Kenilworth fifth-grader brings magic back to class through fun challenges

Harding Elementary School counselor Kristen Jeans, left, said fifth-grader Madison Walker wanted to ‘cheer everyone up’ with her idea to form teams and compete in friendly challenges.

KENILWORTH, NJ — Each month, the Kenilworth Board of Education spotlights a student who stands out, highlighting qualities such as kindness and good academic standing.

February’s Student Spotlight student “went above and beyond to improve school culture and morale,” Kenilworth Superintendent Kyle Arlington said at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Feb. 14.

Madison Walker, a fifth-grader at Harding Elementary School, wanted to do something fun for her classmates as the pandemic continued to affect school life last spring.

“With one email last year, Madison took an idea and turned it into a reality,” said Harding Principal Ron Bubnowski. “It has become something the whole school really looks forward to.”

Inspired by the “houses” in the Harry Potter series — Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin — Madison suggested forming “Hawk Teams.” Students across grade levels are divided into teams and encouraged to participate in educational challenges. Challenges have included completing all classwork and homework for a week, showing an act of kindness to another student and writing thank-you letters to previous teachers.

Teachers record how many students participate in each challenge, and the winning team earns a prize each week, such as the chance to have a Pajama Day or Crazy Hair Day.

School counselor Kristen Jeans has been instrumental in supporting Madison with Hawk Teams and now plans to help her and other students expand the initiative.

“We first implemented Hawk Teams at the end of last year for six weeks,” said Jeans. “It was so well received from the students and teachers that we decided to turn it into something more and rolled it back out before the holidays. It’s a lot of work for just one student, so we created a committee, and together we came up with ideas for new challenges and prizes.”

The committee decided to extend the goodwill of Hawk Teams to the community, sending Christmas cards to veterans at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

“While many students returned to in-person learning last year, and we are easing slowly back into normalcy, things that were always fun about school, like lunch, recess, assemblies, and class parties, were significantly impacted by the pandemic,” said Jeans. “Madison wanted to cheer everyone up, and Hawk Teams has done just that.”

Madison thanked the Board of Education as she accepted her Student Spotlight award.

“I love working on Hawk Teams. It has been such a fun experience. I love going to Harding School, and I’m so thankful for everyone there.”

Photo Courtesy of Sheri Berkery