The Lessons of Our Own Mr. Rogers

There could not be a more appropriate way to write this year’s final newsletter column than to acknowledge Mr. Rogers’ retirement after 40 years of service to the Millburn community. I do not pretend to be able to write about all the things he has done over four decades that have made a difference in our school; instead, I would highlight some of his many contributions and share with you some of the lessons I learned from him.

The glass is always half full. John Rogers’ optimism offers hope for kids and adults alike. His name has become synonymous with the word “resilient.” His message is always “be true to yourself and try your hardest.” In the face of a tsunami of students coming of age at the Middle School in recent years, his attitude was always, “We can do this!” He was instrumental in adapting to new guidance practices and a developmental curriculum that put counselors on the road (in classes) and with student groups (lunch bunches, changing families,etc.) to meet the changing needs of students in an ever-increasing caseload.

Mr. Rogers’ own ice breaker introduction in front of a gathering of new families or a fifth grade parent orientation, “All of my best friends are here, even the ones I haven’t met yet” is one of my favorite. John Rogers was the first person any family new to the Middle School got to meet. How lucky for them that they met a gentle, kind, and warm representative of our school community who welcomed them, explained our courses and options, led them on a tour of the building, and invited them to an orientation where he mapped out where in the world all of our new families came from. During the school year Mr. Rogers would meet with the “newcomers” to check on how they were doing. 

What we value as citizens, families, and learners does not change. How we accomplish our goals has changed due to globalization, transformative technologies, changing family structures, and increasing demands on our time. Mr. Rogers always has a way of pulling people back to center. He emphasizes the heart and the spirit. He wants kids to be kids. He wants parents to put things into perspective. Things are not always what they seem. If there has to be a race, it should end somewhere meaningful.

Over the years Mr. Rogers has researched, read, and reported on books, articles, and lectures to write his PTO Newsletter column known as “Guide-Lines.” These articles were personally penned by him and integrated his own knowledge about kids, learning, and parenting into simple suggestions that had a profound punch to them. Mr. Rogers has offered reassurance to generations of students and parents. 

Always a thespian at heart, John Rogers ran an award-winning Mental Health Players group at MMS. The players would create a scenario much like the ones kids encounter all the time that require them to make a decision. After setting up the conflict, the players would remain in character and banter with the audience about what they should do.  His most famous alumna is Anne Hathaway, and recently on Good Morning America she said “Mr. Rogers was an amazing guidance counselor.” Mr. Rogers has been in many spring musical productions over the years and also participated in the eighth grade playwright’s production. When the fifth grade class was part of the Middle School for four years, Mr. Rogers would be seen playing Dracula in the hallway on Halloween. Apparently, Mr. Rogers thought there wasn’t enough drama at the Middle School.

It was no surprise that my predecessor, Dr. Kay Goerss, requested that John Rogers be named Guidance Coordinator at the Middle School. Mr. Rogers cultivated a team atmosphere in guidance, opened dialogue with administration, expanded orientations, projects, and programs, instituted classes on study skills, learning styles, and other educational checkpoints and was promptly put on every committee and panel where he shared his wisdom and connected the school and community dots.

Words matter. Over the years Mr. Rogers has referred to the adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. ”The old way of looking at this was to tell kids to be strong in the face of name-calling because it can’t hurt you. John Rogers was ahead of his time, and certainly ahead of the recently passed Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Laws, in telling us the names did indeed hurt us.

When our school changed its configuration from a junior high to a middle school, John Rogers was instrumental in helping us to institute more child-centered and middle level practices. Everyone worked on a team, not just the kids and the teachers. Mr. Rogers is known for saying, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

For me, personally and professionally, John Rogers has been a mentor, friend, and guide for the last twenty-four years. While it is hard to imagine Millburn Middle School without John Rogers, I can hear him saying, “The show must go on!”

Mr. Rogers’ service to the children and community of Millburn has been a “class act.” All of us in Millburn wish John Rogers the best of health and happiness as he begins a new phase of his life.  

June 2011

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