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White House appointee tours Old Bridge middle school to encourage students, visit planetarium

Nick Andreacci, curator of the planetarium at Jonas Salk Middle School in Old Bridge, presents a demonstration on May 24 during a visit by White House appointee Robert Wilkins.

OLD BRIDGE – The Honorable Robert Wilkins, President Joe Biden’s and former President Donald Trump’s appointee to the Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition visited Jonas Salk Middle School in Old Bridge to tour the school, visit the school’s first-class planetarium facility, and meet with gym students to discuss the importance of health and fitness.

Wilkins is a veteran of the United States Air Force, having served for 26 years and retiring as a Master Sergeant, according to information provided by the Old Bridge Township Public School District. In the Air Force, he served on the staff of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization and Legislative Liaison Office, Secretary of the Air Force. He was also a unit fitness advisor who helped developed exercise programs for unit personnel.

He is currently the president of Rolling Thunder, Washington D.C., Inc., which holds a massive motorcycle rally in Washington every Memorial Day weekend.

The tour on May 24 was led by district Superintendent David Cittadino, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Hoeker and building Principal William Rezes.

After being introduced to one of the physical education classes already in session, Wilkins immediately got down to business, calling on all of the students to join him in a round of pushups, according to the statement.

He then spoke to them about the importance of fitness in the military and in every day life.

He walked around the room asking students what they wanted to do when they grow up, reminding them to stick with it and work hard. Do that and their goals will be attainable, he said.

He then challenged a student, Connor, 13, to a second pushup challenge. The two proceeded to do a set of pushups, which the young man powered through.

“Here’s another lesson,” Wilkins told the crowd, according to the statement: “He didn’t quit.”

Wilkins was joined on the tour by Middlesex County Superintendent Kyle Anderson and East Orange Public School Superintendent Abdulsaleem Hasan and Administrator Anita Champagne, who were visiting Salk to see the school’s planetarium. The planetarium was built in 1968 as part of the original construction of the building, which was designed at the height of the international space race, according to the statement.

While the technology has been updated over the years – its most recent major update was the conversion to a Spitz SciDome digital system in 2009 and a cleaning and repainting of the dome in 2017 – the mission remains the same: bringing exciting, new types of learning to students in a memorable way, according to the statement.

The contingent of VIPs were given a presentation detailing all of the planetarium’s capabilities, from standard lessons on constellations to more interactive lessons about space, space exploration, stars and more. Leading the presentation was planetarium curator and Salk science teacher Nick Andreacci, who showed off the planetarium’s light and sound systems, according to the statement. The planetarium’s flexibility was on full display with demonstrations of various curricula, including math lessons, in the form of a psychedelic fractals lesson, to ecology and Earth science, as demonstrated with an immersive visualization of the exploration of coral reefs.

“This is the best planetarium in New Jersey,” Hasan said at the end of the planetarium presentation, according to the statement.

 

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