One teacher in Hudson County called it “the 9/11 of schools,” suggesting that the impact was felt deeply in most communities because students and teachers everywhere related to the victims on a number of levels.
And it is partly because of this huge impact that students in Bayonne, along with school and city officials, are grateful for their ability to do something to preserve the memory of the innocent children and their teachers slaughtered by a psychotic gunman.
Students from Bayonne High School are taking part in a statewide initiative that will benefit a local park in Bayonne while honoring the memory of those lost in the tragic shooting of 23 kids and three teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, last December.
The students involved in the project said they hope the playgrounds will provide a symbol of hope, recovery, and a return to normalcy.
“A gift to our youth in an effort to enhance and sustain their precious childhood,” their slide show presentation said.
Through a series of fundraising events, the students hope to refurbish a local park as well as preserve the names of students victimized by the shooting.
Operations Playground is an initiative that would build playgrounds throughout the Tri State areas to remember the 26 souls killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The New Jersey State Firemen’s Benevolent Association selected 26 school districts, of which one was Bayonne.
The Bayonne High School Student Council and local city and school officials are looking to help make the project work.
In order to complete the project, students will be conducting a series of fundraisers that they hope will unite the community, getting everybody to work toward this common goal. These fundraisers include a dance-a-thon, a walk-a-thon, a talent show, a mini-golf tournament, and a t-shirt and bracelet sale.
The first event will be a bowl-a-thon on May 9 at the Hudson Lanes from 4 to 7 p.m., where students will raise money for each pin they knock down as others cheer them on and contribute.
Samantha Serrano, one of the Operation Playground chair people, said this is part of a yearlong effort to raise money to rebuild parks and create a memorial garden in honor of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook
shooting, and would include the names of Bayonne students and teachers who have passed on.
“This ties us in with those who lost their lives in Newtown,” she said.
The students believe this will unite the City of Bayonne, raise awareness of school safety, honor those who lost their lives, and honor local citizens who contributed to the school district.
Alexis Bailey, an Operation Playground chairperson, said the fundraising will be ongoing to add money to what will be given for the upgrade.
Mark Gurczeski, student council advisor, said that while this is a Bayonne effort, it is part of a larger effort to rebuild parks around the area. He said the students are taking the lead in developing the fundraising efforts and contacting local officials to develop a plan for the local park that would serve as a permanent memorial to both Newtown victims and local students and teachers who are no longer with us, but who left a lasting impression on local schools.
“Not all the funding comes from local sources,” Gurczeski said. “But the students are looking to match what we get.”
The students are looking for support from BHS students and faculty, as well as students and faculty of elementary and private schools, local and state officials, citizens of Bayonne, and local colleges and alumni from BHS.
Along with Serrano and Bailey, the operations committee included Abner Dela Cruz, and is aided by others, including Kristy Martin, student council coordinator.
Martin said various media is being used to alert people throughout the school district.
“We’ve emailed to elementary student councils, and it is their job to spread the word,” Martin said.
“This ties us in with those who lost their lives in Newtown.”—Samantha Serrano
Each event will have an entry fee to cover the costs associated with the event, along with the sale of Operation Playground t-shirts that will be worn at each event, and those who purchase the t-shirt will get a discount on the entry fee for events
Other community-project ideas include a poetry slam and art festival, a 5k fun run, a tricky tray and culinary fair, as well as a Bayonne talent show. A game night is also possible, with a number of events to be held on an elementary level such as a mini-golf tournament, field day, book sale, garage sale, and more.
Other high school ideas might include a BHS Olympiad, battle of the bands, various competitions, and Mr. and Mrs. BHS, and dinner and a movie.
Outside the school, the students may look to a carwash, bracelet sale, and other similar fundraising efforts.
Already scheduled for June 6 is one of the more popular high-school events, the Powder Puff Tournament, in which girls become the football players and boys the cheerleaders.
From May 29 to 31, Operation Playground will hold its Kan Jam at the high-school ice rink, where teams of two compete against each other in a series of sponsored events to raise funds for the park.
“Kan Jam is similar to a Frisbee tournament,” said Bailey. “You try to throw it into a can with a slit on top.”
While no park has been officially designated for the upgrade, the students are eyeing Fitzpatrick Park on Avenue C near City Hall.
“I think the park project is something that can unite the whole city,” Bailey said. “This is something bigger than just Sandy Hook; it is something where people can remember friends, family, and colleagues.”
Serrano said the project itself had its own message.
“It is about working together,” she said. “We all need someone to talk to and not keep things bottled up. We need not to forget who we are. And this reminds us that we all care.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.