Saturday Academy kicks off its 10th year at Carteret School in Bloomfield

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BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Carteret Elementary School began its Saturday Academy, now in its 10th year, on the morning of Jan. 29. The sessions, which run for approximately three hours divided into three, 50-minute sessions, are held for six weeks and provide Carteret students with programs that may not be part of the regular curriculum. 

The morning begins at 9 a.m. in the gym for the children and their instructors. Groups then form and disperse into various classrooms, returning to the gym between sessions to reorganize.

For Principal John Baltz, the idea behind initiating the program a decade ago was to open up the building to create a sense of community.

“There’s a good balance of enrichment and remediation,” he said in his office on Saturday, Feb. 5. “Each year we look for new classes. They are constantly evolving.”

There are some standard classes involving science, computers and math, and old Saturday Academy favorites such as “Movies and Literature” and soccer. Other classes available include “Zentangle Art,” “Reader’s Theater,” and “Learn About Legos.” There are a dozen opportunities altogether.

The academy is free, paid for with Title I funding. Some of the instructors — such as Jeannette O’Rourke, Jean Barbetta, Jennifer Gaviria and Michael Cullen — have been with Baltz from the start.

Most years see at least 200 child participants. “This year we have 130,” Baltz said, “but we’re satisfied, considering the conditions. We set a goal of 125 and met it.”

Coordinating the entire effort is reading interventionist Diane Ostlin; she has been with the program for six years. 

In her first year with the program, first-grade teacher Nicole Couto leads a class she originated called “Authors Study.”

“I have my master’s in literature instruction,” Couto said in a hectic gymnasium as children began forming into groups. “I learned how important it is to learn about the authors. Authors foster a love for literature.”

Couto uses popular picture books written by Mo Willems, Kevin Henkes and Eric Carle. 

Another new class, “Let’s Learn To Code,” originated with and is taught by librarian and media specialist Barbetta. She explained that coding is how a student tells a computer what to do.

“You don’t have a lot of girls in coding,” she said about why she wanted to teach coding at Saturday Academy. “If they realize it’s not as scary as they thought, they can excel. I like to encourage the girls, and children in general, in math and science, and have them move ahead.”

An interesting class was “Zentangle Art,” taught by bilingual teacher Susanne Mancheno. Here, the children were carefully marking drawing paper with rectangles and squares.

“The repetition of geometric patterns helps in figuring out math computations,” Mancheno said. “And it’s an art that travels easily. All you need is a marker and paper.”

Music was playing in this classroom.

“I like to incorporate music,” she said. “It goes with art.”

In the darkened classroom for “Movies and Literature,” about 10 children were seated on the floor watching an adaption of Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The instructor, Gianna Allegretti, said, after spending the first 15 minutes reading a few chapters of the book, the children watched that part of the movie based on those chapters. This is followed by a discussion as to the changes made from page to screen. Was the book represented by live action or an animation? What parts of the written story were eliminated or changed for the movie? In this manner, more than a single session would be required to read the book and view the movie. The coming attraction is “Matilda,” another Dahl creation.

“It’s a popular course with snacks,” Allegretti said of the class.

In “Music and Movement,” children thumped percussive instruments and played musical chairs, a game that sometimes required a gentle reassurance to a saddened child, squeezed from a chair, that another game would soon begin.

Photos by Daniel Jackovino