Posts Tagged ‘North Plainfield High School’

2014 A Year of Priceless Gifts

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

2014 A Year of Priceless Gifts

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Tony Mussari
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD 2014
All Rights Reserved

Lord we thank Thee…for the health, the work, the food and the bright skies that make our lives delightful. Robert Louis Stevenson

The words of one of the most beloved poets best explain theGroup gratitude Kitch and I have for the priceless gifts we received in 2014 from our friends and family.

The year began with a memorable event at the Gateway Theater in Gettysburg. Thanks to the the kindness of Robert Monahan, Jr., the screening of Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg was a perfect way to share the story of the Medal of Honor convention, the values associated with the Medal of Honor and the transformation of the students from North Plainfield, New Jersey who attended almost all of the convention events recorded in the documentary.

After the screening, we received this comment from a mother and grandmother who attended the screening:

IT REALLY SHOULD BE SHOWN TO THE SCHOOLS as the majority of the youth are not exposed to the humility, sincerity and dedication that you presented.


In March, we had the good fortune to participate in the Annual Ethics Conference at Marywood University. Organized by Dr. Murray Pyle and several of his colleagues at Marywood, it was a day of learning, and a priceless opportunity to make new friends and experience the beauty and the welcoming atmosphere of Kitch’s Alma Mater.

This is one of the transformational thoughts offered at the conference; There is no dichotomy between being a good person and being a success in business.

Dr. Murray Pyle “We thank you for the peace accorded us this day.”

On a beautiful march day, we traveled to Baltimore to attend the 15thIMG_5217aMJKD Annual Women in Maritime History Awards. Our friend, Mary Jane Norris was the honoree. During her acceptance speech she shared this thought: Do small things well, because they all add up.

Mary Jane we thank you for the gift of your example.

In April, Dr. Rex Dumdum, Jr. arranged a screening of Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg at Marywood University. He attended to all the details of the event including dinner, a reception an afterglow, and the technical matters that make or break an event of this IMG_5597A250nature. Rex made sure there were no anxious or stressful moments before, during and after the screening.

It was an evening of community, friendship and learning.

There were no limits placed on the Q&A session. That enabled students, teachers and visitors to provide invaluable feedback. That experience inspired one of the students in attendance, Amber E. Clifford, to write a heartfelt comment about the documentary:

“Four Days of honor and Valor in Gettysburg is truly inspiring to those who are struggling to do what they know is right.”

Thank you Rex. You give special meaning to the words of Anna Sewell: “Good People make good places.”

In April, we participated in the annual Refresh Leadership Live Simulcast at the McCann School of Business in Wilkes-Barre, PA. ELL_5857_1_250

The facility was perfect for the event.

The people from the school were very pleasant.

The room where the event was held was an excellent choice for the session.

The members of the Express Pros team were very friendly and willing to do whatever they could to make everyone feel right at home. Their kind and welcoming way reduced the normal anxiety levels that accompany a presentation of this nature.

On that day, we met three radian faces of America, Kathleen Nolan Barrett and Kathy Barrett, Jeff Doran

In May, Amy Clegg invited us to participate in an Express Business Solutions Seminar in Scranton. Jack Smalley, the Director of HR Learning Amy Jack2and Development for Express Employment Professionals, gave an informative and inspirational presentation about leadership.

These are but two of the thoughts he shared with his audience:

Leaders are responsible. They leave the excuses behind.

Effective leaders do not accommodate falling stars. They encourage and reward excellence!

Jack Smalley is a man who exemplifies professionalism with heart.

Thank you, Jack for giving us the strength to encounter that which is to come.

In May, we traveled to North Plainfield, New Jersey for two screenings of our documentary. These events were organized by Tom Mazur. The screeningScreening 1_3_IMG_8045 at the High School enabled us to experience the ways in which the documentary resonates with students.

The comments students shared with us after the screening made the long and demanding days and nights of location shooting and editing worthwhile.

The evening screening showed us that adults relate to the messages in the documentary in very positive ways.

This screening gave us an opportunity to celebrate the leadership of the MB_Gift_8179retiring superintendant of schools, Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum. Without her belief in our work, we would not have been able to do what we have done in North Plainfield since 2009. That work may be over, but the positive memories will live on forever.

Later in the year, we joined a delegation from North Plainfield in Atlantic City. There we screenedFour Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg for a small audience at the New Jersey School Boards Association Convention. That venue proved the accuracy of Seneca’s words: It is quality rather than quantity that matters.

Several times this year, we had an opportunity to celebrate quiet heroes who make our world a better place because of their acts of kindness andIMG_4437 consideration. Many of these people are associated with Geisinger/CMC in Scranton and Scranton Orthopaedic Specialists. Several articles in our blog record the competent and compassionate medical care Kitch received during her total knee replacement surgery.

To Dr. Harry Schmaltz and his team of caring professionals an adaptation of Stevenson’s words best records our gratitude. We thank you for the hope with which we expect tomorrow.

In 2014, both Kitch and I spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital for tests and procedures. In our blog, we expressed our thanks to the people who did their jobs without noise or notice in an excellent and humane way.

Judy Bob200_9229sm

In October, we visited with our friends at Wilkes University. This occasion gave an old teacher a new classroom, and an opportunity to work with an impressive group of students who wanted to learn something about character education.

If you are looking for excellence in education, you need look no further than the creative work of Judy and Bob Gardner and their colleagues. What they are doing to enhance learning opportunities for students in the Education Department at Wilkes University is impressive.

Thank you Judy and Bob for giving us an opportunity to help you with the important work you are doing.

A few weeks later, we traveled to Luzerne County Community toIMG_6231 participate in the Annual History Conference. This year Bill Kashatus invited us to partner with Mollie Marti to tell the story of the life and legacy of Judge Max Rosenn. To do this we produced a new version of the Windsor Park Story we broadcast about Judge Rosenn in 2004. It was a sentimental journey to one of our favorite places with one of the most impressive leaders we have ever met, Judge Max Rosenn.


In November, we drove to Binghamton, New York to celebrate the naturalization of two of our very favorite people Viola and Rex Dumdum. Sitting in the historic courtroom where the ceremony took place gave us a better understanding of what America and the blessing of American citizenship is all about.

What a gift it was to welcome two magnificent citizens to America on their big day.

Perhaps the most challenging work we did during the year took place during the early morning hours after we had attended to our other responsibilities.

In January, shortly after the screening in Gettysburg, Kitch and I began to work on a book for our grandchildren. Designed to be a legacy gift, it is a visual narrative. It combines images from our Face of America project and several documentary projects like our What IsIMG_8304 for Article America? Series and our Miracle Project with the life lessons we have learned navigating the bumps on the road of life.

During their Christmas visit we presented the book as a surprise gift to the grandchildren and their parents.

In a way, it closed the circle for us.

An adaptation of the words in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem Morning Prayer enables us to give thanks for the blessings of 2014 and look ahead to the New Year with hope:

Lord we thank Thee for the place in which we dwell… the peace accorded us this day…for our friends…give us the strength to encounter that which will come in 2015…that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.

Happy New Year!

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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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America at Its Best: The Medal of Honor

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

America at Its Best: The Medal of Honor

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013
All rights reserved
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

The destiny of our great country lies in the hands of our youth, the future leaders of America.  Barney Barnum, Medal of Honor recipient.

This week, our Face of America journey took me to the North Plainfield Senior High School in New Jersey on a beautiful September afternoon.
Collagestusm My destination was the Junior ROTC classroom.  I was invited to do an in-service with six students who had been chosen to participate in an extraordinary experiential learning opportunity about the Medal of Honor.

Unlike most classrooms at the end of the day on Friday, this one was a center of anticipation and carefully controlled excitement about the what, the why and the how of the project. Some of the students were dressed in their uniforms, others were wearing casual clothing.  No matter what the attire, everyone was interested and engaged in the work at hand.

Navy Medal 1862

For almost two hours, we talked about the Medal of Honor, its origins, its design, its meaning, its recipients, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and the significance of the convention that will celebrate this symbol of excellence.

The students were surprised to learn that only 3,462 medals have been awarded in 150 years. When I told them there were 1,522 recipients in the Civil War including 20 boys under 18, one student began to calculate the exclusiveness of the award.

They were amazed that 63 of these medals were earned during the battle of Gettysburg.

The diverse nature of the recipients produced smiles of approval when they heard these statistics:

87 African-American recipients;
41 Hispanic-American recipients;
33 Asian-American recipients;
32 Native-American recipients.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s Gettysburg story resonated withJc Qupte the students, and so did the stories of Barney Barnum and Jay Vargus, two Vietnam veterans who gave truth to the words used to describe the Medal of Honor:

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. It is presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.

MoH Graphic

They liked the goals of the Medal of Honor Society:

1. Brotherhood & Comradeship for recipients;
2. Memory and Respect for the deeds and the medal;
3. Protect the dignity and honor of the Medal;
4. Provide assistance to recipients;
5. Promote Patriotism;
6. Promote service to US in peace and war;
7. Character education for young people.

The most memorable moment happened when I told the studentsJames_Anderson,_Jr the story of Medal of Honor recipient James Anderson, Jr. This excerpt from his Medal of Honor citation got the attention of everyone in the room:

Unhesitatingly and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he reached out, grasped the grenade, pulled it to his chest and curled around it as it went off.

James Anderson, Jr., was 20-years-young when he died. His story helped the students better understand the meaning of the words frequently used to describe Medal of Honor recipients: Courage, Duty, Excellence, Honor, Integrity, Leadership, Loyalty, Responsibility, Respect, Resilience, Selfless Service and Valor.

The most poignant moment happened when I introduced the Emily-Perezstudents to 2d Lt Emily Perez and her story of courage, heroism and service. Emily was the highest ranking female Black/Hispanic honors graduate from West Point. She volunteered to go to Iraq. On the day she lost her life in a roadside bomb attack, her replacement arrived. She did not think the replacement was ready to lead the convoy so she volunteered do it one more time.

Emily Perez did not receive a Medal of Honor, but she is a shining example of everything America is on its best day. Her story had great meaning for everyone in the room.

To help the students better understand another dimension ofDavis Book values, I shared an overview of Not Your Average Joe, Profiles of Militay Core Values and Why They Matter in The Private Sector. This book was written by Dennis T. Davis in an attempt to document the many values veterans bring to the workplace.

Davis is a military man himself, and he is on a mission to convince employers to adopt a program of values-based employment in addition to skills-based employment criteria for hiring new employees.
Not Your Average Joe helps young people to understand the practical consequences of living a life rooted in loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

On September 18, six students from North Plainfield, New Jersey, will arrive in Gettysburg for what will be one of the JV Quptemost memorable experiences of their lifetime. By their own admission, they are excited about this opportunity. They want to make the most of their journey.  They hope to learn things that will empower them to honor the legacy of the heroes they meet with deeds not words.

Three recipients set the tone for this adventure when they wrote these words:

Believe in yourself, set reasonable goals, and love God and your parents. If you fail, get up and never give up. JayBB Qupte Vargas

The power of noble deeds is to be preserved and passed on to the future.
Joshua Chamberlain

I believe in public service…so I recommend it to youngsters…It’s not about you… it’s about us. There’s no I in the word team. Barney Barnum

FoA Sept 13 _4

One of the students, Kyle Pacla used these words to explain the goal he set for himself and everyone on our team:

What I hope to learn from this experience is how to become a better person…how to figure out what it is in my character that
I need to change in order to help not only myself but also others for the betterment of them and myself.

For an old teacher in a new classroom, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Kitch and I are grateful to the members of the North Plainfield Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum, LtCol Eric Hansen, Senior Naval Science Instructor for the North Plainfield High School Navy Junior ROTC program and Director of Arts, Tom Mazur for their belief in our work and their support of this project. We will do everything we can to make this a memorable and productive experience for the students.

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A Standing O Event, Part 2

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Screening Walking Into the Light in North Plainfield, New Jersey

Written by Kitch Loftus
Digital Photographs Tony Mussari
Copyright 2013
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

When Tony left the stage, my heart was beating faster than I can ever remember, and I was experiencing feelings of pride and joy thatIMG_3986_ajmMB are impossible to describe. My husband and partner had done the courageous thing. He spoke from his heart with a kind of candor and humility that one seldom hears. His remarks resonated with the audience.

Before he took his seat, Dr. Birnbaum embraced him and thanked him in a warm and family way. It is a frozen frame I will not soon forget.

The lights dimmed. The large crowd settled in with attention and silence. Our company logo and  music announced the beginning of Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg. It was time to sit back and watch what transpired in April 2012 when ten students from North Plainfield first stepped onto the battlefield where 162,000 soldiers engaged in the greatest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere


During the screening, the audience was riveted on the sights, the sounds, the images and the stories of General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee, Bruce Rice, a licensed battlefield tour guide, President Abraham Lincoln and the students who are their friends and neighbors.

While the scenes recorded at the Cyclorama, the museum, Culp’s Hill, Little Round Top and the Pennsylvania Monument appeared on the screen, you could hear a pin drop. When General and Mrs. Lee and President Lincoln shared their insights, I could hear the hushed sounds of ohs and ahs.

Thoughtout the film, Tony asked the students to react to each event.Adriana C3

It was evident to those watching the film that individually and as a group, the students were overwhelmed by what they saw and heard. The experience taught them things about Gettysburg and the Civil War that would help them change and grow as individuals and citizens. In some ways, this experiential learning weekend made them different people, more mature, more positive, more grateful, stronger and more willing to try new things and less afraid of failure.

At the end of the film each student had an opportunity to express their feelings and talk about their experiences both on camera before they left Gettysburg.

Family_smOne month later, several students came to the May meeting of the Board of Education to tell their story.  Adriana Miranda, one of the students who attended the meeting, summarized the trip, the opportunities and the consequences with two words on a sign, Gettysburg Family.

The surprise ending of the documentary caught everyone’s attention.

Before the credits came up, the audience was on its feet, and enthusiastic applause filled the auditorium with the sweet sounds of affirmation and gratitude. The people who came to the screening loved the documentary. They got the message, and they wanted Tony to know how they felt about his work.

When Tony returned to the front of the room, he was overwhelmed byIMG_9429_250 the emotion of the moment.  He looked at the audience with tears of joy in his eyes. I could see him searching the room for the students and their parents. For what seemed like an eternity, he was unable to speak.  Then, he composed himself, and he spoke not only to those attending, but especially to the students in his Gettysburg family.

Pacing the front of the auditorium in the same way I had watched him do in his classroom, he looked into the eyes of the students and he summarized the subtext of the documentary, and the most important messages he wanted to convey in it.

Character  Quote_sm2

“It’s not about becoming famous. It’s not about making students celebrities. It’s not about getting headlines in the newspaper or on the evening news. It’s not about making a video that will go viral on YouTube,” he said in a voice that was part teacher, part grandfather, part friend. “It’s about finding the best edition of yourself, finding the real meaning of joy, overcoming your fears, believing in yourself and your dreams.”

Looking directly into the eyes of one of the students, he said,Loncoln on Failure_sm “You have so much ability, please don’t reach down for something less than yourself, reach up. Make yourself better.”  
These were genuine moments of love. He was talking to the students, but thinking about his son. He was using his family experience and the Gettysburg experience to encourage these students and remind them of the dangers of the digital age.  

He was pleading with them to cultivate real friendships in real time, not artificial friendships in cyberspace time.

“When things are going well,” he told them, “Look IMG_4071_rockGBat that rock the I gave you at the Gettysburg screening and be grateful for what you have. When you encounter challenges and difficulties, look at that rock and remember the 51,000 men who were casualties at Gettysburg.  They did not give up.”

In what was the most beautiful and poignant public moment of the evening, Tony made it crystal clear how much he thought of each one of the ten students who accompanied him to Gettysburg.

“I want each of you to know that the memories of you and our experience will remain in my heart forever, and when my last day comes, I will take those memories of you to the other side.”

He wanted to end this beautiful moment with the words he coined about his experience in North Plainfield, “This is the place where I found the Face of America’s tomorrow today.”  As he looked at the students, their teachers, the administrators and board members he admires so much, he was overwhelmed with emotion, and he choked up.

Sensing the genuine emotion of this extraordinary human moment, the audience helped him out with a kind of applause, I will never forget.

In that moment, everything he hoped for and worked so hard for came together. It was his Face of America moment shared with people whoLive by lightA_sm appreciated the many ways he tried to help these wonderful students benefit from the powerful examples of the Battle of Gettysburg and the painful experiences of a father who loves his son, his work and his desire to help.

As we were driving home, I asked him about the screening and the reaction to it. He told me he was very apprehensive before the screening, and he was pleasantly surprised by the warm and heartfelt reactions of the people who approached him at the social after the event.

The comment made by Nabil Twyman’s mother touched his heart in a very special way.  It made all the months of worry, hard work, struggle and disappointment worth the effort when she spoke these words:

"Thank you for saying all the things I wanted my son to hear. It was a powerful film and a beautiful evening."

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Art From the Heart

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Art From the Heart: A Special Evening in North Plainfield, New Jersey

Written by Kitch Loftus & Tony Mussari
Digital Photographs Tony Mussari
Copyright 2013
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.Albert Einstein

Art is not what it used to be. When we were in school it was a one houraf_sign_sm session offered a few times a month. We studied an artist and one work. There was no formal music program in the schools we attended. In Catholic schools, there was no shop program and home economics was nothing like it is today. We did have glee club and choir, but again it was a voluntary program.

This past Friday, our Face of America journey took us to the North Plainfield Senior High School in New Jersey, where we experienced an explosion of creativity and a cornucopia of beautiful and compelling projects at the Spring Arts Festival.


For three hours the school was transformed into a museum designed to showcase the excellent teaching and priceless learning of 24 teachers and hundreds of students. Working together the students and teachers contributed their work to 12 performances and 12 demonstrations and displays of art, culture, history, home economics, music, shop, singing and poetry.

Hundreds of parents, students and grandparents packed the hallways and the classrooms on every floor of the high school. Wherever one went, you could feel the infectious joy and happiness of accomplishment.

Our first stop was the cafeteria. On this evening, the only food in the cafeteria was food for the heart, soul and mind. The room was an art galleryIMG_3810_SL_Lincoln housing hundreds of colorful drawings and paintings depicting various aspects of the battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War, history and nature.

One of the images that demanded our attention was a large composite of Abraham Lincoln. It was created by the students of the Stony Brook Elementary School all 264 of them under the watchful eye of their art teacher Sonya Larado. It was designed specifically for the Gettysburg Project in an attempt to familiarize students with the man generally believed to be our greatest president.

During the school’s Read Across America Day celebration in 2013, the students were given a brief introduction to the Gettysburg Address and the differences between a line drawing and a portrait. The students were each given a square to decorate with the patriotic colors, red, white and blue. After the event the pieces were put back together to form the image of Abraham Lincoln.

To use an overused and much abused word that is very appropriate here, the end product was awesome!


In another section of the cafeteria, we discovered a display of art that was absolutely beautiful. It belonged to the students in Ms. Rosen’s class. We were taken by the vibrancy of the color, the beauty of the designs and the variety of the images. If we could, we would have purchased every one of them.

To add to the compelling nature of the displays, Linda Russell, an accomplished historical musician, set up her demonstration in the middle of theIMG_3761_LRussell_sm cafeteria. It attracted large crowds, and she found a way to share her stage with anyone who wanted to play a home-made instrument like wooden spoons with her. We were fortunate to catch her performance of “Oh Suzanna.”

What a moment!

It was absolutely wonderful.


To add to the celebration, we were able to share a few moments and several hugs with one of our very favorite people, Maria Rodriguez. Mrs. Rodriguez is president of the PTO. She is a woman of great warmth and service. She always makes us feel at home when we visit North Plainfield. Mrs. Rodriguez is an excellent example of the important role parents play in the education of students in North Plainfield. She and the members of the PTO volunteer their time and their talent to provide educational opportunities like our Gettysburg Project to the students in the school district.

Shortly after we left the warm glow of Mrs. Rodriguez we passed theIMG_3832_LC_students classroom where Leeanne Charamonte was working with students who were doing living theater exercises. Every student in that room was fully engaged and cooperating with the teacher. Several students were standing in the doorway watching with great interest. It was another example of the creative teaching and active learning.

The next stop was the auditorium. For three hours this room was filled with the glorious sounds of students who sang, and played various genres of music under the direction of their teachers. Each group brought a unique dimension to the Arts Festival.


The rigors of this visit made it impossible for us to see and hear all of the performances, but the four we did see were just wonderful. We loved the jazz band and the wind ensemble.

Watching Kyle Skrivanek, a UMass graduate, direct the wind ensemble, we had a sentimental moment. It brought back memories of the time we spent at UMass producing Building Power and Class our documentary about the legendary director George Parks and the Minuteman Marching Band. Kyle was a member of that band.

We enjoyed the chorus, and we were inspired by the concert band’s performance of To Heal a Nation. What a powerful andIMG_3686_practice creative way to mesh history and music.

It was an honor to work with the student musicians, and their director, Heather Fencik.

During the practice session, one of the musicians, a delightful student named Sofia Bermudez thanked us for a pleasant memory she has of her visit to our garden last summer. Sofia was charming, engaging, friendly, mature, and very sociable. Just like Mrs. Rodriguez, Sofia made us feel at home.


While we were in the auditorium, Bob Ferraro came over to say hello. Bob is one of the three shop teachers. He is a pleasant man with a positive attitude. He and his colleagues Tom Kavanagh and Ted Sielewicki offer quality instruction to their students. If anyone would doubt this, they need only check out the display in the library containing handmade Civil War artifacts and the wood products that were artfully designed and crafted and placed on display outside the cafeteria. There is only one way to describe them. They were treasures that anyone would want in their home or office.

Our next stop took us to the second floor where we could smell the aroma ofIMG_3918_Richard fine cooking and baked goods.

There we met Richard Tenezaca, a cooking student, at what many would consider the most scrumptious offering of the Arts Festival. Under the direction of Clare McEnroe and her colleague Sharon Betz, the students prepared sugar-filled treats that Civil War soldiers received from relatives and friends. When we entered the room a group of students were huddled around a table filled with treats like gingerbread, Mary Todd Lincoln cake, peanut brittle, strawberry jam, Sally Lunn bread and tea cake cookies.


It didn’t take but a few minutes before Mr. Mazur joined the students and parents at the table where he covered a piece of Sally Lunn bread with strawberry jam.

While this was happening, the smile on Clare McEnroe’s face lit up her corner of the room.

Before we left, Richard Tenezaca helped us collect copies of all of the recipes. You can be sure we will be serving these treats to our guests this summer.

Our only disappointment on this evening of jubilation was this. We did not get to all of the events, but we are certain that they were as wonderful as theIMG_3763_student_reading_sign ones we saw.

For Kitch and me this celebration of student work and teaching excellence is a hallmark of education at its best. The collaboration and common purpose of students and teachers is a rich mosaic of the Face of America on one of its best days.

Aside from the obvious importance of students and teachers in this unique setting, the most memorable part of the evening was the crowd. The high school was alive with parents and relatives looking at the displays, talking to their children and expressing delight at what they saw and heard. The sounds of music, laughter and conversation were delightful and soothing. People were smiling and the students were exuberant and interested in what they were doing.

IMG_3769_ Lincoln

Everyone should have the good fortune to attend an event like the Spring Arts Festival in North Plainfield. It gets the creative juices moving and it makes you think “well maybe I can do that.” It is relaxing refreshing and it rejuvenates one’s belief in the meaning, substance and value of great teaching and creative learning opportunities.

The North Plainfield School District is blessed with an extraordinary department of Fine, Practical & Performing Arts. The leadership of Tom Mazur is deeply rooted in making teachers and students feel good about themselves and the work they do. He is a model for Amanda Gore’s Joy Project. The teachers in the department are available, caring, competent, creative and very talented.

To adapt the words of a familiar quotation about education, “The 2013IMG_3890_chorus Spring Arts Festival proves beyond any question of a doubt that the best teachers teach from the heart, not just from the book.

Thank you:

Allison, Amy, Clare, Diana, Dorian, Heather, Ivan, Jodi, Jonathan, Joanne, Kathleen, Kimberly, Kristyn, Kyle, Lisa, Leanne, Lucas, Robert, Shannon, Sharon, Sonya, Tammy, Ted, and Tom. Your work gives truth to the words of Carl Jung:

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.  The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

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Teachers: Heroes Without Headlines

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Teachers: Heroes Without Headlines, An Expression of Gratitude

Written by Tony Mussari
Pictures by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Mr. Mussari when I assign six pages, you will do ten. Sister Mary Hilary R.S.M.


Wherever we went during our Face of America journey, we met teachers who are making a difference in the lives of their students; teachers who care about students, teachers who love what they do, teachers who willingly make sacrifices to empower young people to dream dreams of a better life for themselves and others.

During our Face of America project, Kitch and I have spent more time in North Plainfield, New Jersey, than any other place in America. If truth be told, we have visited North Plainfield High School more than 21 times during our project.  This is where we discovered the Face of America’s tomorrow, today.  It is an earnest, hopeful, radiant Face of America.

Walking the hallways, visiting classrooms, attending school events we observed, firsthand, a kind of teaching that is designed to bring out the best in these students.

Most recently, we were part of a delegation of ten students and eight adults who visited Gettysburg in search of the greatness of America.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, and Tuesday, May 8, is National Teacher Appreciation Day. To celebrate the teachers in North Plainfield, and teachers everywhere, Kitch and I would like to offer 20 thoughts about teachers and teaching that speak to American teachers at their very best.

Every one of these thoughts we experienced in the schools we visited during our journey across America.

What Is A Teacher?

I’m a teacher. A teacher is someone who leads. There is no magic here. I do not walk on water. I do not part the sea. I just love children. Marva Collins

Teachers believe they have a gift for giving; it drives them with the same irrepressible drive that drives others to create a work of art or a market or a building. A. Bartlett Giamatti  

We become teachers for reasons of the heart. Parker Palmer

In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.  Jacques Barzun

A teacher has two jobs; fill young minds with knowledge, yes, but more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn’t go to wste.  Principal Jacobs to Glenn Holland

The great teacher is not the man who supplies the most facts, but the one in whose presence we become different people.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What Do Teachers Do?

What all good teachers have in common, however, is that they set high standards for their students and do not settle for anything less.  Marva Collins

It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. Albert Einstein

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth. Dan Rather

Educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective. The only way any of us can improve, as Coach Graham taught me, is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves. If we can’t accurately do that, how can we tell if
we’re getting better or worse? Randy Pausch

I teach you truths. My truths. Yeah, and it is kinda scary, dealing with the truth. Scary, and dangerous… Mark Thackeray

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery. Mark van Doren

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome
while trying to succeed.  Booker T. Washington

Why Do Teachers Do What They Do?

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it
come in.   Morrie Schwartz

The essential condition of everything you do must be choice, love and passion. George Parks

Playing music is supposed to be fun. It’s about heart, it’s about feelings, moving people, and something beautiful, and it’s not about notes on a page. I can teach you notes on a page, I can’t teach you that other stuff.   Glenn Holland

…only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be. John Keating

It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of person kind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely. Leo Buscaglia

When Does it End?

The education of a man is never completed until he dies. Robert E. Lee

One of the reasons people stop learning is that they become less and less willing to risk failure. John W. Gardner

To all the teachers we met during our Face of America Journey and to their counterparts all over the country we say thank you. You matter.  You make a difference.  You are the link between the dreams of our forefathers and the fulfillment of those dreams by our children and our grandchildren. We admire your dedication. We celebrate your service. We thank you for helping students find the best edition of themselves.

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The Gettysburg Project

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Conscious of Our Treasures: Gettysburg 2012

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs, Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. Thornton Wilder


If freedom is the heart of America, opportunity is the central nervous system of our country. Wherever we traveled during our Face of America journey we were reminded of the precious national asset and value called opportunity.

Americans believe that everyone should have a fair chance to achieve their full potential. We celebrate this value in a number of ways. We have an Opportunity Index, an Opportunity Agenda, and a Journal of Opportunity.

At the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, one of the main streets on the campus is named Opportunity Avenue. In Mantua, Ohio, above the main entrance to a school built in 1929, one finds the word Opportunity carefully engraved in elegant letters. In the Spokane Valley, the Opportunity Elementary School is described as a place where children receive “the support they need to achieve and succeed.”

On Mars, we have had an Opportunity Rover since 2004.

America on its best day is a land of opportunity for everyone.

On The Road

During the past two months, Kitch and I have been blessed with several wonderful opportunities. Our Face of America Journey has taken us to Maryland, Virginia, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

We honored speaking engagements at the Community College of Baltimore, Marywood University, Wilkes University and North Plainfield High School in New Jersey. Our presentations focused on documentary filmmaking, ethics and corporate responsibility, experiential learning and our Gettysburg Project.

Each topic gave us an opportunity to learn something about America at its best, create something to illustrate the actions, behaviors and beliefs of Americans doing their best and interact with students and teachers who want to become the best edition of themselves.

Gettysburg’s Holy Ground

During our Face of America journey, we have visited the Gettysburg National Military Park seven times. Two years ago we wrote a Face of America Commentary about our experience there. It began with these words:

I saw the Face of America today in a place that will always be forever young, forever sacred and forever a bridge from America’s past to America’s future.

It ended with this thought:

What I experienced here in this place of honor on a beautiful April afternoon, I will carry with me for all the Aprils that will follow, because once you visit Gettysburg you never go home the same.

Two months later, Kitch and I took our granddaughter to Gettysburg to introduce her to Abraham Lincoln, and to teach her something about compassion. During that visit we met Barbara Platt and we became fast friends.

Barbara is the author of This is Holy Ground, one of the classic books about the battlefield. For the next 18 months Barbara shared her knowledge and insight with us. She graciously agreed to do two interviews with us, and she became a compassionate and caring advisor to Kitch during her battle with cancer. In addition to writing, volunteering and being one of the most welcoming ambassadors for this sacred place, Barbara waged an heroic battle with cancer for seven years.

In November 2011, she talked at length about her struggle in a poignant interview. Three months later, the day I learned of her death, I wrote a eulogy to Barbara. It began with these words:

America lost one of its best this week.

Her name will not appear in the headlines of any newspaper. It will not be number one in a Google search of famous people. There will be no testimonials on the national news, and very few people will know of her passing.

That’s exactly the way she would want it; no fuss, no fanfare, no fame, no public display of emotion.

The commentary ended with these words:

Her life gave truth to her words, “If you have love, you have a lot going for you.”
The words of one of her heroes Abraham Lincoln apply to Barbara’s courage, determination and perseverance, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”

Thank you, Bobbie for showing us the way. You will be remembered with admiration, and you will be missed in all the ways that matter. May God have mercy on your soul.

The Gettysburg Project

Less than a week after this article was published in our Face of America blog, I proposed the idea for a Gettysburg project to Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum and Tom Mazur during a dinner meeting in North Plainfield, New Jersey. They liked the idea.

For the past three months, Tom and I have spent every available moment working to make this dream become a reality. It did not come easily. There were a number of bumps in the road. Nevertheless, we kept moving forward, and we found solutions.

The centerpiece of the Gettysburg project is a visit to the battlefield with 10 students and 8 adults. Thanks to wonderful cooperation from representatives of the National Park Service at Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Foundation, we will produce a documentary about this trip. It will be the foundation for a number of activities in the North Plainfield School District during the 150th anniversary of the battle.

Virtually everyone we asked for help went out of their way to do more than we expected. We are indebted to Mr. Jerard Stephenson, the principal of the high school, and the members of the North Plainfield PTO, whose generosity and belief in our work made this trip possible.
The students are enthusiastic. The officials in Gettysburg have created a welcoming environment. The adults are making wonderful sacrifices to guarantee the integrity of this unique experiential learning opportunity. We have a number of surprises planned for the students, and we intend to make the most of our visit to Gettysburg.


Craig Lewis, one of the students who will visit Gettysburg, put the trip and the experience in perspective with these words: “I hope to learn about the battle and grow as a person from the experience.”

Jalynn Rivera wants to learn the causes and the consequences of the battle.

Tom De Meola hopes to get a better understanding of what the soldiers felt during the battle.

Adriana Miranda would like to know why there were so many casualties at Gettysburg.

Chelsea Blue believes this will be an amazing and life changing opportunity.

Max Torres hopes to learn life lessons in Gettysburg.

David Havrilla sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

An adaptation of the words of Thornton Wilder accurately describes what all of the members of our Gettysburg team are feeling. We are energized by the enthusiasm of the moment, and we are conscious of this great opportunity and treasure.

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Emily’s Legacy

Sunday, December 11th, 2011