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Local Vietnam veteran Jeff Shapiro, center, visited Intermediate South Feb. 21 during its NEA Big Read Day to discuss his experiences during the Vietnam War.

First Stop: Intermediate South

Note: This page is being updated throughout the program with highlights and photos from each school’s NEA Big Read Day. SCROLL DOWN for features from each secondary school as they take place. A full calendar of Toms River NEA Big Read events taking place throughout February and March can be found here.

Feb. 22, 2019-- Toms River Regional Schools’ second NEA Big Read campaign kicked off Jan. 23 at East Dover Elementary School, continued with an extraordinary poetry festival last week, and has now progressed to its scheduled NEA Big Read Days at each secondary school. This year’s literacy program is based on the Vietnam War novel The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

Due to inclement weather Wednesday, Intermediate East’s Big Read Day was rescheduled for Feb. 26, so Intermediate South became the first secondary school to host. Led by its media specialist Joe Benshetler, English teachers, and many others, the school hosted local Vietnam veteran Jeff Shapiro, who will serve as a guest speaker at each intermediate school.

Shapiro received his draft notice in December of 1967 when he was 19 years old. After serving his tour of duty in Vietnam, he returned home and decided to continue his education, graduating from Seton Hall University with a BA in education and later his MA from Georgian Court College. Shapiro taught physical education for almost 40 years at Clark School Elementary in Lakewood and only recently retired. In addition to teaching, he coached football and basketball at Lakewood High School. He still remains active as supervisor of Parks and Recreation in Lakewood.

A war hero as well as a caring friend, dedicated father, supportive husband, and loving grandfather, Shapiro engaged Intermediate South students with stories about his involvement in Vietnam, a history of the era, and personal anecdotes.

"Every soldier will have a story," said Shapiro, who wrote his own journal on Vietnam but never published it because "I wrote it for me."

"Of the 350 men that left for that tour that day, only 115 returned," he said. "We fought so you could have an opinion. Please don’t disrespect the soldier."

"Vietnam is a beautiful country," Shapiro said. "Vietnam people are beautiful people."

In addition to this discussion, the media center at IS also displayed the Vietnam-era traveling trunk, on loan from the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation for this program. Filled with historic items like draft cards, propaganda flyers, buttons, and much more, the trunk will travel to Intermediate North tomorrow, IE next week, and then the high schools.

Additional photos from Intermediate South's NEA Big Read Day are below, all courtesy of yearbook advisor Riki Stone.

Second Stop: Intermediate North

February 22, 2019-- Today the eighth-grade students from Intermediate North took part in their own NEA Big Read Day.

Throughout the day students participated in a four-station gallery walk in the media center that highlighted different aspects of the Vietnam War. Students were exposed to music from that time period, as well as posters and videos that emphasized the protests and unrest of the American citizens. Each station carried a theme of respect toward soldiers, veterans, and each other.

After the gallery walk, students were treated to a presentation by local Vietnam veteran Jeff Shapiro, who told his story beginning from when he was drafted into the Vietnam War. Students were shown various historical items from the war and were given the opportunity to ask Mr. Shapiro questions.

This educational experience was organized by Intermediate North Media Specialist Michael Sciarappa and the eighth-grade language arts teachers. All pictures below of Intermediate North's NEA Big Read Day are courtesy of Alexis Castellano.

Intermediate East

What do we carry
What do WE carry was a prominent theme at Intermediate East's NEA Big Read Day Feb. 26. One student decided to see just how far he could push himself.

Feb. 26, 2019-- A snow day last week postponed Intermediate East's NEA Big Read Day to today, but it was well worth the wait.

Every Intermediate East eighth grader-- 500 students-- attended Vietnam veteran Jeff Shapiro's speaking engagement in the school's auditorium. For Shapiro, who has served as the NEA Big Read guest speaker and veteran voice at all intermediate schools, this discussion was especially noteworthy, as the audience included his grandson, Casey, an IE seventh grader.

IE Media Specialist Holly Byrne, who designed the day's events and activities, decorated the stage with the American flag and items from the Vietnam War traveling trunk. After Shapiro's talk-- during which, administrators said, you could hear a pin drop because the crowd was riveted-- many students filed on stage to meet and greet Shapiro, and witness up close some of the artifacts from the war.

Students then visited the media center for a host of activities honoring the theme What do WE carry? Student work was highlighted, backpacks and helmets tried on, and collaborative activities and reflections ensued. Additional photos are below, all courtesy of Tina Sroczynski.

High School South

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According to High School South teacher Katie Ryan, "Today’s gallery crawl becomes tomorrow’s classroom decor." HSS hosted its NEA Big Read Day Feb. 27. More below.

Feb. 28, 2019-- Yesterday it was High School South's turn to host NEA Big Read Day, and events and activities were organized by Media Specialist Anne Walsh.

At the center of the day's intrigue was the Vietnam-era traveling trunk, on loan from the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation. Students selected artifacts from the trunk and used them for writing prompts. They also used their devices to pay a virtual visit to the Vietnam Memorial, and responded to and reflected on photographs from the era.

Teacher Katie Ryan's junior classes at HSS transported themselves to the time with a gallery crawl, which adorned the media center throughout the day. Special guests included local veterans and district administrators. Photos below courtesy of High School ELA Supervisor Tonya Rivera.

High School North

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Vietnam veterans Jim McGinnis (standing) and Jim Biringer spoke to High School North English students during the afternoon of the school's NEA Big Read Day March 8.

March 8, 2019-- Anchoring NEA Big Read Day at High School North were intimate discussions from several local Vietnam Veterans. As part of a day of activities and talks designed by HSN Media Specialist Karla Ivarson, veterans Michael McMahon and Joe Leone spoke to students in the media center during the morning; Jim McGinnis and Jim Biringer spoke in the afternoon.

McGinnis, an Army vet, and Biringer, a Marine vet, are lifelong friends who both served in Vietnam, and represent the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, a district partner for NEA Big Read. 

McGinnis spoke about his background and the process of getting drafted into Vietnam. He reminded students that such a large percentage of the war's casualties were 18 years old, which "should really hit home for you," he said.

Both men spoke about the hardships of returning from war, being called a "baby killer," being told to avoid wearing their uniforms in public, and the reality of survivor's guilt. Biringer said every person who went to Vietnam returned "wounded mentally." They also talked about the lifelong bonds of war: "The guy next to you is your brother for life," McGinnis said.

During all discussions and throughout the day, the media center was adorned with archival items from the Vietnam-era traveling trunk, and a slideshow of photos from the war played a giant projection screen.

HSN's program transcends its NEA Big Read Day; McGinnis will return to speak on Monday March 11, along with Ken Gurbrisz (helicopter pilot); Bill McClung (medic); Mike Sapara (infantry); and Frank Dunn (stationed in U.S. during the war). Photos from the day are below.

High School East

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Vietnam veteran Dan O’Leary (right), Army Military Assistance Command Vietnam, smiles as he shakes the hand of a High School East student during the school's NEA Big Read Day. Gary Monsees, Army Assault Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam, looks on.

March 15, 2019-- High School East's NEA Big Read Day was the culmination of programming designed by Media Specialist (and Educational Services Professional of the Year) Diane Harz which began weeks ago. The school organized a collection of food and toiletry items to send to troops overseas-- which started Feb. 14 and runs through March 29, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day-- and the homeroom with the most donations will win a bagel breakfast. Friday March 8, more than 750 students throughout the day visited the media center to listen to Vietnam veterans share their experiences. During the first half of the day, veterans from the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, Army Combat Medic Bill “Doc” McClung and Army Infantryman John “JJ” Minor, spoke with students and answered questions. Four gentlemen from the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 200 in Brick, NJ completed the day: U.S Air Force Sergeant Ron Bagota; Army Black Water Diver Bruce Dobransky; Army Transportation Specialist Al Nitto; and Army Motor Pool Mechanic Eddie Ammann. Both students and staff gained invaluable knowledge from the veterans’ personal accounts.

There have also been week-long craft and letter-writing stations where students produced art and correspondence to send to active servicemen and women. Additionally, Diane Harz and her team arranged a series of cross-curricular topics leading up to today including:

  • Career/technology: veterans re-enter the work force; use of computers & GPS technology
  • English: students write letters to deployed veterans/veterans in facilities; literature of the era; reporters/photojournalists
  • Fine arts: music and art of the era and their impact
  • Math: the cost of the war; number of casualties
  • Physical education: training/boot camp activities; mental health/PTSD
  • Science: chemicals used in the chemical weapons; doctors/nurses/medical care
  • Social Studies: Pentagon Papers, refugees, POWs; protests
  • World Language: importance of language interpreters; Vietnamese culture/foods 

HSE's official NEA Big Read Day was themed Always Remember, Never Forget and served to both highlight and enhance all the work done to this point. Four more Vietnam veteran guest speakers from NJVVMF presented: Dan O’Leary, Army Military Assistance Command Vietnam; Gary Monsees, Army Assault Helicopter Pilot; Michael Coale, Army Reconnaissance; and returning speaker Army Combat Medic Bill “Doc” McClung. In addition to the veteran discussions, the Vietnam-era Traveling Trunk, on loan from NJVVMF, was on display containing artifacts, photographs, and documents. More than 550 students throughout the day came through the media center to listen to the veterans, write thank you notes, decorate rocks and tiles for our troops overseas, and peruse the information provided by and related to all academic departments for a truly all-inclusive High School East Big Read Day. Photographs courtesy of Marianne Steinhart and Jake Ryan. 

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