Red Bank Regional High School (RBR) draws the majority of its students from the three towns of Little Silver, Red Bank and Shrewsbury. Their compilation produces a diversified and much larger school community that reflects the great American mosaic. Yet, prior to the day these young people walk through their high school doors, they have only experienced the smaller, homogeneous environments of their elementary schools. All of these changes, the larger size, and eclectic mix of people compounded by the rigors of higher academic expectations can pose a challenging transition for some students.
It was with that transition in mind that the five schools involved--the high school, three town elementary schools and Red Bank Charter--collaborated to create the first eighth grade inter-community event, which was hosted by Markham Place in Little Silver. The program, which included initial ice breakers and field day-type activities, was planned during the conclusion of the state-celebrated Week of Respect. The planners hoped that building an early camaraderie and demystifying differences will create an atmosphere that discourages the possibility of bullying.
RBR Superintendent Dr. Jim Stefankiewicz explains, “While RBR does offer a freshman orientation and summer freshman transition program, each of our sending districts, as well as the high school, recognize the importance of getting our students together prior to their entrance to high school. We are all committed in ensuring that all students are well prepared, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well.”
Carolyn Kossack, The Little Silver Superintendent, was very supportive of the event when Superintendent Stefankiewicz first broached it stating, “I thought it was perfect for us as one of our strategic goals was to develop more outreach with the local communities to help our own kids and all the kids when they enter RBR.”
On October 5, at 9 a.m., students from the four schools assembled in the Markham place gym wearing a rainbow of colored t-shirts, which identified them in heterogeneously mixed groups. Markham’s principal, Dennis Morolda, then conducted his school’s daily Circle of Power and Respect activity which is meant to foster respect and community building. After some meet and greet icebreakers, including a hula hoop chain, aptly demonstrated by the eighth grade teachers, the students took part in a communication exercise. Student volunteers performed skits highlighting various ways to communicate, including using tone and body language which can deliver very different messages.
Before releasing the students to the athletic fields, Principal Morolda communicated another message stating, “I want you to have a lot of fun today, but also to challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone by meeting another person and sharing something of yourself with them.”
Then, they were off to the green, rolling Markham fields. Supervised by staff and RBR Student-to-Student Peer leaders, they navigated obstacle courses, jumped through hoops, (simultaneously in tight bundles of three), spoon-raced with golf balls and emptied water buckets in relays with sponges. They aptly fulfilled their first directive to have a lot of fun.
Shrewsbury teacher Jean Scully acknowledged that initially her students were simultaneously nervous and excited about the day.
She added, “Several had recently encountered some Shrewsbury freshmen and
told them about this event. They replied that they thought it was a good idea
and they wished they had a similar opportunity before they started high
She also felt that the communication activity was very important as she believes that student dependence on social media has nearly rendered important face-to-face communication a lost art.
Red Bank’s A.V.I.D. teacher Melissa Osman expressed her students’ enthusiasm for the event and stated the Red Bank Borough is also looking forward to hosting something this school year to continue to foster familiarity among future freshmen.
Of her own students she added, “They are a little shy, but I know they realize that this is such a great experience for them to have fun and make new friends.”
According to Red Bank Charter School Principal Meredith Pennotti, her kids were also a bit tentative arriving as the smallest school among the four. She claimed, “They came back thrilled and asking for more.”
She added, “This far exceeded our expectations. I felt the effort and every detail created a very positive experience. This is so important in building a good school culture. That doesn’t just happen, it requires hard work, and I know this fits
well with what they are doing at the high school.”
The morning ended with a barbecue lunch served up by the Little Silver Police Department to over two hundred very hungry and tournament-weary eighth graders.
Cheryl Washington, RBR’s anti-bullying specialist, observed the morning at the ball fields in awe stating, “Everyone was working together so well and having such fun. I even saw a few kids hugging. That is so heartwarming.”
And so, Principal Morolda’s second directive was apparently heeded as children did venture outside their comfort zone to make new friends.