This release was submitted by the Clark School District.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day turned out to me a most memorable and poignant school day in the Clark Schools. An interesting turn of events, as the day, as it has been in past years, was originally scheduled as a school holiday. However, havoc was wrecked on the school calendar when the district was forced to lose six days of school in October and November to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. Administration had to modify the school calendar in light of the lost school days, and numerous days of planned school closures were reinstated as school days.
In the case of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Superintendent Kenneth Knops remarked “When you are given lemons, you learn to make lemonade. I was disappointed when we had to restore this holiday as a school day, however I was delighted with the programs of commemoration and remembrance of Dr. King that we held district-wide.
The district’s Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration activities concluded with an assembly program at the Frank K. Hehnly School. The program began with a welcome from School Principal Shirley Bergin, followed by poignant remarks by Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso, who highlighted Dr. King’s ideals and how the participants in the upcoming program would idealize his vision. Mayor Bonaccorso was followed by Clark Superintendent Kenneth Knops who thanked the mayor for his moving remarks and then proceeded to introduce Senator Teresa Ruiz.
In his introduction, Knops described the Senator as the child of parents who entered this country from Puerto Rico in the 1950’s, accepted numerous challenges in her quest to continually better herself, and ultimately was elected to the New Jersey Senate, where she is the first Latina to serve in the upper body of the State Legislature. Knops went on to highlight the Senator’s commitment to public education through her advocacy and support of students, teachers, and parents; and her proposing legislation that advanced education in the state.
Senator Ruiz then took the microphone to spirited applause from the student body comprised of third, fourth, and fifth graders. She spoke of the characteristics of vision and determination, setting goals, and aspiring to new challenges. The Senator extolled the impressionable elementary school audience to always give their personal best and to strive to set goals and keep their dreams focused on their goals. After her well received motivational talk, the Senator fielded questions from an enthusiastic audience, ranging from biographical questions to how she became a Senator.
After Senator Ruiz’s spirited talk, Mayor Bonaccorso came to the podium and introduced the second guest of the morning. In describing National Football League star and 11 year veteran Al Singleton, Mayor Bonaccorso highlighted a student who graduated nearby Irvington High School and went on to play football and graduate from Temple University. Singleton was then drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1997 NFL draft, and played six seasons with the Bucs, culminating with his being on the Tamp Bay Super Bowl Champions of 2003. Singleton then spent the next four years playing with the Dallas Cowboys.
The student audience, adorned a wide variety of professional sports team shirts, mostly Dallas Cowboy shirts, gave Al Singleton a warm round of applause. Singleton then went on to discuss his eleven year career and the numerous challenges and hardships he faced along the way. He described a typical day as a professional football player, beginning with workouts at 6:00, and continuing with rigorous workouts and preparation throughout the day. He highlighted the ultimate satisfaction of being on a Super Bowl Championship Team, the culmination of a life dedicated since sixth grade to playing football. The audience grasped Singleton’s every word as he described the traits of character, commitment, dedication, and focusing on one’s goals. During a follow up question and answer period, he fielded numerous questions from the impressionable audience of eight to eleven year olds, ranging from what it was like to play in the NFL to what was the first football team he ever played on.
The assembly program then concluded with Board of Education President Lorraine Alkonis thanking both Senator Ruiz and Al Singleton for their attendance and for traveling to Clark to spend the morning in the Clark Schools. Both were then presented with certificates of appreciation on behalf of the school district.
In describing the day, Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops commented, “We couldn’t have had two more idealistic role models than Senator Ruiz and Al Singleton. Both achieved their ultimate dreams in their respective careers and each serves as the ultimate guiding light, role model, and mentor to impressionable students. I am grateful to both Senator Ruiz and Al Singleton, they certainly invoked the spirit and vision of Dr. King with their motivational talks.”