Our Collaborator — Children of Carlstadt
Children of Carlstadt, New Jersey
Many school districts and private school programs embed Mattie’s poetry and essays into curriculum for various grades. Sometimes the focus is on reading or writing, sometimes on character development, and sometimes on learning English as a second language. One teacher and school district took the concept of ‘allowing Mattie to inspire students’ to a whole new level.
Carlstadt Middle School’s sixth grade literature teacher, Michael Mangone, first saw Mattie on The Oprah Show during fall, 2001. He knew instantly that Mattie as a poet, as peacemaker, and as a person kids could relate to, would benefit his students. For the next 6 years, Mr. Mangone embedded “Mattie Lessons” in his teaching throughout the school year. The students sent letters to Mattie until 2004, and then began communicating with Mattie’s mom after Mattie’s death. In 2007, Jeni began visiting the school each spring, and having Skype chats with classes during other parts of the academic year. She was very touched when one student wrote to her saying, “Never fear that Mattie’s message of hope and peace will fade because he died – your Children of Carlstadt will take that message forward with our lives!”
Mattie and his message of peace enabled me to present some of the richest lessons of my career to my students in Carlstadt, NJ. I was able to integrate Mattie’s message with our writing curriculum, through lessons like “Martin and Mattie Essays” – while learning to write a paper that demonstrates the skill of “compare and contrast,” the students are also learning about character development as they study the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mattie J.T. Stepanek.
Through this and other projects, my students responded with efforts that ranged from having our new school library and a new peace park named after Mattie, to two trips to Maryland and a very special relationship with Jeni Stepanek.
The children were so inspired by Mattie and Jeni they also created a “Peace Quilt” in Mattie’s honor, and as a gift to Jeni. In an effort to stop bullying in our school, the students presented Jeni with their lists of ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ and worked with her on “No Name Calling for a Day.” In 2010, we presented our first annual “Mattie Stepanek Peacemaker Award” to a student graduating from middle school who exemplifies Mattie’s message of “thinking, speaking, and living gently.” Our mayor named May 22nd forevermore “Mattie Stepanek Day” in our borough and also spoke at the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park Dedication Ceremony in Rockville, MD.
One parent summed it up best when she said that learning about Mattie put the children in touch with feelings they never knew they had before. As the Carlstadt children sing to Jeni Stepanek (from “Wicked”) at the end of her visits with them: “Because we knew you, we have been changed for good.”
Mr. Mangone now volunteers as a member of the
to help with the creation of peace posters and Teacher Tips
that will be disseminated in schools as a part of the Pathways to Peace Program.
Read more about Michael Mangone,
who was selected by Mattie’s Foundation as our