Teachers who Graduated from WP Give Back to Children Statewide Through Initiative Launched During COVID-19 Crisis

Dana Skillman ’13 displays a watercolor painting she received as a congratulatory gift after earning Honorable Mention for Science Teacher of the Year from the New Jersey Science Teachers Association.

Jennifer Olawski ’09 sits before the gifts she collected for New Brunswick students as part of her annual holiday toy drive. Follow her on Twitter, @Jolawski.

Two William Paterson University graduates will bring their teaching expertise to homes across the state this week, as some of the first New Jersey educators recruited for a new initiative on public television.

In the wake of COVID-19 restrictions that will likely keep New Jersey children out of their classrooms for weeks to come, NJTV—the state’s public television station—has joined with the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey Education Association to launch a new series of on-air instruction for children in grades three through six. The new series, NJTV Learning Live!, began Monday and is airing weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Dana Skillman ’13 and Jennifer Olawski ’09 are making their television debuts in the series’ first week.

Skillman—who teaches fourth-grade science at Paul Robeson Charter School in Trenton—will be featured on the program this Thursday, April 9, at 10 a.m.

A physical education and health teacher at Paul Robeson Community School for the Arts in New Brunswick, Olawski will be featured on Friday, April 10, at 10 a.m.

When asked why they got involved with the new television venture, both teachers, individually, responded that they “jumped at the opportunity” to help.

As recipient of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Middlesex County Teacher of the Year Award for the 2019-2020 school year, Olawski says the NJDOE and New Jersey State Teacher of the Year approached her about NJTV Learning Live. Skillman, who says teaching is truly her “passion,” was recruited by her principal for that reason.

Neither teacher hesitated to say yes.

“I knew the impact it would have on so many students, especially those without internet or computer access,” Olawski says, noting that New Brunswick Public Schools provide their students with both. “The fact that some students don’t have access to the internet or to a computer hits me hard after teaching nine years in urban districts. This is simply one way I can do my part in helping out our youth, regardless of what they do or don’t have.”

Olawski’s physical education lesson is geared toward fourth graders, but she created it in a way that encourages all elementary and middle school students to get involved.

“My goal was to make it exciting for the kids, so I turned my lesson into a Fitness Scavenger Hunt! I also incorporated mindfulness and meditation as I have seen the benefits that this has had over the years on my own students,” she says. Olawski concludes her lesson by demonstrating proper hand-washing technique, “as this is crucial in our current situation.”

“I am honored to be a part of furthering the education of our 1.4 million New Jersey students,” adds the alumna, who graduated from WP with a degree in kinesiology.

How can parents and caregivers support their child’s physical education during this period of homeschooling?

“I think it’s important for families to also get involved in the physical fitness aspect because kids look up to their parents,” Olawski says. “If they all go on a long walk together or do a simple workout as a family, there is a much better chance the child will stay involved and lead a healthy lifestyle. Also, as I tell my students, anything that gets your heart rate up is considered exercise, even if it’s having a dance off with a sibling.”

Skillman’s science lesson for NJTV is about animal adaptations, and she is “so excited” for New Jersey to see it, as this is one of her favorite topics to teach.

“I try to give every student watching an experience that they might not be able to regularly have,” she explains. “We will have a very closeup look at my classroom pets, as well as a read aloud with a special guest.”

How can parents and caregivers support their child’s general education?

“My biggest piece of advice for anybody out there is to know that you are doing the best that you can and that is okay,” says Skillman, who majored in early childhood education and psychology at WP. “It is also okay to ask for help,” she adds, encouraging any and all members of the WP family to ask her for help directly. Skillman is happy to accept emails at MrsSkillman1121@gmail.com or Instagram messages, @smilingwithscience.

“If there is anything that I can do for anybody reading this, reach out! I really want to help,” she says.

For information on where to watch NJTV, click here. NJTV’s on-air classroom lessons will also be livestreamed at njtvonline.org/live and archived online via the NJTV Learning Live program page

“It is a tough time for everybody,” Skillman says. “Giving students, and their families, something to look forward to is what it’s all about.”