“A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away....”
Actually, this story takes place not too long ago and much closer to home: right here in the Upper Greenwood Lake section of West Milford.
Upper Greenwood Lake Elementary School (UGL) has been celebrating “Star Wars Day” each year on “May the 4th” since the school event was spearheaded in 2017 by the school’s then-new Principal Dr. Gregory Matlosz - an avid “Star Wars” fan.
Matlosz was known to use parallels from the iconic movies to the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II in his high school history classes to help his students better relate to the material.
“Obsession is the perfect word choice,” Matlosz said about the event in a published report in 2017. “I actually mentioned in my interview for this position that I would like to celebrate Star Wars Day and become the first school in New Jersey, if not the country, to go all out with the event.”
Along with teachers, staff members and UGL PTA volunteers, Matlosz was able to turn his galactic- educational vision into a reality. The event has since become an honored annual tradition at the school.
“I am very lucky to have a staff that does not believe in the word ‘minimum’,” Matlosz said in that earlier interview. “Basically, it was either doing this on a grand stage or just not doing it at all.”
Complete with costumed teachers, staff and students - and Matlosz himself greeting students at dropoff dressed as “Darth Vader” - the school is transformed with “Star Wars” themed decorations, including a giant-sized “Death Star” surrounded by Rebel and Imperial fighters (purchased by Matlosz himself) that hangs from the ceiling in the main lobby of the school and student creations and displays that line the bulletin boards along the hallways throughout the school.
“Jedi Lessons” of character enrichment, and subject-specific core-content material are taught in the classrooms, presented in a “Star Wars” theme.
Matlosz commented in a 2019 interview with The Messenger: “We’ve noticed that when you use a theme as powerful as Star Wars, it truly motivates the staff and students in all of the content areas and social learning.”
The COVID-19 death star
The coronavirus pandemic hindered the School’s “May the Fourth” event in 2020.
With residents required to quarantine, and schools closed, school districts scrambled to invent “distance learning” to take place over computers between teachers and students from their homes.
But that didn’t deter Matlosz from celebrating “Star Wars Day” in 2020 with his staff and students. “Darth Vader” didn’t disappoint, and made an appearance via video from Matlosz’s home on May 4th, 2020.
West Milford Schools reopened to students
in October of 2020 with a “Hybrid” part-time in person/part-time revamped “virtual learning” program, with an option for some students to continue “100 percent virtual learning” if needed. Beginning in late March of 2021, and increasing by grade levels over the weeks following, West Milford Schools began welcoming their staff and student populations back to school full-time, five days a week. The “100 percent virtual” option was still available to students and families with the need for it, but the “Hybrid” option was discontinued.
With the gradual return of most staff and students to school in-person completed just prior to “Star Wars Day” and “Teacher Appreciation Week,” Matlosz said, “UGL was very excited to return to an in-person ‘May the 4th’ celebration.”
Matlosz said each teacher used the “Star Wars” theme in their classes - in math, ELA, science and social studies.
“A big thank you to our cafeteria aide, Mrs. Diana Bakalian,” Matlosz said, “for providing costumes and spending hours decorating the main lobby after school.”
“This is also Teacher Appreciation week,” Matlosz added, “and I can tell you from today alone how much I appreciate my staff for supporting ‘May the 4th’!”
So, in the spirit of “Star Wars Day” and “A New Hope” for the future as coronavirus pandemic restrictions are lifted, “May the 4th be with you, always.”