(photo by Joan Krenik)

SUNSET PARK — The adminstration at John Adams Middle School took a day better known for generic cards and sugar candies and transformed it into an instructional moment meant to inspire students to think more broadly about the term “love.”

Normal classes and school work were suspended for JAMS’ first Heart Day, which co-opted the pink and red trappings of Valentine’s Day and added to it a curriculum of movement, empathy and expression.

“We want to expand it from the romantic sense to include love of self, love of ‘other’ and love of community,” said JAMS Principal Eva Mayoral.

Love of self represented not just self esteem, but taking care of your body through proper exercise and nutrition. Commensurately, love of the “other” was as much about supporting the people around you as it was about accepting their differences.

Finally, love of community focused on creating a space in which all students at JAMS could learn and grow.

Students and teachers alike gathered on the JAMS field, each in a red T-shirt that read “I’mpossible” on the front and “JAMS, Dream Big, Work Hard” on the back for a morning of music and dance.

The coed student choir sang “One Love” by Bob Marley to a simple keyboard accompaniment, followed by two students performing original works, one touting heart-felt affection while the other took on the sticky subject of bullying.

Then, it was time to boogie.

Zumba instructor Will Williams and a small army of energetic co-instructors led the kids in dance routines aimed at getting their hearts pumping on Heart Day.

The mix of top 40 music and encouraging demonstrators got kids up and shuffling through LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” and grooving to Maroon 5’s “Moves like Jagger.”

“It felt like a party out there,” Williams said after the workout.

The kids then dispersed to three groups. One continued working out on the field using team building exercises, while the second went to another area to write “notes from the heart,” homages to those who have made a difference in their lives.

The third group went to a question and answer forum with Dr. Terrance Roberts, a motivational speaker who was one of the Little Rock Nine.

Roberts was one of the first African American students to attend an all-white school in Little Rock, Ark. through forced integration.

“He experienced the most intense hatred for a child to deal with,” Mayoral said. “People hurled objects at them, and hateful language.”

In this, Roberts exemplifies a love of self, she said, because he owned his experience without stooping to the level of his bullies.

Mayoral was the key architect of the day’s activities.

She approached staff, faculty and parents individually in December to describe her vision of a different, better Valentine’s Day that got away from the chocolate and popularity contests and delved into meaningful topics and disucssion.

The Parent Teacher Student Association pitched in money for the shirts, and parents rallied behind school staff to watch the morning’s dance routine and help prepare food for the afternoon barbeque.

“She was very passionate when she talked about it,” recalled Joan Krenik, PTSA President for JAMS.

The day comes against the backdrop of Heart Month. Next week, the kids will focus their lessons on compassion. Other topics ranged from the actual biology of the beating heart to an analysis of love poems.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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