Teachers plan ‘pizza parties’ for Samsel Upper Elementary students

SAYREVILLE – To recognize the hard work and dedication of their fifth grade pupils during the coronavirus pandemic, three teachers at the Samsel Upper Elementary School (SUES) in Sayreville rewarded the pupils with a pizza party.

Pizza kits from J&S Pizza, South Amboy, were delivered to the 49 fifth grade pupils of teachers Dawn Schwartz, Gineen Morosco and Alysse Darrow at the start of June as a reward for their work amid the coronavirus. Due to the pandemic, the pupils were unable to physically attend school and all instruction was conducted remotely to their homes.

“This online learning experience has been so stressful, not only for educators, but for the students and parents as well,” Schwartz said. “I wanted my students to know how much we missed them and that I was proud of their perseverance and grit in completing their work. We needed a chance for everyone to get together and celebrate that.

“In our Google Meets, we had been talking about our favorite foods and about things we have been doing at home, such as baking and cooking,” she continued. “Some of the students would bring their breakfasts or lunches to the Meets also, so I thought it would be fun to have a pizza party and eat lunch together.”

According to Schwartz, J&S Pizza was selected to provide the pizzas because it is a family business of one of her students.

“When the pandemic began, they were handing out free make-your-own pizza kits to any family who wanted one, so I contacted them,” she said. “I thought that even though we had a smaller budget since we were using our own money, we would still be able to support a local family business of one of our students while putting smiles on all of our students’ faces. J&S Pizza was willing to make those pizza kits for us within the budget we had.”

Schwartz explained that she and her partners Darrow and Morosco have two homerooms, one with 27 students and one with 22 students. After emailing the parents to let them know the timeframe of their delivery and their plans, while asking them to keep it as a surprise for the pupils, the teachers began to prepare the deliveries.

Darrow was unable to participate in the deliveries due to being pregnant with twins, so Morosco and Schwartz met at J&S Pizza to pack up the pizza kits. The pizzas were delivered by the teachers over the course of two days on June 1 and 2.

“It took about two hours to deliver about 13 pizzas each,” Schwartz said. “The students were so excited to see us. It gave us the opportunity to say goodbye, and tell them how proud we were of them, and that no matter how they started the year in the [Sayreville] Middle School next year, that they were going to be okay. We also gave them all of their certificates, a chapter book, and letters from both Mrs. Darrow and I in a New Jersey Devils string bag.”

Following the deliveries, Schwartz spoke favorably of the pizza party and noted that it provided Darrow an opportunity to reveal her pregnancy to the pupils.

“The virtual pizza party worked out well,” she said. “It was the largest attendance at a Google Meet this year. We had our guidance counselor Mrs. [Linda] Smith, and our Math ASI [Academic Support Instruction] instructor Mrs. [Michelle] DiPaolo drop in for a visit and eat lunch with us as well.

“Mrs. Darrow couldn’t tell the students about her pregnancy before the shutdown, so she announced it at the party by showing them her belly,” Schwartz continued. “The expressions of shock and excitement on the students’ faces said it all. We conducted a poll on whether the twins would be boys or girls, or one of each.

“We also chatted about pizza toppings and thick vs. thin crust pizza, and what we wanted to do when the pandemic restrictions started to lift. It was a wonderful opportunity for everyone ‘to see’ each other and have some fun.”

While Schwartz acknowledged the difficulty of the project, she found the end result to be rewarding.

“In my 28 years of teaching, this was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” Schwartz said. “My two partners were lifesavers, we work really well together. It is nice when you have a team that will indulge your crazy ideas, and when it comes to the students and their well-being, they are always there for them.

“This class was special because I had a lot of them in third grade when I worked at Eisenhower [Elementary] School. I was lucky enough to watch them grow there and then see them again when I moved to the Samsel Upper Elementary School. They have a special place in my heart, and I couldn’t be prouder of their work this year.”