Posts Tagged ‘West End Elememtary School’

Making Learning Contagious

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Making Learning Contagious

written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another.” Marva Collins

West End in the Morning

This week, I was impressed, inspired and encouraged in ways I will never forget. The magical moments happened in room 9 at the West End Elementary School in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

I was there to record scenes for a Face of America documentary about mentoring. Once inside the building, I was drawn in by the welcoming way of the people I met and the magical touch of a teacher and the enthusiastic response of her students.

Megan Schutz is a gifted teacher who loves her job and the students in her care.  She is ably assisted by Christina Moscatello, a Special Education co-teacher, and Corie Williams a paraprofessional.

On this unseasonably warm February morning, I watched these women work their magic with students who were interested, engaged and enthusiastic about the work they were doing. In my opinion, it was a radiant painting of education at its best.

From the warm greetings as students entered the room, to the artful blending of technology with tried and true traditional teaching techniques, this classroom was alive with the sights and sounds of children learning, growing, thinking and enjoying school.

The day began with a heartfelt recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag. It was followed by a series of announcements that ended with a tone setting thought for the day:

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

After hearing the words of Helen Keller, the students took their seats, opened their math workbooks, and their teacher, Megan Schutz, got down on her knees to be at eye level with the fourth graders who responded to her questions and her encouraging suggestions.

One of the students got an enthusiastic “hi five” accompanied with the Merlin-like, affirming words, “Great Job.”

At the appointed time, the students lined up. The line leaders took their places, and then everyone walked to the music room for an experience that can only be described as “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

Music with Meaning

Type the words “Proud to be an American” in a Google Search and you will get more than 4,000,000 hits. I am sure all of these items are interesting and informative. None of them, however, will evoke the emotional reaction I experience watching Milan Lazistan, a substitute teacher, work with the 21 students who sat on the floor of his classroom.

Granted, the words of the song are powerful. They were written to elicit emotion.  When you plant them in the innocent and unpretentious minds of children like these and you ask them to sing along with a recording of Lee Greenwood’s voice playing in the background, you get more than mom, apple pie and the 4th of July. You get a rendition that is from the heart, and tailored to the experience of youngsters, many of whom have origins in places far away from Lady Liberty’s Light in New York Harbor.

I am not ashamed to say that tears filled my eyes while I recorded the chorus of beautiful faces and voices from America, Dominican Republic,  Ecuador, India, Kenya and Pakistan, singing these powerful words:

If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life,
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife,
I’d thank my lucky stars to be living here today,
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away.

I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God Bless the U.S.A.

If ever there was a picture of America on its best day, this is it. Genuine in every detail and beautiful in everything it implied. For me, it spoke to everything our founders hoped we would become, and everything our country represents to people at home and abroad who yearn for freedom and equality for everyone in the family of mankind.

Before I left the classroom, I asked Mr. Lazistan what he hoped music would do for these children. His answer was to the point and very instructive.

I hope it will teach them to enjoy music. I hope it will help them enjoy life.  I hope they will learn something from it so they can gather their own personal creativity and give it out to others.

Opening Minds

As I made my way back to room 9, I thought to myself, it can’t get any better than this. As is often the case with generalizations made in the wake of an emotional experience, I was wrong.

Shortly after the students settled into their seats, Megan Schutz started a discussion of American symbols. Just as she was finishing her introduction in which she made reference to an earlier class when the students defined what it means to be an American, I asked her if she would review that class for me.

She paused and replied with words that I never expected to hear. “May I do it with the help of the students?”

My answer was an enthusiastic, yes.

What followed was a brilliant mosaic of America drawn by children who spoke from their hearts, their experience and their love of country.

With hands extended ramrod straight above their heads and hands waving in every corner of the room, Chelsea spoke first. “America is people who live here.”

Parijot told her teacher, “America is people who promise loyalty to our country.”

Valarie spoke quietly but resolutely. “People come to America for freedom or a better life. It’s for opportunity, more jobs and more freedom.”

Emily said that America is about people who come from many different countries.

Muhammad defined America as a place where people are free.

Isaiah pictured America as a place where people join together for a single cause, freedom.

For Dave, America is a place where people show patriotism to our flag.

Sophia added, “It is a place where we do the pledge of allegiance.”

James wanted his teacher to know that in America people form alliances, they come together with one another.

Kenny had a different and very interesting take on America. “It’s a place where we don’t look the same,” he said enthusiastically, “but we all have the same parts.”

Someone once said, “A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.”

In room 9 at the West End Elementary school, I listened with great delight to children who gave simple, but profound, answers to the question what is America?  Their answers came from the beauty of their hearts and the purity of their souls.  There were no hidden agendas. There were no expectations of reward. There was only a child-like innocence to cooperate, and share their deeply held beliefs.

It was a memorable and moving example of America at its best, teaching at its best, and love of country at its best.

It underscored the carefully crafted art work I saw hanging outside one of the classrooms I passed on my way to the music room.

“A Teacher opens a mind, holds a hand, touches a heart.”

If only all of us could have the privilege of visiting the classrooms like classroom 9 in elementary schools all over America, the fact that America is better than we think, our children are better than we think and our future is better than we think might begin to take flight. 

All we need to do is realize that we all look different, but we all have the same parts.

Thank you, Christina Moscatello.
Thank you, Corie Williams.
Thank you, Milan Lazistan.
Thank you, Megan Schutz.
Thank you, Alexa, Brandon, Brian, Chantal, Chelsea, Dave, Emily, Faith, Isaiah James, Janybeth, Jasmin, Kenny,  Muhammad, Parijot, Sara, Sophia, Timyan, Valerie, and Zohaib,

You are the Face of America on its best day, and what you did in your classroom personifies America at its best.  

Please provide feedback to: