by Rebecca Harris
Project ‘79 received statewide recognition when it was featured on NJTV’s Classroom Close-Up, succeeded by an interview with P‘79 Coordinator Mr. Peter Horn on One-on-One with Steve Adubato. The two segments premiered on NJTV and WNET Friday, Sept. 28.
The Classroom Close-Up segment featured student perspectives on the alternative educational style offered through P‘79. These student interviews described the purpose and benefits of the program.
According to njea.org, Classroom Close-Up is “a magazine program focusing on innovative projects happening in New Jersey public schools,” in which viewers can see students in the classroom.
On Classroom Close-Up, Coordinator of Counseling Ms. Maureen Mazzarese spoke about the genesis of P‘79.
Mazzarese said that former Superintendent Mr. Larry Green felt that “there was a group of kids that [the school was] in danger of losing.” She added that this concern was dealt with through the creation of P‘79.
Following the Classroom Close-Up was the interview with Adubato, in which Horn spoke about the P‘79 mission and his motivation behind his role as coordinator.
Horn said: “Everybody looks at things differently. Everybody has a different mind.”
According to the P’79 mission statement, “Project ‘79 is an alternative education program for students who find themselves at the margins of the Westfield High School community [which seeks] to meet these students where they are, and to reclaim them as learners and citizens.”
According to former P‘79 student senior Asher Stabler, the program is “a school within a school for students who don’t have much success in a traditional classroom setting.”
Its blog, project79.tumblr.com, includes the program’s mission statement and various service projects and features students’ work.
According to the blog, the program “creates a holistic learning environment that enables students and their parents to reconnect to school.”
Horn’s role as the Project coordinator and English teacher allows him to connect with everyone from staff to students. Horn said that he has the very fortunate role of brokering the vision of the program.
Horn is responsible for making sure that the program runs smoothly and achieves both its short- and long-term goals. He describes his job as “a public liaison between [P‘79], the school and larger community.”
Horn has been working with P‘79 for 11 years. Stabler said, “[Mr. Horn] is just magical.... He treats the classroom differently. Learning is more like just having a conversation.”
According to Stabler, the atmosphere distinguishes Horn’s class and P‘79 from mainstream WHS. There are no desks, just chairs and couches. He said the environment of P‘79 sets a comforting tone for the students.
P‘79 staff includes teachers of all core subjects and art. According to Horn, instructors “have an eagerness to get to know the whole student.”
With smaller class sizes, teachers can focus on individual students more than in traditional classes. As a result, P‘79 is “more hands-on and more individually responsive,” according to Horn.
Horn’s impact and the success of P‘79 has attracted attention from schools everywhere, including one school from England, according to Horn.
Since P‘79 is the oldest “regular education college-prep alternative in the state,” it sets a precedent for all other schools with similar ideas.
Horn said, “If you provide the right conditions for the students, they will continue to amaze you.”