Four schools in Old Bridge named 2021 New Jersey Schools of Character


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OLD BRIDGE – The Old Bridge Public Schools continue to focus on school character and climate.

It is evident as four schools in Old Bridge – Leroy Gordon Cooper Elementary School, Virgil I. Grissom Elementary School, Alan B. Shepard Elementary School and Carl Sandburg Middle School – were recertified and named 2021 New Jersey State Schools of Character on Jan. 25.

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Each year,, a national advocate and leader for character, certifies schools and districts at the state level that demonstrate a dedicated focus on character development which has a positive effect on academic achievement, student behavior and school climate. designated 76 schools and one district as State Schools of Character for 2021. In addition, is recognizing two international schools in Brazil and Mexico as Schools of Character.

Since its inception,’s Schools of Character program has positively impacted nearly 3 million students, staff, parents and other community members.

Each school will maintain this status for a period of five years and serve as models for other schools, helping them to achieve the same results.

Cooper, Grissom Shepard and Sandburg schools received state recognition, after each submitted lengthy applications, including information regarding the district as well as individual school’s overview and character education journey, according to a release.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Hoeker expressed her excitement over the news. She was principal at Madison Park when the school earned the recognition; she also is a former principal of the Alan B. Shepard School, the Old Bridge School District’s first National School of Character, and she has led teams to bring character education to the district’s 11 elementary schools.

“At a time when there is so much uncertainty, it is validating to our staff and students to receive state recognition and recertification for our schools of character,” Hoeker said. “The core values consistently embedded throughout our schools are the foundation that drive our students and staff to do more to serve one another and promote overall well being for the greater good.”

Cooper School Principal Cathy Gramata said Cooper students, staff, parents and community worked collaboratively to embrace and embody the core principles of character.

“We will continue to look for ways to build upon our commitment and look forward to the national recognition,” she said.

Grissom School Principal Anthony Arico III said he was proud to see the school community continue to embed character throughout facets of the school.

“Staff, students, and parents did not rest on its laurels about receiving National School of Character recognition five years ago, rather continuing to feed character and nurturing its growth and development,” he said.

Joseph Marinzoli, principal at Shepard School, said it is an honor that the elementary school has been recognized as a State School of Character for the third time – 2011, 2016 and 2021.

“The fact that the school has been able to demonstrate proficiency in the 11 principles over the course of more than 10 years since originally being named a State School of Character back in 2011 is a testament to the validity of the values espoused by as well as to the work and teaching being done every day by the talented and dedicated faculty and staff of Shepard School,” he said. “The values that make Shepard a School of Character have been woven into the fabric of its instructional practices, its professional development, and its community, able to withstand changes of graduating classes, retiring or transferred teachers, and even three different administrators.”

Carl Sandburg Vice Principal Angela Ziemba said “over the past five years, our teachers, staff, students and parents have put a great deal of effort into creating programs and opportunities that positively impact student learning and development.

“We are a large school with diverse needs, and are committed to fostering an inclusive community that understands the importance of relationships and connections,” she said. “While the pandemic has presented many challenges, our #SandburgStrong philosophy is a testament to our teachers’ dedication and our students’ resilience.”

Schools and districts announced on Jan. 25 will be considered for’s highest distinction of National School of Character.

“We congratulate these schools on achieving State School of Character designation in a year filled with so many challenges,” Dr. Arthur Schwartz,’s president, said in a release announcing the schools. “The educators and parents at these schools work  together to ensure that every child understands, cares about, and consistently practices the core values that form the heart of each family and school. We are honored to recognize their efforts and share their inspiring work with schools and school districts throughout the United States and internationally.”

The 2021 National Schools of Character will be announced in May and honored at the National Forum next fall in Washington, D.C.

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