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posted: Fri, Dec 15th, 2017

Learning fire safety and firefighting techniques

This spring, a group of four MOMS students will compete in the Fire Information Rescue Education Bowl, a contest that tests knowledge of fire safety and prevention, fire science, firefighting techniques, and the history of firefighting.

In preparation, the seventh- and eighth-graders will spend several months studying from a variety of sources, including the exact same handbook that New Jersey firefighters use in their training. The students will meet twice a week afterschool with Rachel Eby, the MOMS science teacher advising the club, to review the material and hone their knowledge.

“Kids absolutely love this club,” said Ms. Eby. “A lot of students dream of growing up to be firefighters and EMTs, so this gives them a taste of what it’s actually like.”

The highlight of the preparation will be a visit to the Middlesex County Fire Academy for all the students and coaches involved in the program statewide. The trip provides the participants with a first-hand look at actual firefighter training. Presentations will be conducted by academy instructors as well as by representatives from the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety’s arson unit and their K-9 investigators.

Participating F.I.R.E. Bowl students from all over the state will take an 80-question multiple-choice test after completing their preparation. The two teams with the highest scores then duke it out in a college bowl-style championship match held at Kean University in May.

This is the first year in which MOMS is participating in the event. Ms. Eby, the daughter of a retired Newark firefighter who spent 42 years on the job, coordinated the F.I.R.E. Bowl club for two years at Belleville Middle School. When she began working at MOMS this year, she brought the idea to Susan Breton, school principal, who embraced the opportunity to provide students with a unique type of career exploration.

The New Jersey Division of Fire Safety has sponsored the F.I.R.E. Bowl every year since 2005. 

Building bridges

MOMS students recently put their ingenuity and science knowledge to the test by constructing the strongest bridges they could using just toothpicks and gumdrops. The structural challenge, done by every student in the school, also helped the kids develop their critical thinking skills and ability to collaborate with their peers.

Gabrielle Czernik, a civil engineer with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, guided the students through the hands-on STEM lessons which were conducted in the cafeteria and library throughout the day. Each bridge had to span stacks of books set eight inches apart.

"The level of excitement and enthusiasm was incredible," said David Eisenberg, MOMS' library media specialist who organized Ms. Czernik's visit. "The students saw how the science that they're learning in school is used in real life. Showing the relevance between what is taught in the classroom and how that knowledge is applied in the real world makes learning powerful and long-lasting."

Before the hands-on science, Ms. Czernik discussed civil engineering careers and the most common specializations (transportation, geotechnical, environmental, coastal, water resources, and construction). She also discussed the role of the Parks Department in managing New York City’s 5,000 parks and 160 miles of waterfront.

This is the fourth year in which Ms. Czernik has brought hands-on engineering challenges to MOMS students.

Mindfulness center helps address student needs

Walking through the Mount Olive Middle School hallway amid the hustle and bustle between periods, you wouldn’t look twice; it appears to be just another classroom in a row of classrooms. Inside, though, is an oasis of calm and focus.

The overhead tube lighting has been turned off in favor of the softer illumination of table lamps and torchiers, with a salt crystal lamp casting an amber glow in one corner. Cushy beanbag chairs rest on the floor. A tank of fish murmurs in the background. Scent diffusers lightly sweeten the air with freshness.

This is the Mindfulness Learning Center, a new resource for students who are struggling academically or emotionally. After recommendations by staff members, students come here to receive personalized instruction or learn techniques to pay better attention in school. They may also be guided through the process of understanding how their bodies and minds react to stressors which can become obstacles for learning.

Staffed by a veteran educator and two guidance counselors who devote part of their day here, the Mindfulness Learning Center provides an added layer of support. It might be used to help a student who needs a tranquil environment just to take a test, for example, or a student with a behavioral issue who may benefit from learning to better control his or her emotions. It’s all about helping students free themselves from distractions and allowing them to better focus on what they’re in school for: learning.

“If a teacher sees a student trying their hardest and not thriving, or just having difficulty getting through the school day for emotional reasons, the teacher might recommend that they come down here,” said center teacher Erin Moriarty, who addresses the academic needs of kids. “The students who come here understand that the Mindfulness Center is not an escape room, it’s a coping room.”

From an adult perspective, the concept that kids have stress may seem a bit quizzical. In reality, children at this age level experience dramatic physical, emotional, social, and cognitive transformations which can compound academic struggles, problems at home (e.g. divorce, sick family member), and issues with peers. In the classroom, this translates to difficulties with attention, mood, and learning readiness.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness at its simplest can be described as “focused in the moment.” In education, the term has been around for about 20 years and is used to describe concentration techniques, information, and self-assessment that can enhance productivity and cultivate a positive state of mind. Deep breathing exercises to modulate mood and developing an understanding of your own specific stress triggers are just some examples of how to work toward mindfulness.

The MOMS Mindfulness Learning Center team coordinates services for students by working with the counselors from all three grades, student assistance counselors, teachers, and school nurses.

“We’re really here just to be an advocate for children and what they need,” said Brittany LaRusso, who along with Vitina Krentz provides the center's counseling services. “Getting them to understand that there is someone in the school looking out for them and who they can turn to for help is so important.”

The creation of a mindfulness center at MOMS was the idea of school principal Susan Breton, a former guidance counselor and past director of the high school’s guidance department. A significant amount of research was conducted before it was planned and put into place, including a visit to a similar center at West Morris Regional High School.

Mount Olive Middle School
160 Wolfe Road Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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Phone: 973.691.4006 Fax: 973.691.4029

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