In the Schools: Jump Rope for Heart

Hawk Elementary School was among the top 10 schools leading Mercer County’s American Heart Association’s 25th Anniversary Jump Rope for Heart to fight New Jersey’s number one and number three killers — heart disease and stroke. ##M:[more]## Last year, Jump Rope for Heart schools collectively raised more than $1.7 million to support American Heart Association-funded heart and stroke research, cardiovascular education, and community programs.

Go West, Young Man

Eric J. Spiegel, a High School South sophomore has been selected to perform at the 2005 American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) National Conference in Los Angeles, February 1 through 5. This high honor is a first for a student in the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District. Spiegel was selected as one of 300 students to perform at the ACDA conference. During the national convention, Spiegel will perform in the Senior High School Honors Choir conducted by Jeffery Redding. “Eric is a wonderful student, he is always engaged and a leader in his section. For his young age, he has an excellent sense of pitch, great intonation, and is very focused,” says High School South choir director Janice Chapin.

Spiegel is a member of the High School South Boys A Cappella group, Jazz Band (he performs on the tenor saxophone), First Edition, Westminster Choir College of Rider University Youth Chorale, and the Band and Choir at High School South. Spiegel was notified of his acceptance into this national choir after submitting an audition CD consisting of a folk song, “My Country Tis’ of Thee,” and a selection of scales.

Limo Ride

A little incentive is all it took for students at Grover Middle School to raise $24,"584.95 in a magazine drive, which earned over $14,"000 for the school. Principal Steve Mayer agreed that if the kids reached the goal of $20,"000 in sales then they could all duct-tape him to a wall.

Other incentives included the chance to be Principal of the Day — which seventh grader Melissa Heckl won — and a drawing for an electric scooter, which Allison Pungello won.

Twenty four students met a quota and earned a ride in a super stretch Hummer limousine (care of Tydyn Limousine and Car Service) to have lunch at Cafe Capuano on November 18. They included sixth graders Elizabeth Donoghue, Jamie Friscia, Melissa Lichtman, Emily Mauro, and Diana Yuan. Also seventh graders Sofia Alvarez, Michelle Chang, Alexandria Imbriale, Michael Ireland, Sarah Openheim, Gregory Snyder, Makenzi Sumners, Emily MacArthur, and Dharin Nanavati. Also eighth graders Jessica Caricato, Gabriel Dixson, Alec Gioseffi, Niki Kelley, Christopher Leyden, Ally Nesci, Megan Phelan, Chris Presutto, Paul Radovich, and Dana Tepper.

‘Back to School’

Several teachers in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school system will participate in seminars being offered by Princeton University’s 2004-’05 Teachers as Scholars program.

They include Ellen Bruggeman, The Nature and Use of Human Language; Eileen Chubik-Kwis, Technology in American Life; Seamus Dowling, Ancient Egypt and Its Hieroglyphs; Karen Galley, The Process of Scientific Discovery; Ellen Glassband, Fast-Talking Dames; Debbie Goodkin, Laughing at Love: Shakespeare’s Comedies; Anthony Guidotti, Jr., The Singing, Creative Writing Program; Sarah Hugger, Cain and Abel; and Audrey Kennan, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Also, Karen Kelley, Why Can’t the United States Get Its Act Together with the International Human Rights System?; Teresa Maone, The Big Bang and the Expanding Universe; Mary Parker, Children, Grownups, and Wild Things: Classics by Sendak, Kipling, Jarrell, and E.B. White; Edward Ray, Impressionism in Focus: Claude Monet; Tarynn Yokomizo, The Salem Witch Trials.

Academic Decathlon

When you think of the decathlon, you probably think Olympic feats of strength and power. But every Wednesday afternoon at High School South, decathletes of a different sort are stretching and pushing themselves in a contest for gold. They are the 30 members of the Academic Decathlon Club, and they are in training for a grueling test of brains and endurance at the State Academic Decathlon competition Morris Township in early February.

“The event is so diverse,” says Brian De, a junior at South who is in his second year with the club and currently serves as co-president of the team. “It doesn’t compare to any other academic event; it makes students want to achieve excellence. And it is a real team building experience.”

The National Academic Decathlon website,, says: “The Academic Decathlon does not permit participants to specialize but rather encourages academic versatility by requiring students to prepare for all ten events.” (South’s website, which De maintains, is

Last year South’s team made it to the state competition, the first time in their over 10-year history, and they placed in the top 10 in their region. Getting to such a high level is no easy feat.

The Academic Decathlon is a scholastic competition that consists of 10 subjects including math, language and literature, essay writing, art, music, science, and social science, as well as some subjects that the average high school student is less likely to encounter in the regular curriculum. The interview and speech categories “teach you to think on your feet,” says De, and economics has students look at issues that influence their lives through the lens of economics with a view to a bigger, global picture. The “Super Quiz” is an oral relay and the only part of the event that is open to the public.

Each school enters a team of nine students, comprised of three different divisions, based on students GPAs. Three “A” or Honor students, three “B” or Scholastic students, and three “C” or Varsity students. “The three levels really help us because you have people with different interests and strengths. It is more about the team performance that determines how far you can go,” says De, adding that the most important qualities in an decathlete are motivation, interest, and teamwork.

South’s Academic Decathlon club meets every Wednesday, and the team members for February’s contest will be selected from this group of students. During their regular meetings the group focuses on a specific subject area and refines their skills, says De. As the event nears the group might meet outside of school to run drills, practice impromptu speeches, and discuss assigned readings.

“Every year there is a theme,” says De. “This year’s theme is Exploring Ancient Worlds. We are reading plays by Sophocles — Antigone and Oedipus, and the science topic is astronomy.”

Last year De won an individual gold medal in math on the state level, but he is not in this for the medals. “I truly look forward to the meeting and to helping the other students. It is a great opportunity; it makes students want to achieve academic excellence. It motivates me. Not just for the medals, but for the experience.”

Members of South’s Academic Decathlon club include seniors Akshay Goel, Ronald Huang, Karan Khanna, Derek Kiernan, and Naveen Sheshadri. Also, juniors Chris Calingo, Albert Chen, Jerrald Chen, Brian De, Hira Haider, Brian Ho, David Hosfield, Pooja Khanna, Momin Naik, Nik Nesterov, Tanmay Parekh, Hiral Shah, Anand Somasundaram, and Mike Zhao. Also, sophomores Mindy Ganguly, Nikhil Jha, Norma Lopez, Amy McCaughey, Karen Menezes, Aditya Radhakrishnan, Piray Sekar, Lokesh Shah, Caitlin Spence, and Varsha Venugopal.

— Deb Cooperman

Youth for the Elderly

When her great-grandmother Blanche Goldberg died last year, Lauren O’Brien continued to visit the Pavilion retirement community where Goldberg had been living. “I saw how many other people there didn’t get visitors,” she says, and she wanted to do something about it. She and her older brother, Andrew, formed Youth for the Elderly — a group dedicated to making a difference in the lives of older adults.

O’Brien is now the president of the Youth for the Elderly program, which is entering its second year. She lives in West Windsor with her parents, Ilene, a homemaker, and Edward, principal of Advanced Business Communications with offices in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. A junior at the Hun School, O’Brien attended WWP schools until the seventh grade. Andrew also attended WWP schools through middle school, and is a graduate of Princeton Day School; he is now a freshman at Lehigh University.

Youth for the Elderly began modestly last year, says O’Brien. “Originally it was just some of our friends. Then we put an ad in the West Windsor Plainsboro News to see if anyone was interested in volunteering.” This year the club boasts nearly 20 members including Mandy Lipsky, (co-president), Sam Polsino, Corynne Simpler, Nell Ross, Caitlyn Cheezum, Caroline Shading, and Steph Thumm, all from North. Also, Lauren Pinelli, Lauren Dinneny, Kerri Dinneny, Nicole Brand, Lisa Simi, Sam Field, Kristen McCain, and Jenna Weinsein, from South. Also, Keely Fitzpatrick and Jessica Cohen from the Hun School.

Simplicity is the key to many of the group’s activities, says O’Brien. “We go [to the Pavilion at Forrestal] every other Sunday. Sometimes we bring an activity — usually arts and crafts — or we watch football with the guys, play bingo. Sometimes we just talk.” For Thanksgiving, the group made arts and crafts turkeys, and they are planning to decorate cookies for the December holidays. Youth for the Elderly donates their time, and the Pavilion covers the costs of supplies. “We call them two weeks in advance and tell them what we want to do and they get what we need,” says O’Brien. Last year the group collaborated with Princeton Dance and Theater Studio on a cultural history production of the Nutcracker, with Youth for the Elderly teens reading a narrative, written by dancer and dance historian Marie Alonso Synder, about the historical background of the different world traditions suggested by the “divertissements” in Act II, while PDT dancers performed.

The activities of Youth for the Elderly are open to all residents of the Pavilion retirement community, but there is a core group who come most Sundays. “It is interesting to see how wise they are — how much they know,” O’Brien says. “And there are certain people who you really connect with. There is one lady who is actually 104. She is not very coherent, but she knows I’m there. She’ll hold my hand and I’ll talk. Not about anything in particular — just how was your day and stuff like that. I just like spending time with the people there. It is nice to be able to make them happy.”

O’Brien says Youth for the Elderly hopes to branch out to other retirement communities and they have plans to start visiting the Greenwood House in Ewing in 2005. The group welcomes new members. For more information, call O’Brien at 609-275-0735, Mandy Lipsky at 609-275-4493, or Nell Ross at 609-716-8093.

Winning Cheerleaders

For the first time in the 30-year history of the West Windsor-Plainsboro Pop Warner Junior Football Program a WW-P Pop Warner Cheerleading Team will compete in the nationals. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving the WW-P Midget Squad team won the regionals at Sovereign Bank Arena. On December 8 the team will travel to the Pop Warner National Cheerleading Competition at Disney World in Florida. They will compete on December 10 and return home on December 12.

At the nationals, the Midgets — comprised of 12, 132, and 14-year-olds — will compete against 17 other squads from the nine Pop Warner Regional Championships held over the weekends before and after Thanksgiving. This is the third competition the girls have had to win in order to qualify for the nationals.

Squad members who attend Community Middle School are , and Caroline Visovsky. From Grover Middle School, Lindsay Browning, Jennifer King, Jessica Napolitano, Elyse Sartor, and Natalie Tucker. Heather Mykietyn attends High School South, Amanda Motola attends St. Paul’s in Princeton, and student coach and team member Jordan Browning attends the Hun School. Coaches are Tammy Browning, Judy Casparius, Sharon Davis, Kay Sartor, Nancy Ireland, and student coach Cassie DeVita (High School North).

The WWP Wildcats organization is part of Central Jersey’s Pop Warner Football and Cheerleading program and currently has 300 participants in grades 1 through 9. Registration for the 2005 season opens in February/ March, and the season begins in August. For more information, visit

What’s Yours Is Mine

Town Center Elementary School third graders traveled to Sterling Mine Museum in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, as part of the Grade 3 New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards. During the trip, the students saw how the mine worked and the different jobs miners performed. Inside the museum center the students participated in a scavenger hunt to find various rocks and minerals such as dinosaur prints and magnetite. The students also viewed various minerals and went on a rock hunt.


Rider University: Catherine Daab, a senior psychology major, and Candida L. St. John, a junior liberal studies major, both from West Windsor, were named Andrew J. Rider Scholars during the University’s annual Founder’s Day ceremony.

Around Town: MS Walk

Dena Smith trained a long time for the Avon Three-Day Breast Cancer Walk in October of 2001, and she raised a lot of money for the cause. But on the first day of the 60-mile walk, the skies opened up with torrential rains and she and the thousands of participants wound up slogging their way through 20 miles of puddles, cold rain and hazardous conditions. When she arrived at the finish line at the end of the 20-mile day, she learned that the remaining two days and 40 miles of the walk had been cancelled.

At first, Smith was pragmatic. “I figured I’d raised the money and that was good enough.” But later, the fact that she had been unable to complete the physical challenge began to bother her. “I had trained for the walk and I didn’t get to do what I set out to do,” she says. And so she started looking for another three-day walk that she could participate in. “I wanted to raise money for something,” she says.

When the 36-year-old West Windsor resident discovered that the National Multiple Sclerosis Society had their own Three-Day Challenge Walk, Smith knew she had found her ticket. “My uncle suffers from MS and has been in a wheelchair for eight years, and the woman who married my husband and me — and is a really good friend — also suffers from MS,” says Smith. The personal connection fueled her determination to take on this particular challenge.

Since there were no New Jersey challenge walks on the schedule, Smith decided to sign up for the September 10 through 12 Chesapeake Walk that started in Annapolis, Maryland, and ended at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Smith’s parents live there, so she was able to squeeze in a visit at the same time.

Smith grew up in northern Virginia and received her bachelor’s from American University in 1990. Then she moved to New Jersey where she earned an MBA from Rutgers. After graduation, she settled in the area and worked for Dow Jones. She has spent the last four years as a member of the marketing team at ELS Language Centers, a division of Berlitz in Princeton.

Smith’s husband, Frank, a financial consultant, helped her train by walking in Princeton two to three nights a week, but Smith credits the dedication of her friend, Cyndee Sindelar, with helping her maintain her weekly trainings. The two woman walked every Saturday from March until September, clocking in up to 16 miles at a stint. Smith also often walked on Sundays.

Getting really good walking shoes was just as important as putting in the training miles, she says. “It’s all about buying the right shoes and socks,” says Smith, who bought her shoes at Princeton Running Company on Nassau Street in Princeton. “I brought in my old shoes because they like to look at the bottoms to see how you ‘strike’ the ground,” she says. She credits her good shoes and socks with making the grueling walk easier, and says lots of others on the walk were not so well prepared and got blisters.

The Challenge Walk sets a $1,"500 minimum to participate, and Smith well exceeded that by raising almost $3,"000 from friends, colleagues, and family. “People were really generous,” she says. “At the opening ceremony, the person who raised the most money carried the state flag; I carried the flag for New Jersey.”

Smith did not register with a team, so when she got to Maryland, she gravitated towards a group of other walkers who also came solo. “There were a bunch of us walking in one’s and two’s,” she says. “Two sisters from New York, one from Maryland, and North Carolina. We were kind of a motley crew.” This same crew is talking about doing it again and registering as a team next spring. If they do they plan to make the Motley Crew moniker their official team name.

The experience, Smith says, was “one of the most amazing of my life. Of the top ten things I have done in my life, that is clearly on the list. The physical challenge and the fact that you are raising money to help with something that you have seen people suffer from. It pulls all the pieces together.” Smith says she also felt a mixture of emotions about walking on September 11. “What do you do on that day? It was nice to be able to do something that DID something.”

For information on getting involved in an MS Walk, visit

Nobel Laureate in Texas

When Jinny Baekler, director of the Plainsboro Public Library, began working with Russell Hulse, above, a physicist at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, on prototypes for a children’s science program called Contact Science in 1992, a little incident the following year stopped the program in its tracks. Dr. Hulse, a Plainsboro resident, won the Nobel Prize — at the ripe old age of 43 — for co-discovering the pair of stars called pulsars.

Baekler thought the program would be permanently back-burnered but then one day, out of the blue, Hulse called her with the news that he had found a great specimen of a beaver-eaten log. Since then, Contact Science has reached about 4,"000 kids a year at the library who participate in projects like growing culture dishes from their own hair, attaching Pringles to balsa-wood planes to study aerodynamics, and hurling toast off a crane to discover whether it really always lands jelly side down. The program also offers small-scale traveling science exhibits to public libraries.

This fall, Hulse, who earned a physics degree from Cooper Union in New York City, was invited to join the University of Texas at Dallas as a visiting professor. His assignment? To promote community-based science education through neighborhoods, libraries, museums, and science centers. In an article in the Dallas Morning News, Hulse says: “Science was never a career to me, but a way of life. If you can give that to kids, it’s a wonderful gift.”


Harendra Bhagat of Plainsboro was among a group of alumni from the Albert Dorman Honors College at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) who visited the university to speak to students about the skills needed to succeed professionally. Bhagat, who earned a bachelor’s in computer science from NJIT in May, 2002, is an assistant vice president for the risk and performance unit at Merrill Lynch Investment Managers in Plainsboro. She is currently attending Drexel University as a part-time MBA student.