As the school year begins, I think back to growing up in Belleville and starting school in September. I have many wonderful memories of that time. In sixth grade I was part of the school patrol and guarded the kindergarten door. In middle school, I accompanied the chorus on piano for the first time. In high school I spent most of my time in the band room, where I felt at home.
But two great memories, believe it or not, took place in fourth grade with Miss Stackfleth at School Seven. She was an incredibly hard teacher and she scared most of us kids half to death with her strict ways and her paragraph-long sentences she would hand out as punishment if you did something wrong. However, she did begin to instill two important traits in me; my love of country and my love of New Jersey.
Every morning we would begin our day with the Flag Salute, like every other classroom. We would then continue our show of patriotism with the singing of a song. She played piano and had one in her classroom. Each day a different song would be selected and she would teach us the words and melody. In short order we learned several songs like This Land is Your Land and You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag. I still remember the words to many of those songs today. And I thank her for sharing them with us.
When it comes to my love of New Jersey, that took the entire school year. When I was in the fourth grade, which was a long time ago, history class was focused on New Jersey history. I remember it starting with “what do you think our state looks like?” We had answers like “a seahorse” and “the letter S.” It moved on from there. We learned about the Lenni Lenape tribe, our state’s important role in the Revolutionary War, it’s rich agricultural history, and more. It gave me an appreciation for an area beyond my neighborhood on Irving Street.
Ever since, my love of New Jersey has only grown. Yes, there are a lot of annoying things about our state; the traffic, high taxes, and don’t even get me started on the politics. But there are plenty more things to love. Like how you can enjoy the Atlantic Ocean, the Flatbrook River, living American history in Morristown, and awesome Italian food in my hometown of Belleville. We have a rich and wonderful state. I hope children are still learning about it. And I have Mrs. Stackfleth to thank for it. The teacher that actually terrified me.
When I was in fourth grade the entire year focused on New Jersey history. As much as I disliked Mrs. Stackfleth, I will say she was great at teaching the history of the Garden State.
We spent a great deal of time learning about the Lenni Lenape, whose traditional territory spanned what is now eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Lower New York, and eastern Delaware. “Lenni-Lenape,” literally means “Men of Men”, but is translated to mean “Original People.” The two tribes we focused on the most were the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation and the Ramapough Lenape Nation; both from New Jersey. Just like most things in Jersey today, one was in what is now considered South Jersey and one was in what is now considered North Jersey.
Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation is made up of descendants of Algonquian-speaking Nanticoke and Lenape peoples who remained in, or returned to, their ancient homeland at the Delaware Bay. Within the larger South Jersey tribe, there were three main groups; the Munsee (People of the Stony Country) lived in the north. The Unami (People Down River) and Unalachtigo (People Who Live Near the Ocean) lived in the central and southern part of the homeland.
The Ramapough Lenape Nation were a Munsee-speaking band, an Algonquian language-speaking people. Although the Ramapough Lenape Indian ancestors have resided in the Ramapough Mountains for thousands of years, there is little documentation in New York or New Jersey that refers to the nation. This is most commonly believed to be due to a lack of written language by the Ramapough people. As a result, most information has been passed orally from generation to generation, much of which has been lost to the ages.
The Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation and the Ramapough Lenape Nation are both recognized by the New Jersey Commission on American Indian Affairs.
Throughout the year all the Tribal Nations in New Jersey as well as the New Jersey Commission on American Indian Affairs offer programs on their histories and original ways of life. It is a great way to learn about the original residents of Jersey.