COURT HOUSE – Over 300 Middle Township Middle School students gave their families and friends an inside look Jan. 14 at the skills, talents, and activities they’ve been learning through the newly established Panther Block program during the school’s first Panther Block Showcase.

According to a release, initiated by Principal Jeff Ortman and implemented at the start of the 2019/2020 school year, Panther Block sets the tone of the day and gets students and teachers “ready” for their classwork by stimulating “social, emotional, and brain-based learning before students get into the academic day."

Middle Township Middle School is one of few schools in the area using this concept. For the first 40 minutes of each day, students engage in a non-academic activity that puts them into a positive state of mind while increasing their social skills and brain development.  

“The model for this program was introduced to me at a conference in early 2019,” stated Ortman. “After gaining district approval, I polled our teachers and asked them what activities they’d be interested in teaching. The excitement was immediate, and I knew we were onto something. From there, Panther Block took off.” 

Students had more than 20 electives to choose from, including:exercise and workout, survival skills, web design and 3D printing, comic book art, acting and drama, band, sign language, guitar, gardening and courtyard cleanup, world traveler, knitting and crochet, beach and boat life, cooking and bagel cart, understanding yourself, weird NJ topics, STEM, debate, games and chess, meditation, current events, and choir. They ranked their choices and were placed as close to their first choice as possible.

“The showcase provides an outlet for students to show what they have been working on these last few months,” stated Ortman. “You can see how passionate they are about their new skills and projects, and we are extremely proud of their accomplishments.”

During the showcase, families were entertained by members of the American Sign Language group who signed Michael Jackson’s Thriller – the students in this group never knew sign language prior to this class; Cherri Valance – a band trio – performed hits by the Cranberries, Twenty-One Piolets, and even tackled the song, Under Pressure; the co-ed choir demonstrated its talent by performing acapella for the first time, thanks to technical difficulties; and the drama students captivated the crowd with a mythological play that included well known characters Thor and Loki. 

Guests also were treated to dinner provided by the Board of Education. 

“Piloting a program like Panther Block and witnessing the impact of these activities on students throughout the day is rewarding,” stated Middle Township Superintendent Dr. David Salvo. “The favorable reaction from students, teachers, and families reinforces our determination to grow the program.”  

Elective selection is based on student response and is not limited to specific grades. Blocks are a mixture of the sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade.

After each semester, students rotate to a new block for a new activity.