Posts Tagged ‘North Plainfield School District’

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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