brooks and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. During my final night as a teacher, the students gave me what they called a “Miracle Shirt.” It is one of my most treasured possessions. I wore it under my academic gown at graduation and one other time during a guest lecturer at St. Mary’s College in Moraga California.

I explained the importance of the shirt, and its symbolism.  Then, I walked to the easel next to the podium. I removed the shirt uncovering a framed picture of a smiling Emily Perez. Just before I put the shirt on, I told the students I was going to wear this shirt for the third time to honor them. The comment resonated with the audience.

For the next few minutes we did some exercises that got the students out of their seats and enabled them to have some fun, learn some lessons about life, success, coping with disappointment, pursuing excellence and accepting themselves.

Whatever I asked the students to do they did with zest and involvement. It was such a joyful experience.  We were working together, learning together, celebrating together and having a good time together.

To be honest, it felt good to be in a classroom with so many students who were enthusiastically participating.

My segue to the film was a short story about Emily Perez: her background; her accomplishments in the classroom, on the athletic field and her impressive record of selfless service to others. I compared her courage and heroism to the actions of the heroes of flight 93. I asked the students to watch the film with their hearts as well as their eyes. I asked them to listen with their ears and their hearts to the things their classmates would say about their hopes, their dreams and their country.

The room grew silent, the lights went out and the film began. I made my way to the back of the auditorium. My heart was pumping in overdrive, and my spirits were about as high as the azure blue sky above. It was one of the best teaching opportunities of my lifetime.
In my heart of hearts, I believed that I connected with the students. I did what I came here to do.   I reinforced my strong belief that this is a place where one finds the Face of America’s tomorrow today.

When the film ended, I had a few moments with the students, and then they left the auditorium to attend their regularly scheduled classes. As they filed out of the room, several students offered encouraging comments about their experience. When I was about to leave, I was greeted by a substitute teacher who, with tears in her eyes, hugged me and expressed her thanks.

Later in the day she wrote these words:

I wanted to thank you once again for all your incredible dedication and work in such a necessary area, that of reaffirming the goodness of our wonderful country and its young people, and that of honoring our fallen.

I cannot begin to describe to you how profound and cathartic an effect your work had upon me. I felt certain that I had composed myself long prior to approaching you, yet upon our handshake I felt this overwhelming wave of emotion come back over me.  Call it gratitude, call it inspiration, respect, etc. but I was very shocked at the depth and range of feelings I experienced. 

I feel your documentary does exactly what any great documentary is supposed to do:  it informs and extols while getting people to think and REACT to what they are learning.  I can’t call it anything less than a spiritual experience. 

It definitely has everything to do with the fact that I am so very proud of my brother, a current civilian private contractor, post-military officer who was presented a bronze medal and now works actively in the wage for peace in counter-terrorism intelligence. 

Please take my words with you as an additional level of affirmation and inspiration that you and your wife so richly deserve, as you have inspired so many. 

God has Blessed You, Dr. Mussari and your lovely wife… may your work never stop moving forward to inspire everyone

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 we returned to the auditorium for another assembly. It was a memorable beginning to a very long day that would culminate in a public screening at 7:00 p.m.

Throughout the day two thoughts reverberated in my mind:

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book. Author Unknown

It’s not what is poured into a student that counts, but what is planted. Linda Conway

Thank You, Tom Mazur.

Thank you, Skip Pulcrano.

Thank You, Jerard Stephenson.

Thank You, Marilyn Birnbaum.

Thank you, North Plainfield students for giving an old teacher a new classroom and memories that will last a lifetime.

Tony & Kitch Mussari
The Face of America Project
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