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 Every year during the holiday season, Boy Scout Troop 14 participates in Scouting for Food, placing collection bags at residences in Metuchen neighborhoods and returning a week later to collect the contributions. The items are brought to St. Francis Cathedral and then donated to the Community Food Bank.  PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGELA R. TWIFORD Every year during the holiday season, Boy Scout Troop 14 participates in Scouting for Food, placing collection bags at residences in Metuchen neighborhoods and returning a week later to collect the contributions. The items are brought to St. Francis Cathedral and then donated to the Community Food Bank. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGELA R. TWIFORD

Avenel Middle School students enjoying Google Cardboard experience

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

WOODBRIDGE — Students at Avenel Middle School got to explore the Grand Canyon and historic Philadelphia, as well as tag along on a shark adventure in the Galapagos Islands and explore the deep jungles of South America — all without leaving their desks.

Google representative Simon Fogbo visited the school on Nov. 24 with 90 Google Cardboards equipped with smart phones and Wi-Fi for the students to experience 250 various virtual reality apps that are available.

Jamie Wanko, sixth-grade social studies teacher, is one of 17 teachers at Avenel Middle School piloting an interactive Google Classroom this year.

“Instead of textbooks, we use Chromebooks,” she said. “It’s amazing and everything is in real time. The students can forward me their work and I can send them direct feedback.”

Wanko said when she came across the Google Cardboard, she told her classes about it.

“In two days some of my students brought it in,” she said. “The cardboard is available for about $10 on Amazon so it’s accessible. The apps have to be downloaded.”

A teacher with a tablet can select and control what the students see in the Google Cardboard.

“There have been a lot of “Whoas”,” Wanko said of the different expeditions.

Wanko said she bought Google Cardboards for her own children and use them in her classroom.

An educator for 15 years, Wanko said the use of technology is what her students now have grown up with.

“[Using technology is] second nature to them,” she said. “The reward that I see with a Google Classroom is fewer assignments go missing and the enthusiasm from my students.”

Another positive feature of a Google Classroom is parents are able to see what their child has learned in class.

Wanko said she was one of the first to pilot the Google Classroom and she had other teachers join her with the support of Principal Joseph Short and the Woodbridge Board of Education.

JCCMC to host new Men’s Group meetings

Jan. 6 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. will be the first meeting of the new JCC Men’s Group at the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County (JCCMC) at 1775 Oak Tree Road in Edison.

This new group is devoted to semi-retired and retired men who are looking for a meaningful social activity for relaxation, learning and friendly interaction with men of a similar age. Topic for the first meeting:

Where Were You: When World War II ended? When JFK was shot? When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon? When the 9/11 attacks happened? Tell your stories!

Bagels and coffee will be provided.

The group is free for JCCMC members and $5 per session for nonmembers. For more information, contact Lincoln Richman at 732-494-3232, ext. 3627.

Kicking off the holidays in Metuchen


 Artist Yvonne Fasciale’s rendering of Metuchen landmarks was one of hundreds of items for sale at “Eat, Drink & Buy Art” Dec. 5 in a “pop-up” store on Main Street. The borough was abuzz with holiday activities the entire weekend, including a Christmas Tree lighting on Friday night; St. Luke’s Annual Christmas Fair on Saturday; three performances of “Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker” at the Forum Theater; a pancake breakfast, the Jingle Bell 5K run and a Hanukkah History Fair on Sunday morning, and a Holiday House Tour sponsored by the Borough Improvement League on Sunday afternoon. Artist Yvonne Fasciale’s rendering of Metuchen landmarks was one of hundreds of items for sale at “Eat, Drink & Buy Art” Dec. 5 in a “pop-up” store on Main Street. The borough was abuzz with holiday activities the entire weekend, including a Christmas Tree lighting on Friday night; St. Luke’s Annual Christmas Fair on Saturday; three performances of “Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker” at the Forum Theater; a pancake breakfast, the Jingle Bell 5K run and a Hanukkah History Fair on Sunday morning, and a Holiday House Tour sponsored by the Borough Improvement League on Sunday afternoon.

Do not let terrorists taint truth behind Islam

As a Muslim U.S. citizen I want to echo the sentiment of the Muslim community that is now a target of Donald Trumps’s slander following the terrorist act in San Bernardino that is a misrepresentation of Islamic faith.

Islam promotes peaceful, tolerant and harmonious co-existence of people of all faiths. The Quran states that slaying of one innocent human being amounts to slaying of all humankind.

“Jihad” does not mean holy war. It is misunderstood, misconstrued and misapplied. Its literary meaning is “to strive” and “to exert effort” for self-purification and striving for goodness in our relationship with others.

The media’s focus on prayer beads, prayer plaques and the Quran is misleading. These articles do not contribute to the image of radical and terroristic behavior but are objects that signify a faith just as much as pictures of Christ or Mother Mary would in Christian homes.

Trump’s proposition to ban all Muslims from entering the country is ridiculous and in itself, Radical. It incites, ignites, promotes and provokes fear and hatred in the hearts and minds of the civilians against their Muslim neighbors, coworkers and friends. This capitalizing approach is only adding fuel to fire rather than provide reassurance to Muslims and non-Muslims of the country alike.

So, fellow Muslims, let’s become more vocal in our support for safety, security, solidarity and peace and come together to show real Muslim, law 0 abiding behavior, for there is no radical Islam. There are radicals in Islam, just like in any other faith.

Nausheen Ahmed North Brunswick

Filling stations help Metuchen schools become greener, one bottle at a time

By KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

METUCHEN — The water bottle filling station at Metuchen High School has been a success with some 230,000 bottles saved over the past few years.

Edgar Middle School and Moss Elementary School have been outfitted with water bottle filling stations, saving 45,000 bottles and 177 bottles, respectively, and the installation of a station at Campbell Elementary School is coming soon.

The incentive for the installation of water bottle filling stations is Sustainable Jersey for Schools, a certification program for New Jersey public schools that want to go green, conserve resources and take steps to create a brighter future, one school at a time.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools, which launched in fall 2014, is a nonprofit organ- ization that provides tools, training and financial incentives to support and reward schools as they pursue sustainability programs, according to its website.

Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo said the district is in the beginning stages of achieving Sustainable Jersey certifications.

“It takes a couple of years to accumulate points,” he said at a Board of Education meeting on Nov. 24.

There are two levels of certification — bronze and silver. Each level of certification requires the establishment of a mandatory green team. Schools accumulate points for taking actions in a variety of categories in the respective certification level.

Along with attaining a certain number of points, a number of priority actions must be completed in order to qualify for certification, which includes a carbon footprint, an energy audit, building efficiency, green building and purchasing policies, indoor air quality, community education/outreach, student learning, wellness and a waste audit.

All four schools in the Metuchen School District have created green teams.

Moss Elementary School has an access to healthy water program, a bottle filling station, an anti-idling campaign, and a milkweed garden, which is collaboration with Edgar Middle School.

Campbell Elementary School has a wellness focus program, a health access to water program, a bottle filling station, an anti-idling campaign, integrated pest management, education sustainability, and a safe school traveling plan for walking and biking.

Edgar Middle School is applying for 80 points this year. The school is a recent recipient of a $2,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools Project Grant for a student wellness organization. The goal is to create a fitness club.

The grant will be funded by the New Jersey Education Association.

“There are different grant periods,” said Caputo. “If an idea fits a category, we will apply for that [grant].”

Metuchen High School has a healthy water program, an anti-idling campaign, green cleaning supplies (which will expand district-wide), pest management, school travel plan, energy-efficient appliances, and a gardening club.

With some items such as the anti-idling campaign, the district has collaborated with the Borough of Metuchen to promote the program.

Board member Tara Matise said she was impressed with the progress so far and it was great to see the community as a whole work together.

Local college student organizes global event in one month

By JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — A young man from North Brunswick organized a competition that has a global impact.

Umair Masood, a sophomore at Rutgers University, served as campus director for the seventh annual Hult Prize competition at Rutgers on Dec. 5, when 10 teams competed to solve former President Bill Clinton’s challenge for 2015: How to end poverty in urban spaces and encourage students to build sustainable, scalable and fast-growing social enterprises that double the income of 10 million people resided in crowded urban spaces by better connecting people, goods, services and capital.

“This creates a community platform for social entrepreneurs on campus who are trying to get their name out there,” Masood said.

“The one thing I learned as director is that there is a huge entrepreneurial community at Rutgers and there is a new wave of social entrepreneurship [that is] creating an idea or a project that is profitable while solving the world’s problems at the same time, which is very powerful.”

Masood was able to pull the event together in just a month’s time, having to find teams and judges, obtain sponsors and partners and secure prize money.

His experience was rooted in a fiveyear internship at the American Muslim Consumer Consortium, founded by his parents, Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari, to understand and address the needs of American Muslim consumers and to empower companies developing products for the market.

“I’ve seen them run an event, build a network and brand themselves,” he said.

The winning team members from Rutgers University were Daniel Reji of Holmdel, David Shah of Edison, Chisa Egbelu of Louisiana and Myles Jackson of Pennsylvania. They were awarded $500 and will represent Rutgers at Regionals in Boston in March.

Following the regional finals, one winning team from each host city will move into a summer business accelerator program, where participants will receive mentorship, advisory and strategic planning as they create prototypes and set-up to launch their new social business.

The final round of competition will be hosted at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in September, when one team will be selected as the Hult Prize recipient. Clinton himself will award the $1,000,000 prize to the winning team.

“The Hult Prize is a wonderful example of the creative cooperation needed to build a world with shared opportunity, shared responsibility, and shared prosperity, and each year I look forward to seeing the many outstanding ideas the competition produces,” Clinton said in a statement.

For more information on the event, visit hultprizeat.com/rutgers.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.

Mariah Carey directs and stars with Lacey Chabert in ‘A Christmas Melody’

By Kellie Freeze, www.channelguidemag.com

 Lacey Chabert Lacey Chabert Mariah Carey’s music is an integral part of the holiday season, and now the Christmas chanteuse is gifting her talents to Hallmark’s most musical holiday film. The singer/actress is directing her first film, the aptly named A Christmas Melody, premiering Dec. 19 on Hallmark Channel.

The film stars Lacey Chabert as Kristin, a young fashion designer who shutters her big-city boutique and moves back to her hometown with her daughter (singing sensation Fina Strazza, of Broadway’s Matilda) in tow. The duo face a tumultuous adjustment to small-town life, further complicated by Kristin’s high school nemesis (Carey). But the plucky family braves each challenge with the help of Kristin’s aunt — a local coffee shop owner (Kathy Najimy) — and the hunky local music teacher (Brennan Elliott).

Chabert reveals that one thing she and Carey bonded over was their mutual love of the holiday season. “I never thought anyone could love Christmas as much as I do until I met Mariah Carey,” she says. “She absolutely adores Christmas!” The pair also chatted about their love of holiday tunes, and Chabert admits that she has Carey’s holiday CDs on a near-constant loop.

Chabert also delights in the scenes she shot with her director, where Carey gets to flex her comedy chops as a mean girl. “She was excellent at those scenes,” says Chabert. “I really enjoyed those scenes with her so much, because they are really funny and of course, because it is Hallmark, you know that nothing’s too mean spirited.” The repartee in the duo’s scenes is the film’s funniest.

The film, part of Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas,” has all of the family friendly trappings we would expect from the network’s popular holiday programming block. And, of course, Carey adds her impeccable taste to the film’s visual design. “She is Miss Christmas,” laughs Chabert. “She has such a great eye for aesthetics and knowing what looks best, and what looks flattering and beautiful. She really wanted to capture the Christmas spirit and I feel like the movie did that. She really is a fantastic director.”

In addition to directing and starring in the festive flick, Carey also lends one of her most charming holiday hits to the film’s soundtrack. Carey isn’t the one singing “Oh Santa!” — but the upbeat and cheerful Christmas tune is pure perfection when sung by young phenom Strazza.

When we spoke, Chabert gushed about her young costar. “She is amazing. Fina is remarkably talented and so smart for her age. I mean … I shouldn’t even say ‘for her age.’ She is so smart in general. Just a wonderfully talented child and it was funny all that we have in common. I was actually on Broadway in Les Misérables at the same exact age. and she has been doing Broadway’s Matilda.” She adds, “I looked at her and she is just so tiny and young and it was hard to imagine myself ever being that tiny and young and handling your responsibility of performing in front of thousands of people live every night. It was just kind of cool to walk down memory lane with her.”

Chabert also shares high praise for her other cast mates, saying Najimy “is a doll,” and considering Elliot — with whom she recently costarred in Hallmark’s All of My Heart — “a good friend.” The actress adds, “It is really nice to work with people who you get along with so well.”

The cast’s chemistry is palpable, their talent divine, and with Carey’s attention to directorial detail and discerning eye, this Christmas charmer may enjoy the same longevity as her other holiday classics.

In theaters now

Tom Hardy delivers a master class

Director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) introduces viewers to the Kray twins in his new film, Legend. The identical twin gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie, were two of the most notorious criminals in British history. Their empire rose in London’s East End during the 1960s and they dominated much of the illegal activity there. Helgeland’s film is a close examination of the twins, both portrayed by Tom Hardy.

Reggie Kray was the quiet but merciless twin — feared and revered at the same time, as many gangsters have been throughout history. He fashioned himself into a club owner, and though that wasn’t his primary source of income, it had a more legitimate ring to it. Frances Shea (Emily Browning) caught his eye and he was willing to do anything for her, though the one thing he could never seem to do was to become a truly legitimate businessman.

Ronnie Kray had been in a mental institution due to his instability. Quick to snap, Ronnie was the less rational of the two, and after his brother had him declared sane — through threats, of course — he worked with Reggie in their rise to dominance.

Despite disagreements between the two, they were brothers so devoted to each other that, to solve matters, each looked past the other’s shortcomings. While Reggie often looked out for Ronnie, Ronnie also had his own way of looking out for Reggie. Together their rise was impressive and, yes, legendary.

Brutal, yet orchestrated like a carefully crafted symphony, Legend tells us a story with visually striking images that are disconcerting but necessary — necessary to relay the otherwise indescribable violence that took place during the Krays’ rise to prominence. Helgeland, in both writing and directing the film, is deeply invested in the portrayal and walks a fine line with Legend’s violence. It’s harsh but not gratuitous.

The real star of this film is Tom Hardy, who portrays both twins; it’s a master class in acting. He transports himself from brother to brother with seeming ease, all the way down to the simple physical mannerisms of each twin. It feels as though he totally embodies each twin for who they are and what they possess. There aren’t many other actors who could be counted on to display this level of nuance in these roles.

This Legend is worth the price of admission just to see Tom Hardy; the rest is a bonus. The film is beautiful yet violent, compassionate yet abusive — all at once.

Legend Rated: R Stars: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton Director: Brian Helgeland Grade: B